The Bard’s Birthday: Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Today is St. George’s Day, a rather patriotic day in England. It’s also William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday; he’s getting quite old.  In Kingston, Jamaica, the city is finally coming back to life after the torpor of the Easter holiday.

Still simmering: Resentment over the bank withdrawal tax still simmers. The Jamaican Twittersphere got itself quite tied up in knots over it. Finance Minister Peter Phillips held a press briefing yesterday which was closely followed on the live stream. The Minister tried to explain his broader strategy to modernize the tax administration system; he is seeking overseas assistance to do so. He also tried to explain why he reportedly said there would be no new taxes in the upcoming budget, in January; he said he was referring to petroleum tax specifically and that headlines had been misleading. Those PAYE workers who receive their pay through the bank find the tax unfair. The kind of thing that bugs me, though, is stuff like this: The case against a firm owned  by a People’s National Party activist, which allegedly owes over J$100 millions in General Consumption Tax, is still dragging through the courts after six years.

We have suffered from so many bad taxes – what results have we seen from all the taxes we have paid over the past few decades? Opposition Finance Spokesman Audley Shaw did not offer much of an alternative in his Budget presentation, but did say the Simpson Miller administration needed to “cut the fat” by reducing the size of government, cutting back on large overseas delegations, etc.  President of the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica Chris Zacca tweeted that the tax is “ill-advised” in his opinion (and yes, traditional media has to post screenshots of tweets to keep up with social media, now). And today the Bankers’ Association of Jamaica expressed concern over the impact of the tax on the formal banking system. As well they might. The Jamaica Teachers’s Association is not happy, either. Anyone in favor…?

The “most vulnerable”: This is the Finance Minister’s and the International Monetary Fund’s favorite catch-phrase. They want to protect the “m.v”s at all costs. Who comes into this category now? To my mind, the Jamaican middle class is more vulnerable than ever!

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

The Minister’s “thing”: A curious conversation between CVM Television reporter Garfield Burford and Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has left me wondering. Mr. Burford waylaid the PM outside Parliament to ask her to comment on the withdrawal tax. Mrs. Simpson Miller began, “Well, what I understand from the Minister’s thing today… (thing, Madam, PM?)” and ended up confusing herself and the viewer completely. She interrupted her non sequitur sentences to emphasize, “I think the Minister himself” will explain everything when he closes the debate. I don’t think she understands the tax at all; or, she was not possibly briefed; or, she disagrees and was hinting it would be pulled back? A puzzling interview, altogether.

Still smokin' … A friend took this photo of the Riverton dump fire this afternoon, from Jacks Hill.

Still smokin’ … A friend took this photo of the Riverton dump fire this afternoon, from Jacks Hill. Quite distant, but very much there.

NEPA getting tough: Smoke still wafts across parts of Kingston from the Riverton City dump, five days after another fire started there. The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) has served an enforcement notice on the National Solid Waste Management Agency (NSWMA), insisting that the operators of the dump strengthen security and that it provides full details of how the fire started. NEPA is threatening to withdraw the permit that it only just gave the NSWMA in March.

NEPA has also ordered Jamaica North South Highway Company Limited to stop the unauthorized clearing of land outside the highway in breach of its permit, which China Harbour Engineering Company is building. It seems they are over-zealous in their environmental destruction. No comment.

Police in discussion with civilians during the 1999 gas riots. The violent riots motivated the formation of human rights group Jamaicans for Justice. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Police in discussion with civilians during the 1999 gas riots. The violent riots motivated the formation of human rights group Jamaicans for Justice. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Kudos and commendations!

Fifteen years of remarkable work: Happy fifteenth birthday to Jamaicans for Justice, the human rights lobby group that was born in 1999 – at the foot of Jack’s Hill in Kingston, where a group gathered – during the April “gas riots” protesting then Finance Minister Omar Davies’ imposition of a tax on gasoline.

Dr. Andrew Wheatley. I am not sure if he is environment spokesman, am trying to find out.

Dr. Andrew Wheatley, the Opposition’s Spokesman on the Environment.

Opposition Spokesman on the Environment Dr. Andrew Wheatley, who has asked the question,“My position is that we need to decide, what is the greater priority: The health of the nation or cheaper energy?” in relation to the question of coal (why are we even considering coal? The World Bank is no longer funding any projects involving coal). Oh yes, China Harbour Engineering Company want to use a coal-fired plant to provide electricity for their planned port on the beautiful Goat Islands in Jamaica’s largest Protected Area. What a travesty!

Directors and members of American Friends of Jamaica, including former U.S. Ambassadors Brenda LaGrange Johnson and J. Gary Cooper, with residents at the Rose Town Community Library in Kingston.

Directors and members of American Friends of Jamaica, including former U.S. Ambassadors Brenda LaGrange Johnson and J. Gary Cooper, with residents at the Rose Town Community Library in Kingston.

American Friends of Jamaica - led by former U.S. Ambassadors to Jamaica – recently gave J$14 million-plus in grants to community-based organizations. Every year they raise funds for grassroots Jamaican organizations with little fanfare. Thank you so much!

