Russ Ford's Blog

Jamaica- No Worries?



Welcome back. My readership  significantly increased over the summer when I was not writing.  I am sure there is a lesson in there somewhere.  

 This week I am starting off with a piece concerning how I spent my summer vacation.  But it is not a travelogue. In fact I guarantee none of what I have to say will ever grace the pages of the travel section of our newspapers.

I was one of 13 Toronto people who went to Jamaica under the auspices of Creating Global Citizens (CGC).  Let me steal directly from their website.
CGC is a program that provides opportunity for youth leaders from marginalized communities across Toronto to take action on building healthy communities and assist with community based solutions that contributes to sustainable living locally and globally.

To be clear and I know this will surprise you, I was not considered one of the youth on this trip.

So with their leadership development and fund raising activities over, we found ourselves in a small hotel in rural Jamaica. This was not an "all inclusive. "

There was not the gluttony of the all you can eat  buffet .  No, this was a hotel not frequented by tourists .  It was a hotel run by Jamaicans and patronized by Jamaicans.  The food was good and it was real Jamaican cuisine which I can assure you is very different from what you get from the resorts.

Our first stop was Lacovia primary school where one of the CGC leaders had attended prior to immigrating to Canada.  CGC never goes to a country without an invitation and the projects it works on are those that the local community asks it to do.  Lacovia is near the town of Black River which is certainly not an affluent community.  Like all schools in  poor communities it had fallen into a state of disrepair.  The school`s small budget goes directly into educating the students at the expense of the appearance of the physical plant.

First we toured the school.  Many of the rooms were divided into three classrooms separated by a moveable blackboard . Let me be clear, three classes were being taught simultaneously in the same room. The school is overcrowded.  Class sizes are around 40 so  about 120 students are housed  in each  classroom.  The classrooms themselves look like something from Black Creek Pioneer village.  It is hard to imagine how anyone could learn in such an environment.

The teacher and the principal we met would have no such talk.  They were dedicated people who had committed their lives to educating the children of Black River.  All of the faculty it seemed had taught at this school for many years.  They were determined no matter what the odds, to ensuring the children would be taught.

Later in the trip we went to the University of the West Indies  where we met a senior school administrator who provided the bare and contrasting facts.  Most of the students who get to the university are female and they do not come from poor communities like Black River.  It seems the system  fails  Black males but the same could also be said of the Toronto system.

After the tour, the work began. It was hot,  don't listen to that nonsense about a dry heat.  Our work or perhaps our presence did become a community event.  Some of the locals came by to help including a cadre of students from the school.  Local women cooked our lunch over an open fire.  Even the goats came by,  although I suspect they were less interested in the painting and more in the remains of our lunch.  We left Lacovia with a pretty good looking building and a bunch of school supplies we had brought from Canada.  Our work was not transformative, but it sure felt good.

The shopping areas we visited either in Black River or Kingston were mostly open market places housing many dilapidated stalls.  Jamaica has a plentiful supply  of fruits and fruit stands dominate the commercial areas.  One has to wonder though how an economy  based on the selling of fruit can provide  adequate incomes for anyone.

I went to the market for the purpose of buying a belt which I had forgotten in Toronto.  Most of the stalls were selling women's clothing but I did find one for men and it had a supply of belts.  Jamaican men are skinny or at least that is my story.  None of the belts  went around my waist.  Finally the shop owner said to me, "You are just too big man.  You have got to do something with your belly man."

She is right of course,  you just do not usually hear that from a salesperson.

I do not however want to leave you with the impression that Jamaica is a poor country.  It is not, there is considerable wealth.  The problem as I see it is not in the creation of wealth but in its distribution.

Go along the beautiful sandy beaches and you will see  wealth which is largely in the hands of North Americans.    The beaches are of course one of the country`s great natural resources but Jamaicans are largely now excluded because the government has sold off the beaches to the resort operators and  access is now limited  to their guests

That would be analogous to Canada selling off all its natural resources .
Oh sorry, bad analogy we have already done that. Ok, it would be like Canada selling off all its hockey sticks. 

