OK, so now our fifty years are behind us, Jamaica. What of the next fifty years? For the remainder of the year, this blog is planning to focus on a regular basis on our youth. In case the (mostly) old men currently governing our country did not realize, we must hand over the future of Jamaica to our young people. Our next fifty years belong to them.
Listen to them. Engage them. Empower them. Let them create our future. Trust them!
I am starting with a speech by Jamaican youth advocate Jaevion Nelson, who is speaking in the context of HIV/AIDS. Jaevion is a great role model and an example of how our bright Jamaican young people can really make a difference – through their words and actions. More to come in future blog posts!
Speech by Jaevion Nelson, Executive Director of the Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network, delivered at the 19th International AIDS Conference in Washington D.C. during a Regional Session on Sustainability and HIV.
- Adolescents map HIV risks, part of a holistic approach to treating HIV/AIDS in Haiti. (zedie.wordpress.com)
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/04/28/listen-to-the-youth-no-stop-really-listen-please/ (Listen to the youth: Petchary’s blog April 28, 2012)
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/07/27/african-postman-the-mandela-connection-and-our-children/ (Mandela and our Children: Petchary’s blog July 27, 2012)
- Young People Navigate Relationships, Romance and HIV (voanews.com)
- Youth Want Voice at AIDS 2012 (voanews.com)
- As global AIDS conference gets under way, Jamaican activists seek more robust focus (miamiherald.com)
- CHC Career Profile: Orain Edwards, Jamaica (caribbeanhealth.org)
- Teenagers living with HIV show what life’s like in their shoes (guardian.co.uk)
- HIV awareness ‘dropped off radar’ (bbc.co.uk)
- HIV And Young Black Gay Men: New Study Shows Group To Be Most At Risk (huffingtonpost.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)
It is a beautiful green garden, the kind that feels like home. Three or four big old mango trees, the tips of their branches dripping with “black mangoes” (and one Bombay tree that I was told doesn’t bear much). The lawns are not flat or perfectly smooth, and a little worn in places.The white house that stands back from the road is worn with memories, but comfortable with them. One can still imagine family members sitting on the verandah on warm afternoons, sipping lemonade. Inside, the wooden floors shine, and walls and screens are adorned with bright posters and photographs. This is the home of the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) in Kingston, Jamaica.
For Earth Day 2012, JET welcomed over one hundred young people from several inner-city communities to their headquarters for a special celebration. Most of the children had participated in a special joint project between JET and the downtown-based NGO RISE Life Management Services, which works with at-risk youth. The project, supported by the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica, is called “Building Appreciation for Nature in Children at Risk.” There is a link to this project below. The program began with the communities of Parade Gardens, Fletcher’s Land and Allman Town; the second phase included children from Drewsland, Tower Hill and Majesty Gardens, and I also met some children from Cockburn Gardens. These are all depressed areas of Kingston; despite their attractive names, there are very few gardens indeed. There is concrete, there is uncollected garbage, there are rats, zinc fences. Hence the need for such a project, which was conceptualized by the dynamic leaders of JET and RISE, Diana McCaulay and Sonita Abrahams. From the enthusiasm and interest of the young people (and their desire to show off their new-found knowledge) I could tell that the program had been successful. It was clear from their faces, from their sheer enjoyment.
One of the highlights of the morning was the reading of two books written by Jamaican children’s author Jana Bent. Well, it was much more than a reading. Jana’s two books, “Shaggy Parrot and the Reggae Band” and “The Reggae Band Rescues Mama Edda Leatherback” come with music CDs that enhance the narrative and encourage participation. The music is excellent, inspired, written and performed by Jamaican reggae singer Shaggy – rhythmic, fun and well produced. Of course, both the books have strong messages on environmental protection – not just Jamaica-related. The second book involves the poor Leatherback Turtle who has swallowed a plastic bag…. But don’t worry, of course there was a happy ending.
And as one of the old hippy anthems has it (in fact, it was the classic “Woodstock” by Joni Mitchell, I believe) … “We’ve got to get back to the garden.” For the children’s sake.
