Not the best of Sundays. The prevailing mood in our household is bitter, after Tottenham Hotspurs Football Club defeated Arsenal Football Club in the North London derby. So, our pathetic season is basically over. I am sorry to inflict my football passions on you, dear readers. But it hurts as much as being stabbed in the arm. Well, probably not quite as much. Over in London, our son is probably drowning his sorrows in a pint of …bitter. I am drinking coffee, and wishing it was something stronger.
Putting that aside. More bitterness, this time a bitter smell. On Thursday morning downtown Kingston was once again afflicted by what the media calls “noxious odors” - this time at the Central Sorting Office of Jamaica Post. Hundreds of students poured onto the streets after several large nearby schools suspended classes and sent them home. Over 600 workers were evacuated. Approximately sixty people sought medical treatment. Roads were cordoned off. In other words, chaos. Representatives of various government agencies bustled about the place. But so far as I know, no one has yet discovered the source of the fumes. This is not the first time we have had mystery fumes in Kingston. And probably it will not be the last.
The head of the National Solid Waste Management Agency Jennifer Edwards spoke with journalist Dionne Jackson Miller on the TV program “All Angles” - and it seems there is really no plan for solid waste or appropriate legislation. But Ms. Edwards seems to be trying to do bits and pieces here and there. But will noxious fumes from the Riverton City dump (est. 1964) waft over the city once more? Has anything changed since the huge fire there a year ago? What is the quality of the air that we city-dwellers are breathing in? See the link to the program below.
Talking of bitterness, the Simpson Miller administration’s new taxation package remains a bad taste in the mouth. A fellow-tweeter commented that Skype, FaceTime and other free methods will be widely in use, replacing highly-taxed phone calls. A noted cleric wrote to the Gleaner pointing out that there is a tax on the tax on phone calls, now. Is that even legal? I believe there is a growing “working poor” in Jamaica, who have to juggle competing bills and cut back on non-essentials (if they can). I know a few of them personally.
But how much further can we cut back? How much more can we tighten our belts or “band our belly,” as Jamaicans would say? “Sacrifice” has been a word on many lips recently. I think our politicians had better be very circumspect when using that word in the future. What are they sacrificing, many are asking? Certainly not those nice shiny new Toyota Prados. As columnist Lawrence Powell notes today, symbolic sacrifice is good. Former Prime Minister Bruce Golding, to his credit, saw that this was a good thing to do when he and his Cabinet colleagues took a pay cut, a few years back. If we are to all pull together for the sake of the country, let’s make it all of us!
There is a Jamaican expression I love: “Hol’ dung tek weh” - basically meaning holding someone down and robbing them by force. Now our political leaders are again digging around in our pockets. But they are only finding pieces of fluff, sweetie papers and the occasional Jamaican cent (which is practically worthless). Nothing left; empty pockets, bare cupboards. As Mr. Gordon Robinson said acerbically in his Sunday Gleaner column, many of us have nothing - nothing - left to give up!
The issue of the NHTHol’DungTekWeh (I should put a hashtag in front of that!) took some twists and turns last week, too (NHT = National Housing Trust). The lawsuit filed by the pressure group Citizens Action for Principle and Integrity (CAPI) has hit a snag, due to some problems with documents – and was postponed in court. Meanwhile, the government will be pushing through some legislation to amend the NHT Act and make it perfectly OK for them to withdraw the funds – to plug what commentator Claude Clarke calls the “hole in the bucket” that urgently needs to be filled. It is possible that the lawsuit will fizzle out; we shall see. In a thoughtful piece, former Prime Minister Bruce Golding (who has been very quiet for a long time until recently) suggests that the J$44 billion could have taken the form of a loan, or in exchange for land. See the link to his Gleaner article below.
The issue of corruption has raised its ugly head (of course, it has never gone anywhere). We have seen a series of reports on incidents involving the Jamaica Constabulary Force that seem to be corruption, or sheer criminality. A policewoman was found to have been sheltering a man who had escaped from a police lock-up – in her home. Two policemen (one from the Anti-Corruption Branch, no less) were allegedly involved in an armed robbery in Negril and have been arrested. Another policemen, who has just been convicted and sentenced to life for the horrendous murder of a schoolgirl, is now suspected of fathering a child while awaiting trial in a police lock-up (and one local lawyer has said it’s a waste of time investigating. Sorry??)