The government seems intent on maximizing what it sees as the benefits of the global economy.  What that means is doing all it can to attract foreign capital.  For example, if a foreign national buys a business they get a five year tax break.  At the end of that time they must then start paying the same taxes  a Jamaican business owner would pay.  But that is easy to get around.  All you do at the end of the five year period is sell your business to your spouse or one of your kids and then you get   another five year tax haven.

In the 1980s the Jamaican government under the leadership of Prime Minister Michael Manley took a very different approach.  He did not believe that economic prosperity would come to the average Jamaican  by cozying up to North American business.  Rather Manley sought to move away from North American economic dependence  by creating close ties  with the non aligned nations like  Grenada, Chile, Cuba and Nicaragua.

We all know what happened to each of those countries.  The CIA toppled the government in Chile; Cuba was isolated; the American government armed the contras to overthrow the government in Nicaragua and Grenada was invaded by American troops because it was seen as a threat to America's national security.

At  the risk of offending someone from Grenada, the Grenada military would not likely pose a threat to the garrison at Fort York.  Jamaica had its economy undermined and faced with staggering inflation and high unemployment, the Manley government was defeated.

When I was in Jamaica I evoked the name of Michael Manley when talking to some of the older Jamaicans.  Without exception his name would bring an immediate smile to their faces and an acknowledgement that he was the last leader that actually cared about the Jamaican people.

Jamaica operates with a two party system although there apparently are a few others but none with any elected members.  There seems to be a strong disconnect between the political leadership and the people.  Universally the parties are seen as corrupt and  being partially funded by drug cartels.  No one has faith that the political system will yield the social and economic reforms that are required.

I am sure most of you have never heard of Maroon town.  It is not on any travel brochure and   the vast majority of Jamaicans have never been there.  It is a remnant from the colonial period.

Escaped slaves lead by a woman named Nanny fled  into the mountains to live as a free people.  The British would of course have none of that and war broke out.  It was then that the British got their first taste of guerilla warfare.  Nanny lead the newly freed slaves in a series of guerilla missions which were  made so much easier by the British willingness to wear their red coats in the lush green forest.

Faced with mounting losses the British agreed to allow Maroon town to exist as long as the residents did not encourage other slaves to flee, a stipulation that was ignored.

While the Maroons are citizens of Jamaica their contact with the rest of the country seems minimal.  The 1,500 population live  on top of a mountain more than an hours drive away from the rest of Jamaica.

The Maroons are a self governing nation.  Unlike other Jamaicans they are not treated like seconds class citizens in their own country.  No foreign investors control Maroon town,  no one is even allowed in without permission of the elders.

When we arrived in Maroon town one of the local ministers told us that although we may not appreciate it , we were sent  to them by  God.  Being called an instrument of God is quite a complement. In fact it is the ultimate compliment.
So we again pulled out our brushes and rollers and tried to turn an empty former school house into a health care clinic.   Over the past year we had collected second hand medical equipment from Canada and shipped it down to Jamaica.  It now had a home  in the new Maroon town medical clinic.

This was my fifth trip to the Caribbean although my first to Jamaica.  Like most Canadians I spent the other trips at a resort.  I now realize that while I physically went to these other countries I really did not visit them.

A resort  is a controlled environment designed so you do not see the real country.  You never have to leave as  everything you could need is there.  The country is of course irrelevant as all the resorts are pretty much the same,  the fancy pools, the multiple number of bars and of course the buffets.

The Jamaica of "no worries" is a complete facade. There is much to worry about including where you next meal is coming from for many Jamaicans.
So what is the solution?  Clearly there is no trickledown economics  at work in Jamaica.  How can you have such lush resorts while at the same time have children trying to learn in such sub standard schools?

CGC is essentially about making the world a much smaller place.  We cannot ignore the problems of Jamaica just because  we live in Canada.  It does not work that way or at least it should not.  We  have to start thinking of ourselves less as Canadians and more like global citizens.  The human condition is each of our responsibilities no matter the political divide.

Our  dollar has power so why not invest ours   where it can do the most good. That is not in the large hotel chains  but  in the real  Jamaica and going to a hotel owned by a Jamaican.   Let me assure you, spurning in the large hotels and  living outside the tourist area is a much richer  experience.

