“Limbo”: A New Jamaican Novel by Esther Figueroa

Sitting here in limbo
Waiting for the tide to flow
Sitting here in limbo
Knowing that I have to go

One of Jimmy Cliff’s most wistful songs, this one written in 1971, came to mind as I was reading Esther Figueroa’s recently published novel – described as arguably Jamaica’s first “environmental novel.” 

Limbo is, of course, a state of not doing anything. You’re not heading in any direction. While Mr. Cliff sounded calm enough in his song, quietly contemplating his next move, the hero of Dr. Figueroa’s novel is far from satisfied with her situation – and that of Jamaica in general. Flora is a feisty Jamaican woman approaching middle age, who heads an environmental NGO. Her mood veers between nervous anxiety and restless frustration throughout much of the novel, and she curses regularly. She cannot sit quietly in limbo, at all. Waiting for something to happen does not suit her temperament.

Limbo by Esther Figueroa.

Limbo by Esther Figueroa.

There are different kinds of limbo. The cover of the book depicts the “limbo” that was once an amusing attraction for the tourists (in the fifties and sixties) with “natives” bending over backwards under a pole, while others shake maracas playfully and beat drums. This reference to Jamaica’s tourism “product” is clever, and ironic. Flora’s expeditions around the island expose the negative impact of all-inclusive hotels on the environment and local people. She sees the monstrous Spanish hotels along the north coast, and in particular the cruise ship pier and the construction of a fake “Historic Falmouth” with oversized parking lots for buses. Of course, we know of the wholesale destruction of coastal mangrove forests that took place to create these tourist havens (heavens?). Flora is also angry at a place called Sea Fun World, where the dolphins are “better off than when they’re living in the wild” (oh, sure…)

A part of Gustav Dore's illustration of Dante's "Limbo."

A part of Gustav Dore’s illustration of Dante’s “Limbo.” Nobody really knows what to do with themselves…

But let’s get to the real limbo, now. This is the limbo of Dante’s “Inferno,” between heaven and all those circles of hell. It’s a place where there are no struggles or torments; but those dwelling there are waiting for redemption, in the hope of reaching heaven. They just sit around there, powerless, waiting for their fate to be determined. Which will it be, heaven or hell? In the novel, the question is asked, “Which circle of hell is reserved for those who have done irreparable damage?” 

“Forget vision…It’s about money and power,” says Flora in one of her moments of deep cynicism; she is talking about the government’s vision, or rather lack of it. But she doesn’t have much time for philosophizing. She takes the reader along at a rollicking pace, moving through intrigues personal and political, complex deals and corrupt maneuverings, family entanglements, love affairs past and present – even a murder mystery. Flora may complain of exhaustion, but her life is never dull. We meet crusading journalists, shady businessmen, wise fishermen, unscrupulous developers and influential talk show hosts. It’s great fun.

Woven into the narrative is a moving and very personal tribute to one particular person: a journalist, a fierce environmental campaigner and a good and true soul – one who is no longer with us. He is a dear friend of Flora’s, and if we know Jamaica at all, we will quickly recognize him (as we may half-recognize some other characters in the novel). The book is dedicated to him, as well as to environmental activist Diana McCaulay – who also heads her own non-governmental organization, Jamaica Environment Trust.

Flora tackles all of Jamaica’s major environmental concerns head on. Apart from unsustainable tourism, these include the choking tide of plastic on our seashores, toxic waste, over-fishing, the devastating impact of bauxite mining on rural communities. She does not lecture the reader, however. She discusses, she argues, she seeks to persuade, she uses all her social skills to try to influence others. But the “everlasting arguments” exhaust her. She feels the burden of being an activist with little support. At one point, Flora realizes she is “absolutely sick of trying to save human beings from themselves and from destroying the planet.”

And as events unfold, Flora is increasingly seeking to bring balance into her life. There are interludes of rest, enjoyment, sheer pleasure. Her best friend Lilac cooks delicious meals for her; I enjoyed the mouth-watering descriptions of Jamaican food, in particular – cocoa tea, fish and bammy from Port Royal, fragrant cornmeal porridge and much more. One of my favorite chapters describes a visit to Kingston’s Coronation Market with Lilac, where an abundance of local fruits and vegetables is heaped into the van in preparation for an uptown party, complete with soca music. A fishing trip, an escape by boat to a small island, where she stays overnight, sleeping in a hammock with her lover. These are the kind of things one dreams about doing in Jamaica. I think the word I am searching for is idyllic.

These moments of respite, amidst Flora’s weariness and frustration, express her profound love for Jamaica (and one senses, the author’s, too). But the book does not portray a “Come to Jamaica and feel irie!” prettified Jamaica; far from it. There is nothing sentimental about Flora’s non-negotiable, unequivocal love for her home, Jamaica – the land, and the “real” people.  Flora simply cares, deeply, for her country, and she has fought for it. She travels, she has studied overseas. But we know she does not want to live anywhere else; why should she?

The message is clear: This island of Jamaica has riches, abundant. We don’t have to tear her apart and rob her of them. She can keep them, and we can nurture them, because they will benefit all of us, for generations to come.

As Bob Marley once sang (and I think he was talking about those “big men” Flora had to deal with):“Think you’re in heaven, but you’re living in hell.” Limbo is, perhaps, the worst option. But the novel ends hopefully, in a small quiet place by the sea, where the breeze blows and the light plays over land and water.

This book is not about Jamaica. It is, truly, Jamaica.

“Limbo” is published by Arcade in hardcover, and is available at Jamaican bookstores and on amazon.com.

Author Esther Figueroa is a Jamaican independent filmmaker who has produced several films on environmental issues, including "Jamaica For Sale," a powerful documentary on the impact of tourism.

Author Esther Figueroa is a Jamaican independent filmmaker who has produced several films on environmental issues, including “Jamaica For Sale,” a powerful documentary on the impact of tourism.

 

 

 

 

Alpha Boys’ Home Statement by the Sisters of Mercy

MY DEAR READERS: This is a statement from the Sisters of Mercy, who administer the Alpha Boys’ School for abused and abandoned boys on South Camp Road in Kingston. Alpha Boys’ is an educational institution founded by Jesse Ripoll in 1880s. It has a tremendous tradition of musical accomplishment. For more information on this wonderful place, go to: http://www.alphaboysschool.org

I am also publishing below the statement a column written by Jean Lowrie-Chin in yesterday’s “Jamaica Observer.” This column also makes it clear that Alpha Boys’ has been struggling financially for years; but despite the closure of its residential program there is much hope for a new and brighter future for Alpha boys. 

Let us show the Alpha Boys – and all our children, especially those in State care – more love, compassion and respect.

The Sisters of Mercy are forced to break our silence in the face of unfortunate statements on the Alpha Boys’ School and resulting media commentaries, including a shocking cartoon, which have been disrespectful and have caused great stress to our students.

It is bad enough to make harsh remarks and direct hurtful “humour” towards adults, but when directed at children, it is irresponsible and indefensible. We wish to express our sadness at this turn of events on behalf of Alpha students and children in State care everywhere in Jamaica.

The untruths and half-truths that have been voiced and published in the press about the closure of the residential programme at Alpha Boys’ School have caused serious damage to our boys who are presently living at Alpha. We seem as a society to be unable to strike a balance between fair political comment and good journalism on the one hand and sensationalism in politics and journalism on the other hand opting only for sensationalism. Let us stop blaming the victims in this case and bring the voices of reason to bear on what is a very positive and life-giving move for the future students at Alpha Boys’ School.

The Community of the Sisters of Mercy have made a decision regarding the closure of only the residential programme at Alpha Boys’ School based on many factors related to finance and personnel. These are not new problems and over several years we have raised the issues of inadequate finance and social misbehavior to the attention of both Governments. The residential program at St John Bosco Children’s Home in Mandeville which is also operated by the Sisters of Mercy will continue to provide residential care to over 100 boys.

However our decision is now timely in the present climate and direction of the Child Development Agency’s (“CDA”) new thrust toward foster care and family reintegration: our decision goes hand in hand with the CDA’s thrust to put the responsibility for child rearing back into the home. Support services will also need to be a part of this transition.

The restructuring of Alpha will facilitate the Sisters of Mercy along with the Ministry of Education and HEART to offer remedial education for more than 200 boys, along with technical and vocational education. Our renowned music education will also be expanded to include radio, sound production and commercial components.

Truth – “What is truth”? Pilate’s dilemma comes to mind as we read and heard the words of those who testify against our management of the Alpha Boys’ School. We hope this statement will address that question, and that all parties will allow our precious children to receive the respect they deserve.

___________________________________________________________________

15 April 2014

Sister Marie Chin, Regional Administrator

Religious Sisters of Mercy,

“Alpha”, 26 South Camp Road

Kingston 4.

 

Mercy alive and well at Alpha Boys’ School

Jamaica Observer, Monday April 14, 2014

AFTER almost 130 years of nurturing Jamaican boys, the Alpha Boys’ School is closing its residential facilities. On the positive side, however, the school will expand its educational offerings. You would think that an institution like Alpha would have no difficulty receiving a decent subvention for its good work. But, like many others of its kind, it has been struggling financially.

“We understand that the decision to close the residential part of Alpha Boys School has been subject to misunderstanding and misinterpretation,” commented Sister Marie Chin, area administrator of the Sisters of Mercy, when I called her after hearing the reports. “We appreciate this opportunity to explain that the closing of the residential part is due to a constellation of factors that are as much social as they are economic.”