Meanwhile, our Prime Minister happily cut some ribbons and broke some ground last week, which is very nice… But less happily she faced some TV reporters. TVJ’s excellent Kirk Wright and others waylaid her one day last week. They pointed out to her that while in Opposition she herself had (on January 8, 2010 to be precise) vehemently protested at the possibility of the Golding administration obtaining funds from the NHT. Ms. Simpson Miller backed away from the microphones. “I don’t know if I objected then,” she said. How could she forget, I wonder? I remember, and TVJ played the clip. When the reporters pressed her further, our Prime Minister became really flustered. “I’m not going to answer any more of your questions!” she cried, arms flapping, moving rapidly away from the cameras. Oh dear.
Can’t be bothered section: I know the flogging legislation is an awful colonial vestige and an abuse of human rights, so can we just get rid of it, please. No need to waste parliamentary time on debating it is there, when there are so many other pressing issues? Those who want to retain it are, presumably, seeking to heighten the already unbearably high level of violence in society, and to perpetuate it. The debate seems a big distraction from the elephants in the room (remember those elephants?)
A few of my favorite things last week, though…
UNICEF’s Deputy Executive Director, Ms. Geeta Rao Gupta, visited the offices of Eve for Life last week with UNICEF Representative for Jamaica Robert Fuderich and representatives of the Ministry of Health. Ms. Gupta sat down and spoke quietly with a group of our young women and girls. It was such a pleasure to meet her. Eve for Life, which supports and empowers young mothers with HIV/AIDS, recently moved into new offices. You can find them on Facebook (Eve Jamaica) and on Twitter at @EveforLife.
The Jamaica Civil Society Coalition (JCSC, which includes the sharp-witted and articulate Carol Narcisse) has been busy recently. A series of public meetings on the budget process has been very fruitful. The JCSC is also angry with the operators of the fore-mentioned Riverton City dump and has withdrawn from the oversight committee, complaining that the authorities have not complied with their own standards and regulations (the dump still does not have a permit from the National Environment and Planning Agency! But “it is now being reviewed,” says the agency head). And what happened to funding offered by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to fix the dump? Well, guess what – Jamaica was not able to provide matching funds. In fact, the JCSC contends, billions of dollars’ worth of aid from multi-laterals has not been taken up by successive administrations every year, due to delays, red tape and sheer incompetence it seems…
Congratulations to the 51% Coalition on the highly successful launch of their media campaign to raise awareness of the need for greater gender balance and equity on public sector boards – and of the need for greater integrity and accountability in governance. Listen out for the public service announcements on Power 106 FM, KOOL FM and RJR (and huge thanks to them and all media and other supporters). Politician-turned-talk-show-host Sharon Hay Webster conducted an excellent interview with Judith Wedderburn of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung on Newstalk 93 FM.
CVM Television’s Live at Seven did a great job again last week with thought-provoking reports and interviews on challenging topics. Host Simon Crosskill’s interviewing style is direct and unflinching. One discussion I enjoyed was on whether prostitution should be legalized; it was good to see Ian McKnight of Caribbean Vulnerable Communities making some important points.
And on the arts and culture scene… Special, special congratulations to young Jamaican Ann Margaret Lim, who has received a Special Mention in the poetry section longlist of the 2013 OCM Bocas Prize. I wrote about the launch of her delicious collection “The Festival of Wild Orchid” last year. Overseas-based Jamaican novelist Anthony Winkler is also on the list; as well as Jamaican historian Dave St Aubyn Gosse for his book “Abolition and Plantation Management in Jamaica, 1807–1838″ – another Special Mention. Congratulations and good luck to all!
The Kingston Book Festival organized by the Book Industry Association of Jamaica kicked off today and we look forward to the next week’s vibrant events. Do support! You can find details on their Facebook page and from @kgnbookfest on Twitter.
Awesome to see our recent Grammy Award winner Jimmy Cliff at the U.S. Embassy’s “Blues on the Green” concert, an always wondrous musical event rounding off Black History Month, in Kingston’s Emancipation Park. Although I wasn’t able to attend myself, it was good to see Mr. Cliff enjoying the music of the young American jazz singing group Traces of Blue alongside U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica Pamela Bridgewater. Check out the U.S. Embassy Jamaica Facebook page for great photographs…
And finally, congratulations to Margaret and Michael Stanley on their brilliant (and literally brilliant) exhibition “Red…and other Colors” which continues at the Grosvenor Gallery in Manor Park, Kingston, until March 9. And if you haven’t caught it yet, the National Biennial continues at the National Gallery of Jamaica until the same date! Do not miss these!
