An Update on Jamaica’s Concerns About Its Nationals at Trinidad Airport

Piarco International Airport in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad.
Piarco International Airport in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad.

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Kamina Johnson Smith provided this update today. She also noted that the issue will be on the agenda of the upcoming CARICOM Heads of Government meeting in July. Let us hope that steady progress will be made.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade wishes to advise that the Government of Trinidad and Tobago has responded positively to calls made by Senator the Honorable Kamina Johnson Smith, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade to address the issues related to the treatment of Jamaican nationals entering Trinidad and Tobago.

Minister Johnson Smith is advising that, in a letter, Senator the Honorable Dennis Moses, Minister of Foreign and CARICOM Affairs of Trinidad and Tobago, committed to:

  • implement customer service training at Piarco in June 2016, specifically targeting those who interact with passengers who are denied entry, and
  • retro-fit, by July 2016, a dedicated facility at Piarco International Airport for the use of persons who are denied entry.

In making the point that discussions are ongoing, the Minister noted: “We welcome these undertakings and hope they will provide tangible results to the Jamaican citizen, whom we always represent. There is, however, more work to be done, and our discussions will continue on more complex aspects of our concerns – again, all in the interests of our citizens.”  

She also explained that her counterpart’s response followed on their recent ‘face-to-face’ meeting in New York in the margins of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS).  The Ministry advised that discussions will continue in earnest and further updates will be provided at the appropriate time.

Contact:

Ann-Margaret Lim

564-4241

 

 

Apply for the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program

"There are incalculable resources in the human spirit, once it has been set free." Hubert H. Humphrey (1911-1978), was Vice President of the United States under President Lyndon B. Johnson (1965-69).
"There are incalculable resources in the human spirit, once it has been set free." Hubert H. Humphrey (1911-1978), was Vice President of the United States under President Lyndon B. Johnson (1965-69).

The Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program is a prestigious program for mid-career professionals. There are 55 Jamaican alumni of the program in a range of different fields, who are now contributing enormously to the country’s development. The U.S. Embassy in Jamaica is now seeking applicants. The deadline is midnight on Friday, July 1, 2016. Details below:

The U.S. Embassy invites suitably qualified persons to compete for participation in the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program. This distinguished program brings accomplished mid-level professionals to the United States for a year of combined academic (but non-degree) and professional work. Fellows are selected based on potential for leadership and commitment to public service. Fellowships are granted competitively to both public and private sector candidates with strong leadership potential and a commitment to public service in these fields.

GENERAL FELLOWSHIP REQUIREMENTS:

Candidates must hold at least a first-level university degree (equivalent to a B.A. or B.Sc.).
Humphrey Fellows are expected to be resourceful and display initiative. The individual’s application should indicate how s/he and his/her organization and the country could benefit from experiences to be acquired under the program.

SPECIFIC ELIGIBILITY REQUIREMENTS:

Prospective applicants must have or be: Jamaican citizenship; permanent employment in Jamaica; English proficient and be between the ages of 30-50 years old. Note carefully that applicants should be no older than 50 years old at the beginning of the program on August 1, 2017; show leadership ability and commitment to public service; a minimum of five years substantial full-time professional experience and should be policy rather than research or technically oriented.

NOT ELIGIBLE:

Persons ineligible for consideration include: Recent graduates (even if they have significant positions);
University teachers or researchers with no management or policy responsibilities (except in the fields of drug abuse prevention);
Individuals with less than five years of full-time professional work experience and with recent academic or professional U.S. experience (more than 6 months within the last 5 years prior to the date of application);
Individuals who have attended a graduate school in the U.S. for one academic year or more during the seven years prior to August 2016; and
Individuals with dual Jamaican and U.S. citizenship or U.S. permanent resident status.

NATIONAL INSTITUTE ON DRUG ABUSE (NIDA)-FUNDED HUMPHREY FELLOWSHIPS:

The drug abuse component of the field of public health policy and management emphasizes drug abuse education, treatment, and prevention. Fellowships funded by the NIDA target more specialized candidates. Appropriate candidates for NIDA-funded Humphrey Fellowships include mid-level researchers, research managers and policy makers in universities, drug abuse prevention or treatment programs, health or social services industries or medical facilities. Candidates preferably should have a doctoral degree or equivalent in medicine, health, or behavioral or social science. Professionals employed by social welfare, education, or community-based organizations would be appropriate if they meet the general eligibility criteria. Law enforcement candidates are not eligible unless they have a public health focus on drug abuse epidemiology, education, treatment, or prevention, and meet the requirements to follow a program based in a school of public health.

NIDA question sheet: All candidates applying for fellowships in the field of drug abuse should fill out the NIDA form regardless of degree held, number of publications, or research experience. Candidates in other fields should omit the NIDA page.

APPLICATIONS:

Only electronic submission of applications will be accepted. The online application is available at http://apply.embark.com/student/humphrey/fellowship/

Applications close at midnight on Friday, July 1, 2016. For further details on eligibility and other program requirements, interested persons may contact U.S. Embassy, Kingston via email or visit the official Hubert Humphrey Fellowship Program website: https://www.humphreyfellowship.org

SUPPORTING DOCUMENTS:

Official sealed copies of university transcript(s), sealed reference letters and forms (typewritten) and curriculum vitae should be mailed to:

Counselor for Public Affairs

Public Affairs Section

142 Old Hope Road, Kingston 6

Re: Hubert H. Humphrey Program

SELECTION: Please note that selection for this program is competitive. The review panel is looking for candidates who meet all program requirements, including demonstrated leadership ability/ potential, a commitment to public service, and a well-developed program plan. Following a technical review, short-listed candidates will be advised and invited for an interview.