She said pointedly: “The problems that have arisen in this programme did not materialise overnight; nor do they belong solely to Alpha Boys’ School. They have grown exponentially alongside the deterioration of societal values and norms, our seeming incapacity to halt our country’s downward spiral into alarming dysfunction, and inadequate government funding to meet the social and developmental needs of our people.”

It seems that the Minister of Youth and Culture Lisa Hanna may have misunderstood the situation, as she ascribed the change in operations to deviant behaviour among the students. Sister Susan Frazer, the administrator for Alpha Boys’ School, wants to make it clear that it is a small minority that gives cause for such concern. The students are deeply hurt by this comment, so we hope that the minister will explain to them, that her sweeping statement resulted from a misunderstanding.

Thank goodness the great Usain Bolt lifted their spirits when he visited Alpha Boys School last Wednesday and presented gifts to all.

“The Sisters of Mercy remain firm in their long-time commitment to boys at risk,” said Sister Marie Chin. “Neither Alpha Boys’ School nor St John Bosco (which the Sisters operate in Manchester) is closing. In fact, Alpha is undergoing a restructuring that will enable the ministry to help more boys who are at risk. Part of the restructuring will include closing the residential part only of Alpha Boys’ School as the Sisters of Mercy join with the Ministry of Education and HEART to offer literacy, numeracy and remedial educational along with technical and vocation education for more than 200 boys.

“With the escalating cost of living over these last years, the amount of funds that Government has given per capita to private children’s homes, such as Alpha Boys’ School and St John Bosco, for housing, clothing, food, and education has proven to be woefully inadequate,” said Sister.

After several attempts to address this situation the Sisters of Mercy have had to acknowledge some hard facts: “Our childcare system is broken, and we can no longer continue doing business as usual. It is no longer enough to simply provide beds for our children. We must seek alternative ways to enable our vulnerable children to enhance their potential as human beings and to become employable and responsible citizens capable of taking their rightful place in society. And, with the changes we are initiating, we are pursuing that path.”

Alpha Boys’ School graduate, the legendary musician Winston ‘Sparrow’ Martin is the bandmaster for the school and outlined the plans for the expansion of their cherished and esteemed music education which has developed such other talents as Cedric ‘Im’ Brooks, Dwight Richards, Lennie Hibbert OD, Tommy McCook, Don Drummond, Johnny ‘Dizzy’ Moore, Rico Rodriguez, Winston ‘Yellowman’ Foster, Dizzy Reece, Lester Sterling OD, Dalton Browne, Nicholas Laraque, Leslie Samuels, Harold McNair, Wilton ‘Bogey’ Gaynair, Bertie King, Leslie Thompson, Damon Riley, Tony Gregory, and Leroy Smart.

They have played with many top bands, including Bob Marley and the Wailers, The Beatles — yes, those world-famous Brits — and our legendary Skatalites. Alpha past students have worked with or now work with Beres Hammond, Beenie Man, Jimmy Cliff, Stephen Marley, Damian Marley, and Nomaddz.

“The future developments at Alpha Boys’ School mean larger numbers of students will be able to take advantage of a comprehensive music industry training programme at the school,” said Sparrow Martin, “including but not limited to: training in performance; work in the newly created sound studio; radio technology; as well as the ‘business’ of music and recording”.

He said that Alpha Boys’ School Radio (http://www.alphaboysschoolradio.com/), features local and international productions and has been gaining worldwide popularity, with over 60,000 unique listeners. Many of them have contributed to the recently completed Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign which will enable the school to build its own radio studio. Here, the students will be trained in production, presentation, promotions, and programming.

Thanks to the Jamaica National Foundation, the school is also developing a state-of-the-art music recording studio, where there will be instruction in recording techniques, audio engineering and audio production.

“Alpha now has its own top band, the Alpha All Stars, a touring band consisting of Alpha graduates playing jazz, ska, rocksteady, and reggae,” said a proud Martin. “The band will be an opportunity for Alpha alumni who demonstrate an ability to perform and will facilitate the transition from school to work. This is a music enterprise, so instruction will include an introduction to and practical experience in contracts, booking, licensing, promotion, and publishing.”

Additionally, students will be trained in screen-printing, woodwork, general maintenance, landscaping, hydroponic farming, and other skills. It is a model that has worked well at St John Bosco, where farming, meat processing and catering are helping that residential facility, also run by the Sisters of Mercy, to be self-sustaining. It is noteworthy that the catering manager there is none other than Newton Coote, who was rescued at seven years old after his hand was set on fire by an abusive father. Newton, who is now 40, is an exemplary leader at Bosco.

Clearly, mercy for Jamaica’s children remains alive and well with the Sisters. Alpha Boys’ School will continue to educate and train Jamaica’s boys so that, like Sparrow Martin and Newton Coote, they can become responsible citizens, embracing the dignity of honest work and enjoying the fruits of their success.

Jean Lowrie-Chin

Late again! Sunday, April 13, 2014

My apologies again for this belated “Wh’appen in Jamaica” post! I can’t seem to catch up with myself.

Police Commissioner Owen Ellington: some concerns over his TV interview. (Photo: Gleaner)

Police Commissioner Owen Ellington: some concerns over his TV interview. (Photo: Gleaner)

Really, Mr. Commissioner?  Several things worried me about Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington’s television interview with Dionne Jackson-Miller this past week. The program posed questions from Jamaican men and women on the street; good idea. Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington asserted, right at the end, “Jamaicans are not afraid of the police.” Really, Mr. Ellington? I so wish that were true. He also told us that the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) began investigating allegations of extra-judicial killings in the Clarendon police division long before the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) – but said that the division has been “stigmatized” because of INDECOM’s announcement – which he did not seem very happy with. If it was up to him, he seemed to suggest, he would rather have kept things quiet for a while longer?

As for his remark regarding Vybz Kartel’s “gang” being responsible for about 100 murders That puzzles and concerns me, since the appeal will be coming up soon. Can Commissioner Ellington substantiate this allegation? Was the JCF investigating these murders?

The boards: The Opposition’s Dr. Horace Chang has expressed concern that some chairpersons of government agencies are over-stepping their mark and acting like executive chairpersons, “which is in direct contravention of national policy, as stated in the Public Bodies Management Act.” Perhaps this explains recent upheavals in the Housing Association of Jamaica and National Housing Trust. We should keep an eye on this.

Energy World International's Managing Director and Chairman Stewart Elliot points to where the Liquefied Natural Gas storage tank will be located when the company begins construction of its electricity generating project soon. Elliot was on a tour of the Cane River area of East Rural St Andrew yesterday with a group that included (from left) Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington, Member of Parliament for East Rural St Andrew Damian Crawford and Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, Phillip Paulwell. Energy World was recently granted a licence by the Office of Utilities Regulation for the supply of additional generating capacity to the national grid. (Photo: Joseph Wellington/Observer)

Energy World International’s Managing Director and Chairman Stewart Elliot points to where the Liquefied Natural Gas storage tank will be located when the company begins construction of its electricity generating project soon. Elliot was on a tour of the Cane River area of East Rural St Andrew yesterday with a group that included (from left) Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington, Member of Parliament for East Rural St Andrew Damian Crawford and Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, Phillip Paulwell. Energy World was recently granted a licence by the Office of Utilities Regulation for the supply of additional generating capacity to the national grid. (Photo: Joseph Wellington/Observer)

Powerful stuff: Well, the folks from Energy World International (EWI) have paid us a visit, buoyed by the news that Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell will sign the license for them to supply 381 megawatts of power. EWI must provide a performance bond of US$37 million, among other things. It appears the Minister has not yet signed the license, however, and he is going to update us on this, he says. The Minister says he is “quite startled” by a Sunday Gleaner report that the government plans to disband the Energy Monitoring Committee (EMC) as soon as he has signed. The private sector must be relieved to hear this. The most important thing is that oversight is critical; we need the EMC to keep the focus on transparency. There has been precious little of that, so far.

JPS tweeted this graphic a few days ago - "The Real Cost of Energy."

JPS tweeted this graphic a few days ago – “The Real Cost of Energy.”

Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS), our electricity suppliers, are meanwhile involved in a series of public consultations concerning their request for a 21 per cent (yes!) increase in rates – which are already four or five times electricity rates in the United States, for example. The first meeting this evening in Kingston was reportedly relatively civil, with the expected fireworks not happening. Perhaps we are all too depressed to even complain?

Yes, crime IS a major impediment to investment, says leading businessman Richard Byles. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s latest report shows that Jamaica has the sixth highest murder rate in the world (39.3 per 100,000). It’s interesting that eight out of the top ten countries for homicide rates are in Central/South America and the Caribbean.

Portia Simpson Miller

Portia Simpson Miller holds a boy’s face firmly in place before planting a kiss!

Agonizing over child abuse: Our Prime Minister once again spoke out against child abuse, pleading with Jamaicans not to abuse their children, during a speech about something else. I am sure her concern is genuine, but telling people “Don’t do it!” doesn’t really “cut it.” The PM repeated some of the more unpleasant examples that the Youth Minister regaled us with the other day, while demeaning the students at Alpha Boys’ School. She told family members to take their misbehaving children to a leader, pastor etc – “a person that can demand respect and doesn’t beg respect.” She lost me there.

Report it! The Office of the Children’s Registry and UNICEF recently published findings that only one in ten Jamaicans who are actually aware of child abuse actually report it. This is absolutely tragic and hard to accept. 82 per cent of children aged 10 – 17 years old that they interviewed said they had experienced or witnessed some kind of emotional or physical abuse. People, report it! You can go to the OCR’s website (www.ocr.gov.jm) and click on “Make a Report” and there are several confidential ways that you can do this. You will also find their latest report for January – June 2013 there.

