UPDATE: Amendment to JUTC Bus Fares

Here is a press release from the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing on the planned increases in bus fares, to take place on Sunday, August 24. Please note the last paragraph which I highlighted in bold:

The Minister of Transport, Works and Housing, Dr the Hon Omar Davies together with the Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Finance, Hon Horace Dalley and senior officials of both ministries held a meeting with the leadership of various groups representing pensioners and senior citizens as well as public sector workers earlier today concerning bus fares which were recently announced. The institutions represented were Jamaica Civil Service Association led by its President, Mr O’Neil Grant and Vice President, Mr Robert Chung; Mrs Helene Davis-Whyte, Vice President of the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions, and General Secretary of JALGO; Mr Charles Jones, President of the Jamaica Government Pensioners’ Association; Mrs Syringa Marshall Burnett, Chairman, National Council of Senior Citizens. The Jamaica Urban Transit Company(JUTC) was represented by Chairman Rev Garnett Roper and Mr Colin Campbell, Managing Director.

There was a frank exchange of views during which the representatives of the trade unions and senior citizens groups spoke to the negative impact which the proposed increase will have on their members. At the same time, Minister Davies and representatives of the JUTC explained the precarious position of the entity, despite the existing subsidy provided by the GOJ.

It was agreed that there will be consultations beginning immediately on various transportation challenges facing public sector workers, involving the Ministry of Finance and the public sector, the representatives of the workers and the senior leadership of the JUTC.

From the meeting, it was proposed that an adjustment be made to the proposed fare for senior citizens, making it $40.00 (one-third of the adult fare).

This proposal was presented to the Prime Minister and members of Cabinet by Minister Davies and Cabinet has approved this change to the fare structure announced on Wednesday. Consequently, as of Sunday, August 24, the fare structure will be:

 Adults                                                                     $120.00

Senior Citizens and pensioners                    $ 40.00

Children, Students and members

of the disabled community                            $ 30.00

Contact: Leo McEwan

Tel:       383-3205

A Sea of Plastic: International Coastal Cleanup Day Launch

The Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) has broken another record in the number of beach cleanup sites registered for this year’s International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) Day activities in Jamaica (on Saturday, September 20, 2014). 114 ICC beach cleanup sites across the island have been registered, including ten underwater cleanups. JET expects the number of participants to increase from last year’s 6,000 to 8,000 in 2014. And, at the same time, JET is preparing to launch another marine litter focused initiative – the Clean Coasts Project (CCP), a one-year program expanding on the theme of ICC and targeted at Jamaican resort areas.

Volunteers on Fort Rocky beach at last year's International Beach Cleanup Day. (My photo)

Volunteers on Fort Rocky beach at last year’s International Beach Cleanup Day. (My photo)

We left the offices of JET and moved quickly through the sultry morning’s rush hour traffic yesterday, heading for the Port Royal Marine Laboratory. On board the bus were JET staff, journalists and cameramen, representatives of Recycling Partners (the new private sector initiative), Sandals Resorts, the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) and the National Solid Waste Management Agency (NSWMA). Importantly, too, a representative of the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) participated. TEF is the primary sponsor and long-time supporter of Jamaica’s ICC Day and is also funding the CCP.

Looking towards St. Catherine, from the Port Royal Marine Laboratory, which is just inside the entrance to Kingston Harbour. (My photo)

Looking towards St. Catherine, from the Port Royal Marine Laboratory, which is just inside the entrance to Kingston Harbour. (My photo)

As we set off, JET Program Director Suzanne Stanley told us to take note of all the drains and gullies along the way. These are the veins and arteries of the city. Rainwater runs from the hills above, sweeping through Kingston, filling the gullies and flooding many streets and drains (tropical rain is generally emphatic in nature). The waterways carry the débris that has accumulated in them or floated down from the streets, down to the sea.

JET's Conservation Director Llewelyn Meggs was one of our experts on board the boat. (My photo)

JET’s Conservation Director Llewelyn Meggs was one of our experts on board the boat. (My photo)

It is quite extraordinary how different a place looks from the water. There are so many hidden things that you never see driving along on land with the water alongside. This is especially true of Kingston Harbour (the eighth largest natural harbor in the world). And one of the mostly hidden things you see is…garbage. Plenty of it.

After our drive to Port Royal (as always, sleepy) at the end of the long narrow Palisadoes strip, we retraced our steps by boat, across the smooth, shining water. The harbor is almost always very calm in the morning. Pelicans scooted low across the water, and the occasional frigate bird sailed above. As we approached the towers of downtown, the quality of the water changed. It became very dark, and it began to smell very bad. We saw the occasional dead fish and some pieces of floating garbage. Llewelyn Meggs, JET’s Conservation Director, pointed out large pipes and openings, through which waste passed into the harbor (including sewage). The General Penitentiary, housing well over 1,000 inmates, was across the road from one of these large pipes.