Managing our Solid Waste: Solutions to the Problem of Plastics and Styrofoam

Glamorous recycling: Actress Emma Watson arrives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala (Met Gala) to celebrate the opening of "Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology" in New York. Her gown, created by Calvin Klein and Eco Age, is made entirely of recycled plastic bottles."Plastic is one of the biggest pollutants on the planet," Emma wrote in a Facebook post explaining her look."Being able to repurpose this waste and incorporate it into my gown for the ‪‎MetGala‬ proves the power that creativity, technology and fashion can have by working together."(Photo: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)
Glamorous recycling: Actress Emma Watson arrives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala (Met Gala) to celebrate the opening of "Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology" in New York. Her gown, created by Calvin Klein and Eco Age, is made entirely of recycled plastic bottles."Plastic is one of the biggest pollutants on the planet," Emma wrote in a Facebook post explaining her look."Being able to repurpose this waste and incorporate it into my gown for the ‪‎MetGala‬ proves the power that creativity, technology and fashion can have by working together."(Photo: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)

Now is the time for action!

Two years ago I went on a boat tour with JET, prior to the annual beach clean-up. We were filled with horror. Kingston Harbour is literally clogged with garbage - mainly plastic - for miles. (My photo)

Two years ago I went on a boat tour with JET, prior to the annual beach clean-up. We were filled with horror. Kingston Harbour, including the mangroves, is literally clogged with garbage – mainly plastic – for miles. (My photo)

We are all gradually (finally) becoming aware of a tidal wave of plastic and styrofoam that threatens to overwhelm the island – although some of us have been writing about it for years. We have been talking about it for years, too. Recycling efforts have come and gone with varying degrees of success. But at last, it seems, some people (even, perhaps, within the new political administration) are listening.  While the current recycling project is still a work in progress,  the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) has come up with a practical list of steps that can be taken to reduce the amount of plastic and styrofoam that is choking our gullies and drains, filling up our seas (adding to the “plastic soup” that our marine life is now ingesting) and providing excellent breeding sites for the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Apart from anything else, it’s a public health menace.

Since most of our plastic ends up in the sea, it’s not encouraging (or surprising) to know that by 2050 it is predicted that there will be more plastic than fish in the sea, by pound weight. The United Nations Environment Program estimates that there are 46,000 pieces of plastic litter floating in every square mile of ocean. A million sea birds and 100,000 animals such as whales, dolphins, turtles and seals die from plastic bags and other waste each year. It’s a tragedy.

Our 2014 tour of Kingston Harbour ended with a visit to a piece of land apparently owned by the Airports Authority of Jamaica, behind Norman Manley International Airport, where yards and yards of plastic and other garbage lined the waterside. What is worse, we were choking because of the (illegal) burning of garbage on the site. (My photo)

Our 2014 tour of Kingston Harbour ended with a visit to a piece of land apparently owned by the Airports Authority of Jamaica, behind Norman Manley International Airport, where yards and yards of plastic and other garbage lined the waterside (this is not the worst photo). Moreover, we were choking because of the (illegal) burning of garbage on the site. (My photo)

Nevertheless, we are encouraged by young Senator Matthew Samuda’s stated intention to file a private member’s motion to implement a ban on the importation of plastic bags and styrofoam. That’s a start, although seventy per cent of our styrofoam boxes are actually manufactured in Jamaica; but as I have noted before, manufacturers need to come up with alternatives. That is what creating a green economy is all about – making changes, finding alternatives.

Local firms Island Grill and National Bakery, with their eco-friendly packaging, have been successful at this. Pricesmart has not used plastic “scandal bags” for quite a long time; we use their large shopping bag made of recycled material. We just need to put our minds to it. No more “if’s” and “but’s”! It is good to note also that Chair of the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) Danville Walker supports Senator Samuda’s goals and plans to hold talks with importers and producters.

I also applaud the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) for its “No Styrofoam Day” on Earth Day (I am so happy to see this day more widely recognized than it was a few years ago, when only JET paid attention to it).

You can find JET’s full document, Regulating Plastic Waste in Jamaica: Time to Act here: http://www.jamentrust.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Regulating-Plastic-Waste-in-Jamaica-Time-To-Act-May-2016.pdf The non-governmental organization has remained fully focused on this issue for a long while now. Through its Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica campaign, with funding from the Tourism Enhancement Fund under the Tourism Ministry’s Clean Coasts Project, and ongoing beach clean-ups, it has almost single-handedly kept the problem of solid waste firmly in people’s minds. I have written about this many times – most recently here, emphasizing the need for the private sector to come fully on boardhttp://gleanerblogs.com/socialimpact/?p=3234

Urban areas are not the only places that suffer from the scourge of solid waste. In beautiful Hector's River, Portland, I found several large plastic bags of garbage dumped at the top of the cliffs. (My photo)

Urban areas are not the only places that suffer from the scourge of solid waste. In beautiful Hector’s River, Portland, I found several large plastic bags of garbage dumped at the top of the cliffs. (My photo)

In its document, JET points out – astonishingly – to a report funded by the United Nations Development Program and Government of Jamaica, dated March 2011 (yes, over five years ago). It was executed by the Planning Institute of Jamaica and NRCA. The Short-Term Strategy for the Management of Plastic Packaging Material in Jamaica was thorough – evaluating the Recycle for Life program (now defunct); assessing potential markets for recycled plastic; consulting with a range of stakeholders; reviewing laws and regulations, and so on. Among other things, the study recommended a deposit and refund scheme for PET items, which then made up over half of the packaging materials. It did not recommend any actions on styrofoam or plastic bags.