The "Gleaner" office building on North Street in downtown Kingston.

The “Gleaner” office building on North Street in downtown Kingston.

The “Old Lady of North Street”, our venerable newspaper the Gleaner, which is celebrating its 180th anniversary this year. It is in fact the oldest company in Jamaica. I hope it will seek to maintain and uphold journalistic standards for many more decades to come.

Two unidentified men were killed since Sunday: One in Waterford/Portmore, St. Catherine and the other on Woodlawn Road in Mandeville, Manchester.  I have not been able to find their names, but I have no doubt they are mourned.

ON THE ROAD: My friend and fellow blogger Dennis Jones does not believe that Jamaican drivers are generally indisciplined. I have to disagree. Speeding remains a huge problem, and the holiday weekend’s occurrences underline this. Four people died and many others were injured in crashes over Easter – including a minibus carrying twenty people to a beach outing on the north coast. The bus was apparently trying to overtake a car, which was turning right. 

One of the many people injured in a bus crash in St. Mary is placed in a wheelchair. (Photo: Garfield Robinson/Jamaica Observer)

One of the many people injured in a bus crash in St. Mary is placed in a wheelchair. (Photo: Garfield Robinson/Jamaica Observer)

 

 

Earth Day Part 1: Why Caribbean Birds Matter

Happy Earth Day, everyone! Although with the ever-present climate change issues weighing us down, and here in Jamaica the threat to our beautiful Portland Bight Protected Area still looming over us, it’s hard to feel very “happy”… But we live in hope and must keep on working for our precious Planet!

Today (Earth Day) is the fifteenth anniversary of the declaration of the Portland Bight Protected Area by the Jamaican Government on Earth Day, 1999. It is also the launch day of the Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival. Read more on this below…

BirdsCaribbean’s logo depicts the Bananaquit, a colorful, friendly and easily-recognized songbird that is a common resident on most Caribbean islands.

BirdsCaribbean’s logo depicts the Bananaquit, a colorful, friendly and easily-recognized songbird that is a common resident on most Caribbean islands.

Birds Caribbean (formerly the Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds) is a major regional supporter of the campaign to save Goat Islands in the PBPA from a major port development and coal-fired power plant, which the Government of Jamaica aims to have built by China Harbour Engineering Company. Birds Caribbean is a non-profit organization committed to the conservation of wild birds and their habitats in the insular Caribbean. More than 80,000 local people participate in its programs each year, making BirdsCaribbean the most broad-based conservation organization in the region. Some of its international partners and supporters include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, Royal Society for the Protection of Caribbean Birds, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, Wetlands International, and BirdLife International.

The Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival (CEBF), an annual BirdsCaribbean event, is a celebration of the region’s unique bird life: of 770 bird species in the region, 148 are endemic and 105 of these are confined to single islands, including colorful parrots, hummingbirds, todies and warblers. It is celebrated for one month in the spring, from Earth Day (April 22nd) to International Biodiversity Day (May 22nd). Local conservation organizations will be celebrating through an array of events, including bird and nature walks, presentations, art exhibitions and competitions, radio quizzes, bird calling contests, beach clean-ups, tree plantings, and more. 

To find out more about BirdsCaribbean and the CEBF, look them up on Facebook and follow BirdsCaribbean on Twitter @BirdsCaribbean. Here is their press release on “Why Caribbean Birds Matter,” the theme for the CEBF.

There’s no question that birds have a special place in the hearts of Caribbean people. The intimate cultural connection between people and birds is reflected in the local names for birds that vary from island to island. They are celebrated in art and literature from the region as well, receiving praise from Bob Marley for “singin’ sweet songs,” and representing the Caribbean spirit in the poems of Derek Walcott. The true importance of Caribbean birds, however, goes far beyond their beauty and power to inspire.

Although often unknown or unnoticed, birds play many critical roles that enrich the ecosystems and economies of the Caribbean. They act as garbage men, gardeners, fish-finders and tourist attractions. The Caribbean as we know it couldn’t exist without them. Best of all, they do all this work for free!

Birds eat pests. A single Barn Swallow can eat 60 insects in an hour, up to 850 per day! Photo by Ron LeValley.

Birds eat pests. A single Barn Swallow can eat 60 insects in an hour, up to 850 per day! Photo by Ron LeValley.

1. Birds eat pests.

The early bird catches the worm, and many Caribbean birds eat insects of all kinds, like mosquitoes, cockroaches, flies and beetles. In the wild, insect-eating birds help ensure the proper balance between plants, insects and other animals. On farms, and in even in backyard gardens, they do much the same, controlling the population of pest insects for free, and reducing the need to use potentially harmful pesticides.

The coffee berry borer beetle, the world’s most serious coffee pest, is an excellent example of this. Research on Jamaican coffee farms has shown that migratory song birds, such as the American Redstart and Black-throated Blue Warbler, and resident birds, such as the Bananaquit and Jamaica Tody, feast on the berry borers during the critical period when the beetles are attempting to invade the maturing coffee berries. This research demonstrated that wild birds in the Caribbean increased the profits of coffee farmers by about 12 percent.