Approaching downtown Kingston's waterfront. From the boat, it seemed like a lonely, almost desolate place. There was almost no sign of life apart from some traffic. (My photo)

Approaching downtown Kingston’s waterfront. From the boat, it seemed like a lonely, almost desolate place – and this was a weekday morning. There was almost no sign of life apart from some traffic. (My photo)

The highlight (or rather the low point) of this part of the tour was the Rae Town Fishing Village. Rae Town is a vibrant but impoverished community, famous for its mid-week street dances – when uptowners would venture downtown for a bit of excitement. Not sure if those are still taking place. But from our boat it’s a sad picture – chaotic and filthy. The small concrete huts built to hold fishermen’s equipment are now occupied by families; they don’t have proper sanitation. Children played surrounded by piles of garbage. The Rae Town Gully, as it empties into the sea, is filled with garbage, and you can see even more all the way up the gully, waiting to come down. Surprisingly, I noticed Great Egrets and other birds picking through the filth at the mouth of the gully. Llewelyn Meggs explained that they are probably feeding on the algae and other nutrients created by the garbage (pieces of bright green algae floated by the boat). They are taking in toxins, too.

The fetid, disgusting gully at Rae Town. Try to imagine the stink. (My photo)

The fetid, disgusting gully at Rae Town. Try to imagine the stink. (My photo)

We were happy, at this point, to have the boat turn around and head back towards the mangroves that fringe the Palisadoes strip. The smell from Rae Town was so overwhelming I was feeling nauseous. It was indescribable. Don’t tell me there are no public health issues there.

Rae Town. (My photo)

Rae Town – a cleaner spot here. (My photo)

On the Palisadoes side of the harbor, we turned towards the mangroves (yes, this is a Ramsar site, although a chunk of the mangroves fringing it on the harbor side of the long spit of land was destroyed when the airport road was raised and rebuilt by the Chinese. They promised to replant mangroves, but have not done so). We circled Refuge Cay, which is covered with mangroves and is a breeding and roosting spot for sea birds such as the Brown Pelican and Magnificent Frigate Bird. It is also carpeted with garbage. On one side of the small cay, the garbage (a large plastic laundry basket, yards and yards of plastic bottles and plastic bags) chokes the mangroves. The tap roots cannot grow down. Marine life cannot breed there. On the other side – which does not receive the wave of garbage moving across the harbor from the gullies – the mangrove looks fairly healthy. We spotted pelicans perched in the bright green foliage like statues. Roosting areas were white with bird droppings.

Rae Town. (My photo)

Rae Town. (My photo)

Apparently, it is very difficult to extract the garbage from the mangroves. But I wish we could at least try.

Pelican poses for his photo on Refuge Cay. Some of our group renamed it "Refuse Cay." (My photo)

Pelican poses for his photo on Refuge Cay. Some of our group renamed it “Refuse Cay.” (My photo)

Back in Port Royal, Suzanne Stanley updated us on the last ICC Day in Jamaica (see my blog from last year). There were close to 6,000 volunteers island wide last year. A huge number descended on the Fort Rocky site on the Port Royal road. On three miles of coastline there, 2,366 volunteers collected 820 bags with 12,300 pounds of garbage. This included 27,000 plastic bottles! When JET returned a few weeks later, Suzanne said, “The garbage was back.” Jamaicans generate approximately one kilogram of waste per person per day. Kingston’s Riverton City dump receives sixty per cent of the island’s garbage (the NSWMA prefers to call it a “disposal site”). 38 per cent of the population burns garbage (open burning is illegal but the law is not enforced) which causes major environmental and health problems. Overall last year, about two thirds of the garbage collected on ICC Day was plastic.

Garbage clogging the mangrove at Refuge Cay. (My photo)

Garbage clogging the mangrove at Refuge Cay. (My photo)

One more stop before we returned to Kingston. A quick detour to a piece of land adjoining the Norman Manley International Airport, near a go-kart racing track. The land belongs to the Airports Authority of Jamaica. It consists of a garbage dump and a piece of waste land covered with garbage, which is thick along the shoreline.  When we arrived a man was sitting motionless next to the dump, which was smoking heavily. The smoke was choking and toxic. Walking down to the shore, we saw garbage literally piled up. An old television and any amount of household waste was there – including a great deal of plastic of course. Here and there, there was a small pile of garbage which had been burned (this is illegal) – including a pile of aerosol cans!