Sunset in Port Royal. (My photo)

Sunset in Port Royal. (My photo)

No longer so sleepy: The small town with a famous (notorious?) past – Port Royal – has been suffering from a crime wave, and blame is being placed on a growing squatter community. We always love driving out to Port Royal for fish. I hope the police can deal with it quickly – it has always been a peaceful place.

I spoke about social media activism a few days ago, with Dennis Brooks (a “tweep” and Liverpool Football Club fan – on a high at the moment) about using social media platforms to advocate for causes. I describe myself as a social media activist. If you want to hear Petchary chirping away with Dennis, the link is on SoundCloud here: https://soundcloud.com/nationwide-newsnet/timeline-social-media-activism

Noel Watt, principal of Dunrobin Primary School, along with students Kelsie Spaulding (left) and Kayla Spaulding, didn't get a drop of water from these pipes at the school yesterday. - (Photo: Gladstone Taylor/Gleaner)

Noel Watt, principal of Dunrobin Primary School, along with students Kelsie Spaulding (left) and Kayla Spaulding, didn’t get a drop of water from these pipes at the school yesterday. – (Photo: Gladstone Taylor/Gleaner)

Drying out: The water shortage is becoming so dire that some schools in Kingston closed this week because of the lack of what our local media like to call “the precious commodity,” rather quaintly. Jamaicans are finally starting to take the issue of water conservation seriously, and I suppose it’s never too late. Meanwhile, Kingston’s Mona and Hermitage reservoirs are 36 and 20  per cent full, respectively, and getting lower daily. Heavy water restrictions are being put in place.

Special, special thanks and kudos to:

Projects Abroad Jamaica Country Director Dr Bridgette Barrett speaking about the Belle Haven Centre which is to be built in Central Manchester for children and women living with HIV/AIDS at a Rotaract Club meeting at the Northern Caribbean University last Wednesday. (PHOTO: PROJECTS ABROAD)

Projects Abroad Jamaica Country Director Dr Bridgette Barrett speaking about the Belle Haven Centre which is to be built in Central Manchester for children and women living with HIV/AIDS at a Rotaract Club meeting at the Northern Caribbean University last Wednesday. (PHOTO: PROJECTS ABROAD)

  •  Projects Abroad Jamaica and the BrigIT Water Foundation in Australia, who are working to build a home for women and children living with HIV and AIDS in central Manchester. I heard of these plans some years ago, and am so glad the project is about to get off the ground after a long search for a suitable location for the Belle Haven Centre, as it will be called.
The boys at Alpha Boys' School enjoy the donated sports gear. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

The boys at Alpha Boys’ School enjoy the donated sports gear. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

  •  Usain Bolt (so dear to our hearts), who donated sports gear to Alpha Boys’ School – just in time for their sports day on April 16. This is a much-needed morale-booster for the School, which has really suffered from negative press in the past week or so. Let’s support the boys and the School…
This photo is to prove that I did, in fact, meet Yohan Blake. And what a nice person he is.

This photo is to prove that I did, in fact, meet Yohan Blake. And what a nice person he is.

  • And fellow-sprinter Yohan Blake - whom I met recently and grabbed a photo-op with! – for his continued kindness and generosity through his YB Afraid Foundation, which he founded in 2011. He has brought amazing benefits to the Mount Olivet Home for boys – including a fully-equipped computer lab, improved educational and skills training facilities, wonderful sports facilities, and the list goes on. Mr. Blake (still only 24 years old) also reaches out personally to the boys, chatting with them on Facebook and regularly visiting the home. He is awesome.
Mount Olivet Boys' Home's beautiful computer lab. (Photo: Gleaner)

Mount Olivet Boys’ Home’s beautiful computer lab. (Photo: Gleaner)

In the kitchen at Mockingbird Hill Hotel with the children from School of Hope. (Photo: Facebook)

In the kitchen at Mockingbird Hill Hotel with the children from School of Hope. (Photo: Facebook)

  • Hotel Mockingbird Hill, in beautiful Portland, which has been reaching out to the children with special needs at the local School of Hope. The Hotel is seeking donations of toys, games and other suitable material for the children.

 

My condolences to the grieving families of the following Jamaicans, who were murdered in the past few days. Police Constable Davian Thompson shot his wife dead at their Kingston home; his body was found in a gully the following morning. The police believe he committed suicide.

Latoya Campbell-Thompson, 27, Constant Spring Road, Kingston

Dion Watt, Canaan Heights, Clarendon

Irvin Campbell, 17, Little London, Westmoreland

George Ricketts, Wentworth/Port Maria, St. Mary

Ricardo Barrington, 27, Gloucester Avenue, Montego Bay, St. James

Charles Bryan, 38, Montego Bay, St. James

Kirk Millington, 33, Montego Bay, St. James

Killed by police:

Kirk Rose, 37, Alexandria, St. Ann

“Junior,” downtown Kingston

And on the road: A 65-year-old gentleman who was riding his bicycle along the road in Trelawny was hit and killed by a truck, which did not stop. Why have there been so many hit-and-run accidents, and why so many crashes in western Jamaica recently?

A crowd watches from the bridge on Shortwood Road in Kingston as undertakers and police take Constable Davian Thompson’s body from the gully yesterday morning. Police believe the cop committed suicide after killing his wife Saturday night. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

A crowd watches from the bridge on Shortwood Road in Kingston as undertakers and police take Constable Davian Thompson’s body from the gully yesterday morning. Police believe the cop committed suicide after killing his wife Saturday night. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Mid-Week Mutterings: Wednesday, April 9, 2014

This week has been hot, with a strong, restless wind. The reservoirs are low, and we need a few days of rain to restore us.

Which reminds me: The Meteorological Service has a new website, http://www.jamaicaclimate.net. A lot of work has gone into it and I highly recommend it. It has the regular weather forecast – but much more, lots of maps of drought and rainfall patterns, predicted patterns and long-term forecasts.  The Met Service says it is designed for planners and farmers. It’s well done.

Minister of Youth and Culture, Hon. Lisa Hanna (right), makes a point while addressing a press briefing at the Ministry, in St. Andrew, where she provided an update on the latest reports on child abuse. Beside the Minister is Chief Executive Officer of the Child Development Agency Mrs. Rosalee Gage-Grey. (Photo: JIS)

Minister of Youth and Culture, Hon. Lisa Hanna (right), makes a point while addressing a press briefing at the Ministry, in St. Andrew, where she provided an update on the latest reports on child abuse. Beside the Minister is Chief Executive Officer of the Child Development Agency Mrs. Rosalee Gage-Grey. (Photo: JIS)

Minister of Youth and Culture Lisa Hanna gave a press conference yesterday, which set us all in a pickle. Minister Hanna informed us that the residential part of the famous Alpha Boys’ School, which educates young, abandoned and orphaned boys – would be shut down in June. This is extremely sad news; as I have noted previously, the school (which has been around for 135 years)  is famous for the great Jamaican musicians nurtured under its roof, through its Boys’ Band. But Minister Hanna did not stop at that announcement (which she made apparently on behalf of the Sisters of Mercy, who run the school). She launched into a lurid account of the boys’ behavior – including “the sexual predatory nature of the boys on one another” - citing it as the reason for the closure. Of course, we all gasped in horror, and it made for dramatic media reports later that evening.

JN Foundation volunteers engaging boys at the Alpha Boys School.

JN Foundation volunteers engaging boys at the Alpha Boys School. (Photo: Gleaner)

Alpha has strongly denied that the boys’ misbehavior was the reason, calling it a “rumor.” I published their statement yesterday. Puzzlingly, local media houses (apart from the Gleaner) barely reported this denial. Did they not consider it important, or would they rather take the Minister’s statement at face value? There’s an interesting note in the “Jamaica Observer,” though: “A Jamaica Observer source indicated that the home was being granted less than a quarter of funds that was being given to Government-run orphanages despite repeated pleas by the nuns to be brought on par.” Could this be closer to the truth?

It’s not the first time that the Minister has regaled the Jamaican public with shocking details of child abuse and its consequent effect on children’s behavior. But, as Minister responsible for our youth, what action is being taken to deal with it? She vaguely mentioned some pending “initiatives” at the press briefing, but no details. If this really was going on at Alpha Boys’ School, is closing it down and moving the boys somewhere else truly a solution? How does this sensational speech reflect on the reputation of a revered and much-loved institution – and on the boys themselves and those who work with them?

The Health Minister has conceded that there is a shortage of prescription drugs at public health facilities. Why is that?

Josh Stanley and his brothers up to their ears in ganja on the TV show "American Weed." It's a family business, it seems. I think he's third left. (Photo: Critically Rated blog)

Josh Stanley and his brothers up to their ears in ganja on the TV show “American Weed.” It’s a family business, it seems. I think he’s third left. (Photo: Critically Rated blog)

Talking of drugs, a rather nice-looking fellow from Colorado has been in Jamaica, promoting the many economic benefits of legalizing ganja (marijuana). This is not the first time overseas lobbyists have visited, and one assumes they are eyeing some benefits for themselves, too. “What Jamaica stands to gain right now? Everything,” says Mr. Josh Stanley. Meanwhile, the government remains largely silent on the matter, although it seems likely that decriminalization for small amounts for personal use will happen at some point this year.

Dr. Winston De La Haye. (Photo: Gleaner)

Dr. Winston De La Haye. (Photo: Gleaner)

But psychiatrists disagree: Deputy Chair of the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA) and the Jamaica Medical Association representative on the board Dr. Winston De La Haye (who has many years’ experience in the field of treating drug addicts) disagrees with NCDA Chair Dr. Wendell Abel, who told the media the board had agreed to “consider looking at decriminalising for private personal use and also for religious purposes.” Not true, says Dr. De La Haye. They didn’t agree!