- On Earth Day – Five Reasons I Love Jamaica (newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com)
- Mangoes; A source of Roughage!!! (goldenfingers.wordpress.com)
- http://www.jamentrust.org/education/building-appreciation-for-nature-in-children-at-risk.html (jamentrust.org)
- Protecting our Fish: Earth Day, Part 1 (petchary.wordpress.com)
- http://www.reggaepickney.com/ The Shaggy Parrot books
- Jamaica Musings – second try!! (lifecoachingplus.wordpress.com)
- Celebrate Earth Day with These Children’s Books from Dawn Publications! (susanheim.blogspot.com)
- JN Foundation Volunteers in ACT!ON – Do Good Jamaica Kingston Book Festival (jnbsfoundation.wordpress.com)
- Circles of Hope for Earth Day (readaloudsforallchildren.wordpress.com)
- Top 10 Green Reads For Earth Day (huffingtonpost.com)
- Mos Def Sings About Butterflies and Trees in New Children’s Project, Pacha’s Pajamas (Video) (treehugger.com)
- The best friend (theunofficialversion.com)
This two-minute flavor of the film touches on its beauty and complexity. Look it up on YouTube and read my review. A very powerful film about music, freedom, and the eternal tenaciousness and hope of youth under a repressive regime.
Youth is about freedom. It is about being free to express yourself, culturally; and music is the lifeblood. ”The days of our youth are the days of our glory,” wrote that incurable romantic Lord Byron. Yet there is little glory for the youth of Tehran. Freedom is a luxury they don’t possess; but with the optimism and tenaciousness of youth, they stretch their fingers out for what little they can reach for.
The 2009 Iranian film, “No One Knows About Persian Cats,” is a wry, touching and quietly tragic film about the struggles of several rock bands to express themselves (loudly) in a world of cold repression. Two close friends and musicians, Ashkan and Negar (the only girl, and the only one who does not smile during the entire film) have just come out of prison. They move around Tehran, meeting other possible band members. Their plan is to form a band and leave the country for a tour of the United States – a possibility they hardly dare dream about, but work doggedly towards.
The movie was filmed secretly by Kurdish Iranian director Bahman Ghobadi. Perhaps because of this, it has a documentary feel. The reality is gritty and unrelenting. There are extraordinary collages of life in Tehran – disturbing footage of junkies living with rats in piles of garbage, street scenes of mostly unsmiling people (this was noticeable), the occasional flash of opulence – that reinforce the claustrophobic atmosphere of the city.
The ultimate freedom, of course, is a visa. Our intrepid pair (the name of their band is Take It Easy Hospital) visit an underground passport and visa dealer (we only see the secret life of the city) with the assistance of the voluble Nader, who takes them under his wing – a somewhat greasy T-shirt sleeve. Nader means well, or does he? His boundless energy (he careers down streets on his beloved motorbike) is, in the end, undone.
The film is not unremittingly grim by any means. The young musicians whom Ashkan and Negar meet look like indie rock bands anywhere – shocks of thick hair, a slouching demeanor – and one of the musicians has a definite Rasta influence. They make the usual offhand, ironic jokes of rock musicians – but their jokes are about the police knocking on the door to throw them into prison, simply for playing banned, subversive music. They talk about corruption and torture and informers; and spies – young and old, neighbors and children. They joke about their rehearsal venues. One heavy metal band regularly rehearses on a farm; the cows’ milk has dried up. Rehearsal rooms are hidden in a maze of narrow stairs and dirty alleyways, dimly lit and sound-proofed so as not to give themselves away, the drums muffled.
“This is Tehran. It’s no joke. No sign of flowers or popsicles.” One of the most powerful scenes is on the top floor of an unfinished high rise, where rapper Hichkas (“Nobody” in English) presents a bitter little diatribe on inequality, hypocrisy, false religiosity and corruption. But he doesn’t want to leave Tehran. There would be no one to sing about it all then, would there.
Oh by the way, the real Negar and Ashkan (they played themselves) did eventually escape. They now live in London. The co-writer of the film, Iranian-American Roxana Saberi, was jailed on spying charges and released just in time for the film to win a Special Jury Prize at Cannes Film Festival.
And the music? Negar’s voice is wistful, the guitars and keyboards forceful, the drumming excellent, the lyrics (mostly in English) banal at times. And there are some beautiful interludes – traditional Iranian music and dancing, taking the viewer into a world of gentle movement and acoustic sound. All beautifully counter-balanced.
And hope? Not much there, although there was a bit of a happy ending in real life. But life in Tehran goes on, and freedom is like a feather blowing in the wind.
Very hard to catch.