A television set rests among the trash at the Airports Authority of Jamaica's land next to the airport. (My photo)

A television set rests among the trash at the Airports Authority of Jamaica’s land next to the airport. (My photo)

This is private property; I don’t think it will be a part of ICC Day. In fact, it does not look as if it has ever been cleaned. It is utterly disgraceful, a major health hazard. Wouldn’t a small park be nice?

These were aerosol cans that someone had attempted to burn. (My photo)

These were aerosol cans that someone had attempted to burn. (My photo)

ICC Day 2014 will be rather different from last year. There were so many people at Fort Rocky (with sponsors’ tents dispensing free food and drink) that the event turned into a “lyme.” After everyone had gone home, we had to clean up after the volunteers! This year is going to be more focused. It will be shorter, with no sponsors’ tents. Volunteers will split into groups of five, with a leader. All groups must register by Friday, September 5! For more information, visit JET’s website at http://www.jamentrust.org/all-events/details/26-international-coastal-cleanup-day-2014.html  You can also find JET on Facebook and on Twitter @jamentrust and call them at (876) 960-3693.

“Once waste enters the marine environment, it’s much harder to deal with,” says Suzanne Stanley. “When it’s on the shoreline, it’s pretty much the last chance to capture it before it ends up in the sea.”

That’s why International Coastal Cleanup Day is so important. Sign up today. And even more importantly, we need to get involved in keeping our environment clean and healthy on a regular basis, every day of the year.

P.S. A piece of empty land opposite Gloria’s restaurant in Port Royal is now thickly strewn with litter. I mean, really thick. It has always been bad, but yesterday I noticed that it is a great deal worse. Wind from the nearby beach seems to blow every single piece of litter onto this land. As a responsible corporate citizen, couldn’t Gloria’s make the effort to clean this area adjacent to their business? It does not reflect well on them, at all.

P.P.S. One bright moment in the tour was when I was just settling into the boat at the Port Royal Marine Lab. I looked down in the water and saw a beautiful Spotted Eagle Ray swimming past. I wish I had taken a photograph, but he was moving quite fast… It was heartening to see.

The Spotted Eagle Ray. What a beauty he was!  (Photo: belizearchaeologyecotours.com)

The Spotted Eagle Ray. What a beauty he was! (Photo: belizearchaeologyecotours.com)

ICC efforts began in Jamaica in the mid-90s with small cleanups taking place in a few locations across the island. In 2008 the Jamaica Environment Trust became national coordinators of ICC activities in Jamaica, with the support of TEF as the primary donor. JET works with local site coordinators – community-based organizations, non-governmental organizations, government agencies, private sector organizations, hotels, tourism stakeholders, youth clubs, service clubs, and schools. ICC volunteers don’t just pick up trash on coastlines; they also collect data on the type of garbage they find. JET compiles the data and sends it to the global coordinator, the U.S.-based Ocean Conservancy. “ICC Day in Jamaica has grown leaps and bounds each year,” says Suzanne.“The overwhelming response we have received this year makes us feel really positive about other marine litter focused activities we will be undertaking this year through the Clean Coasts Project.” More about that project in another blog.

Children swimming in the water downtown, a stone's throw from the horrible Rae Town Gully. A little girl in a pink swimsuit waved to us. (My photo)

Children swimming in the water downtown, a stone’s throw from the horrible Rae Town Gully. A little girl in a pink swimsuit waved to us. (My photo)

 

CCRP Protests Increase in Bus Fare for Seniors Commuting on JUTC Buses

I reported in my previous blog on the increase in bus fares announced yesterday; the increases will take effect on Sunday. There have been numerous expressions of deep concern from several sectors of society, including the National Consumer League and some trade unions. The Bustamante Industrial Trade Union says the issue will impact public sector wage negotiations next year (in March, 2013 civil servants agreed to wage restraint for the contract period 2012-2015. They are feeling the pinch). Jamaica’s oldest union, the Jamaica Civil Service Association (JACISERA) has gone a step further, suggesting members boycott the Jamaica Urban Transit Corporation buses. JACISERA says the increase does not bode well for the Partnership for Transformation among the public and private sector and civil society.

Fares for Jamaica’s senior citizens have seen by far the largest increase. Below is a release from the Caribbean Community of Retired Persons (CCRP), which supports Jamaicans over fifty who are retired or planning to retire. Seniors are already struggling with rising inflation and a declining standard of living for many. This increase is, in my view, quite heartless.

Kingston, Jamaica- August 21, 2014: The Caribbean Community of Retired Persons (CCRP) is reacting with shock to the government’s announcement of an increase in the bus fare for seniors who travel on the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) buses, from $20.00 to $60.00 – a whopping increase of 200 per cent.