Birds also help control invasive species that are harmful to human health and ecosystems. Birds of prey such as the Red-tailed Hawk, Peregrine Falcon, and owls eat rats and mice in addition to smaller birds, mammals, insects and reptiles. In St. Martin, the American Kestrel hunts immature green iguanas, which are an invasive species.

2. Birds bring birdwatchers.

Birdwatchers love birds. They are visiting the Caribbean to see our rare and beautiful endemic birds and unique habitats. The United States Fish & Wildlife Service has calculated that birding and other wildlife watching is worth $32 billion per year (U.S. dollars) in the United States alone. Birding tourism, a growing segment of the international tourism market, now makes the Caribbean an important area for sun, sand, sea – and bird-watching! Birding trails and hotspots are established on most Caribbean islands, attracting both casual cruise ship visitors and the more dedicated stop-over birders in significant numbers. Birding tourism generates jobs and revenues for national parks and preserves, and hotels, restaurants and other small businesses. Promoting birding tourism during the peak migratory periods in the fall and spring may even help boost tourism during months that are traditionally considered the low season for tourism.

3. Birds clean up.

One man’s trash can be a bird’s treasure. From carcasses to breadcrumbs, birds are the champions of removing dead animal and other organic remains. Vultures, egrets, herons, crows and several other species remove road-kill, farming and domestic refuse. This helps keep islands beautiful and also benefits public health by disposing of items that could cause pollution or even spread disease.

Birds spread seeds. Many birds like the White-crowned Pigeon, Scaly-naped Pigeon, grassquits, parrots, bullfinches, and mockingbirds spread seeds by eating and digesting. Photo by Lisa Sorenson.

Birds spread seeds. Many birds like the White-crowned Pigeon, Scaly-naped Pigeon, grassquits, parrots, bullfinches, and mockingbirds spread seeds by eating and digesting. Photo by Lisa Sorenson.

4. Birds spread seeds.

None of our tropical hardwood forests would exist in their current state without wild birds. This is because for many tropical forest shrubs and trees, birds are the most important seed dispersers. The Caribbean is rich with seed-swallowing and fruit-pulp feeding birds, such as pigeons, doves, parrots, warblers and grassquits that spread forest seeds. By doing so, they protect valuable watersheds; produce vital water catchments; support important hardwood timber industries; help control floods; and buffer the effects of global climate change. Dominica’s large parrots, with their powerful thick beaks and feet, enhance seed dispersal by opening large hard fruits, making their seeds more available to smaller seed-dispersing songbirds.

Antillean Crested Hummingbird. Photo by Sean Modi.

Antillean Crested Hummingbird. Photo by Sean Modi.

5. Birds pollinate flowers.

Without birds, the region would lose some of its most beautiful treasures. In the Caribbean, bats, insects and birds, including hummingbirds, Bananaquits and many warblers overwhelmingly dominate pollination. A collection of studies has documented that the shape, nectar characteristics, and colors of several Caribbean flowers have evolved in response to hummingbird pollination. Thus plant diversity can be limited by a lack of hummingbird pollinators on some islands. Pollination is a key environmental service provided by birds—without birds, numerous plants could not produce seeds and fruits.

6. Birds enrich soils.

Guano, or seabird poop, contains concentrated sources of nitrogen and phosphates and is a valuable source of fertilizer. Although manure from commercially-produced chickens is now prevalent, seabird guano once formed the basis of entire industries. In the 1900s, before inorganic fertilizers became common, extensive guano deposits on Caribbean islands were harvested as guano prices skyrocketed in the Europe and in North America. Today, birds continue to provide this service in many habitats by enriching forest soils and recycling important nutrients for plant growth.

7. Birds are experts at finding fish.

Birds have been helping fishermen find fish since long before the invention of sonar and electronic fish finders. Seabirds like the Magnificent Frigatebird, Wilson’s Storm Petrel, Sooty Tern and Brown Noddy have millions of years of experience spotting fish as they fly high above the sea. They are quick to the scene when schools of small fish are forced to the surface by larger, more desirable species. In the Caribbean, savvy fishermen have been using seabirds to help spot fish for generations, and refer to them as “fish finders.” They even know what type of fish they are likely to find in a given area based on the birds that are present!

A pair of binoculars and field guide is all you need to get started on a rewarding life long hobby. Photo by Lisa Sorenson.

A pair of binoculars and field guide is all you need to get started on a rewarding life long hobby. Photo by Lisa Sorenson.

8. Birds connect us to nature.

Birds are everywhere and are easy and fun to observe. In the Caribbean, where there are few native mammals, birds are often the most charismatic and familiar animals, making them the perfect ambassadors for appreciation of nature. A pair of binoculars and a field guide is enough to get anyone started on a rewarding lifelong hobby. A field trip to see birds can bring biology to life and inspire students to be our future scientists and conservationists.