On women’s leadership, I will end with a quote from one of my “tweeps”: “Oh God! All these disastrous women in Jamaican politics. Where are the women who actually reflect our innate strength and wisdom?”
It has been another tragic week. A young woman severely injured by her ex-husband died one week after the man had killed her mother. And there was the appalling murder/suicide by a man who killed his two young children and then himself. The mother was reportedly trying to end the relationship. These occurrences are more than “crimes of passion.” I am grieving with the families of all those who died. And I wish the men would understand that women, too, have freedom of choice in whom they love or choose not to love. Men, you need to let go. Just let go.
“Grung Gad,” 26, Standpipe, Kingston 6
Maxine Fearon, 45, Ballard’s River, Clarendon
Tamara Fearon, 27, Ballard’s River, Clarendon
Kenrick Tyndale, 26, Palmetto Pen, Clarendon
Tashina Lewin, 17, Woodside, Clarendon
K-Lee Mullings, two, Wait-a-Bit, Trelawny
Kimocoya Mullings, four,Wait-a-Bit, Trelawny
Courtney Ellis, 34, Retreat, St. Mary
Howard Hull, 40, Old Harbour Bay, St. Catherine
By the police:
“Dennis,” 20, Sevens Road, Clarendon
Kemar Witter, 26, Cambridge, St. James
Related articles: Local blog posts in purple
http://www.caribjournal.com/2013/03/01/dennis-chung-jamaicas-survival-under-the-international-monetary-fund/ Dennis Chung: Jamaica’s survival under the International Monetary Fund: Caribbean Journal
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/ratings-agency-fitch-upgrades-jamaica Ratings agency Fitch upgrades Jamaica: RJR News
http://digjamaica.com/blog/2013/02/28/and-the-dollar-slide-hastens-j-loses-3-2-of-value-in-february/ And the dollar hastens! J$ loses 3.2% of value in February: digjamaica.com
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/More-debt-_13763419 More debt! Jamaica owes international bodies $794 million: Sunday Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130302/letters/letters2.html Time to revolt against taxes: Rev. Clinton Chisholm letter to Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130303/cleisure/cleisure2.html There’s a hole in the bucket: Claude Clarke column/Sunday Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/editorial/Avoid-the-triumph-of-expediency-over-pragmatism_13748478 Avoid the triumph of expediency over pragmatism: Jamaica Observer editorial
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Trust–governance–and-the-national-good_13752498 Trust, governance and the national good: Howard Gregory column/Sunday Observer
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Expect-no-shared-sacrifice-from-the-PNP-Administration_13757557 Expect no shared sacrifice from the PNP administration: Mark Wignall column/Sunday Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130303/focus/focus6.html Singapore, symbolism and “shared sacrifice”: Martin Henry column/Sunday Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/A-more-vigilant-population-_13752407 A more vigilant population? David Mullings column/Sunday Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130228/news/news1.html That $44 billion NHT “contribution”: Bruce Golding op-ed/Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Court-action-to-block-NHT-withdrawal-postponed_13757980 Court action to block NHT withdrawal postponed: Jamaica Observer
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/hartford-police-launches-probe-into-fire-truck-donated-to-jamaica Hartford police launches probe into fire truck donated to Jamaica: RJR News
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/policeman-accused-of-killing-colleague-freed Policeman accused of killing colleague freed: RJR News
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130303/lead/lead11.html Murder, jail and a baffling birth: Sunday Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130303/lead/lead5.html The wild west: Haven for corrupt cops: Sunday Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130303/focus/focus4.html Putting brakes on corruption: Martin Henry column/Sunday Gleaner
http://www.og.nr/rbt/12388-corporal-surrenders-to-police-following-negril-robbery.html Corporal surrenders to police following Negril robbery: On the Ground News Reports
http://www.cvmtv.com/story.php?id=3036&type=newswatch No motive yet for murder of politician’s husband: CVM Television
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130302/cleisure/cleisure4.html Why are Jamaicans so bloody violent? Ethon Lowe op-ed/Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130302/letters/letters6.html In loving memory and honor of Sheriefa Saddler: Letter to the editor/Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Death-of-a-bold–young-visionary_13761551 Death of a bold young visionary: Sunday Observer
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Show-us-the-plan-and-we-ll-help_13734237 Show us the plan and we’ll help: Sunday Observer