Professor Denise Eldemire-Shearer, Chair of the CCRP, in commenting on the decision, stated: “The increase will amplify the burden on seniors who have to make regular visits to health care facilities such as hospitals and health clinics along with collecting their NIS [pensions].”

She further indicated that the increase will also have a negative impact on programmes implemented by the CCRP, the National Council for Senior Citizens (NCSC) and other organizations for seniors, designed to promote active ageing and healthy living, as most seniors will not be able to attend due the increase.

Jean Lowrie-Chin, Founder and CEO of the CCRP, added that the plight of seniors in the society is already quite alarming and this would further compound their challenges. “They are facing the triple jeopardy of poor health, economic marginalization and threats to their personal security – surely there needs to be special consideration for them,” she said.

The government is urged to identify other alternatives that will not discriminate against this vulnerable group of citizens.

-END-

ABOUT CCRP:

CCRP Jamaica was launched in April 2010. It is a membership organisation for persons 50 and over retired or planning to retire. CCRP is dedicated to honouring the wisdom of seniors and promoting respect for them through programmes that enhance their well-being, skills, and talents towards the development of Jamaica, the Caribbean and the Diaspora. Our aspiration is for all seniors to be empowered to live ‘Life to the Fullest’.

Contact: Dorett Linton,
CCRP Jamaica
Tel: 926-6740 (office)
435-0099 (mobile)

Bus Fares, A Boat Trip and Ice Buckets: Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Despite the weather forecast today (which predicted we would be “high and dry”) we actually had some refreshing rain. Another great stress reliever was the arrival of… Yes! A garbage truck! I like to think that my photo of our piles of garbage posted on Instagram did the trick. We feel very fortunate, as a street close by is still knee deep in the stuff.

Mario Deane died in custody after suffering severe injuries at the Barnett Street police lock-up in Montego Bay.

Mario Deane died in custody after suffering severe injuries at the Barnett Street police lock-up in Montego Bay.

Predictable: Just as I expected, our Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller chose a partisan political meeting on Sunday to finally say something about Mario Deane, nearly two weeks after his death. This was the wrong platform; and the tone of her response was also inappropriate. Her remarks on the tragedy, which has deeply disturbed so many Jamaicans, turned into a diatribe against the Opposition. She had not commented on the Deane case “because it was under investigation” and her Ministers of Justice and National Security had already spoken, she added.  As always, the PM seemed to take personally the criticisms of her complete silence while all sections of society were expressing anger at Mario Deane’s death (and the complex and painful ramifications of it). She does not seem to understand the nature of her position as Prime Minister. This means she should speak out on matters of national concern. This is called “leadership.” She must cover all bases.

The PM did, however, acknowledge the importance of human rights. That phrase is rolling off the tongue of some politicians a little more easily, these days. Jamaicans for Justice has commended her for this. By the way, an autopsy on Mario Deane by an overseas pathologist will likely take place next week.

Minister of Transport & Works Omar Davies

Minister of Transport & Works Omar Davies.

Great timing: Minister of Transport Omar Davies announced an increase in bus fares for the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) today – effective Sunday, so we have just three days’ notice. The timing could not have been worse, as the new school year approaches. Adult fares will increase by 20%; children, students and the disabled will see a 50% increase; and senior citizens a 200% increase. Minister Davies said the JUTC is seeking to run a “first world service” with hugely increasing expenses. It doesn’t seem likely at this time that the government will back down on this – unless there is a huge fuss (and there is a faint possibility that there may be demonstrations and civil unrest on this matter). The Minister says he would have to find another funding source to keep the JUTC afloat if the increase was withdrawn. He waffled over the major increase for senior citizens, even appearing to question the journalist’s description of this demographic as “vulnerable.”

Ironically, the People’s National Party (PNP) fiercely opposed a proposed fare increase in 2010. Portia Simpson Miller, then Opposition Leader, called the move “wicked and uncaring”. Now it’s Andrew Holness’ turn (he called the fare increase a “travesty of grave injustice, inconsiderate and wicked” and threatened street protests). He does have a point about the last Auditor General’s Report, which highlighted many inefficiencies in the JUTC. Minister Davies says some of these will be addressed by year-end – in particular, the lack of a mechanism to track the operations of its buses. They will get GPS. Oh, and they will issue schedules!

Passengers board a JUTC bus. (Photo: Rudolph Brown/Gleaner)

Passengers board a JUTC bus. (Photo: Rudolph Brown/Gleaner)

In the scheme of things bus fares may not seem high. But a Twitter friend calculated that for a Jamaican earning the minimum wage, taking one bus to and from work will mean transportation will take up 21% of his/her income (thank you, Alexis Goffe!) If that person has a child, then bus fares will be 27% of income. Bear in mind that July inflation was higher than expected (mainly due to much higher food prices caused by the drought).