Birds also have much to tell us about the world we live in. Our understanding of the natural world was and still is enriched through research on birds by numerous scientists. Charles Darwin, the famous naturalist and geologist who developed the theory of evolution by natural selection described in his book “The Origin of Species,” how his study of mockingbirds and finches in the Galapagos Islands contributed to his theory. In the Caribbean, bird research may bring new discoveries that help us better understand both the region and the world. Each island is, after all, a laboratory of sorts, running its own experiments in ecology and evolution.

9. Birds are our “canary in the coal mine.”

In the past, coal miners brought canaries and other small animals with them into mines because they would die when exposed to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide, giving the miners a chance to escape. Even today, birds often signal when there are dangerous threats to the environment and people.

In the mid-20th Century, populations of birds of prey such as the Peregrine Falcon, Osprey and Bald Eagle declined. Scientists found that accumulations of the pesticide DDT made them produce thin, brittle eggshells that broke easily. This discovery warned of the dangers of DDT to the health of wildlife and humans. More recently, mercury has been found in the blood of forest birds such as Bicknell’s Thrush, even though the birds are living far from power plants, showing the far-reaching effects of human pollution.

Just the presence or absence of birds can tell us a lot. In some parts of the Caribbean, the Magnificent Frigatebird was known as the Hurricane Bird. Their arrival from far at sea was a sign of a coming storm. When there are fewer birds, due to human disturbance such as forest clearing it can mean a loss in biodiversity. This makes habitats less resilient to change and more prone to invasion of harmful species and agricultural pests.

10. Caribbean birds are UNIQUELY ours!

The Caribbean cannot claim many goods, products and services as unique to the Caribbean. Many things that we now celebrate have their roots in other cultures and are derived from influences outside the region. Caribbean birds are, however, a notable exception! Ranked among the top five areas of the planet to possess a unique (and threatened) bird community, the Caribbean boasts a diverse collection of bird species that have lived here for millons of year and are not found anywhere else! According to global experts, an astonishing 72% of the approximately 208 resident island bird species found on Caribbean islands are endemic—that is, found nowhere else on the plant. Sadly, threats and rates of extinction have been increasing, meriting international focus on the preservation of this unique natural heritage.

By Leo Douglas, Mark Yokoyama and Lisa Sorenson

This article was inspired by the Audubon magazine’s articles “Ten Reasons to be Thankful for Birds” and “Birds Matter Because They Do.”

 

“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.

 

 

 

 

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.

World Health Day 2014: About The Tiny Things That Kill More Than a Million

We have an implement called a “zapper” in our house. It is rather ugly, made of orange plastic and looks like a small tennis racket. But it does the trick.

It kills mosquitoes.

World Health Day 2014 info graphic.

World Health Day 2014 infographic.

This year’s World Health Day (which was today, April 7 –  or still is in our part of the world) focused on vector-borne diseases. Vectors are small creatures such as mosquitoes, sandflies and ticks. These tiny things are not just a nuisance. They affect more than a billion and kill at least a million people a year worldwide, putting more than half the world’s population at risk of diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, river blindness and other terrible infectious diseases.

The Philippines Department of Health performs a "mosquito dance" to raise awareness of vector-borne diseases. (Jay Directo via AFP/Getty Images)

The Philippines Department of Health performs a “mosquito dance” to raise awareness of vector-borne diseases. (Jay Directo via AFP/Getty Images)

OK, so you might think this is a “developing world” problem that does not affect so-called First World countries? Not quite true. The West Nile Virus was carried by an airplane passenger from Africa and has caused many deaths in North America. The aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits the dengue fever virus, has spread almost worldwide. With increased air travel this is bound to happen. And I suspect that climate change might have something to do with it.

Let’s talk about dengue fever, which is familiar to Jamaicans. I have vivid personal memories of it, about fifteen years ago. There was an outbreak in Portland, eastern Jamaica, where we had been holidaying. It takes a week or two to catch up with you. I had pain behind the eyes, headache, and terrible sharp pains in my limbs. In Jamaica dengue is known as “break bone fever,” and with good reason. Then there is the high fever (mine was so high that I was hallucinating at times). This lasted for about two weeks, following which I was exhausted and depressed for another few weeks. It takes a while to come out of your system. Dengue fever is no joke.

There is no cure for dengue fever – not even any special medication you can take. You just have to wait for it to go away, and you must not take painkillers with aspirin in them as this can cause internal bleeding. There is a severe form of haemorrhagic dengue fever, which can kill you, especially if you are a child or an elderly person. Now, dengue fever has spread dramatically over the last few decades; according to the World Health Organization, 40 per cent of the world’s population is at risk. In 2013, 2.35 million cases of dengue were reported in the Americas, of which 37,687 cases were severe dengue.

An aedes aegypti mosquito.

An aedes aegypti mosquito, which spreads dengue fever and also the chikungunya fever which has now arrived in the Caribbean.