But…BUT. The Government did not follow the study’s recommendations. Instead, in June 2007 it set up an environmental protection levy on packaging that was supposed to be plowed back into recycling. This caused the almost overnight demise of Recycle for Life. Only in December 2014 did a new private/public sector organization, Recycling Partners of Jamaica, set up shop. I have written about them before, and I plan to publish a list of recycling depots on the island in this blog. But we need far more of them, and a much wider and deeper recycling program. Nevertheless, it is there; it just needs to be greatly expanded.

Collecting plastic bottles in New York City. (Photo: ediblegeography.com)

Collecting plastic bottles in New York City. (Photo: ediblegeography.com)

Against this background, JET is recommending (as the 2011 report did) a deposit and refund scheme for PET bottles, the main offenders. This would also provide some income to small operators who would collect them. I remember seeing people in San Francisco in every public place, diligently collecting plastic bottles in huge bags on their backs. I will never forget one rather elderly Chinese lady who got on the bus with her huge bag, to mild protests from passengers. But she told us – that bag is part of her livelihood!

JET also recommends a complete ban on styrofoam within the next three years, with a transition period for users and manufacturers to switch to biodegradable materials. The environmental levy should also be used to support Recycling Partners, since the value of plastic has declined along with oil prices.

On a trip in Clarendon a few months ago, I noted a large area of those scrubby thorn bushes that thrive in dry places. The bushes were “flowering” with small pieces of ripped black plastic “scandal” bags, decorating every branch. It was a depressing sight. JET is recommending that stores charge a fee for plastic bags. This will greatly reduce their use, as it has in other countries. In the Caribbean, Haiti has already implemented a ban on plastic bags, in 2012. Antigua is working to implement an announced ban due to come into effect this year. Puerto Rico’s ban on plastic bags should also be effective this year. Since 2010 the Cayman Islands has implemented a fee and stores offer biodegradable plastic bags as alternatives; the program has been very effective, I understand.

There's an interactive, very detailed map of countries that have banned plastic bags here: http://www.factorydirectpromos.com/plastic-bag-bans

There’s an interactive, very detailed map of countries that have banned plastic bags here: http://www.factorydirectpromos.com/plastic-bag-bans

As I write, I know that just down my street in salubrious uptown Kingston, styrofoam boxes and plastic bottles are among the scattered pieces of garbage, thrown out of windows by cab drivers, SUV drivers and passers by, who are simply too lazy to keep their garbage in a bag and dispose of it properly at home or in a bin. At another spot, cab drivers stop to eat their lunch and think nothing of throwing their styrofoam lunch box and plastic drinks bottle out onto a growing garbage dump, right outside someone’s home. I lectured a cab driver just yesterday on the subject, but he was not guilty – he showed me the plastic bag he keeps under his seat, that he keeps his garbage in for disposal later. Cool! I said. It’s true to say though that whatever measures are put in place, public education is badly needed.

Meanwhile, supermarkets continue to package even fruit and vegetables on styrofoam trays (why is this even necessary?) They put almost every item in a separate plastic bag, and some inside two or three bags. This wastefulness and carelessness cannot continue, or we will be drowning in plastic and styrofoam.

So, let’s get going and take action now. Individuals, government and the private sector must play a part.

JET celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

JET celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

Downtown – The HeartBeat of Kingston: A Guest Blog Post by Darine BenAmara

Kingston Parish Church at Parade, downtown Kingston. The original building was destroyed in the 1907 earthquake and it was rebuilt in 1911. The Jamaica National Heritage Trust notes: "The clock tower was added after World War 1 in memory of those who had died in the war. It is said that the clock tower gave rise to the saying that describes true Kingstonians ‘born under the clock’, that is, those born within site of the Church’s clock tower."
Kingston Parish Church at Parade, downtown Kingston. The original building was destroyed in the 1907 earthquake and it was rebuilt in 1911. The Jamaica National Heritage Trust notes: "The clock tower was added after World War 1 in memory of those who had died in the war. It is said that the clock tower gave rise to the saying that describes true Kingstonians ‘born under the clock’, that is, those born within site of the Church’s clock tower."

Darine BenAmara is a French woman, who is currently working in the downtown Kingston area. She describes herself as “passionate about international relations, international development and feminism.” She authors a great blog (http://easypoli.com) which breaks down complicated issues in more digestible and understandable ways, through short articles and YouTube videos. Here is a guest post by her, with her beautiful photos – showing her growing appreciation for downtown Kingston. The captions are mine.

The statue of Sir Alexander Bustamante at Parade, downtown Kingston.

The statue of Sir Alexander Bustamante at Parade, downtown Kingston.

Downtown Kingston makes the headlines on many occasions. The neighbourhood is sadly best known for being the theatre of violence, a place plagued with many socio-economic issues that have led to the near abandon of the area. Once a thriving neighbourhood, the demise of downtown Kingston is the result of political corruption and criminal activity. This led to corporate abandon, reinforcing negative social issues and accelerating the misfortunes of the community. As a result, for decades downtown Kingston has been home to many of the city’s undesirable inner-city communities and gangs.

Kingston street vendors.

Kingston street vendors.