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/attorney-outlines-significance-of-ccj-sitting-in-jamaica Attorney outlines significance of sitting of CCJ in Jamaica: RJR News
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130228/cleisure/cleisure3.html Expelling adolescent mothers unjust: Jaevion Nelson column/Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/letters/A-war-against-women-and-children_13757571 A war against women and children: Letter to Sunday Observer
http://jamaicajournal.wordpress.com/2013/03/01/51-coalition-calls-for-more-women-in-leadership-roles-in-jamaica/ 51% Coalition calls for more women in leadership roles in Jamaica: jamaicajournal.wordpress.com
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads/33120 KSAC to place more focus on the homeless: Jamaica Information Service
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Divine-Intervention_13758266 Restaurateur has a mission to uplift the homeless: Sunday Observer
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Street-side-chef-gets-a-boost_13701855?fb_ref=storypage Street side chef gets a boost: Sunday Observer
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/NEPA-continues-probe-into-sickening-fumes_13756780 NEPA continues probe into sickening fumes: Jamaica Observer
http://www.kimroybailey.com/2013/03/offshoreeconomics.html Invest the IMF loan in an offshore windfarm: kimroybailey.com
http://www.televisionjamaica.com/Programmes/AllAngles.aspx/Videos/24586 Riverton City landfill fire, one year later: All Angles/TV Jamaica
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Make-rainwater-harvesting-compulsory_13761729 Make rainwater harvesting compulsory: Sunday Observer
http://www.bocaslitfest.com/2013/2013-ocm-bocas-prize-longlist-announced/ 2013 Bocas Prize longlist announced: http://www.bocaslitfest.com
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2013/03/02/seeing-red-with-the-stanleys/ Seeing Red with the Stanleys: petchary.wordpress.com
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2013/02/20/a-burst-of-biennial-magic/ A burst of Biennial magic: petchary.wordpress.com
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/10/16/the-festival-of-wild-orchid-a-poem-for-national-heroes-day/ The Festival of Wild Orchid: A Poem for National Heroes Day: petchary.wordpress.com
http://repeatingislands.com/2013/02/27/haiti-jamaicas-embarrassment/ Haiti: Jamaica’s embarrassment: repeatingislands.com
Last night I watched an interview with a young Jamaican on CVM Television’s “Live at Seven.” The young man is 22-year-old Brandon Allwood, an intelligent young man who attended one of Jamaica’s top high schools, former editor of the “TeenAge” Observer magazine (where I first met him) – and since he was in his teens I know he has been a fervent advocate for children’s rights. Brandon is organizer of the upcoming March and Rally for “Help JA Children,” which will take place on Tuesday, May 1 at 12:00 noon, beginning at Bustamante Children’s Hospital and ending at Emancipation Park in Kingston.
Brandon is not one of those young people who has given up on Jamaica (I don’t mean that in a negative way – but I know many who have left, and for that I do not judge them; it is a fact of life). He is staying here, and has already set up his own marketing company, Brandon Allwood & Associates. Like all young people, he makes the most of the social media to promote both his business and the causes he believes in. Top of the list of causes has been the rights of Jamaican children.
There has been much hot air in the media over the past few weeks since the Jamaica Observer printed an interview with a doctor, who gave graphic descriptions of child abuse cases she has treated at the children’s hospital. The Jamaican public was shocked rigid. The airwaves rang with the shrill voices of horrified Jamaican citizens, who sounded as if they had no idea that this was taking place – although it is nothing new, so far as I am aware. Letters to the editor flooded in; everyone had something to say. We are talking about child sexual abuse mainly in this case, and there is incest, too. This is an issue that clearly has not been kept in the public eye – if at all – and it took a rather sensationalized report to throw it back in people’s faces. There has been the usual assumption that it is only “poor people pickney” (poor people’s children) involved – but we know this is not true, and that the middle and upper classes are also helping to prey on and deprive children of all ages of their innocence – their childhood, their ability to function as normal human beings.
Now, the issue is fading away in the public eye. The Minister responsible for youth has spoken, the Prime Minister has said that, as well all know, “Children are dear to her heart.” As many have remarked, this ongoing, everyday tragedy was destined to become another “nine day wonder,” as the outrage faded. But what is to be done? What is being done, now that the blinkers have fallen away from people’s faces? Returning to a state of semi-denial or ignorance is not really an option. How does Jamaica move forward?