These men, some of the gunshot victims in the ongoing feud in West Kingston, yesterday join residents of the area to stage a protest, calling for an end to the ongoing violence. (Photo: Lionel Rookwood/Jamaica Observer)

These men, some of the gunshot victims in the ongoing feud in West Kingston, yesterday join residents of the area to stage a protest, calling for an end to the ongoing violence. (Photo: Lionel Rookwood/Jamaica Observer)

“Persons of interest”: Nine, including a member of the Coke family, have turned themselves in to the police today, in connection with the recent gang troubles in West Kingston. Meanwhile, the beleaguered Member of Parliament Desmond McKenzie struggles with credibility issues among his constituents. It’s sad, and miserable. I feel sorry for Steve McGregor too, the policeman in charge. He means well.

Earl Witter has resigned as Public Defender. His interim report on the Tivoli Gardens massacre was tabled in Parliament on May 1, 2013. (Photo: digGJamaica)

Earl Witter has resigned as Public Defender. His interim report on the Tivoli Gardens massacre was tabled in Parliament on May 1, 2013. (Photo: digGJamaica)

Public Defender Earl Witter – always a controversial and rather combative figure – has retired after over seven years in the position. He has handed all the files on the Tivoli Garden massacre of 2010 to the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM). Deputy Public Defender Matondo K. Mukulu is the interim Public Defender until the Governor General confirms a new appointment.

Will the DNA bill ever be passed? National Security Peter Bunting says not any time soon. A lot of training, infrastructure etc. would be necessary (of course). It seems he doesn’t have the time, patience or resources for it right now. So don’t expect it to go anywhere near Parliament this year, folks.

Remanded: Four policemen suspected of being part of an alleged “death squad” in the Jamaica Constabulary Force were remanded in custody yesterday.

Sprinter Sherone Simpson has been banned from competition for 18 months. (Photo: Getty Images)

Sprinter Sherone Simpson has been banned from competition for 18 months. (Photo: Getty Images)

On sports: Olympic sprinter Sherone Simpson is suspended for 18 months after testing positive for a banned stimulant called oxilofrine, during last year’s national trials in Jamaica. I understand she will appeal. Olympic discus thrower Allison Randall was banned for two years. Asafa Powell also tested positive and will hear about his fate tomorrow.

Edwin Allen High School's (from left) Christania Williams, Shawnette Lewin and Monique Spencer at the Penn Relays a year ago. (Photo: Gleaner)

Edwin Allen High School’s (from left) Christania Williams, Shawnette Lewin and Monique Spencer at the Penn Relays a year ago. (Photo: Gleaner)

I also agree with Sherine Williams and Renée Dillion, third-year journalism students, who wrote in the Gleaner this week that the amazing female athletes in the recent Boys’ and Girls’ Champs in Kingston did not receive as much attention from local media as the boys. I had noticed this apparent bias myself. Christania Williams ran the second fastest time ever in the 100 metros, for example. Perhaps there is also an “urban bias.” The winning girls’ teams are always “country” schools and the boys’ champions are high-profile “traditional” Kingston high schools.

In the ATM: A touching television report focused on a mentally disturbed man, who had locked himself into a bank ATM cubicle in May Pen. He was in there for an hour before firemen prised open the door. Those gathered outside expressed sympathy; they knew him. He had been a Math teacher at a local school, they said. But a Gleaner report flippantly noted the man was “putting on a show” for curious onlookers, and had to be “forcefully restrained” by the police - adding that something must be done about these people roaming the streets of May Pen. This is yet another example of insensitive reporting on mental health issues.

Professor Emeritus Norman Girvan. (Photo: Walter Rodney Foundation website)

A true “Caribbean man”: Professor Emeritus Norman Girvan passed away today. (Photo: Walter Rodney Foundation website)

Distinguished Jamaican academic Norman Girvan died today, aged 72. He had been very sick after a fall while hiking in Dominica. Professor Girvan was a Professorial Research Fellow at the University of the West Indies’ Graduate Institute of International Relations in St. Augustine, Trinidad. He wrote and discussed a great deal on Caribbean integration, culture and development, globalization and Caribbean history. But he was also a very active academic; he got involved in helping to solve regional matters. If you would like to browse through some of his work, you can go to his website at http://www.normangirvan.info.

Jamaica jerk conch. (Photo: Stephen Charoo from his Recollections of a Foodie blog)

Jamaica jerk conch. (Photo: Stephen Charoo from his Recollections of a Foodie blog)

Recommended blog! This time, I have found a yummy one, from self-confessed Jamaican “foodie” Stephen Charoo. His latest post includes recipes for non-traditional jerk dishes. The link is stephencharooblogs.wordpress.com.

Congrats and “big ups” to:

Celebrating: Jean Lowrie-Chin (far right) and other founding members of ProComm. (Photo: Twitter)

Celebrating: Jean Lowrie-Chin (far right) and other founding members of ProComm. (Photo: Twitter)

  • ProComm - a great PR company celebrating its 35th anniversary this year. Wishing you many more years of success!
Writer and filmmaker Esther Figueroa at the launch of Jamaica's first environmental novel, "Limbo" on Sunday. (Photo: Twitter)

Writer and filmmaker Esther Figueroa at the launch of Jamaica’s first environmental novel, “Limbo” on Sunday. (Photo: Twitter)

  • Two Jamaican authors: Locally-based filmmaker and environmental activist Esther Figueroa launched her first novel, “Limbo,” over the weekend. Stay tuned for my book review!
Jamaican writer Roger Williams. (Photo: Gleaner)

Jamaican writer Roger Williams. (Photo: Gleaner)

U.S.-based Jamaican writer Roger Williams published his first novel last year, but I am only just hearing about it. Interestingly, his novel “Turn Back Blow,” focuses on cruelty to animals and animal rights.

  • Columnist Grace Virtue really is one of my favorites, as you might already know. Her latest Jamaica Observer column is headlined “10 Things We should not be Confused About – Part 1.”  I like her comment: “Christianity and morality are not synonymous.” 
  • Mr. Keiran King has also written a very decent article in the Gleaner - heavily influenced by astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson and his current TV program “Cosmos” – he could have given Neil some credit, I think. But a good article on “Your God is too small.” Both he and Ms. Virtue thinking refreshingly outside the box on what makes people “tick.”

My sad condolences to the families and loved ones of these Jamaican citizens, who were murdered in the last two days:

Neil Brown, 37, Kitson Town, St. Catherine

Ronald Wallace, 32, Innswood Estate, St. Catherine

Cheaveast Hearst, Newlands/Portmore, St. Catherine

George Phillip Myers, Newlands/Portmore, St. Catherine 

Melbourne Smith, 60, Crawle/Riversdale, St. Catherine (mob killing)

Owen Cole (U.S. resident), Waterford, St. Catherine

On the road: Yet another young child – this time a six-year-old boy on his way home from school – was killed on the road. A sugarcane truck, loaded beyond the legal limit, ran over the little boy in Frome, Westmoreland. My condolences to his parents, who appeared dazed and distraught on the television news.

Late for Sunday, April 6, 2014

Due to the crazy distraction of the “Game of Thrones” marathons, which sucked me in, I am a day late with my Sunday roundup. My apologies!

Adijah Palmer (aka Vybz Kartel) dressed up for his court appearance, wearing his old school tie (Calabar High School). Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Adijah Palmer (aka Vybz Kartel) dressed up for his court appearance, wearing his old school tie (Calabar High School, which won the Boys’ Athletics Championships recently). Palmer left school after Fourth Form. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Heavy sentences: In the past few days there has been drama. Last Thursday, the popular deejay Vybz Kartel (Adijah Palmer is his real name) was sentenced to 35 years in prison before he is eligible for parole, for the murder of Clive “Lizard” Williams (whose body has still not been found). Under the concept of “Common Design,” his three accomplices also received heavy sentences. One of them, Shawn Campbell, refused to plead guilty for a much lighter sentence. The men’s lawyers are expected to appeal the verdicts.

“God complex”: The sister of the deceased Mr. Williams, who was one of Mr. Palmer’s hangers-on, made some comments about marginalized youth. They are in danger, she said, of being “bullied” into following people “with a God complex” like Mr. Palmer, who use them for their own purposes. Mr. Palmer liked to call himself “Worl’ Boss” and built a so-called “empire” in his home town, the dingy suburb of Waterford. 

Reaction: The sentencing produced another wave of newspaper columns and lots of social media commentary. The response from Kartel supporters on the street was predictably angry. One supporter swore that Mr. Williams was still alive, and had gone to Cuba. I hear that Kartel was the most brilliant dancehall artiste ever; what that has to do with his murder conviction, I don’t know. But it’s not surprising that many Jamaicans have compared the long sentences with the dismissal of corruption charges against former state minister Kern Spencer. By the way, I have found some information on the Resident Magistrate’s reasons for dismissal, and they are here: http://www.jamaica-gleaner/gleaner/20140404/cleisure/cleisure6.html.

This meme has been circulating on social media.

This meme has been circulating on social media.

The Sunday Observer's editorial cartoon shows former State Minister Kern Spencer relaxing on the couch with a cocktail in hand while dancehall deejay Vybz Kartel is sentenced for life.

The Sunday Observer’s editorial cartoon shows former State Minister Kern Spencer, whose corruption charges were dismissed in court recently, relaxing on the couch with a cocktail in hand while dancehall deejay Vybz Kartel is sentenced to life imprisonment.