As a foreigner, people will strongly advise you not to venture into the area. And guess what? That’s where my office is located – not just downtown, but on the waterfront no less. Having your office on the waterfront, can you imagine! It sounds ideal, but I am not going to lie, I was very skeptical and concerned about my safety when I began working there. During the first few weeks, I took a cab that dropped me off and picked me up at the office door each day. I did my very best to avoid walking in the streets of downtown Kingston. However, I was always looking by the window, watching people come and go, curious to see how life was moving around in such an area. I could feel the vibrance of the streets, hear the music and the people bargaining, and see the youth playing and dancing.

The historic Ward Theatre (currently in a state of disrepair).

The historic Ward Theatre, which has seen better days.

So one day, I decided that walking along downtown’s streets would be my daily routine. The busy streets, lined with many historic buildings and monuments are breathtaking. There is a wealth of historic sights, and downtown is also a bustling business district with busy roadways and crowded sidewalks. Once again, I’m fascinated by the true beauty and strength of Jamaicans, making the most of their days, always smiling regardless their condition.

The Coke Methodist Church was named after Dr. Thomas Coke, founder of the Methodist Missions in the West Indies. It was built in 1840 on the site of the first Methodist Chapel built in Jamaica. This Church was severely damaged in the 1907 earthquake and then rebuilt.

The Coke Methodist Church was named after Dr. Thomas Coke, founder of the Methodist Missions in the West Indies. It was built in 1840 on the site of the first Methodist Chapel built in Jamaica. This Church was severely damaged in the 1907 earthquake and then rebuilt.

Downtown is the heartbeat of Kingston. The buildings mark the vestige of a properous economy and still preserve the testimony of the country’s rich past. The situation is not gleaming for the people living there but they hope and work for a stronger and better tomorrow.

Jamaican Proverb – “Hungry mek monkey blow fire” (People are forced to become innovative and resourceful under harsh conditions).

Digicel honors life of former employee with new Centre of Excellence in Portland

Director of the Early Stimulation Programme in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, Mrs. Antonica Gunter-Gayle (left) interacts with a student of the Early Stimulation Centre of Excellence - Mickhail Betancourt Building. Joining her are, from left: Donovan Betancourt, father of Mickhail Betancourt, in whose honour the building is named, Jean Lowrie-Chin, Chair, Digicel Foundation, and Paralympic gold medalist, Alfonso Cunningham.
Director of the Early Stimulation Programme in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, Mrs. Antonica Gunter-Gayle (left) interacts with a student of the Early Stimulation Centre of Excellence - Mickhail Betancourt Building. Joining her are, from left: Donovan Betancourt, father of Mickhail Betancourt, in whose honour the building is named, Jean Lowrie-Chin, Chair, Digicel Foundation, and Paralympic gold medalist, Alfonso Cunningham.

The beautiful parish of Portland, about which I have written so often, and surrounding areas, benefited recently from the opening of a wonderful new facility for children with special needs in the quiet seaside village of Orange Bay. The Centre of Excellence for Special Needs is provided by the Digicel Foundation – which has already done fantastic work in this field, and continues to do so. I hope to visit there one day soon. Here is the press release and some lovely photos…

ESP Classroom - Section of a classroom at the Early Stimulation Centre of Excellence - Mikhail Betancourt Building, retrofitted with learning resources for children 0-8 years with special needs.

ESP Classroom – Section of a classroom at the Early Stimulation Centre of Excellence – Mikhail Betancourt Building, retrofitted with learning resources for children 0-8 years with special needs.

The Digicel Foundation opened the doors to its newest Centre of Excellence for Special Needs in Orange Bay, Portland on Thursday, April 7.

Named the Mickhail Betancourt Building in honor of a staff member who passed away in October 2015, the J$30 million, state-of-the-art facility will cater to over 100 special needs children from communities in and around the parish of Portland. Donovan Betancourt, father of Mickhail and Head of Facilities Management & Technical Operations at Digicel, noted that his son had a “commitment to life, giving and humility … he could not be associated with a more worthy project.”

Charmaine Wilks, a senior supervisor at the Centre of Excellence shared, “Before this, there was no other facility in Portland to serve the special needs community. With this Centre of Excellence, we are now able to provide the kind of proactive support to the special needs community that is so greatly needed. So we are extremely grateful to the Digicel Foundation for this amazing gesture.”

“We remain committed to enhancing the lives of, and providing opportunities for members of the special needs community in Jamaica,” said Jean Lowrie-Chin, Chairman of the Digicel Jamaica Foundation. “Our Patron Denis O’Brien has mandated that this should be a pillar of the Foundation, and has committed J$337 million to the building or extensive renovation of ten such facilities islandwide. We are inspired by the courage of the special needs community and are happy that we can partner with them to fulfil their potential.”

Mrs. Catherine O’Brien (3rd left), wife of Digicel’s Founder and Chairman and Digicel Foundation’s Patron, Hon. Denis O’Brien, OJ, is joined by students of the Early Stimulation Centre of Excellence – Mickhail Betancourt Building, as she cuts the ribbon for the official opening of the facility on Thursday, April 7 in Orange Bay, Portland. The building was named in honour of a former Digicel staff member who passed away in 2015. Joining her, from left, are Ms Imani Betancourt, sister of the deceased, Hon. Daryl Vaz, Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, Hon. Shahine Robinson, Minister of Labour and Social Security and Jean Lowrie-Chin, Chair, Digicel Foundation. Early Stimulation Centre of Excellence, a $30 million state-of-the-art Special Needs facility, is the seventh of 10 Centres of Excellence to be built by the Digicel Foundation by July 2016.

