A hot Monday morning in Kingston, during Child Month. Wiping the sweat from my brow, I am standing and chatting with a group from the Sunset Optimist Club of Liguanea in front of the offices of Eve for Life, the non-governmental organization that supports and empowers teen mothers living with HIV and AIDS and their children. It’s a beautiful way to start the week, as the Club members, headed by President Lavern Brown, are here to make a donation. For the children. We are very happy.
The children need not only physical and moral support. They are vulnerable children; but they are still children and they want to enjoy their childhood – learning, playing, relating to each other. With this in mind, the idea of a Reading Corner came up – a quieter space for the young ones. The Optimists held a fundraiser, and purchased books, a stack of school bags, a microwave (the children are always hungry of course!) and a fan to keep them cool. We received the gifts gratefully.
The Sunset Optimist Club of Liguanea has as its motto “Friend of Youth.” Thanks for being a friend to our children. And stay in touch. We will invite you back when the Reading Corner is set up!
You can contact Eve for Life at email@example.com. Website: http://www.eveforlife.org. We are on Facebook and Twitter at @EveforLife Tel: 796-2051 (cell); 632-1838. Or visit us at 1a Richmond Park Avenue, Kingston 10.
Good things happened around the world last week in the name of Mr. Nelson Mandela, former President of the Republic of South Africa, who reached his 94th birthday on July 18, 2012. Born in Mvezo in the Transkei region, his Xhosa given name was Rolihlahla, meaning “stirring up trouble.” Very appropriate. His English teacher named him Nelson (I wonder why), and he was afterwards known by several names: Madiba, his clan name, which is quite an honorific one; Tata, meaning “father,” an affectionate name used by many South Africans; Khulu, or “Great One,” which is also a shortened version of the Xhosa word for “grandfather”; and Dalibhunga, a name given to Xhosa youth after their initiation into manhood at age sixteen,which actually means “creator or founder of the council” or “convenor of the dialogue.” Some mighty names, befitting his stature. But his grandchildren probably just call him “Grandpa.”
There are a couple of reasons why Mr. Mandela really moves my heart and mind in a personal way. When I was a student at Oxford University, the apartheid system in South Africa was in full sway. Mr. Mandela had already been in prison for more than ten years on Robben Island, and was to serve many more years. The anti-apartheid movement in the UK, the United States and many other countries was getting up some steam; in the U.S., Congressman Charles C. Diggs, Jr. formed the National African Liberation Support Committee, a coalition between the Congressional Black Caucus and community-based black activist groups. There were regular anti-apartheid marches in London and other towns in the UK, and in Oxford we were also quite militant, staging many protests. In London, I was influenced by Mr. Peter Hain, a white South African whose family were living in self-imposed exile. As head of the Young Liberals, Mr. Hain was an enthusiastic and outspoken opponent of the apartheid system, and I recall intense meetings in his parents’ sprawling living room. Mr. Hain is now Member of Parliament for Neath in South Wales, and I guess maybe he has lost his accent. According to his website, he is an avid fan of Chelsea Football Club; which is most disappointing to me (a die-hard Arsenal fan, in case you didn’t know). And Mr. Hain describes himself on his website as a “libertarian socialist.”
So, when Mr. Mandela was released from prison on February 11, 1990, I thought of Peter and his family. In a birthday message last week, he said, “Nelson Mandela seems to encompass all that is best about us on our best day. He represents democracy, tolerance, humanity, courage, leadership. We would all like to live up to those standards in our everyday life. Very few of us manage to.” Very well put.
Secondly, I recall, with mixed emotions, Mr. Mandela’s visit to Jamaica with his then wife Winnie, just one year after his release. This was a time when he was negotiating with then President F.W. de Klerk for South Africa’s very first inclusive and multi-racial elections (which eventually took place four years later). We all went down to the National Stadium for a rally in the Mandelas’ honor, waiting for many hours for their arrival. This was exactly twenty-one years ago – the visit was July 24-25, 1991. I remember the atmosphere of barely-controlled, chaotic celebration, with members of the crowd continually jumping over the barriers to reach the open-topped car which slowly circulated the stadium. I remember feeling nervous for the Mandelas – and then for the crowd. The hot, still evening – just like this evening – was full of drama and pathos, but also an extraordinary, almost theatrical kind of joy. It was a historic moment, and the weight of it nearly crushed us all. I wish I had photos, but cannot find any.