A new mosquito-borne disease has appeared in the Caribbean recently. It is called chikungunya fever, and it seems to have started in St. Martin. Today, Health Minister Dr. Fenton Ferguson noted that it is now present in ten Caribbean nations. It is spread by the same mosquito as dengue fever, and the symptoms sound similar. Again, there is no cure and no vaccination against it.

What on earth can we do about all of this? While scientists try to find vaccines for this and other vector-borne diseases, we can take measures to prevent mosquitoes from breeding. Apart from spraying chemicals around (and can we please keep this to an absolute minimum?) we know we should not have garbage lying around. We should avoid having even the smallest breeding spot where there is standing water in and around our yards. Sleep under mosquito nets. I always close the windows and doors for a while in early mornings and at dusk, when the mosquitoes are most active. You might consider window screens. And do invest in that zapper!

Here's what Carron Hall resident Isilda Leanor, 72, wants to see for World Health Day in Jamaica! (Photo: HelpAge International Jamaica Facebook page)

Here’s what Carron Hall resident Isilda Leanor, 72, wants to see for World Health Day in Jamaica! (Photo: HelpAge International Jamaica Facebook page)

P.S. Here in Jamaica, HelpAge International Jamaica has participated in a campaign spanning forty countries called Age Demands Action on health. Specifically, HelpAge in Jamaica is calling for an end to discrimination against seniors in the healthcare system. This should be a year-round campaign, I think. Do support it.

The Antillean Nighthawk loves to feed on mosquitoes.

The Antillean Nighthawk loves to feed on mosquitoes.

And one more thing: Did you know that many Caribbean birds actually eat mosquitoes and other flying pests? The Antillean Night Hawk – that bird with the rattling cry that begins to dart around at dusk – and all the swifts and swallows. Migratory birds such as our winter visitor warblers, and even hummingbirds will eat mosquitoes. Yes, birds are very useful creatures.

ADA leaders in El Salvador join the campaign by calling on their authorities for better access to healthcare! (Photo: HelpAge International Jamaica Facebook page)

ADA leaders in El Salvador join the campaign by calling on their authorities for better access to healthcare! (Photo: HelpAge International Jamaica Facebook page)

World Health Day 2014 in Timor-Leste (East Timor) in southeast Asia - a region especially badly affected by vector-borne diseases. (Photo: Twitter)

World Health Day 2014 in Timor-Leste (East Timor) in southeast Asia – a region especially badly affected by vector-borne diseases. (Photo: Twitter)

“A Time of Major Transition” for Jamaican Art

petchary:

On several occasions, we have enjoyed the National Gallery of Jamaica’s satisfying and enjoyable free Sundays – a compilation of the performing arts, excellent coffee, the always-tempting gift shop, and of course, plenty of art. But in what direction is the once vibrant Jamaican art scene heading? Is it going anywhere at all, or merely stagnating against the background of a weak economy? The recently-appointed Chief Curator of the National Gallery Charles Campbell spoke at the opening of an exhibition of student work at the Edna Manley College for the Visual & Performing Arts in Kingston, and I thought I would share his comments here. Let’s hope that Jamaican artists of the future will take up the challenge.

Originally posted on National Gallery of Jamaica Blog:

Nadine Hall - Sacred Bodies (2014), detail of installation - presently on view in Be Uncaged

Nadine Hall – Sacred Bodies (2014), detail of installation – presently on view in Be Uncaged

The NGJ’s Chief Curator Charles Campbell was the guest speaker at the April 3 opening of Be Uncaged, an exhibition of student work at the Edna Manley College’s CAG[e] gallery. Since his remarks have broader relevance, we decided to share them here. The exhibition, which was curated by the students in the Introduction to Curatorial Studies course, is well worth visiting and remains open at the College until April 17.

One of the questions I’m frequently asked is what I think of the art scene here. It’s a complicated question to answer. Are we talking about the artists that live here, the Island’s talent pool and what’s going on behind closed doors in studios and bedrooms across the island? Is it the quality of the exhibitions we get to see, the activity…

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Birds Do So Much For Us: A Special Webinar for the Caribbean

The Caribbean Endemic Birds Festival and BirdsCaribbean invite you to a Webinar on “Why Birds Matter” on Monday, April 7, 2014 from 12:00 noon to 1:00 p.m. EDT (that is 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon, Jamaican time).

Scott Johnson (in yellow, left) talks to a group of Grenadian Boy Scouts at last year's

Scott Johnson (in yellow, left) talks to a group of Grenadian Boy Scouts, who volunteered at last year’s 19th Regional Meeting of the Society for the Conservation & Study of Caribbean Birds (now renamed BirdsCaribbean) at St. George’s University, Grenada in July, 2012. Also sitting in is Lester Doodnath, a member of BirdsCaribbean’s Media Working Group from Trinidad and Tobago. (My photo)

Scott Johnson, Education Officer at the Bahamas National Trust and Chairperson of BirdsCaribbean’s Media Working Group will be speaking on the topic “Ten Reasons Why Caribbean Birds Matter” - the theme of the 2014 Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival - which is celebrated throughout the region from April 24 to May 24, 2014.