Passengers embarking a Jamaica Urban Transit Company bus at North Parade, downtown Kingston. (Photo: Gleaner)

Passengers embarking a Jamaica Urban Transit Company bus at North Parade, downtown Kingston. (Photo: Gleaner)

The JUTC’s history has been a rough and rocky one. Eleven years ago, then Finance Minister Omar Davies gave it a huge (J$3.45 billion) to clear its debt. By that time, it was racking up losses of billions of Jamaican Dollars.

Fourth consecutive quarter of growth: This has to be good news, doesn’t it. The Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) reported growth of 1.2% for the past quarter – especially in agriculture. The PIOJ, as always, put a positive spin on it all, but only projected a maximum one per cent growth rate for the next quarter. Nothing to crow about, after all?

 

Mayor Shernet Haughton with members of her team after the first sitting of the Hanover Parish Council in 2012. (Photo: Adrian Frater/Gleaner)

Mayor Shernet Haughton with members of her team after the first sitting of the Hanover Parish Council in 2012. (Photo: Adrian Frater/Gleaner)

What is the story behind the resignation of Mayor of Lucea Shernet  Haughton, after just over two years in office, and her Deputy? I understand that there were party machinations; we may never know details. I also see this as the triumph of the Patriarchy. I cannot forget the extremely unpleasant, misogynistic (and perhaps racist) attack on her by local Member of Parliament Ian Hayles, who said the Mayor was “not his type” at a party meeting.

Bring your own water: Back to school is upon us, and Education Minister Ronald Thwaites says some schools may ask students to bring their own water for drinking and sanitary purposes to school each day (the image of small children staggering down the road with their heavy bag of books and a few gallons of water is not a happy one).The drought has not lifted, despite a few showers here and there. It’s worsening in some areas. Bush fires continue. I am still hoping that the National Water Commission will do a better job of responding to the many calls regarding leaking pipes – and fix them! Incidentally, when did the NWC last do any customer service training? Their staff do not know the meaning of the word “customer,” I swear. Re-training urgently needed!

Most schools “ineffective”: Six out of every ten schools surveyed (129 of them) by the National Education Inspectorate (NEI) are failing to provide quality education. NEI reports are generally as gloomy as the PIOJ’s reports are optimistic. I am not sure I am happy with Education Minister Ronald Thwaites “calling out” specific schools in his speeches. How does that help? There is no doubt, however, that leadership and management of schools is a major concern. As it is in most sectors, one might add. The NEI report will be published next month.

The Victoria Jubilee Hospital.

The Victoria Jubilee Hospital.

You’re in labor? Well, just shut up!  This has (allegedly) been the attitude of some nurses at the Victoria Jubilee Hospital, the public maternity hospital in downtown Kingston. We have been hearing these stories for years. Now an extremely damning report from a mother (who lost her baby) in the Jamaica Observer prompted other mothers to come forward with tales of woe, focusing on unprofessional behavior by the staff. At last the Minister of Health has taken action. He recently ordered an investigation into the allegations, suggesting perhaps staff need “customer service training.” Methinks also the Ministry fears lawsuits…

This is what Great Goat Island looked like on September 14, 2013 when we traveled round the islands. (My photo)

This is what Great Goat Island looked like on September 14, 2013 when we traveled round the islands. (My photo)

“There’s nothing there!” The Government’s chief propagandizer for the transshipment port at Goat Islands, the Caribbean Maritime Institute Dr. Fritz Pinnock, took a much larger group of media and Jamaica Chamber of Commerce members on a lovely boat trip to the area on Sunday. He told financial analyst Ralston Hyman on radio (Mr. Hyman is already gung-ho on the project so was an uncritical listener) that he took the group to Greater Goat Island. This was not apparent in the Facebook photos I saw. Clearly Dr. Pinnock took them to a degraded area, in the middle of the day. I doubt the group were impressed as to the ecological value of Goat Islands after that. Dr. Pinnock said they could see there was “nothing there” (what does “nothing” mean in this context?)

Sprinter Usain Bolt challenged Youth and Culture Minister Lisa Hanna to the icebucket treatment.

Sprinter Usain Bolt challenged Youth and Culture Minister Lisa Hanna to the icebucket treatment.

