Monday, 20 February 2012

Little bits of success

I had the pleasure of attending the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Granville restorative justice centre several days ago.  This centre is one of 4 centres that are the result of more than 2 years of work by the Ministry of Justice here in Jamaica, part of a pilot project working in 4 communities around Jamaica.  It is one way to think about crime differently, as the traditional responses of more police and harsher sentences are not having the right kind of impact fast enough.

Restorative justice, in case you are interested, is “a process whereby all the parties with a stake in a particular offense come together to resolve collectively how to deal with the aftermath of the offense. It is a different way of thinking about conflict. Restorative Justice focuses on holding the offender accountable in a more meaningful way. It repairs the harm caused by the offense, helps to reintegrate the offender into the community and helps to achieve a sense of healing for both the victim and the community.” (from the Restorative Justice brochure, produced by the Jamaican Ministry of Justice).

In Jamaica, they’ve been working on officially integrating restorative justice options on all levels of the justice system – the idea being that those active in the community will be given tools to help identify optimal cases for the restorative justice process and can make direct referrals. In Jamaica, the concept of restorative justice makes particular sense because of the retaliatory nature of the violence – involving the whole community is one way to end a cycle of violence that ultimately has effects far beyond the immediate victims.

Restorative Justice plan for Jamaica

I was invited to attend the event by Audrey Barrett, a Canadian from Cape Breton, who has spend the last two years here in Jamaica as a consultant to the ministry on restorative justice.   When I spoke to Audrey after the event and asked how she was, she took a deep breath in and said something like “still holding on.” It had been a long week of grand openings and events in various places, with the usual upsets of dignitaries cancelling appearances at the last moment, (as they are wont to do anywhere in the world) technical difficulties and just general lack of sleep. The week should have been celebratory, the culmination of 2 long years of hard work, but instead it was a fuss of ceremony, with the pettiness of those who felt slighted given their status and those who felt the project was just a waste of money seeming to speak out louder than everyone else.  

The two of us were sitting down after the ceremony, discussing the event and not able to go anywhere since it was pouring down buckets of rain.  We were joined by a couple of members of the Granville community. They started to tell Audrey about how they had used the restorative justice process to deal with an incident in the community a few weeks earlier. 

From what I can tell, the story goes something like this: a shooting had occurred in the community recently and the rumours were that the gunmen had taken cover in a stand of banana trees. So in an effort to promote community safety, some community members decided to go in and cut down the banana trees, preventing anyone else from hiding there.  

However, the banana trees were a primary source of income for 5 or 6 families leaving nearby, who were understandably quite upset by this destruction of their livelihood. I’m not exactly sure how it started, but some members of the community quickly realised that this might be a good time for a community meeting involving some members from both “sides” and an impromptu meeting was held.  Following that early meeting, some people in the community contacted Audrey about the incident, and she walked them through some of the restorative justice processes and things to keep in mind while conducting a more formal session.

A restorative justice “conference” was held, or at least something similar adapted to the circumstances.  The community members who were telling us about it seemed quite upbeat about how it had unfolded. They had gotten more feedback and open conversation from people than they had expected, and although people didn’t easily answer, “How did that make you feel?” questions, eventually the conversation uncovered people’s responses to the incident and all sides seemed to have had a chance to present their stories.

And, as important as having voices heard, the meeting culminated with some actions for moving forward. Members of the community would help the families replant the area where the destruction had occurred, and in the meeting a suggestion was made to plant another crop that would generate income for the families, without growing to the height of the banana trees and providing shelter for criminals.

Lesson learned: official events are important for public recognition and other reasons, but never get confused about what really matters.  In this case, community members recognized the potential of the restorative justice process and have started to use it on their own, with or without the official opening ceremonies. Indicators of success come in all shapes and sizes, with the important ones being the hardest to find sometimes!

Granville - a lush, green community back in the hills.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

one white girl in a route taxi

Ok, so my blog title doesn't really have a catchy ring to it. But check out this cute video, "Two white girls pon a minibus" by The Word - the fashions are a bit dated and the bus fare has gone up, but otherwise things are still pretty much the same.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

sunshine snaps

Photographic essay time - from the last few weeks...

At the Cranbrook Flower Forest in St. Ann

A flower in the forest

Irina, a fellow volunteer, with the greeting committee at Cranbrook

Mutual suspicion (photo by Irina)

Myself and Onyka, a fellow volunteer, enjoying Pina Colodas on the beach (Photo by Irina)

Our oh-so-talented waiter

On a calm day at the Yacht Club

J22 sailboats racing away
The weather from my balcony - we've had some heavy rain this week - I got soaked to the bone on Sunday!

Is it a dog eating a camera?

Friday, 3 February 2012

From black and white to grey

The longer I stay in Jamaica, the more the patterns shift.  In the beginning, I knew I didn’t understand anything, so there was no pressure to know how things work.  Simple things like getting groceries and finding my way home again took monumental amounts of energy to get through.  Then, somewhere along the way, the everyday things started to get easier.  I can now decipher the Jamaican accent and even make a reasonable guess about how to translate Patois on a good day.  I can also navigate using the route taxi system, drive on the left hand side of the road, and even give the taxi driver directions on how to go home the back way.  It felt like life in Jamaica was starting to become a little clearer. 

More than that, over the last couple of months I’ve developed firm friendships and found myself in a place where I “belong”. Amongst the people I know from sailing, my neighbours at home and through work, and the volunteers and people I’ve met through Cuso, I have friends that I can join for drinks on a Friday night, fellow adventures up for a sail or exploration of a new beach or Jamaican sight to be seen, and people I can call on when I’m in a jam or need a hand.  I feel remarkably pleased with my life and community in sunny Jamaica.

But today was one of those days where what seemed to be black and white went an undecipherable shade of grey.  Just when I thought I had my head wrapped around some of the issues facing Jamaica – which I’ve wrote about about before - crime, unemployment, urban migration, crippling national debt, and maybe more importantly and more tangibly, I thought I had come to terms with my daily walk through downtown, where I face the rags and skinny figures of people who live in real poverty, made peace with the daily calls of “hey sexy” and other cat calls of various degrees of friendliness, and started to feel like I might be beginning to understand the complex racial relationships that exist in Jamaica – what it might be like to be “white” Jamaican, “black” Jamaican, and “brown” Jamaican, nuanced through shades of skin tones that I would never have begun to identify, never mind compare for social status – I’ve realized I don’t know anything at all, and what was clear has now gone as murky as the water in a stagnant pool.

It isn’t that I haven’t learned things about Jamaica, it’s just a recognition of how complicated things are in this world, and how little I can know in almost 6 months. Today my fellow Jamaican colleagues had a moment when Jamaica’s problems felt insurmountable.  We also visited an NGO that has access to resources and is moving quickly to make a difference that was inspiring.  We met a woman who has taken her personal passions into her job, bringing her own concern about violence against women into her work with youth.  We met another woman who has been working towards the betterment of the community for a long time, but views homosexuality as a symbol of all that is wrong in the community.

It just isn’t black and white.  The answers are difficult to find – and who knows if we find them, they will be the right ones, anyways.  But it is one foot in front of the other, one step out of myself and into the world.