Although often unknown or unnoticed, birds play many indispensable roles that enrich the ecosystems and economies of the Caribbean. They act as garbage men, gardeners, fish-finders and tourist attractions. The Caribbean as we know it couldn’t exist without them. Best of all, they do all this work for free!

But for all the good things birds have given us, what have we given back to them? Please join us to learn about these amazing creatures and find the answer to this timely question.

To register for the webinar, copy and paste this link into your browser: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/2076749123836784130

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BirdsCaribbean - formerly the Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds (SCSCB) - is a non-profit organization, a vibrant network of members and partners committed to conserving the birds of the Caribbean and their habitats. Its mission is to conserve the birds of the Caribbean and their habitats through conservation, education, capacity building and research. Its overarching goal is to increase the capacity of Caribbean ornithologists, resource managers, conservation organizations, institutions, and local citizens to conserve the birds of the Caribbean and their habitats. More than 80,000 local people participate in our programs each year, making BirdsCaribbean the most broad-based conservation organization in the region.

BirdsCaribbean works by building networks and partnerships with local, national and international organizations and institutions that share our bird conservation goals to develop regional projects, activities, and materials that facilitate local research, management, conservation, education and outreach. We have partners and members on every island. Some of our international partners and supporters include US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Forest Service, Royal Society for the Protection of Caribbean Birds, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, Wetlands International, and BirdLife International.

BirdsCaribbean’s programs are implemented through working groups, which are informal networks of experts and enthusiasts. Some of the most active groups include West Indian Whistling-Duck and Wetlands, Media, Seabirds, Invasives, Bird Monitoring, Caribbean Wildlife Art, Parrot, Bicknell’s Thrush, Diablotin (Black-capped Petrel), and others.

BirdsCaribbean works throughout the insular Caribbean, including Bermuda, Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago, and all islands in the Caribbean basin.

For more on BirdsCaribbean, visit the Birds Caribbean Facebook page, follow on Twitter @BirdsCaribbean or visit the website: http://www.scscb.org

Support our birds! They support us!

Why Birds Matter

Why Birds Matter

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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A Lively Week: Sunday, March 30, 2014

What with the UWI Great Debate and other discussions in and out of the media, the week has been more than usually combative and lively. That’s Jamaica for you!

Cynicism abounds: The dismissal of the corruption charges against former Member of Parliament and Junior Minister Kern Spencer and his personal assistant last week continues to spark some deeply satirical commentary. Mark Wignall’s column in the Sunday Observer is headlined “Kern Spencer for Prime Minister.” 

Happy Mr. Kern Spencer outside the courthouse after corruption charges against him were dismissed.

Happy Mr. Kern Spencer outside the courthouse after corruption charges against him were dismissed.

Vybz Kartel going into the courthouse last week.

Vybz Kartel going into the courthouse last week.

Jailhouse rock, or equivalent: So now the judge is trying to decide whether dancehall star and convicted murderer Vybz Kartel will be allowed to make recordings while in jail (but not actually earn money from them). Another convict musical star, Jah Cure, who was doing time for rape, did make music while behind bars and the proceeds went towards his rehabilitation. He is out of jail now and apparently rehabilitated.

Protesting too much: I am not convinced by the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) concerns that the human rights of the Jamaican people should be of paramount importance in the upcoming enquiry into the Tivoli Gardens massacre of May, 2010. Their administration did not appear unduly concerned at the time about such matters. I think the JLP must be dreading the Enquiry. Meanwhile, the JLP Member of Parliament for the area Desmond McKenzie is supporting the Public Defender’s and Independent Commission of Investigation’s (INDECOM) view that the Enquiry should not go ahead before incomplete ballistics reports are available. The Minister of Justice says the reports are not necessary for the purpose of the Enquiry. The plot is likely to thicken.

The Patriarchy strikes back, again: A (poorly edited) opinion column on the editorial page of the Sunday Gleaner by a “freelance journalist, author and entertainment consultant” named Milton Wray had my head spinning. Under the headline “Are women natural leaders?” I read the most sexist, misogynistic, demeaning and at times truly offensive ramblings. Mr. Wray sees “modern woman” as a “threat” to the family and the society at large. It’s accompanied by an awful photograph of “the female senator” (he does not name her) Imani Duncan-Price, who recently introduced the issue of quotas for women in some areas of public life. The photo makes her look quite frightening (which she isn’t!) What century are we living in, Mr. Wray?

I suppose the Gleaner is seeking to be controversial again, to spark discussion and so on. Meanwhile it is deleting online comments that disagree with the article. I suppose it has the right to do so but what is the aim here – to manipulate the reading public’s opinions? As I have said before, the standard of commentary in the Sunday Gleaner in particular continues its downward slide. And although some believe it’s not worth responding to… One has to register a protest at this.

Don’t panic:  Financial writer and Executive Director of the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica Dennis Chung says the government must hang in there and not be panicked into imposing new taxes in the upcoming Budget, despite the fact that tax revenues have been below target. But can we stay the course? It needs a cool head, but thankfully Finance Minister Peter Phillips’ approach is much more measured than his predecessor Omar Davies’ predilection for incurring debt.