All dolled up for the opening of Parliament: Youth and Culture Minister Lisa Hanna. When the Parliamentarians walk to Gordon House for the official opening of the new parliamentary year, our political leaders dress up for the occasion. (Photo: Ian Allen/Gleaner)

All dolled up for the opening of Parliament: Youth and Culture Minister Lisa Hanna. When the Parliamentarians walk to Gordon House for the official opening of the new parliamentary year, our political leaders dress up for the occasion. (Photo: Ian Allen/Gleaner)

Also on Thursday: The Kartel sentencing coincided with the Throne Speech, at the official opening of Parliament – a far less exciting event downtown, but the media dutifully reported it. Every year, the Governor General reads out what is put in front of him – just like the Queen does in her speech in England. So, don’t blame them for being rather dull. It seems Cabinet decided against renaming the speech “The People’s Speech” (Member of Parliament Raymond Pryce had tabled a motion proposing this). Whatever it’s called, it will always provoke a collective yawn, although we really should pay more attention.

Arriving for the state opening of Parliament: Opposition members Senator Tom Tavares-Finson (I wish he would ditch those silly sunglasses), Opposition Leader Andrew Holness and National Security Spokesman Derrick Smith. (Photo: Ian Allen/Gleaner)

Arriving for the state opening of Parliament: Opposition members Senator Tom Tavares-Finson (I wish he would ditch those silly sunglasses), Opposition Leader Andrew Holness and National Security Spokesman Derrick Smith. (Photo: Ian Allen/Gleaner)

Budget time: Finance Minister Peter Phillips will open the Budget Debate next Thursday, April 17. The Budget Debate will then drag on for weeks afterwards, with every sector in Jamaica’s economy represented. I say “drag” because I wonder whether many Jamaicans fully appreciate or even understand the very important budget process. This year the budget is very conservative, with the International Monetary Fund looking over our shoulder. It has increased from last year’s J$744 million to J$761 million, which is really not an increase at all when one takes 8 per cent inflation and the steady devaluation of the Jamaican Dollar into account (the latter is now edging up to J$110/US$1).

Minister Phillip Paulwell says he has to obey the rules. But wasn't EWI's bid slipped in well past the allotted deadline? Have all the rules been followed, really?

Minister Phillip Paulwell says he has to obey the rules. But didn’t EWI’s bid come in well past the allotted deadline? Have all the rules been followed? There has been a distinct lack of transparency in this matter, too.

Minister Paulwell got his way: Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell has got the go-ahead to sign the license for Energy World International to construct a major power plant. He says he is legally obliged to obey the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) which has approved the awarding of the license. “I am a creature of the law and rules…” he declares. OK, then. The Office of the Contractor General, members of civil society, the Energy Monitoring Committee (EMC), and the private sector have urged Paulwell to proceed with caution on this, but no, it’s going ahead. 

PNP graffiti sprayed on a Tivoli Gardens sign in West Kingston. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

PNP graffiti sprayed on a Tivoli Gardens sign in West Kingston. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

“Peace marches” don’t work!  The violence continues in the relatively small community of Tivoli Gardens and surrounding areas of West Kingston. Member of Parliament Desmond McKenzie says a relatively small group” is seeking to dominate the area. After a shooting incident on Friday night, when two people (including a twelve-year-old boy) were killed and ten others injured, a group of angry residents demonstrated against Mr. McKenzie. No one is standing up for them, they say. What, despite all those peace marches, gospel concerts etc? Mr. McKenzie is asking residents to co-operate with the police, but in this atmosphere of distrust, one wonders. Members of the family of Christopher “Dudus” Coke, the former don who was extradited to the U.S. in 2010, are allegedly involved. Another theory is that it is warfare between two gangs fighting for what one resident called the “donship position.” God help us.

Uptowners having a lovely, lovely time. (Photo: Bacchanal Facebook page)

Uptowners having a lovely, lovely time. (Photo: Bacchanal Facebook page)

Partying till they drop: Regardless, Kingston’s uptowners are donning tiny shorts and skimpy tops at least once a week to kick up their heels and jump on top of each other during the regular Bacchanal ritual. This will culminate in the annual Carnival on April 27. I suppose it’s good exercise – although the health benefits may be completely canceled out by the large quantities of alcohol consumed. And someone’s making money out of it all!

Good news! The Alpha Boys’ School has now funded its Radio Studio and Media Lab Project to the tune of (pardon the pun) US$23,000 through Kickstarter crowd-funding. Congratulations and many thanks to all who contributed to this success! Alpha Boys is a home for abandoned boys that has also, over the years, nurtured many great Jamaican musicians and still has its wonderful Alpha Boys Band.

Petchary is bigging up…

  • The 23 young Jamaicans and two organizations that have received the Prime Minister’s Youth Awards for Excellence in several categories. Over forty were nominated, and all are to be congratulated.
Prime Minister the Most Hon. Portia Simpson Miller (right, centre) and Minister of Youth and Culture, Lisa Hanna (to the PM’s left), with the 2013 recipients of the Prime Minister’s Youth Awards for Excellence after the ceremony, held on April 6 on the lawns of Jamaica House, Kingston, under the theme: ‘Celebrating Jamaican Youth…the Courage of Perseverance’. (Photo: JIS)

Prime Minister the Most Hon. Portia Simpson Miller (right, centre) and Minister of Youth and Culture, Lisa Hanna (to the PM’s left), with the 2013 recipients of the Prime Minister’s Youth Awards for Excellence after the ceremony, held on April 6 on the lawns of Jamaica House, Kingston, under the theme: ‘Celebrating Jamaican Youth…the Courage of Perseverance’. (Photo: JIS)

  • The management of the Jamaica Urban Transit Corporation (JUTC), which has been making huge efforts to strengthen the public transportation system in Kingston, and to impose some kind of order, struggling with the problems of illegal taxis and declining profitability, among a myriad other issues. Efforts have been made before, but I think – hope – the JUTC may be successful this time. The JUTC has been riddled with indiscipline, corruption and sheer criminality over the years; the current administration appears to be getting to grips with this.

As always, I extend my condolences to the families and loved ones of all those who have been murdered in the past few days. I always wish that this list of names would disappear, but it never does…

Prison guard Cpl Easton Williams has died in hospital from multiple gunshot wounds he received late last month after he was attacked while making his way to work in St. Catherine. No one has been arrested.

Ricardo Lowe, 28, Charles Street/Chestnut Lane, Kingston

Kawayne McAnuff, 12, Charles Street/Chestnut Lane, Kingston

Carl Williams, 51, Bay Farm Road, Kingston

Unidentified man, Orange/Beckford Streets, Kingston

Almando McKnight, 67, Palmers Cross, Clarendon

Donovan Stewart, 24, Innswood Estate, St. Catherine

Akeem Stephenson, 22,Innswood Estate, St. Catherine

On the road: The National Road Safety Council reports a pretty major increase in the number of deaths on the road up to the first week in April (83), compared to the same period last year (69). NRSC Vice Chairman Lucien Jones believes speeding still remains a problem, along with cell phone use while driving (I see the latter problem each time I am on the road in Kingston – drivers on cell phones driving carelessly). When are we going to pass laws prohibiting cell phone use? Meanwhile, a 24-year-old security guard was killed when his motorbike collided with a car driving in the opposite direction in Retreat, Westmoreland. A ten-year-old girl is in critical condition after she was knocked down in Salem, Runaway Bay, St. Ann while trying to cross the road. The driver fled the scene but was picked up later by the police.

Ricardo Lowe, who was involved in the music business as road manager for an entertainer for Teflon, was murdered on Friday night.

Ricardo Lowe, who was involved in the music business as road manager for an entertainer for Teflon, was murdered on Friday night.

Wednesday Words: April 2, 2014

There have been some interesting developments this week, already. With the end of the financial year and the Budget coming up, this month promises to be a challenging one. The new Parliamentary session will open tomorrow (April 3) with the usual parade of politicians all dressed up for the occasion.

Terrence Williams, head of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), speaks with members of the media while Kahmile Reid, senior communications officer of INDECOM, looks on during a press conference at INDECOM's head office in New Kingston yesterday. - (Photo: Rudolph Brown/Gleaner)

Terrence Williams, head of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), speaks with members of the media while Kahmile Reid, senior communications officer of INDECOM, looks on during a press conference at INDECOM’s head office in New Kingston yesterday. – (Photo: Rudolph Brown/Gleaner)

The INDECOM Effect: The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) gave an important press briefing yesterday, which raised a number of issues. One impressive figure to note: police killings were way down in the first quarter of the year (40) compared to 2013, when there were 76.

The death squads: INDECOM has been investigating allegations of “death squads” in the police force, and yesterday announced that “there is great reason to believe” that eight cases in which nine Jamaicans were killed in the parish of Clarendon “were, indeed, police-involved homicides.” One policeman has been charged for the murder of Adif Washington, who was shot in Milk River but not killed; masked gunmen stormed into the hospital ward where he was recovering and killed him in January 2013. The same policeman has been charged with three other murders, and three other Clarendon policemen have been charged with murder since January. Some fifty police officers have been charged with various crimes, but none have come up in court yet, although INDECOM chief Terrence Williams said INDECOM is “trying its best” to get them to court. He noted one case that has been awaiting trial for nearly two years already.

