Now, it’s not often that you will find the Petchary “promoting” a product. But this is not a “product” – it’s so much more. Trench Town is, of course, a place, and a spirit, and a song… And also, sadly, an impoverished area of Kingston, Jamaica, where people’s houses can just simply rot and fall down, and where recently raw sewage ran down a main street. It is just another one of the numerous neighborhoods of inner-city Jamaica (and not just Kingston) that have been neglected, abused and ruined by political violence, over the decades.
And yet this is regarded as the birthplace of reggae, isn’t it? This is where Charlie made a fire light (in the words of the song); where the “government yard” (now called the Trench Town Culture Yard) still stands on First Street and is occasionally visited by Marley-lovers from overseas. A former squatter settlement on land originally owned by an Irishman called Trench, it adjoins the equally impoverished Rose Town, which is also hoping for a revival.
But I digress. The most important thing about Trench Town (apart from being the place where Bob Marley and the Wailers grew up and developed their sharp, sweet reggae) is the Trench Town Reading Centre. Yes, it deserves to be in bold. The original concept was bold… and simple. It was founded in 1993 and is still going from strength to strength. The dedicated group of people who founded the centre talked about the need to “exchange violence for the power of reasoning. To think. To reason. To learn. To grow.”
Now, the young people of Trench Town can’t keep away from the place. “Knowledge is the Key to Success” is the message on the beautiful painted wall at the entrance to the Vin Lawrence Park on First Street – just over the road from the Culture Yard, and just across Collie Smith Drive from Boys Town. Inside, you can just see the children’s faces brighten. There are bright colors, enticing displays, arts and crafts, and a terrific summer school that includes all kinds of magic. Learning and fun.
And there are books, and books. An impressive Black History section for adults and children. Books that help kids to explore, learn, travel far away from the hot, dusty corner of Kingston where they live. There are partnerships, friendships, support, love. But there is also a kind of indifference, from people who could really make a difference.
Now the Petchary comes to the “hard sell” part. The Trench Town Reading Centre is a gem. The cliche of “an oasis in the inner city” has been used, but it is true – it’s a place where the residents come to be refreshed. It encourages literacy in the greatest way; it thrives on creativity; it brings people together in the adjoining community classroom; it brings light and laughter into the lives of children.
But it doesn’t run on air. There are bills to pay, books to buy, staff to be paid too. The Reading Center doesn’t need a huge amount, but it needs the funds to just keep going, month in month out, and a bit extra to keep growing. Dear reader, if you can find it in your heart to contribute through money, donations, even volunteering, it will be well worth your while. Friends of the Trench Town Reading Centre is the official page on Facebook to learn more and to contribute if you can. The centre is also on Twitter. And, don’t forget to look at their vibrant website at http://www.trenchtownreadingcentre.com. It presents the long history from the very beginning, the struggles and disappoints, with an exciting update page which shows all the great things that have happened in the past few years.
The Petchary has visited the Reading Centre a number of times. It’s inspiring. Get in touch, and go visit them soon. You will be welcome. And for those who are nervous about the reputation of the area – it’s not as scary as you think, nor is it as far away from our uptown enclaves as you might think either. You will be amazed, delighted, and you will fall in love.
Yes, it’s quite true… Trench Town Rocks!