Thankfully, May is Child Month in Jamaica. There will be the usual church services, speeches by public officials, supplements in the newspapers, “messages” from all the relevant government agencies. But I am hopeful that, this year, there will also be action.
On the television program, Brandon Allwood attempted to explain, in the short time allowed, the importance of advocacy – a concept not fully developed or recognized in Jamaican civil society, perhaps. In Jamaica, it depends on who is doing the advocating that matters. It’s the personality, (and certainly, whether you personally like them or not), and not necessarily the cause they are espousing, that is important. Thus, human rights advocates are maligned and indeed threatened on a regular basis by Jamaicans who seem incapable of understanding their role, and who are intent on finding some dark ulterior motive, personal vendetta or political agenda in their selfless work.
But what really concerns me in this case is: A young man and his group of supporters (he calls his PR firm the “Black Sheep” – interestingly) are not being heard. People are outraged and shocked at the issue of child sexual abuse, but they are not prepared to support him – apart from a few worthy corporate sponsors of the event, whom I applaud. Brandon spoke of government ministries and agencies refusing to come to the phone and never returning his calls, when he called them for support. He has had many rebuffs also from the private sector – who may of course be strapped for cash in these difficult times but have mostly given him a flat “no” to his modest requests for sponsorship. Government agencies have not waived or reduced fees and permits for him to hold the rally, which is in the interest of Jamaica’s children.
Let’s face it. The voices of young people are not being heard. Politicians pay lip service,but if you were to ask them what the three major issues are for the Jamaican youth of 2012, or what their views in general might be on a particular issue, they would hesitate. You see, they are not listening. Jamaica is for the grown-ups, those who have it all, for them to enjoy. When did you last see a meaningful discussion, a debate between young people and those “in power”? Are young people being “mainstreamed” into Jamaican public life? It’s a popular catchphrase, but I don’t see much evidence of it.
Is it that the comfortable, influential ones, those “in power,” the adults who are enjoying life, really don’t want to be disturbed by young people, who will question all the things that they, the adults, hold dear (and close to their chests)? Especially young people who are not “connected” with the right people (political or socially), or who are not members of an influential family – so-and-so’s son or daughter. I am not speaking about Brandon and his group of supporters, necessarily – and of course not all Jamaican adults fall into this uncaring category. There are many who do, indeed, listen. But perhaps not enough.
What I do know is that Brandon, Jaevion Nelson and others like him, are bright, sincere, and care about the future of their country. They have what is called a social conscience.
Brandon and his “Black Sheep” are passionate (as I was at their age), eloquent and strong advocates for the marginalized, the ignored and the neglected. They abhor injustice. They love their country. They are not “fat cats.” I posted a link to Jaevion’s co-authored op-ed below for you to read, if you have not done so already – it is focused, hard-hitting and resonates loud and clear.
I think Jamaica’s youth advocates – and its troubled and abused children – deserve support. Do what you can.
For more on Help JA Children, see their Facebook page or tweet them @HelpJAChildren. Help JA Children are: Brandon Allwood, Candiese Leveridge, Jaevion Nelson, K. Dominic McKenzie, Lonique Chin and Ricardo Brooks.
This is what they say on their Facebook page:
“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul, than the way in which it treats its children” – Nelson Mandela
Please support Help JA Children as we seek to raise the profile of our nation’s children and highlight the dire reality that too many of them face.
Our organisation NEEDS your help to make sure our march and rally on May 1, 2012 happens.
The fight to protect our nations children is one which involves all of us. PLEASE make a donation to Help JA Children today.
Our account was opened with the gracious help of Scotiabank, and ALL donations will go DIRECTLY to funding the costs of hosting the march and rally as well as the future work of Help JA Children. Below are the details of the account.
Name: Help JA Children
Branch: New Kingston
If you have any questions, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also keep up-to-date with Help JA Children news by following us on Twitter (@HelpJAChildren) and liking us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/HelpJAChildren).
The time has come for us to call Jamaicans to action in the fight to keep our children safe.
“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul, than the way in which it treats its children” – Nelson Mandela
What kind of soul do we have?
- Help Ja Children campaign- i know you may be skeptical but just listen (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Sunday Showers (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Listening to young people – Innovation, creativity and engagement (icecreates.com)
- Op-Ed: Fighting Injustice in Jamaica (petchary.wordpress.com)
- http://mim.io/4adb82 Play Your Part (HelpJAChildren theme tune)