Masked men: Human rights activist Horace Levy commented on radio that the police cannot be continually in “defensive mode” when such revelations are made; they must examine themselves. The Jamaica Constabulary Force’s (JCF) response to INDECOM’s announcements was confused, to say the least: At first the JCF was “unaware.” Two subsequent releases noted that the JCF “strategically denied” and then “categorically denied” the reports. But then the police urged investigations to move ahead as quickly as possible. 

Glad to see though that the JCF referred a rather unpleasant incident at the Steer Town Academy, a high school in St. Ann, to INDECOM. A group of police officers entered the school compound; one, whose child is reportedly a student at the school, allegedly pushed the Principal. This is the kind of thing that has to stop!

Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell

Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell.

The Minister insists: Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell insisted on television in January that he was ready to sign off on a license for Energy World International (EWI) to construct a 35 megawatt power plant. Concerns have been raised in various quarters, but the Minister is adamant. He will go ahead and sign the license, after the Office of Utilities Regulation cleared the way on March 26. You will recall the confidentiality clause in the due diligence report that the OUR said would not allow it to disclose any details. So transparency has been minimal. Why do I have a bad feeling about this?

So Minister Omar Davies has signed a “Framework Agreement with China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) for the development of a transshipment hub in the Portland Bight.” I presume the Jamaica Information Service meant the port. This is pretty dismal news. See the photo below, with the silent Minister of Environment and Climate Change leaning forward eagerly to see the agreement, whose contents will likely never be made public. This was wrapped up with an agreement to study the possible damming of the Bog Walk Gorge, which had already been announced. Again, zero transparency.

Portland Bight, in southern Jamaica, was designated a Wetland of International Importance on World Wetland Day, February 2, 2006. The Jamaican Government is now seriously considering a demand from Chinese investors to build a transshipment port in the area, which is protected by law and includes recently established fish sanctuaries.  (Photo: Gleaner)

Portland Bight, in southern Jamaica, was designated a Wetland of International Importance on World Wetland Day, February 2, 2006. The Jamaican Government is now seriously considering a demand from Chinese investors to build a transshipment port in the area, which is protected by law and includes recently established fish sanctuaries. (Photo: Gleaner)

“We treasure the preservation of the environment, as much as any other group, and we are concerned about the human beings and the plight of poverty, and the impact which that has on the environment,” said the Minister, repeating the Government’s fallacious mantra that poverty is the most damaging thing that can happen to the environment. Once again, no. The most damaging thing would be dredging the seabed, dynamiting an island and destroying mangrove forest to create a port made of concrete and a coal-fired power plant!

Minister of Transport, Works and Housing, Dr. the Hon. Omar Davies (4th left), presents Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China in Jamaica, Mr. Xiaojun Dong (2nd left), after signing the document with China Engineering Company (CHEC) for the development of a transshipment hub in the Portland Bight and a feasibility study on the damming of the Bog Walk Gorge, at the Ministry in Kingston, on March 28. Sharing in the occasion are (from left): General Manager of CHEC, Mr. Zhongdong Tang; Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, Hon. Phillip Paulwell; Minister with responsibility for Housing, Hon. Dr. Morais Guy, and Minister of Water, Land Environment and Climate Change, Hon. Robert Pickersgill. (Photo: JIS)

Minister of Transport, Works and Housing, Dr. the Hon. Omar Davies (4th left), presents Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China in Jamaica, Mr. Xiaojun Dong (2nd left), after signing the document with China Engineering Company (CHEC) for the development of a transshipment hub in the Portland Bight and a feasibility study on the damming of the Bog Walk Gorge, at the Ministry in Kingston, on March 28. Sharing in the occasion are (from left): General Manager of CHEC, Mr. Zhongdong Tang; Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, Hon. Phillip Paulwell; Minister with responsibility for Housing, Hon. Dr. Morais Guy, and Minister of Water, Land Environment and Climate Change, Hon. Robert Pickersgill. (Photo: JIS)Ja needs waste disposal policy. Duh.

Meanwhile Jamaican workers employed by the China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) on the North-South Highway have been on strike for a week. I’m not clear whether their grievances have been addressed.

Where are those engineering jobs? A qualified Jamaican engineer told a radio program this evening that she has  made over 70 job applications since returning to Jamaica a year ago, but is still jobless. I understand there should be great demand for engineers when the logistics hub takes shape (but then, it’s not here yet, is it).  Is the STEM field really opening up in Jamaica at all (I asked this question in a recent blog)? STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

Pity the poor farmers: There have been more cases of praedial larceny recently (the theft of valuable animals). Neither the police nor the Agriculture Ministry has ever been able to get a handle on this problem, or find any solution; there are very few prosecutions. Now farmers in the Plantain Garden River Agro-Park in St. Thomas are still struggling to pay off their loans, after their crops failed. Wake up, Minister Roger Clarke!

And we need to get overseas funding to repair our fire hydrants? Once again, the Japanese Government has come up with the funds (some J$13 million). A survey of over 13,000 hydrants across Jamaica of which over 4,000 are in need of repair and servicing.

Prime Minister the Most Hon. Portia Simpson Miller (second left), and Indian High Commissioner to Jamaica, His Excellency Shri Pratap Singh (second right), hold the signed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), that will see the Indian Government providing US$2.1 million for the installation of flood lights at Sabina Park. The signing took place at Sabina Park on April 1. Minister with responsibility for Sport, Hon. Natalie Neita Headley (right), and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator the Hon. A.J. Nicholson, witnessed the signing. (Photo: JIS)

Prime Minister the Most Hon. Portia Simpson Miller (second left), and Indian High Commissioner to Jamaica, His Excellency Shri Pratap Singh (second right), hold the signed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), that will see the Indian Government providing US$2.1 million for the installation of flood lights at Sabina Park. The signing took place at Sabina Park on April 1. Minister with responsibility for Sport, Hon. Natalie Neita Headley (right), and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator the Hon. A.J. Nicholson, witnessed the signing. (Photo: JIS)

 

And another grant for lighting up cricket matches: I’m not a cricket expert but understand that our Kingston cricket ground, Sabina Park, really needs lights so that it can stage the popular 20/20 matches, which bring in more income. Now a passionate cricketing nation has come up with a grant of over US$2 million (wow) to provide lighting. Thank you, Indian Government!

Total irrelevance: Meanwhile the churches are ignoring all the burning issues in society, and getting stressed out about “daylight Sabbath” and other issues relating to pending legislation on a flexible working week. OK, then.

Japanese Ambassador to Jamaica, His Excellency Yasuo Takese hands over cheque to outgoing Commissioner of the Jamaica Fire Brigade, Laurie Williams, at the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development in Kingston, on March 27. Looking on are (from left): Chairman of the Jamaica Fire Brigade, Mr. Jalil Dabdoub Jnr., and Acting Commissioner of the Jamaica Fire Brigade, Errol Mowatt. (Photo: JIS)

Japanese Ambassador to Jamaica, His Excellency Yasuo Takese hands over cheque to outgoing Commissioner of the Jamaica Fire Brigade, Laurie Williams, at the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development in Kingston, on March 27. Looking on are (from left): Chairman of the Jamaica Fire Brigade, Mr. Jalil Dabdoub Jnr., and Acting Commissioner of the Jamaica Fire Brigade, Errol Mowatt. (Photo: JIS)

I have some nice Petchary Awards to hand out, as follows:

  • Dr. Henry Lowe, the distinguished and enterprising Jamaican scientist, who continues to develop and expand research into Jamaica’s natural healing plants. Dr. Lowe is also Executive Chairman of Environmental Health Foundation Group of Companies and operator of Kingston’s recently rebranded health and wellness center, Eden Gardens – which is now a totally “green” facility. Good for him, and may his work go from strength to strength. I do like his suggestion that the Government implement policies and programs to transform Kingston into a “green city.” But won’t hold my breath.
Prime Minister the Most Hon. Portia Simpson Miller (centre), takes a closer look at a bottle of supplements on display inside the herbal and gift store at the Eden Gardens Wellness Resort and Spa, as Executive Chairman, Dr. Henry Lowe (right), and his wife Janet, introduce her to more of the shop’s offerings. Occasion was the launch of the newly redeveloped and rebranded facility on March 25, at its Lady Musgrave Road location, in Kingston. (Photo: JIS)

Prime Minister the Most Hon. Portia Simpson Miller (centre), takes a closer look at a bottle of supplements on display inside the herbal and gift store at the Eden Gardens Wellness Resort and Spa, as Executive Chairman, Dr. Henry Lowe (right), and his wife Janet, introduce her to more of the shop’s offerings. Occasion was the launch of the newly redeveloped and rebranded facility on March 25, at its Lady Musgrave Road location, in Kingston. (Photo: JIS)

  • 23-year-old Ainsworth (Ainzy) Morris, who has been nominated in the Journalism Category in the Prime Minister’s Youth Awards, organized by the Youth and Culture Ministry. Good luck, Ainzy! And good luck to all the nominees in various categories!

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Leo studies a skin of a Vincentian parrot at the American Museum of Natural History. This species is threatened with endangerment, in part due to strong pressure from wildlife poachers. (Photo: NCEP blog)

Leo studies a skin of a Vincentian parrot at the American Museum of Natural History. This species is threatened with endangerment, in part due to strong pressure from wildlife poachers. (Photo: NCEP blog)

  • Dr. Leo Douglas, Jamaican Fulbright Scholar, who took over recently as President of BirdsCaribbean (formerly the Society for the Conservation & Study of Caribbean Birds). Leo is a research scholar in the Department of Geography/Geology and an honorary research fellow in the Institute for Sustainable Development (ISD) at the University of the West Indies. The Network of Conservation Educators & Practitioners recently announced him as its March 2014 Professor of the Month.
The winning Kingston College team celebrates after Schools Challenge Quiz on television. In the background are Campion College team members, whom they beat by a very narrow margin. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

The winning Kingston College team celebrates after Schools Challenge Quiz on television. In the background are Campion College team members, whom they beat by a very narrow margin. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

  • The winners of Schools’ Challenge Quiz, a long-running television quiz show, Kingston College. They squeezed out a narrow win against Campion College, another Kingston high school. This year Television Jamaica seems to have hyped up the finals excessively, with a “pre-show,” etc. But I guess they were aiming for a high viewership.