Mrs. Catherine O’Brien (3rd left), wife of Digicel’s Founder and Chairman and Digicel Foundation’s Patron, Hon. Denis O’Brien, OJ, is joined by students of the Early Stimulation Centre of Excellence – Mickhail Betancourt Building, as she cuts the ribbon for the official opening of the facility on Thursday, April 7 in Orange Bay, Portland. The building was named in honour of a former Digicel staff member who passed away in 2015. Joining her, from left, are Ms Imani Betancourt, sister of the deceased, Hon. Daryl Vaz, Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, Hon. Shahine Robinson, Minister of Labour and Social Security and Jean Lowrie-Chin, Chair, Digicel Foundation. The Early Stimulation Centre of Excellence, a $30 million state-of-the-art Special Needs facility, is the seventh of 10 Centres of Excellence to be built by the Digicel Foundation by July 2016.

Speaking at the ceremony, Hon Daryl Vaz, Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation and Member of Parliament for Portland Western, applauded the commitment of the staff and volunteers of the Early Stimulation Centre – noting that many dedicated their time and efforts, even without payment to provide exceptional care for the students. Minister Vaz commended the Foundation for its commitment to ensuring that individuals with Special Needs are able to accomplish their full potential.

Keynote speaker at the event, Minister of Labour and Social Security Shahine Robinson, pointed to the significant impact that the new Centre will have based on its location. “With ESP as the only fully government-funded service for young children with disabilities and their families, persons invariably have to travel long distances across the island to access our services,” Minister Robinson said.

She further added, “The opening of this Centre of Excellence will therefore go a far way in helping to decentralize the services in this area, for it is built to serve the needs of persons in Portland, St. Mary and sections of St. Thomas who had to travel to Kingston previously.”

The project will provide Child Development Officers in the parish with a much-needed facility to conduct critical Early Childhood Stimulation programmes. The institution is outfitted with an administration block, classrooms, recreational areas as well as special assessment and therapy rooms.

To date, the Digicel Jamaica Foundation’s Centres of Excellence programme has been implemented in seven schools, strengthening their capacity to cater to special needs students in Jamaica through infrastructure improvement, provision of equipment and material, and the training of teachers and caregivers.

The gym at Early Stimualtion Centre of Excellence - Mickhail Betancourt Building retrofitted with specialised resources to aid in developing the motor skills of students with special needs.

The gym at Early Stimualtion Centre of Excellence – Mickhail Betancourt Building retrofitted with specialised resources to aid in developing the motor skills of students with special needs.

Growing Bigger, A Strange MoBay Story, and No More “Demon” Talk! Jamaica on Sunday, May 1, 2016

It’s been a very busy week for me, with lots of good things happening – as always. But the undercurrent of crime (murders) is very disturbing. I just heard the news of the deaths of two American missionaries. It is becoming increasingly hard for the average Jamaican to deal with all this loss. Personally, I don’t think hanging is the answer; revenge, whether carried out by the State or not, is never the answer, nor is it a deterrent. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough faith in the justice system in its current shambolic state to promote a return to hanging. Well, that’s just my view. But please think again, Minister Montague. Like Opposition Justice Spokesman Mark Golding, I fear tinkering with the death penalty legislation will have undesired consequences. There has to be a better way! The answer is, I believe, radical reform of the police force, which has many “issues.”

Michael Lee Chin. (Photo: Forbes.com)

Michael Lee Chin. (Photo: Forbes.com)

Big news was the establishment of the Economic Growth Council, headed by banker Michael Lee Chin – to facilitate a growth environment. Mr. Lee Chin is aiming for five per cent over the next four years. He is a man with all the right connections – local, regional and international; he also has an excellent reputation. Do we know who the public and private sector leaders comprising the Council will be? The Private Sector Organization of Jamaica’s Dennis Chung has expressed some concern that “institutional structures” should be reviewed, however. Do they have the capacity? Mr. Lee Chin’s mandate is to attract large-scale investment to Jamaica and to “remove bottlenecks,” in the Prime Minister’s words. Did you know we also have an Ambassador Plenipotentiary for Economic Affairs, Dr Nigel Clarke? I am quite vague about his duties, but… well, let’s wait and see. In any case, growth is the big word…

I am really not sure what Dr. Nigel Clarke's job will consist of. (Photo: seprod.com)

I am really not sure what Dr. Nigel Clarke’s job will consist of. (Photo: seprod.com)

A mighty strange story: And yet again the focus is on the city of Montego Bay – the source of a string of unnerving, downright scary stories these days. This tale begins with a tragedy: a three-year-old girl is found dead, face down in the sand of Dump Up Beach, on Tuesday morning. Her father is immediately identified as a suspect. He had taken the little girl away from her mother the night before after an argument, calling later to say he planned to kill himself and their daughter. Roosevelt ‘Timmy’ Thomas, the father, turns himself in and allegedly confesses to the crime. On Thursday morning he is being interviewed by the police at Barnett Street Police Station in Montego Bay, with his attorney present. Yes, the same Barnett Street of Mario Deane notoriety. Suddenly, reports say, he jumps up (in handcuffs) and escapes by jumping 15 to 20 feet through a first floor window and running away (uninjured). SSP Steve McGregor says an awning broke his fall. Did anyone see the man in handcuffs running through the busy downtown area? A few hours later shots are heard at a house in Glendevon. A neighbor reports that the police came and put up yellow tape 15 minutes later. And Timmy Thomas is dead. Strange? Yes, I think so. Very strange. Perhaps INDECOM should investigate? The Police Commissioner is now in possession of an interim report (not from INDECOM) and I hope there will be transparency on this matter.