So, last Wednesday, Jamaica celebrated Nelson Mandela Day, which was inaugurated a few years ago on his birthday. The aim of the day is “to inspire individuals to take action to help change the world for the better, and in doing so build a global movement for good. Ultimately it seeks to empower communities everywhere.” The emphasis is on service to our fellow human beings – one way to create the more just society that Mr. Mandela fought for all his life.
The Jamaica National Building Society (JNBS) Foundation partnered on the day with the YMCA in Kingston and the non-governmental organization Children First in Spanish Town to provide a health and culture day for at-risk youth. At the YMCA, it was hectic, hot and the children were energetic and engaged. YMCA director Sarah Newland Martin had to be very stern with them, but eventually got them together for devotions, to start the day on the right note. We all got busy after that… Please see a few photos I took with my android phone (the glorious Samsung Galaxy, no less!) – my first real effort to take photos via this medium, and they didn’t come out too badly – though I say so myself.
In the afternoon, I visited the Trench Town Reading Centre, where the summer school was still in full swing. I told the children about Mr. Mandela; he was already President by the time they were born, and unfortunately most had not heard of him. We looked at two or three books about Nelson Mandela in the Centre’s excellent library, and we perused several of these. The children liked the photo above best – of Madiba, in tribal dress.
In the evening, the human rights group Jamaicans for Justice celebrated Nelson Mandela Day in a remarkable and unique way. Again, the focus was on children, and children’s rights – a topic I have addressed several times before in this blog. This was a unique, awareness-raising event. JFJ described its vision for the evening thus: “On Nelson Mandela Day, July 18, you are invited to a 67 minute call to action forum at St. Margaret’s Church Hall commencing at 6pm. Jamaicans for Justice will honour this day by raising awareness about challenges our children in state care face. It is a call for Jamaicans to unite, as we did for Nelson Mandela, and insist that our children be removed from adult prisons and police lockups. In 2009, Nelson Mandela’s birthday was declared by the United Nations as an international day devoted to Nelson Mandela’s life work. On this day, individuals are asked to donate 67 minutes of their time, one minute for every year of Mandela’s service to humanity. The day is a global call to action to inspire individuals to change the world for the better. Mandela Day provides us with the opportunity to allow Jamaicans to do something for our country, in line with Mandela’s vision for a just society. In this the 50th year of our independence, it seems appropriate to use this day to reflect on our children, the future of Jamaica as, in the words of Nelson Mandela, ‘there can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children’.” It is very hard to pick two or three photographs from their extraordinary exhibition of photographs of Jamaicans of all ages holding up messages reflecting this theme…but you can find them all on the Jamaicans for Justice Facebook page – “Free our Children” – Nelson Mandela Day photo collection in their photo albums. Support JFJ in their fight for the rights of ALL Jamaicans, in the spirit of Mr. Mandela…!
I am going to close with a quote from Mr. Mandela which so closely relates to the lives of too many of our precious Jamaican children: “Safety and security don’t just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear.”
Jamaican leaders, Jamaican citizens all, are you listening?
http://www.nelsonmandela.org/ The Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory
http://www.peterhain.org/default.asp Peter Hain, M.P.
http://jnbsfoundation.wordpress.com/2012/07/18/nelson-mandela-turns-94-take-action-inspire-change-and-make-every-day-a-mandela-day/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+JnbsFoundation+%28JNBS+Foundation%29 (JNBS Foundation: Nelson Mandela Day)
http://www.flickr.com/photos/resolutionproject/ (JNBS Foundation Flickr photostream: Resolution Project)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/opm-news/31198-jamaica-to-commemorate-nelson-mandela-international-day-july-18-by-giving-to-children (Jamaica to commemorate Nelson Mandela Day by giving to children – Jamaica Information Service)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/120-ministers-speeches/31257-message-from-minister-of-foreign-affairs-a-foreign-trade-to-commemorate-nelson-mandela-day (Message from Jamaican Minister of Foreign Affairs to commemorate Nelson Mandela Day – Jamaica Information Service)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/105-foreign-affairs-trade/28326-dr-baugh-message-to-commemorate-nelson-mandela-day (Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister’s message on Nelson Mandela Day – Jamaica Information Service)
I just read this Russian novel (not of the Tolstoy/Dostoyevsky variety – much shorter) and added it to my “read” shelf on Goodreads. You can see a few of the books I have read in the sidebar. Goodreads is a site worth joining if you are an “avid” (or even average) reader – interesting daily quotes, reviews, recommendations and so on. I am enjoy it but have many more books to add to my virtual shelves. I will keep you posted on this.