Armed men fired at a one-bedroom house in rural Lyssons, St. Thomas, hitting a seven-year-old boy, who is in serious condition in hospital. What makes me especially sad about this story is that his distraught mother ran out onto the main road with her son in her arms, but for some time no one stopped to help her take him to hospital. As she started running, eventually someone stopped for her. My condolences to the families of the following murder victims:

Robert Mendez, 41, Maxfield Avenue/Half Way Tree, Kingston 10

Kenneth Grant, 27, Priory, St. Ann

Anthony McCarthy, 34, Aboukir, St. Ann

On the road: The National Road Safety Council reports that 79 people have been killed on our roads since the start of the year. This number seems very high.

Payless Motors on Maxfield Avenue in Kingston was closed for business yesterday following the murder of its manager, Robert Mendez. (Photo: Joseph Wellington/Jamaica Observer)

Payless Motors on Maxfield Avenue in Kingston was closed for business yesterday following the murder of its manager, Robert Mendez. (Photo: Joseph Wellington/Jamaica Observer)

 

Jahmauny Robinson, aged seven, was seriously injured by gunmen in Lyssons, St. Thomas. His mother Nordia Johnson ran down the main road with him in her arms. (Photo: Michael Gordon/Jamaica Observer)

Jahmauny Robinson, aged seven, was seriously injured by gunmen in Lyssons, St. Thomas. His mother Nordia Johnson ran down the main road with him in her arms. (Photo: Michael Gordon/Jamaica Observer)

 

Caring for Jamaicans with Special Needs

The Digicel Foundation continues its focus on strengthening educational and care facilities for Jamaicans with special needs, and they are really making a difference. I was not able to attend the opening of a multi-functional centre – the Care Plus Centre of Excellence – at the Jacob’s Ladder community in Moneague, St. Ann, last Wednesday, March 26. But I can tell you a bit about it.

From left: Thyra Heaven, board member, Mustard Seed Communities, Judine Hunter, programme manager - Special Needs, Digicel Foundation, and Sandy Wallace, resident of Jacob's Ladder, cut the ribbon to officially open the Care Plus Centre of Excellence. (Photo: Carl Gilchrist/Gleaner)

From left: Thyra Heaven, board member, Mustard Seed Communities, Judine Hunter, program manager – Special Needs, Digicel Foundation, and Sandy Wallace, resident of Jacob’s Ladder, cut the ribbon to officially open the Care Plus Centre of Excellence. (Photo: Carl Gilchrist/Gleaner)

Jacob’s Ladder is a place in rural Jamaica where the wonderful Mustard Seed Communities (MSC) care for seventy Jamaican adults with special needs. It is the only facility of its kind in Jamaica. A bauxite company, Windalco, donated the 100 acres of land on which it is situated to MSC. The focus is on family homes, as well as on sustainable agriculture, living in harmony with communities close by.

The J$17 million Care Plus Centre of Excellence in Moneague will take one additional, major step forward, by providing a skills training curriculum in the areas of culinary skills, art and craft, information technology and occupational physiotherapy. Additionally, the Centre will provide a facility to host awareness forums and workshops for families in the surrounding areas that require experience and training in dealing with persons who are differently abled. This is one of ten Centres of Excellence that the Digicel Foundation plans to open this year in celebration of its ten-year anniversary.

 

 

“The vision of Digicel Foundation augurs well for the lives of persons living in the Special Needs Communities,” remarked Darcy Tulloch-Williams, MSC’s Executive Director. “We are extremely grateful for this partnership as it will allow us to move beyond offering simply room and board, and giving them industry. This will undoubtedly build their self-esteem and enable them to become more educated.”

A joyful ribbon-cutting! Sandy Wallace, Resident at Jacob’s Ladder is embraced by a Mustard Seed Community  volunteer as she cuts the ribbon for the official opening of the Care Plus Centre of Excellence on Wednesday, March 26. Joining her is Judine Hunter (left), Programme Manager, Special Needs, Digicel Foundation and Thyra Heaven, Board Member, Mustard Seed Communities. Care Plus Centre of Excellence, equipped with rehabilitative and therapeutic facilities, was erected as part of the Foundation’s 10th Anniversary goals, to build 10 Centres of Excellence for Special Needs schools across the island this year. (Photo: Digicel Foundation)

A joyful ribbon-cutting! Sandy Wallace, Resident at Jacob’s Ladder is embraced by a Mustard Seed Community volunteer as she cuts the ribbon for the official opening of the Care Plus Centre of Excellence on Wednesday, March 26. Joining her is Judine Hunter (left), Programme Manager, Special Needs, Digicel Foundation and Thyra Heaven, Board Member, Mustard Seed Communities. Care Plus Centre of Excellence, equipped with rehabilitative and therapeutic facilities, was erected as part of the Foundation’s 10th Anniversary goals, to build 10 Centres of Excellence for Special Needs schools across the island this year. (Photo: Digicel Foundation)

Samantha Chantrelle, CEO of the Digicel Foundation, stressed the Foundation’s commitment to the Special Needs sector in Jamaica. She said, “The work of the Mustard Seed Communities reflects the conviction of the Digicel Foundation that the opportunities for those in our society that are differently abled should not be limited due to lack of resources or adequate training for their caregivers. So we are pleased to partner with them for the building of this facility and will remain committed through our Centres of Excellence programme to provide the highest quality resources that will enable our Special Needs community to thrive.” 

The Care Plus Centre of Excellence at Jacob's Ladder, Mustard Seed Communities in Moneague, St. Ann. (Photo: Digicel Foundation)

The Care Plus Centre of Excellence at Jacob’s Ladder, Mustard Seed Communities in Moneague, St. Ann. (Photo: Digicel Foundation)

As I noted above, there are no other facilities in Jamaica – governmental or otherwise – that cater to the needs of people with mental and physical disabilities who are over the age of eighteen years. Children who are cared for by the government, with or without disabilities, are basically on their own after that age. This brings me to comments made by Chairman of the Gleaner Company, Oliver Clarke, at the opening of the new Centre of Excellence. He touched on something that has always been of great concern to me. According to Mr. Clarke, the government only pays local NGOs a fraction of the amount that government agencies receive to do similar work. Jacob’s Ladder’s administrator, Denyse Perkins, confirmed that they receive about one quarter.

Amazing organizations like the faith-based MSC, and many other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating almost on a “shoe-string” in Jamaica, provide crucial social services for Jamaicans. Neither the Jamaican government (nor the public at large, in fact) adequately recognize the work they do. Without the NGOs, many Jamaicans who are marginalized and in need would fall by the wayside. The NGOs pick up the slack, time and time again.

“I think that where charities take over looking after wards of the state, the organization, such as Mustard Seed, should receive the same contribution from the Government, as if it was a state-run institution,” Mr. Clarke said, according to a Gleaner report. I could not agree more. 

Judine Hunter (front row-second from left), Programme Manager, Special Needs, Digicel Foundation, Father Garvin Augustine ,Executive Director of Mustard Seed Community  International, and Samantha Chantrelle, Executive Director of the Digicel Foundation join the staff of MSC for a group shot following the opening of Care Plus Centre of Excellence on Wednesday, March 26. (Photo: Digicel Foundation)

Judine Hunter (front row-second from left), Programme Manager, Special Needs, Digicel Foundation, Father Garvin Augustine ,Executive Director of Mustard Seed Community International, and Samantha Chantrelle, Executive Director of the Digicel Foundation join the staff of MSC for a group shot following the opening of Care Plus Centre of Excellence on Wednesday, March 26. (Photo: Digicel Foundation)

Contact Mustard Seed Communities at P.O. Box 267, Kingston 10, Jamaica. Phone: (876) 923-6488  Email: info-jamaica@mustardseed.com Website: http://www.mustardseed.com

A word about Digicel Foundation:

The Digicel Foundation is the largest local private sector foundation in Jamaica. Since its inception in 2004 the Foundation has invested over J$1.2 billion in communities in which Digicel operates islandwide. The Digicel Foundation has been proactive in the areas of Education, Special Needs, and Community Empowerment.

The Digicel Foundation has:

  •  Invested over J$100 million in their Enrichment Initiative in partnership with the Ministry of Education to improve literacy at the primary school level islandwide.
  • Invested over J$38 million in resource rooms, including science and IT labs, in high schools islandwide.
  • Committed to building three Special Needs schools, two of which, the STEP Centre, and NAZ Children’s Centre broke ground in 2012.
  • Invested over J$60 million in Community Empowerment initiatives over the past four years, including $10 million annually and $15 million in 2012 to support the National Best Communities Competition and Program.
  • Invested $13 million in the ‘Back to Roots—Stronger Roots, Stronger Communities, Stronger Nation Project.’ The programme aims to help community organizations become more self-reliant by facilitating their transition to social enterprises, by teaching them how to run sustainable community businesses.