A protest outside the Barnett Street Police Station in Montego Bay following the death of Mario Deane last summer. What is wrong with our police force? (Photo: Jamaica Gleaner)

A protest outside the Barnett Street Police Station in Montego Bay following the death of Mario Deane last summer. What is wrong with our police force? (Photo: Jamaica Gleaner)

That emergency number: It’s shocking to know that 70 per cent of calls received at the police emergency 119 number are non-emergency. Now, with the help of Motorola, the Jamaica Constabulary Force has a Computer Aided Dispatch System, expected to greatly speed up their response time. Hopefully the public will stop calling 119 to report minor issues. It receives 27,000 to 33,000 calls daily!

Unwanted: Did you know that hundreds of Jamaicans (young and old) across the island are simply abandoned in public hospitals and infirmaries – including 600 at Bellevue Hospital, our only psychiatric facility – and remain there even when they are better? This is costing the taxpayer millions, says Health Minister Christopher Tufton. Of course, the Government can’t just throw them out. Minister Tufton is considering viable options, including “halfway houses” (but that would still be a cost, wouldn’t it? These people are basically destitute).

Good news! There will be no dam in Bog Walk Gorge; this had been under consideration by the previous administration and China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) was preparing a feasibility study. But it will be far too costly and ineffective; and Jamaicans would lose forever the beautiful views of the river and fascinating limestone rocks, a whole ecosystem swamped. What we need to do is clean up the Rio Cobre, which is polluted.

Another big drug bust: Despite the somewhat controversial circumstances of the last bust, the donation of boats by the U.S. Embassy to the Marine Police seems to be paying off, as there was another large seizure (650 pounds of ganja) off the south coast yesterday; three men, including a Haitian national, were arrested.

Jeff Grant, holds a youthful photograph of his nephew, Odane Bennett, who was shot and killed by the police in a bus on Olympic Way in Waterhouse, St Andrew. (Photo: Norman Grindley/Gleaner)

Jeff Grant, holds a youthful photograph of his nephew, Odane Bennett, who was shot and killed by the police in a bus on Olympic Way in Waterhouse, St Andrew. (Photo: Norman Grindley/Gleaner)

Purging “demons” doesn’t work: Some church leaders actually believe in “demonic possession,” it appears. What century are we in, again? The tragic case of a mentally ill young man, who tried to disarm a policeman in Waterhouse and was subsequently shot dead, is one that disproves this superstition. Odane Bennett was apparently purged, then baptized, and immediately left the church compound to his death. He needed a qualified professional psychiatrist! I agree with the church people though that religious leaders should not take it on themselves to “cure” people with mental illness.

Cuba, Jamaica and tourism: With the pending “opening up” of Cuba to what I expect will be a veritable flood of U.S. tourists, it’s timely that Tourism Minister Ed Bartlett has started discussions with his Cuban counterparts on a multi-destination arrangement. This will also include the Dominican Republic, which is by far the biggest tourism destination in the Caribbean (and has been for years). There is also a Timeshare Vacation Act, which comes into effect today. Minister Bartlett has always been a very optimistic man, expecting great things of our tourism industry. Rather than high numbers, though, I would like to see “high end” tourism play a greater role. I absolutely cannot see the point of establishing a “hospitality college,” one of the Minister’s ideas, however. Just expand a couple of HEART training programs! A “craft institute”? We do still have Things Jamaican, albeit a shadow of itself in the 1980s. Let’s not reinvent the wheel.

The good stuff…

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Youth opportunities – grants available: The Ministry of Labour and Social Security is offering education grants to assist with tuition fees for students in fifth and sixth form and also at the tertiary level. To qualify for an education grant, applicants must undertake 30 hours of volunteer service in a golden age home, children’s home, or infirmary. Those eligible for entrepreneurial grants must be willing to participate in training with the Jamaica Business Development Corporation. Remember also that President Obama announced the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative during his visit to Jamaica last year? The Fellowship is now open to applicants age 21 to 35 with at least two years of entrepreneurial/leadership experience, preferably with a startup business or social venture. The deadline is May 20. Full details here: http://ylai.state.gov/fellowship/

Children's Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison.

Children’s Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison.

UNICEF Jamaica has again done a great job, placing critical issues affecting our children squarely on the agenda in the lead-up to Child Month – which is May. The Office of the Children’s Advocate will be launching Internet safety guidelines (Be Social…Be Smart) for children, who are vulnerable to online bullying and exploitation, and parents. It’s a very real issue.

Elizabeth Bennett Marsh is Public Education Specialist at the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) and a former journalist at Nationwide News Network. (Photo: Ian Allen/Gleaner)

Elizabeth Bennett Marsh is Public Education Specialist at the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR), a former journalist at Nationwide News Network and someone I rate very highly! (Photo: Ian Allen/Gleaner)

Girls in ICT Day: Technology Minister Dr. Andrew Wheatley said at a special seminar on the day that including more women in the ICT world would “amplify women’s voices, women’s experiences and perspectives.” Kudos to Elizabeth Bennett Marsh of the Office of Utilities Regulation for this year’s initiative, which included students from 22 high schools; and to pioneers like Ingrid Riley of Connectimass, still forging ahead. I hope this becomes a regular annual event and more importantly, that efforts are made in the education system.

GraceKennedy 2015 Household Workers of the Year arrive at King's House with Shirley Pryce (2nd left), President of the  Jamaica Household Workers Union.

GraceKennedy 2015 Household Workers of the Year arrive at King’s House with Shirley Pryce (2nd left), President of the Jamaica Household Workers Union.

Fabulous women: The indomitable Shirley Pryce, President of the Jamaica Household Workers’ Union, accompanied GraceKennedy 2015 Household Workers of the Year (Rosetta Steer and runners-up Jasmin Miller, Donna Elizabeth Smith) to King’s House recently, where they met with Governor General Sir Patrick Allen. Congratulations to them!