The IceBuckets: Never one to shy away from self-promotion, our Youth and Culture Minister Lisa Hanna sat at her desk, waterproof makeup applied, for someone to pour a bucket of ice water over her in the cause of ALS research. Critics said the water damaged her computer and government documents, but Ms. Hanna’s office denied this. I just hope that all these people seeking a nice PR opportunity will actually donate to the cause – and the Minister did promote the cause, too. Ms. Hanna is a bit of a video star these days. Having conquered Instagram with her glamorous photos, she is now on YouTube. Her PR man tweeted a video of the birthday celebrations at her office today, complete with a large cake (hopefully not purchased on the public purse). Happy birthday, Minister!

Another “big man” charged with fraud: A member of the PNP’s National Executive Committee (on the party executive for the Prime Minister’s South West St. Andrew constituency) Donovan Bisasor and an employee have been accused of fleecing the National Water Commission of over 7 million dollars was granted multi-million dollar bail this week. This is the work of the new MOCA (the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency). The two return to court on September 29.

Chikungunya cases are increasing: As of this evening there are seventeen confirmed cases. People, arm thyselves with mosquito zappers! They are very effective. If we have more rain, numbers of mosquitoes will go up rapidly. Also keep checking possible breeding grounds around the house. Mosquitoes can breed quickly in a small amount of water – even that contained in a leaf, or a bottle-top…

Fab at forty: National Gallery of Jamaica

Fab at forty: National Gallery of Jamaica

Happy Anniversary!  To two great institutions: The National Gallery of Jamaica (forty years) and the Gleaner newspaper (180 years!) Celebrations are in order!

My next overview should be on Sunday, all things being well…

The Gleaner is 180 years old!

The Gleaner is 180 years old!

Empowering the Young Women of Jamaica: Eve for Life (and Save the Date!)

Saturday, October 11, 2014 is the UN International Day of the Girl Child. This special day aims to “recognize girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world,” says the United Nations.

International Day of the Girl Child

International Day of the Girl Child

What is it like to be a 21st century girl? In many parts of the world, girls face discrimination. In some countries, they are forced into early marriages(46% of girls in India, for example) –  which they are physically and psychologically unprepared for. In many countries, girls are subject to physical and sexual abuse. Millions of girls up to fifteen years of age endure and suffer from female genital mutilation (circumcision). Many are deprived of a proper education. Many are forced into child labor, sexual exploitation and human trafficking. The International Day of the Girl Child focuses on the need to address these difficulties, to promote girls’ empowerment and the fulfillment of their human rights.

Eve for Life

Eve for Life

In Jamaica, the non-governmental organization Eve for Life supports and empowers some of the most marginalized girls: young (mostly teenage) mothers living with HIV and AIDS and their children. Executive Director Patricia Watson and Director of Programs and Training Joy Crawford co-founded Eve for Life in 2008. They are supported by a loyal and hard-working staff and a group of amazing “Mentor Moms” who guide and support the young women, based in Kingston, St. James and St. Ann. Their core services and programmes include parenting workshops, HIV and AIDS counselling, social support, training and capacity building, AIDS education and community sensitization and mobilization and advocacy.

Eve for Life staff, volunteers, mentor moms and supporters at the soft launch of Nuh Guh Deh. (My photo)

Eve for Life staff, volunteers, mentor moms and supporters gather at the soft launch of Nuh Guh Deh last November. (My photo)

 

Young women make up over sixty per cent of all people living with HIV globally. In Jamaica, there are more than twice as many women in the 15 – 24 years age group living with HIV as there are men. The physical and psychological challenges Eve for Life clients face (apart from trying to keep themselves and their children healthy) are unbelievably complex. Their situation is usually exacerbated by poverty and the rising cost of living; unemployment; stigma and discrimination; lack of family support; domestic and sexual abuse (increasingly); and even in some cases homelessness. Eve does an absolutely incredible job. They build the girls’ confidence. They counsel them on difficult issues. They help the girls get into training programs, so they can earn money. They help them get back to school, or into programs where they can continue their education. They help the girls become independent, strong and hopeful again. They offer them love. And, most importantly, they care.

As the International Day of the Girl Child approaches, Eve for life is on a mission. It aims to try to change a mindset that exists among some Jamaican men and that is often supported by women too. This is the practice of “grooming” young girls, sexualizing them when they are still very young. It is the practice of older men approaching these very young girls for sex, which is often forced on them. They are still children. It is illegal. It is sexual abuse. It causes mental, spiritual and physical suffering, unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, and sometimes HIV. Men, stop it! Nuh Guh Deh!

