Monday, 16 January 2012

Things I've learned

I spent last week writing a report summarizing the work I've done over the past few months as a Cuso volunteer. It turns out that despite a feeling of everything moving slowly, I now have a contact list of 25 non profit organizations and government agencies working in Montego Bay, and have visited 11 of those in-person. Sometimes it takes looking back to get any sense of progress. Here are some of the highlights:

There is a dense network of organizations and agencies already working to make a difference in Montego Bay.  Many of them are connected to national organizations with head offices in Kingston.  There is some coordination, although there may be opportunities for more coordination to maximize resources.

I was told a story about the benefits of cooperation by a woman at a government agency - she was a field officer responsible for a particular community that had recently had an uprising of violence - there had been several shootings in the community.  So she invited representatives from the community to join her in multiple meetings to discuss what could be done, including the police, church leaders, other field officers from other social service agencies, and NGOs involved in conflict resolution.  The representatives met on a couple of occasions, with some success.  Then it was time for the woman who had organized the meetings to take her annual holidays.  She assumed the meetings would stop while she was gone. However, when she can back to work, she found out they had continued. She heard that the one of the members of the group had said to the others, "I am willing to risk going back into that community if you are willing to come with me."  The power of cooperation!

Another lesson learned that I included in my report is that Montego Bay faces some of the same problems of any urban centre - migration to the city by people from the country who are looking for work.  This migration creates a housing shortage, so people build slum communities, which quickly become hotbeds for crime and violence, and lack proper water, sanitation and other infrastructure.  There was a survey done in one of these communities in Montego Bay - North Gully - and they found that most of the adults in the community were not born in Montego Bay.

One particularly weird piece of information I learned about is the problem of "scamming".  You know those emails that show up in the spam folder that say you've won money in a lottery and you just need to send a little bit of money somewhere to claim your prize?  Well, it appears that Montego Bay is a prime location for developing and disseminating these scams.  And, to my surprise, people in the US and Canada regularly fall for these emails and send money.  The scammers can earn hundreds of dollars in a couple of days - big money here. Two problems arise - first, those who have made money have rush of conspicuous consumption, which often includes guns to protect their new house, fancy car, and other bling. More guns = more violence. Second, young people in the community are no longer interested in training programs that might get them a low paying service job when they can do this illegal work and make lots more money in a short time period. It is a difficult problem to approach, but one that came up over and over again as significant. As someone told me, "This problem won't go away until Americans stop believing these scams".

My next steps are to review this report with the Cuso office in Kingston, and we will discuss which organizations could most benefit from a Cuso volunteer, and how we will further deepen these relationships to the point of actual volunteers arriving for placements in Montego Bay.  I expect this process will be slower than I would like it to be as well, but I have a little more faith in progress than I did before!

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