Lionfish on the menu! (Photo contributed by Leo Douglas)

Lionfish on the menu! (Photo contributed by Leo Douglas)

Lionfish feast: I hear that seventy pounds of lion fish were consumed at an “extravaganza” at a Kingston restaurant on Friday night. Not all by the same person, of course! Many say it tastes delicious. Congratulations to the organizers and the cooks, who did steamed, escoveitched, curried, etc… Let’s catch (and eat) more of this highly invasive species – removing the spines first of course!

Climate change postscript: At a joint Green Climate Fund/UN Women meeting recently, it was noted that the recently signed Paris Agreement “recognizes gender equality and women as agents of change to the solution of climate change. Now it is up to us to work together to make it happen.” The Caribbean/Jamaica must focus on this, going forward!

And the sad, scary stuff… My deepest condolences to the families of these Jamaicans, young and old, including a middle-aged policewoman and a small girl. Our hearts grieve for you. I am glad to see that the Child Development Agency is providing counseling. I also extend condolences to the family of 13-year-old J’Quan Forbes, the son of a member of the (JCF), who reportedly killed himself with his father’s service revolver after receiving a dressing-down from his father. INDECOM is investigating.

Corporal Judith Williams, 54, Bray Street, East Kingston

Everton Samuda, Spanish Town, St. Catherine

Alexander Holder, 33, St. Catherine (near

Roosevelt Thomas, 24, Glendevon, St. James

Leashay Thomas, 3, Dump Up Beach, Montego Bay, St. James

Randy Hentzel, 58, Albion Mountain, St. Mary (U.S. Citizen)

Harold Nichols, 53, St. Mary (U.S. Citizen)

J'Quan Forbes, a student of Wolmer's Boys' School, reportedly took his own life with his policeman father's firearm. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

J’Quan Forbes, a student of Wolmer’s Boys’ School, reportedly took his own life with his policeman father’s firearm. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

The body of Harold Nichols, another American missionary living in Jamaica, was found dead in Albion Mountain, St. Mary after his colleague's body was found yesterday. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

The body of Harold Nichols, another American missionary living in Jamaica, was found dead in Albion Mountain, St. Mary after his colleague’s body was found yesterday. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

 

 

Iowa native Randy Hentzel's body was found on a dirt track in Albion Mountain, St. Mary yesterday. The native of Donnellson, Iowa was a member of the TEAMS for Medical Missions group based in the parish. (Photo: Loop News)

Randy Hentzel’s body was found on a dirt track in Albion Mountain, St. Mary yesterday. The native of Donnellson, Iowa was a member of the TEAMS for Medical Missions group based in the parish. His colleague Harold Nichols was found dead the following day. (Photo: Loop News)

 

Paulette James (left) and Janet James, who died in a suspicious fire in Crossroads, St. Ann last Sunday. (Photo: Gleaner/Contributed)

Paulette James (left) and Janet James, who died in a fire in Crossroads, St. Ann last Sunday. Police are still investigating the fire; arson is suspected. (Photo: Gleaner/Contributed)

 

Climate Change in the Caribbean: Talking, Planning and What NOT to Be Doing After the Paris Agreement

An excellent comment from former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, one of the first to sound the alarm.
An excellent comment from former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, one of the first to sound the alarm.

Earth Day came and went very quickly. A tremendous crowd of political leaders signed the Paris Agreement, and some fifteen countries (including five Caribbean islands) have already ratified it. I understand Jamaica will be ratifying the Agreement very soon. Some cynics have observed: “Oh, Jamaica is signing yet another international agreement! What difference does it make?” or words to that effect. But, hold on a minute, oh Cynical Ones. This is not just any old agreement. This is about the future of the planet – this tiny ball spinning around in space. It is about Earth’s very survival, and that of everything that lives on it – including we humans, who have created this mess. So this one overrides every other international agreement. It has to! And action must swiftly follow.

CARICOM Secretary-General Ambassador Irwin LaRocque (right) and Commonwealth Secretary-General Baroness Patricia Scotland (born in Dominica) at the Special Signing Ceremony for the Paris Climate Change Agreement at UN Headquarters on Earth Day, April 22, 2016. (Photo: CARICOM)

CARICOM Secretary-General Ambassador Irwin LaRocque (right) and Commonwealth Secretary-General Baroness Patricia Scotland (born in Dominica) at the Special Signing Ceremony for the Paris Climate Change Agreement at UN Headquarters on Earth Day, April 22, 2016. (Photo: CARICOM)

The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has often been regarded as a “talkshop.” I am among those who has had severe doubts about its ability to get things done. Well, now is the time for the CARICOM technocrats to prove their worth and actually galvanize the region into action. Climate change (as our previous Environment Minister repeated endlessly) is here and now, and we have to take every and all steps – large and small – to combat it. We must not get bogged down in discussion. We must just get started. Now, not tomorrow!

The current state of the Paris Agreement ratification process.

The current state of the Paris Agreement ratification process.

Chair of the Regional Coordinating Committee on Climate Change (RCCC) and Minister of Sustainable Development in St. Lucia Dr. Jimmy Fletcher (right) and Executive Director of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) Dr. Kenrick Leslie. (Photo: CARICOM)

Chair of the Regional Coordinating Committee on Climate Change (RCCC) and Minister of Sustainable Development in St. Lucia Dr. Jimmy Fletcher (right) and Executive Director of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) Dr. Kenrick Leslie. (Photo: CARICOM)

So, on April 27 and 28 the Regional Coordinating Committee on Climate Change met in St. Lucia to discuss the way forward. Another talk shop? One hopes not. Obviously it’s important to bring together all those who will be involved, including those who are going to put up the money (a critical aspect, of course). Now, CARICOM’s Implementation Plan is to be revised and updated. I hope this does not take too long, and that we will soon reach the point of implementation. This year, one would wish?