Deirdre Kienan (left) of UNICEF, Marion Scott (centre) of the National Family Planning Board, and St Rachel Ustanny of Family Planning Association of Jamaica show their Nuh Guh Deh T shirts at the  "soft" launch of the Eve for Life initiative in November, 2013.  (Photo: Rudolph Brown/Gleaner)

Deirdre Kienan (left) of UNICEF, Marion Scott (centre) of the National Family Planning Board, and St Rachel Ustanny of Family Planning Association of Jamaica show their Nuh Guh Deh T shirts at the “soft” launch of the Eve for Life initiative in November, 2013. (Photo: Rudolph Brown/Gleaner)

If you have not already done so, please read some of my earlier posts, including Nickeisha’s Story: http://petchary.wordpress.com/2013/12/31/nuh-guh-deh-nickeishas-story/  In a heartfelt speech at the soft launch of the “Nuh Guh Deh” campaign last November, Nickeisha, who is from St. Ann, said: “As someone who has experienced abuse, I feel it is my duty as an empowered and proud teenager and mother to say this to you … “NUH GUH DEH!!” Lef wi mek wi grow…!!”

The official launch of the Nuh Guh Deh campaign will be on the International Day of the Girl Child, Saturday, October 11, 2014. Eve for Life and all the girls would love you to be there to support them. It’s going to be a lively, exciting event. More details to follow.

Eve for Life Jamaica will celebrate the International Day of the Girl Child in a very important way.

Eve for Life Jamaica will celebrate the International Day of the Girl Child in a very important way, by asking Jamaican men “Nuh Guh Deh” (Don’t Go There!)

If you also want to support Eve for Life financially, no amount is too small. Funds are needed so that Pat, Joy and the team can continue their work and support our vulnerable girls. Eve is asking each person to give J$365 x 365 days. Monthly, weekly or annual deposits can be made. Persons can contribute for any number of days; if possible for at least four days per month.

Funds received will support the organization’s local fundraising to strength and sustain work with adolescent girls and children affected by HIV and AIDS.

 

If you need more information feel free to contact Shandell Lowe at 876-771-8500.

You can contribute to funds to Scotiabank Jamaica’s Constant Spring Financial Centre Savings Account:  EVE for Life; Branch No. 21725; Account No. 32433

Contact Eve for Life: Office: 876-758-7049; Other: 876-816-1365/876-342-6107  Fax: 876-758-7049

E-Mail: info@eveforlife.org; evejamaica@gmail.com

Website: http://www.eveforlife.org  You can also find them on Facebook and on Twitter @EveforLife

A star supporter: Musician, actor and leader of the Nomaddz band Sheldon

A star supporter: Musician, actor and leader of the Nomaddz band Sheldon Shepherd with Eve for Life’s Joy Crawford, outside a benefit concert the band gave last year. (My photo)

Widespread Coal Burning in Amity Hall – Portland Bight Protected Area

This is a disturbing development taking place – apparently unchecked – in a Protected Area that is already under threat from the proposed construction of a transshipment port at Goat Islands. I hope the National Environment and Planning Agency takes swift action to prevent further deforestation.

By the way, the Director of the Caribbean Maritime Institute, Dr. Fritz Pinnock, took a large group of media and members of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC) to Goat Islands on Sunday, August 17.  Dr. Pinnock took the group to a degraded area, apparently to prove that complete destruction of the area to build a transshipment port would be no great sacrifice of Jamaica’s environmental biodiversity (“See! It’s already messed up!”) He observed during a radio interview this morning, “There’s nothing there!”

I hope that similar arguments will not be used to justify the destruction of  this part of the Portland Bight Protected Area.

Here is a press release from the Jamaica Environment Trust:

The Jamaica Environment Trust has received reports about widespread cutting down of trees and coal burning taking place at Amity Hall in St. Catherine. Photographs, taken on August 12, 2014, show the extent of the damage to the area.

JET reported the matter to the National Environment and Planning Agency on August 14, 2014 and is expecting a swift investigation and enforcement action to be taken to stop further deforestation and burning.

Amity Hall is within Jamaica’s largest protected area – The Portland Bight Protected Area. A part of the area was also designated as a Game Sanctuary under the Wild Life Protection Act.

Contact:
Danielle Andrade
Legal Director
Jamaica Environment Trust

Coal burning in Amity Hall.

Coal burning in Amity Hall.

Destruction of forest in Amity Hall.

Destruction of forest in Amity Hall.

Environmental destruction at Amity Hall. (Photo: Jamaica Environment Trust)

Environmental destruction at Amity Hall.

Coal burning in Amity Hall, St. Catherine in the Portland Bight Protected Area. (all photos: Jamaica Environment Trust)

Clearing of woodland in Amity Hall, St. Catherine in the Portland Bight Protected Area. (all photos: Jamaica Environment Trust)

We Have Enough Battles to Fight…

Businesswoman, philanthropist, writer, poet and newspaper columnist Jean Lowrie-Chin is also a committed Christian (in thought, word and action). She comments in a kind, thoughtful way on Jamaican society in her weekly “Jamaica Observer” column, always seeking to highlight hopeful stories. In today’s interesting piece, Ms. Lowrie-Chin gently but firmly puts her fingers on several issues troubling Jamaica at this time. She ends with a similar challenge to our National Hero Marcus Garvey, whose birthday we celebrated yesterday.