Here are a couple of clippings from the book that I saved on my Kindle:
“Have you ever seen how a ray of light falls into a dark from a door that’s ajar? At the very beginning it’s narrow, and then it spreads. It’s just like a person. First he’s by himself, then there are two children, then four grandchildren. Do you see? A person spreads like a ray of light. Ad infinitum. Do you see?”
“Once I told him what my mother had said about ‘waiting and believing.’…Waiting means experiencing gratitude. Simply rejoicing that you have something to wait for…”
It is a beautiful green garden, the kind that feels like home. Three or four big old mango trees, the tips of their branches dripping with “black mangoes” (and one Bombay tree that I was told doesn’t bear much). The lawns are not flat or perfectly smooth, and a little worn in places.The white house that stands back from the road is worn with memories, but comfortable with them. One can still imagine family members sitting on the verandah on warm afternoons, sipping lemonade. Inside, the wooden floors shine, and walls and screens are adorned with bright posters and photographs. This is the home of the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) in Kingston, Jamaica.
For Earth Day 2012, JET welcomed over one hundred young people from several inner-city communities to their headquarters for a special celebration. Most of the children had participated in a special joint project between JET and the downtown-based NGO RISE Life Management Services, which works with at-risk youth. The project, supported by the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica, is called “Building Appreciation for Nature in Children at Risk.” There is a link to this project below. The program began with the communities of Parade Gardens, Fletcher’s Land and Allman Town; the second phase included children from Drewsland, Tower Hill and Majesty Gardens, and I also met some children from Cockburn Gardens. These are all depressed areas of Kingston; despite their attractive names, there are very few gardens indeed. There is concrete, there is uncollected garbage, there are rats, zinc fences. Hence the need for such a project, which was conceptualized by the dynamic leaders of JET and RISE, Diana McCaulay and Sonita Abrahams. From the enthusiasm and interest of the young people (and their desire to show off their new-found knowledge) I could tell that the program had been successful. It was clear from their faces, from their sheer enjoyment.
One of the highlights of the morning was the reading of two books written by Jamaican children’s author Jana Bent. Well, it was much more than a reading. Jana’s two books, “Shaggy Parrot and the Reggae Band” and “The Reggae Band Rescues Mama Edda Leatherback” come with music CDs that enhance the narrative and encourage participation. The music is excellent, inspired, written and performed by Jamaican reggae singer Shaggy – rhythmic, fun and well produced. Of course, both the books have strong messages on environmental protection – not just Jamaica-related. The second book involves the poor Leatherback Turtle who has swallowed a plastic bag…. But don’t worry, of course there was a happy ending.
And as one of the old hippy anthems has it (in fact, it was the classic “Woodstock” by Joni Mitchell, I believe) … “We’ve got to get back to the garden.” For the children’s sake.
- On Earth Day – Five Reasons I Love Jamaica (newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com)
- Mangoes; A source of Roughage!!! (goldenfingers.wordpress.com)
- http://www.jamentrust.org/education/building-appreciation-for-nature-in-children-at-risk.html (jamentrust.org)
- Protecting our Fish: Earth Day, Part 1 (petchary.wordpress.com)
- http://www.reggaepickney.com/ The Shaggy Parrot books
- Jamaica Musings – second try!! (lifecoachingplus.wordpress.com)
- Celebrate Earth Day with These Children’s Books from Dawn Publications! (susanheim.blogspot.com)
- JN Foundation Volunteers in ACT!ON – Do Good Jamaica Kingston Book Festival (jnbsfoundation.wordpress.com)
- Circles of Hope for Earth Day (readaloudsforallchildren.wordpress.com)
- Top 10 Green Reads For Earth Day (huffingtonpost.com)
- Mos Def Sings About Butterflies and Trees in New Children’s Project, Pacha’s Pajamas (Video) (treehugger.com)
- The best friend (theunofficialversion.com)