Prime Minister of Jamaica Portia Simpson Miller. (Photo: Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Prime Minister of Jamaica Portia Simpson Miller. (Photo: Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Why do we need a National Cultural and Creative Industries Commission? Well, the Prime Minister wanted one, so she has got it. She and various stakeholders will hold meetings from time to time, and talk a lot. “We need to recognise how important these industries are for both economic growth and national development imperatives,” says the PM. Don’t we already have the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC)? What about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), which the rest of the world is forging ahead with? How are we doing with that? Not to say culture does not have its place, but… Quoting from a headline in Mark Wignall’s column today: “Fast runners and slick deejays cannot help Jamaica’s development.” Let’s not fool ourselves.

Minister of Transport, Works and Housing, Dr. the Hon. Omar Davies (3rd left), signs a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), with China Engineering Company (CHEC) for a feasibility study on the damming of the Bog Walk Gorge, at the Ministry in Kingston, on March 28. Also participating are (from left): Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China in Jamaica, Mr. Xiaojun Dong; Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, Hon. Phillip Paulwell; and Minister of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change, Hon. Robert Pickersgill. In the back row (from left) are: Commercial Counsellor at the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China, Mrs. Lei Liu (left); Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing, Mrs. Audrey Sewell and Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change, Dr. Alwin Hayles. (Photo: JIS)

Minister of Transport, Works and Housing, Dr. the Hon. Omar Davies (3rd left), signs a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), with China Engineering Company (CHEC) for a feasibility study on the damming of the Bog Walk Gorge, at the Ministry in Kingston, on March 28. Also participating are (from left): Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China in Jamaica, Mr. Xiaojun Dong; Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, Hon. Phillip Paulwell; and Minister of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change, Hon. Robert Pickersgill. In the back row (from left) are: Commercial Counsellor at the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China, Mrs. Lei Liu (left); Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing, Mrs. Audrey Sewell and Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change, Dr. Alwin Hayles. (Photo: JIS)

Retirement Dump, Montego Bay on Friday, March 28, 2014. (Photo: Jamaica Environment Trust)

Retirement Dump, Montego Bay on Friday, March 28, 2014. (Photo: Jamaica Environment Trust)

Next up…Bog Walk Gorge: So on Friday, quite out of the blue, Minister of Transport and Works Omar Davies signed a Memorandum of Understanding with – yes, you’ve guessed it – China Harbour Engineering Company, to dam the Rio Cobre on the picturesque Bog Walk Gorge. Now where did that come from? Were there any other bidders? Was it discussed in Parliament? What are the possible environmental impacts? Will it really produce much in terms of hydro-electric power, and at what cost? What will happen to the historic Flat Bridge, which is over 200 years old and still in use?

Meanwhile, the logistics hub PR machine churns onward, with the appointment of Ms. Tastey Blackman (is that really her name?) to a new position, that of Manager of Logistics and Emerging Markets at JAMPRO, the government’s investment agency. She is taking a delegation to the LATAM Ports and Logistics Summit in Panama next week. We await more government press releases, with bated breath.

Former banker Dunbar McFarlane.

Former banker Dunbar McFarlane.

An interesting development: I felt sad when we passed by the empty Palmyra luxury resort development near Montego Bay recently. Well, a New York-based firm, Philangco Corporation, is reportedly interested in bidding for the condominium towers in Rose Hall. The firm is planning to use a new hydrogen-powered fuel system to provide power called Elhydro. I note the firm’s chief financial officer is former Jamaican banker Dunbar McFarlane. Philangco may partner with the Jamaican Government in developing the energy source, which McFarlane’s partner Phillip Scott has developed and patented in the United States and Jamaica. We shall see.

Kingston College students march along Tom Redcam Avenue to the Boys' and Girls' Championships at the National Stadium yesterday. (Photo: Norman Grindley/Gleaner)

Kingston College students march along Tom Redcam Avenue to the Boys’ and Girls’ Championships at the National Stadium. (Photo: Norman Grindley/Gleaner)

The annual ritual that is “Boys’ Champs” is playing itself out at the National Stadium as I write. The wailing of distant vuvuzelas fills the air (no, the students haven’t given up on those hideous inventions, yet) as the high schools compete for glory. Roads around the Stadium are jammed with traffic. The flags of the major competing high schools flutter from cars on the road. This time there was a “peace march” by some 350 students to start off. I hope that some seriousness was attached to it. And I hope the authorities will consider drug testing for the student athletes. Yes, I think it should be done.

