Blue Mountain Maroon community members graduate as tour guides for sustainable livelihoods in Jamaica

If you have not visited the Blue Mountains of Jamaica yet, you should know it’s a magical place in many ways. The mist floating across the broad green mountainsides; the tiny, bright gems of flowers and ferns by the roadside; the glowing sunsets over the foothills; fireflies blinking in the damp grass at night; the voices of birds echoing across the valleys… All of this and so much more make the mountains…looking down on the gleaming city of Kingston and the misty harbour on one side and the green hills of Portland on the other…a place to dream in.

But the mountains are not just a place filled with natural wonders and hundreds of endemic species – many unique to this one place on the island. The mountains are also the home of culture, tradition – and living communities. That is why it is one of the relatively few UNESCO World Heritage Sites worldwide that is recognised for its “mixed” cultural and natural value: both as a biodiversity hotspot and as the living, breathing repository of a tangible cultural heritage associated with the Maroons – former enslaved peoples. There are hiding places, trails, settlements, archaeological remains, lookouts, and more. See a nice photo gallery here.

The Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust (JCDT) manages the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, a protected area. I don’t think the great work they do – including the selfless and dedicated work of the Park Rangers and the enthusiastic band of young JCDT volunteers – is adequately recognised and appreciated. It is challenging work indeed. There is always the search for more funding opportunities and ongoing support. JCDT’s BIOPAMA Project and the Forest Conservation Project, funded by the European Union, and the support of the Inter-American Foundation and the Tourism Product Development Company for this particular project, is more than welcome.

EU representatives and JCDT team at the launch of the “Conserving the Forests of the Blue and John Crow Mountains” project funded by the European Union, which took place at the Blue Brews Bistro at Holywell in the Blue Mountains on July 21, 2022:
(l-r) Olga Baus, Head of Caribbean Sector, EU Delegation; Aniceto Rodriguez Ruiz, Head of Corporation, EU Delegation; Dr. Susan Otuokon, Executive Director, JCDT; David Walters, National Park Manager, JCDT; and André Fache, Programme Officer, EU Delegation. (Photo: JCDT)

The Park is about Nature – and people, and this was recognised recently at the graduation ceremony of 32 members from eight Windward Maroon communities, which took place at the College of Agriculture, Science and Education (CASE) in Portland on October 26, 2022. What a proud and happy occasion! The ecologically vulnerable buffer zones around the Park are of great importance, and JCDT hopes that the new tour guides, along with an upcoming sub-grant programme, will empower some of the buffer zone communities to better take charge of the tourism potential for local income generation and sustainable livelihoods, as well as the conservation of the area’s rich natural and cultural heritage.  

David Walters, National Park Manager, speaks at the graduation ceremony. (Photo: JCDT)

Here is the JCDT’s press release with further details:

BLUE MOUNTAINS MAROON COMMUNITIES TOURISM SUPPORT

Thirty-two (32) people from eight (8) Windward Maroon communities just graduated from the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo)’s TEAM Jamaica and Tour Guide training courses, under the Maroon Communities Tourism Support Project being implemented by the Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust (JCDT). The JCDT is a civil society organisation and registered charity which manages the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park and World Heritage Site on behalf of the relevant government agencies. The purpose of the Maroon Communities Tourism Support Project is to support the preservation of the natural and cultural heritage of the Blue and John Crow Mountains by supporting sustainable livelihoods and strengthening community organisations in 8 Maroon communities The communities are: Scott’s Hall, St. Mary, Hayfield, St. Thomas and in Portland: Moore Town, Cornwall Barracks, Windsor, Millbank, Comfort Castle and Ginger House. This project is funded by the Inter-American Foundation (IAF) and the European Union through the JCDT’s Forest Conservation Project and also JCDT’s BIOPAMA Project which is also financed by the European Union.  

As David Walters, National Park Manager with JCDT explained at the graduation exercise held at the TP Lecky Hall at the College of Agriculture, Science and Education (CASE): “The project aims to strengthen the organisational and business capacity of community members and their organisations to benefit from the growing interest in community tourism.” Mr. Walters stated that JCDT has observed that several private sector interests are taking advantage of the attractions, such as waterfalls located in communities of the Blue and John Crow Mountains, for example, in the Rio Grande Valley. However, in many cases, local community members have not been able to benefit as they don’t have the necessary skills, nor is there a business and marketing system that can facilitate local benefits.

Mr. Walters said that a business plan is almost complete and would see the JCDT working with the newly formed Rio Grande Maroon Heritage Preservation Cooperative Society and the community groups to use business to support the protection of the rich natural and cultural heritage of the area.

Ms. Sonia Brown receives her graduation certificate from Gabrio Marinozzi, representative from the European Union. (Photo: JCDT)

The Inter-American Foundation shared their immense satisfaction with the progress on the project which started in April, 2021. They lauded the high level of community participation in the various consultations and training activities which focused on improving community members’ capacities in environmental management, business and organisational development.

Mr. Gabrio Marinozzi, Representative from the Delegation of the European Union (EU) to Jamaica, Belize, The Bahamas, Turks and Caicos and The Cayman Islands said that the training being celebrated at the graduation was an action that would help meet the objectives of JCDT’s EU-funded project, “Conserving the Forests of the Blue and John Crow Mountains“[launched on July 21, 2022]. He told the graduates that through sustainable tourism they would be helping to protect the forests in and around the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, thus addressing serious global concerns such as climate change and biodiversity decline.

Mr. Desmond Saunders, Acting Community Tourism Manager at TPDCo congratulated JCDT and the graduates for being part of Jamaica’s thrust to build community tourism to ensure that the tourism dollar stretched further and benefitted more citizens at the same time as preserving the island’s natural and cultural heritage. He engaged the graduates in sharing what was unique about their communities and recollected his own experience visiting some of the communities as part of the project. Finally, Mr. Saunders reminded the graduates to “tell your stories in a unique and inclusive way and in your Jamaican language and accent.”

The graduates were represented by Ms. Ann-Marie Larmond, Comfort Castle and Mr. Clevan Davey, Scott’s Hall in sharing their appreciation of the training opportunities provided and describing how it would benefit them personally as well as enhance local community development. Another graduate, Mr. Rushawn Serenash, Windsor used dub poetry to share how he would engage his visitors before embarking on a guided tour.  After the ceremony, several attendees participated in the optional field trip to Windsor for the Chocolate Walk and Spring Tour.

Upcoming activities for the project, which is scheduled for completion by the middle of 2023, include physical improvements to trails and attractions to ensure safety and comfort of visitors. In addition, the business and marketing system that will ensure benefits derive to the local communities and the Blue and John Crow Mountains, will be launched.

FOR MORE INFORMATION – or to get involved…

PLEASE EMAIL: Abi Haughton, Projects Officer: ahaughton@jcdt.org.jm

VISIT OUR WEBSITES: blueandjohncrowmountains.org OR jcdt.org.jm 

CHECK US ON SOCIAL MEDIA @bluemountainsjamaica

Support the JCDT! Volunteer or donate!

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