For more information visit: www.digiceljamaicafoundation.org  Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/digiceljafoundation  Twitter:  (@digiceljafdn) https://twitter.com/DigicelJaFdn

Speaking of disabilities issues, this is a reminder that tomorrow (Wednesday, April 2) is World Autism Awareness Day. The Jamaica Autism Support Association will be partnering with the University of the West Indies’ (UWI) Department of Child and Adolescent Health to “Light It Up Blue” in recognition of the day at 4:00 p.m. at UWI Undercroft. Do go along, learn and support…

World Autism Awareness Day event at the University of the West Indies.

World Autism Awareness Day event at the University of the West Indies.

Planned April 1 Raid to Evict Homeless LGBT Youth

petchary:

Just a few days ago, at the University of the West Indies (UWI), we were discussing the role of leadership in protecting vulnerable populations. Jamaica’s homeless – including this particular group of LGBT youth, as well as mentally and physically disabled Jamaicans and children who roam our streets daily – are arguably the most neglected and marginalized of all. This is an account by CUSO volunteer and fellow blogger Kate Chappell of the pending police raid to evict this group of young men, who live in a gully in New Kingston. Perhaps before the UWI event, the debaters should have paid them a visit. It might have been a good dose of reality, and given a little more edge to their presentations. Homelessness is not a “gay issue” in Jamaica. It is a human rights issue.

Originally posted on Jamaican Journal:

April 1 is apparently the deadline for the police, headed by Inspector Murdock, to perform a “raid” and force the young men out of the gully. This is where they live as they are disenfranchised from society and rejected by their families.

A judge recently ruled against an order to have them evicted, as it is a public place, but the police insist that their occupation is a health hazard.

On Saturday night, the final night of high school athletic competition Champs, the police chose this time to warn the guys that they will be forced to leave. (Read another account of this evening here.)

In terms of avoiding the further inflammation of the situation, this could not have been a worse time. I was driving by and witnessed throngs of young men and women walking by, some of them clumped around the gully. I heard several calls of…

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Top 10 Sexist and Heterosexist Moments in Caribbean Politics

petchary:

I sometimes wonder if we are going backwards in terms of minority rights and gender equality in the Caribbean. Or rather, in terms of attitudes. This blog post, giving examples of the most appalling behavior by some of our leaders, who should be setting an example, sent me reeling. Take a deep breath before reading…

Originally posted on Feminist conversations on Caribbean life:

Contribute to the final list of top 10 sexist & heterosexist moments in Caribbean politics by leaving your suggestions in the comments below.  Here are what i’ve been able to come up with in no particular order. Thanks to all who sent suggestions via facebook and twitter.

1. Trinidad & Tobago: Minister of People and Social Development claims “severe fatigue” after a flight attendant alleges that he touched her breasts when he grabbed her name-tag and threatened to have her fired because she asked him to stow his luggage correctly.  The Prime Minister then fired him.  Before the dust could settle on this one, police were investigating reports that the Minister of tourism had physically assaulted his former partner, causing her to lose consciousness.

2. Barbados: Minister of Social Care, Constituency Empowerment and Community Development “issued a warning” the staff of the Bureau of Gender Affairs after…

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Leadership Embracing Diversity

The University of the West Indies’ (UWI) Regional Headquarters, with its pale blue roof, is quite grand on the outside. Inside, it is beautiful and functional. Last Thursday afternoon, we walked through a cool hallway lined with paintings of past heads of the University to the spacious room where the “Great Leadership Debate” was about to begin.

Prizes included book tokens and other goodies.

Prizes included book tokens and other goodies.

The debate was coordinated by UWI Leads, an organization that helps to develop leadership skills among the students. It started in 2010 and supports several programs: Quality Leadership; The Live and Lead program; The Leadership Exchange Program; The Peer Leaders Program and the Leadership and Service Program. UWI Leads members were clearly visible in their red polo shirts; peer leader Adriel Howell served as a soft-spoken and charming chairperson.

UWI Leads

UWI Leads

For this debate, now an annual fixture in the calendar, UWILeads partnered with the LGBT rights group J-FLAG, under the theme “The Role of Leadership in Responding to Vulnerable Communities.” But this was not the exact topic under debate, which was: “This House would prosecute employers for all forms of discrimination.” The four competing teams had to prepare their arguments in just fifteen minutes after the topic was presented to them. A tall order, indeed.

J-FLAG logo

The J-FLAG logo includes the colors of the Jamaican flag (black, green and gold).

This was “an English parliamentary-style debate,” so there was a Prime Minister and his Deputy (University of Technology), an Opposition Leader and his Deputy, and then an additional team on each side of Parliament, so to speak – including a Whip. There was a team of adjudicators, and a moderator who was very strict. I was startled by the occasional sudden handclap from the judges and the moderator in the middle of a presentation, and to be honest didn’t understand the purpose of that. I tried to focus on the arguments. Sometimes one side tried to interrupt and the speaker would say, “Not accepted at this time!” and continue.

The room was "standing room only."

The room was “standing room only.”

After Program Director for UWI Leads Nadeen Spence had welcomed everyone (and the room was full by now) UWI’s Deputy Principal, Dr. Ishenkumbah Kahwa mentioned the importance of self-development. Education is not just about grades, he reminded the mainly student audience. He recalled his interview for a Fulbright Scholarship, and his surprise that some volunteer work he had been involved in seemed of greater importance to his interviewers than his paper qualifications.

The all-male panel of judges.

The all-male panel of judges.

One of the entities endorsing the debate was the U.S. Embassy in Kingston, which has been particularly strong in its support for LGBT rights. Public Affairs Officer Christopher Degnan informed the audience that there will be a special event at the U.S. Embassy on Friday, April 11 at 2:00 p.m. with LGBT rights activists Dennis and Judy Shepard – the parents of the 21-year-old University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepherd who was murdered in 1998 because of his sexual orientation. The event, “Erase the Hate: Promoting Respect and Social Tolerance,” will include a film screening of “The Laramie Project.”  More on this later.

The "Prime Minister" speaks. Apologies for the rather distant photographs  - we did not want to get too close to the speakers for fear of distracting them.

The “Prime Minister” speaks. Apologies for the rather distant photographs – we did not want to get too close to the speakers for fear of distracting them.

Ms. Rose Cameron, Director of Student Services and Development at UWI, stressed the importance of “peaceful discussion” rather than the shouting matches that too often occur. Debates such as these “break down boundaries,” Ms. Cameron suggested.

“Equality for all,” declared the “Prime Minister” (from last year’s champions, the University of Technology) as he opened the debate. There is no doubt that he and his very sharp Deputy had a much easier task than the Opposition; it’s hard to justify discrimination of any kind in the workplace. Non-discrimination, the PM and his colleague contended, would help to create a “more harmonious society,” especially important in a country like Jamaica which is seeking to develop itself.” There should be a public education program on discrimination; and clearly, an environment that  creates happier employees and greater productivity. The prosecution of employers does not, of course, guarantee that victimization will go away, but it sets a precedent and establishes boundaries. Later, the PM and his deputy stressed that the government has a “moral responsibility” to protect the vulnerable in society; they must have a sense of belonging. Employers, too, must follow the same philosophy; they have a duty to the public at large.

An "Opposition" member speaks.

An “Opposition” member speaks.

The Opposition battled valiantly – and at times, incoherently. Affirmative action was the answer, they suggested, not prosecution; but they did not clarify how this would work in practice. The Deputy Opposition Leader had a sudden fit of nerves and had to return to his desk after failing to present his argument (or even to finish a sentence). This was unfortunate, provoking comment from the audience – who were, for the most part, well-behaved, although there were waves of mutterings and the odd, pointed remark from a person in the back row.

The problem was this: Neither side effectively addressed that question “How?” They put forward (and repeated) several nice-sounding phrases. There was quite a bit of philosophizing, and the tone of the debate was admirable. But the discussion never got down to the strategies and implementation. Perhaps that would have been too much to ask. Each presenter had just seven minutes to speak, and with only fifteen minutes of preparation beforehand it would have been hard to flesh anything out. The matter of what kind of fine employers would incur did arise, along with the suggestion that a Ministry board could set up a quota system.

The winning debater from UWI Western Campus. He spoke with a flourish.

The winning debater from UWI Western Campus. He spoke with an emphatic flourish.

There were dozens of tweets from the audience and the organizers before, during and after the event. “Talks about vulnerable minorities should not stop” now that the debate has ended, said one. Another tweet said, “When you assume a leadership role, don’t be partial in your representation.” Who will speak for those vulnerable groups, if our leaders do not defend them? In closing, Rasheen Roper, the Coordinator of the UWI Leads (Gold) Program, commented that “leadership has no day off,” adding that “we need to extend ourself beyond what is safe.” Were we adequately challenged to do so, I wonder?

The winners pose for their picture.

The winners pose for their picture.

Who won, you may be asking? Not surprisingly perhaps, the “Government” side won – in the shape of UWI’s Western Campus team, who had come all the way from Montego Bay. Their presentations were energetic and focused. UTech came second. The two “Opposition” teams did not fare so well: UWI Mona Campus came third, and The Mico University fourth.

As the U.S. Embassy’s Christopher Degnan pointed out, “The vulnerable do not simply disappear, if we refuse to see them.” There is a great deal more to say on this subject. This debate was a valuable and useful exercise, but just scraped the surface.

May the discussion continue.

P.S. I wasn’t too happy with the gender balance, by the way. Out of the eight debaters, only two were women; and all five judges were men. Please, UWI Leads, do better next time, please.

Some quotes on leadership from UWI Leads:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

“The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born – that there is a genetic factor to leadership. That’s nonsense: in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.” – Warren Bennis

“A leader is a dealer in hope.” – Napoleon Bonaparte