Jamaica time: I participated in no less than three separate activities in different parts of the UWI campus on Thursday. All three started between twenty and thirty minutes late. The other day I was telling someone I thought Jamaicans were becoming more punctual. I may have to reconsider that statement…

Big ups and thanks to:

Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson (second left) participates in the symbolic presentation of a $123-million (US$117,176) grant agreement being provided by the Government of Japan to the Bustamante Hospital for Children for the acquisition of vital medical equipment, following Wednesday’s signing ceremony at the institution. Also participating are the hospital Chief Executive Officer Anthony Wood (left); Chargé d’Affaires at the Japanese Embassy in Jamaica Koji Tomita (second right); and the South East Regional Health Authority’s acting chairman, Dr Andrei Cooke. (PHOTO: JIS)

Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson (second left) participates in the symbolic presentation of a $123-million (US$117,176) grant agreement being provided by the Government of Japan to the Bustamante Hospital for Children for the acquisition of vital medical equipment, following Wednesday’s signing ceremony at the institution. Also participating are the hospital Chief Executive Officer Anthony Wood (left); Chargé d’Affaires at the Japanese Embassy in Jamaica Koji Tomita (second right); and the South East Regional Health Authority’s acting chairman, Dr Andrei Cooke. (PHOTO: JIS)

  • The Government of Japan for its support for important social needs in Jamaica. The Japanese Embassy donated J$123 million to the Bustamante Hospital for Children for urgently needed equipment. Thank you!
Supreme Ventures logo.

Supreme Ventures logo.

  • Supreme Ventures, for their generous, ongoing support for Eve for Life, the non-governmental organization that supports teenage and young mothers living with HIV and their children. We are truly grateful for your recent donation and for all your support in the past!
Randy McLaren in performance at the University of the West Indies last Thursday. (My photo)

Randy McLaren in performance at the University of the West Indies last Thursday. (My photo)

  • Randy McLaren (the “Kriativ Aktivis”) who presented an entertaining lunchtime concert at the University of the West Indies (UWI) last week – entertainment with a biting social commentary. Well done, Randy – I can see you are maturing very nicely as an artist.
Jamaican jazz guitarist Ernie Ranglin.

Jamaican jazz guitarist Ernie Ranglin.

  • It’s hard to believe that the wonderful guitarist Ernie Ranglin is 82 years old. The Gleaner calls him a “ska and reggae guitarist” and indeed Mr. Ranglin has played in many genres. I think he is most famous for his jazz style, these days (and I heard him in concert some ten years ago, a marvel!) He has mostly played overseas, and his latest album is called “Bless Up,”  with international musicians Inx Herman, Jonathan Korty, and Yossi Fine. Good to hear he’s still going strong!
A friend's Earth Hour "selfie" - truly lights out!

Where are you? A friend’s Earth Hour “selfie” – truly lights out!

  • All those involved in the organization of the Earth Hour Acoustic Concert last night, which by all accounts was a great success. Special kudos to Rootz Underground’s Stephen Newland, who is often at the forefront of environmental awareness programs. It was good to see so many young people enjoying the music and understanding the message too!
Calabar High School’s Class Three sprint king Tyreke Wilson poses beside the display board showing his impressive new record achieved in the 200m. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Calabar High School’s Class Three sprint king Tyreke Wilson poses beside the display board showing his impressive new record achieved in the 200m. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

  • Calabar High School (boys) and Edwin Allen High School (girls) athletes, who came out on top in the ISSA GraceKennedy Boys’ and Girls’ Athletics Championships, which ended yesterday at the National Stadium. As usual, the competition was fierce, and many records were broken.
Edwin Allen High's Marleena Eubanks salutes her supporters as she crosses the line to win the Class One 800m final in 2:06.51 at the ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls' Championships at the National Stadium yesterday. - Photo by Ricardo Makyn/Gleaner

Edwin Allen High’s Marleena Eubanks salutes her supporters as she crosses the line to win the Class One 800m final in 2:06.51 at the ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls’ Championships at the National Stadium yesterday. (Photo: Ricardo Makyn/Gleaner)

Flyer for Edna Manley School of Dance 18th Season of Performances.

Flyer for Edna Manley School of Dance 18th Season of Performances.

  • And if you enjoy dance, come out next week and support the students of the Edna Manley College School of Dance in Kingston for their 18th Season of Dance. There will be several performances throughout the week, culminating in their Gala Night on Sunday, April 6.

My condolences to the families and friends of the following Jamaicans who lost their lives violently over the past four days.

Kirk Palmer, 42, Cornwall Courts/Montego Bay, St. James

Bryan Martin, Orange Street/Montego Bay, St. James

Shanice Williams, 27, Hopewell, Hanover

Peta Rose, 64, Lumsden, St. Ann

Rushawn Myers, 20, Port Antonio, Portland

Lebert Balasal, 61, Little London, Westmoreland

Killed by police:

Paul O’Gilvie, 20, Alexandria, St. Ann

Unidentified man, Alexandria, St. Ann

On the road: 24-year-old Police Constable Christopher Foster appeared to have been speeding when he crashed into a stationary truck on Thursday morning in Manchester, and died. The car was virtually flattened. Over the weekend, three people were killed in two car crashes on the north coast, both apparently caused by speeding.

Police Constable Christopher Foster died in a tragic car crash.

Police Constable Christopher Foster died in a tragic car crash.