Marcus Garvey.

Marcus Garvey.

TODAY, the day after we celebrate the birthday of our first National Hero Marcus Mosiah Garvey, we are still asking why the teachings of this great man are not part of our school curriculum. Garvey produced numerous books. Academics and authors like Professor Rupert Lewis, Professor Robert Hill, Ken Jones, and Geoffrey Philp have explored his work and philosophy. And there is a wealth of information that can be shared with children at every stage of their lives. How I would love to hear our schoolchildren recite, “Up you mighty race, you can accomplish what you will!”

Garvey’s passion for learning, enterprise and self-respect is what we need now more than ever. If our leaders, educators, police officers had been brought up reciting his words, we would have reached so much further as a country. This issue of self-respect goes deeper than we realise, because if we do not respect ourselves, we will have but a minus quantity of respect for anyone who looks like us.

A successful professional lady told me that she was afraid for her son’s life and would rather he lived abroad than in Jamaica after he was pulled over and roughed up by the police. She had loaned her handsome cool-black son her Mercedes Benz. “They accused him of stealing the car and refused to listen to him when he tried to explain it was his mother’s car,” she said bitterly. She said her son was very shaken up by the incident. I understand that the young man now lives in a country where he is part of a small minority of blacks, yet he has experienced virtually no disrespect in that country.

Marcus Garvey would have wept over the Mario Deane story. He would have wept not only for the suffering and loss of a young man in the full flower of his life, but also for his damaged cellmates and our spiritually wounded police force. Paul Reid’s report in last Thursday’s Observer that Deane was locked up over a mere ganja cigarette and was kept in a cell with a schizophrenic exposes a system with wide cracks through which too many are falling.

Even as we welcome amendments to our laws, particularly the recent passage of the Disabilities Act, we are aware that there are so many laws to protect our citizens that are not being enforced. We need to love ourselves more, we deserve better but we have to believe that we do.

My family is a multi-racial one, and when my son — of African ancestry — reached ‘party age’ I died many deaths waiting for him to get home safely in the wee hours. When I think of the terrible thoughts I have had as I counted the minutes, I cannot even imagine how the family of Mario Deane is coping.

There was also a report that the sister of one of the cellmates accused of Deane’s murder had reported him missing to the police several weeks before the incident, and only discovered the whereabouts of her brother when she heard the news report.

The words of Shakespeare’s Mark Antony at Julius Caesar’s funeral ring in my head: “O kinsmen, we have fled to brutish beasts and men have lost their reason.” Clearly, those of us who call ourselves ‘well-thinking Jamaicans’ have dropped the ball. Have we been so corsetted by our tight social circles that we feel immune to the depravity around us? Our Christianity is being tested. The pious politicians who read lessons at funeral services are being tested. We need more Jamaicans to walk in the light and cease those activities in the dark of night.

This system has forced good police to do wrong under threat of demotion and even loss of jobs. Some have become thugs — the confession of a dying policeman, as related to me by a health worker, would make your skin crawl. Others have learned to “see and blind, hear and deaf”. One senior officer, now departed, was threatened by his colleagues because he turned in all of the millions of dollars he had found during an operation. He came to me in terror begging me to identify for him someone in the high command that I felt he could trust to share his plight. I did, but it seems the threats did not stop, and the poor man worried himself to a premature death.

If we do not resolve to choose a path of righteousness, we will all be affected, and some who consider themselves safe will find themselves wringing their hands in grief.

This Jamaican Babel

As I listened to Jamaicans in civil society, private sector and academia quarreling over lessons, letters, ivory towers, and reality, I realized that our spiritual centre is not holding. There is a level of sophistry in some of the arguments which makes one wonder if there are invisible puppeteers or if everything is about the almighty dollar, whether through sponsorship, salary, or social standing. Or is it just that people have been getting away with low IQs by wearing good clothes and quoting from the right books?

As we approach the new academic year, the Jamaica Teachers’ Association seems to be more concerned about a leadership challenge than the challenges of a system that is turning out illiterate unemployables. Parents are struggling to find funds for those long booklists that have still not been shortened, despite efforts of the Ministry of Education that have been met with resistance from teachers.

Decent, well-thinking, God-fearing? If that is how you describe yourself, you have a lot of work to do in this Jamaican Babel. We have enough battles to fight, what with chikungunya and climate change. Let us not make it worse for ourselves.