If I sound a little impatient (and I am unfortunately so, by nature) – it is because I want to see a much deeper understanding of climate change among the general populace, in Jamaica and across the region. Public education on what we should and should not be doing is essential, and needs to be underlined – and preached with missionary zeal – by every leader in the country (political, business sector, community leaders, teachers, pastors – you name it). Public education at the community level needs to be stepped up several notches across Jamaica.

C-CAM's caption to this photograph: "Charcoal being transported from near the flat bridge in Alley, Clarendon. It seems that larger and larger quantities of charcoal are being produced in that area. Closing of the Pan Caribbean factory operations at Monymusk (sugar factory) might make this increase further."

C-CAM’s caption to this photograph: “Charcoal being transported from near the flat bridge in Alley, Clarendon. It seems that larger and larger quantities of charcoal are being produced in that area. Closing of the Pan Caribbean factory operations at Monymusk (sugar factory) might make this increase further.”

A few very recent examples have really brought this home to me. Ingrid Parchment of the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (C-CAM) recently posted disturbing photographs on C-CAM’s Facebook page – truckloads of charcoal in Clarendon. I doubt that this activity is even legal (this is inside the Portland Bight Protected Area). We need to enforce our environmental laws! Quite apart from that, with high rural unemployment (I have visited Alley, and it is hardly a vibrant economy) – we need to find alternative, ecologically friendly opportunities (which there are) and invest in them.

Burning tires in Naggo Head. (My photo)

Burning tires in Naggo Head. (My photo)

Earlier this week I was in Naggo Head, St. Catherine, visiting a community project funded by Habitat for Humanity and USAID. Ironically, the project called BRACED (Building Resilience and Capacities for Emerging Disasters) is specifically related to disaster risk reduction in the face of climate change. As we arrived, we were nearly choked by the acrid smell of burning tires (at least two fires) on the main road. A group of workers, probably employed by the Portmore Municipal Council, were busy clearing a dry gully. They had apparently found a couple of dead animals (not a rare occurrence in our poorer communities) and were burning them with tires. This is in breach of environmental laws; extremely harmful to the health of residents; and – yes, contributing to climate change.

A huge guango tree in the process of being hacked down in Kingston. Note the recycling center sign in the foreground - how ironic! (Photo: Diana McCaulay/Facebook)

A huge guango tree in the process of being hacked down in Kingston. Note the recycling center sign in the foreground – how ironic! Clearly The Queen’s School did not get the Earth Day message: #Trees4Life (Photo: Diana McCaulay/Facebook)

Meanwhile, environmental activist Diana McCaulay posted a sad photo of a large guango tree being cut down at The Queen’s School in Kingston. I suppose it was inconvenient and in someone’s way. What is most distressing is that, with a little care and thought, the guango tree could have been allowed to stand – clipped back when necessary, but not destroyed.

In our uptown neighborhood, which has suffered from a severe case of Townhouseitis, almost all the large trees we knew when we moved in 30 years ago are gone: poincianas, lignum vitae, and in particular guango trees, which Jamaicans seem to be particularly averse to. When we talk about deforestation in Jamaica, we often point fingers at farmers using “slash and burn” techniques to clear their land; but housing developers are major offenders, too. They cut down native trees with abandon, build townhouses and apartments, and plant imported palms in whatever space is left. Many of these gated developments have virtually no green space. With a little imagination and more careful planning, we could have much greener urban communities. It’s sheer laziness much of the time. Trees are “inconvenient.” 

We managed to preserve our beautiful guango tree - a rarity in our area of Kingston. I took this photo four years ago.

We managed to preserve our beautiful guango tree – a rarity in our area of Kingston. I took this photo four years ago. We have to clip it occasionally, but our carbon-storing tree beautifies the area and is filled with bird life all day.

The above are very common examples of what we are doing wrong. As a developing country – a particularly vulnerable island – we can talk about climate change endlessly and point fingers at developed countries for putting us in the current disastrous situation – no fault of our own. Yes, their contribution to greenhouse gases is on a huge scale; but we must play our part, even if in a small way. Our leaders cannot declare to the world that Jamaica is committed to fighting climate change, while at the same time the citizens are still busy cutting down trees and burning garbage.

One more important point: with all due respect to the very hard-working CARICOM negotiators, committee members and so on, I am concerned about a couple of things. The meeting rooms seem to consist mainly of middle-aged men. Can we have more female voices, please? It has been well established that women are disproportionately affected by climate change, and their issues must be raised and included in all planning exercises. I would also like to see young people with their feet under the table. It’s their future, after all. They must have a say, and more than that they must be actively involved in planning and implementation.

"Youth in action for mangroves" in Trinidad and Tobago. Caribbean youth MUST be involved, in the dialogue, planning and implementation.

“Youth in action for mangroves” in Trinidad and Tobago. Caribbean youth MUST be involved, in the dialogue, planning and implementation.

And I know that young people are impatient by nature, too – as well they should be. After all, this is the Earth they are inheriting. And let’s not pretend. There is no “Planet B.”

Next time, I will write more about hope – and what we can do, and what we are doing. Will it be enough? We don’t know.

Time will tell. But time is running out.