Lets also demand accountability from the big tour operators.  We will use your services but we need to see you pay back something to the Jamaican people.  We need to see some of your revenues go to the children of Lacovia primary school.  And we need to see your beaches open to all.

Jamaica gave up its colonial status many years ago when it finally followed the Maroon example and achieved independence from Britain.  Jamaica is an independent political state today  but it's economic structure still leaves many Jamaicans living as if they were still controlled by a colonial power.  It is no longer the red coats that control them, it is the American dollar.
It is time for a free Jamaica,.
 
------
One of the pleasures in my trip was meeting Leon Pryce a poet from Montego Bay.  You can get his poetry on Amazon or better contact him directly  at brokenwingspoems@hotmail.com.  buy it, if you have gotten this far in the blog, it is the least you can do.

And do not forget to donate to CGC. You can connect with them at Creatingglobalcitizens@gmail.com
 

Comments

Amazing Blog

Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. I enjoyed reading it very much. I did not know the medical clinic was going in Maroon town! What and awesome choice and great learning experience for all the participants.

Profound observations

Hi Russ,

What a fantastic blog, the best I think (my opinion) of all you had written - and they were all good.
I don't know what to say except it made me sooo sad about the state of the world, what we've done, what we've allowed, for in every place in the world where there is inequality and injustice there are an equal number of people who have turned the other way. I always ask myself, what will it take for everyone to take notice and say "enough of this, it's time to make the change?" Ultimately, we are all responsible for each other. The bell tolls still, paraphrasing from John Donne.

Hi Russ, Thanks for sharing!

Hi Russ,
Thanks for sharing! Your story and thoughts brought back memories of a similar volunteer work experience when I was a Junior in college 50 years ago. Eight weeks in a tiny Mexican village with no running water and the main "street" serving as communal latrine made us feel like the aristocracy since we had an outhouse. AND we had shoes.
Dot

Russ, Really liked your blog

Russ, Really liked your blog on this. My daughter went to Jamacia on a community development placement. As a political science grad she came back with the same analysis. There is so much in the global economy that just doesn't work for the developing world.

Jamaica

Hey Russ,

My brother in law was working with a group of builders (volunteer really good at it) and he was going to places like Grenada and other types of countries in need. It was put together by a bunch of men from his church groups. Anyway, maybe there could be some pairing there??? I want to hear about your sermon at the church. I understand you were asked to speak. How did that go and what did you speak about.

Cheers from FHCC

Russ, Great piece! Your

Russ, Great piece! Your message certainly rings true to me as one who has visited Jamaica and stayed in a resort. My daughter did a school placement there and would certainly echo your comments. I am keen as one who works in a CHC here in Ontario to establish partnerships with other CHCs in the developing world so that we can learn from each other, share resources and raise awareness about the negative impacts of the global economy.

Jamaican Visit and the Threat of Good Examples

Russ, you're too much! Sounds like a great trip.

Had two thoughts that are both connected to Cuba and Grenada. Cuba had 100s of workers building the new airport in Grenada when the U.S. invaded to protect the wealthy Americans at the medical school.

Of course, they were really trying to stop a second good example of independent revolution from succeeding (but, Bernard Coard had already murdered Maurice Bishop in a coup). It was only the Cuban workers, who were armed, who fought against the U.S. troops.

Cuba was the first example of a socialist revolution in the Americas and the U.S. has been trying to exterminate that example ever since 1961. Tens of thousands of Cubans still volunteer to work in countries around the world every year. Grenada was just one of many who benefited, after their revolution started in 1979.

thank you

Simply inspiring. Life has a funny way of taking us places and showing us things we feel we're not ready to see or experience. An experience like this is one you cannot prepare for. You just have to be present in the moment and really experience the emotions and motions that come with it.Thank you for being so brave to share your experiences and the realities of Jamaica. The struggle is real but the spirit is alive!

You're awesome Russ! Keep in touch.

Shauntal

Jamaica indeed... Rass (Russ)

Russ (aka ras) as my wife and i affectionately called you. I really love this piece and am wondering if you could get it in the newspapers here in jamaica. People really need to know the truth about the places they're traveling to because what is paradise for them is for us here in Jamaica... Well you need to fimd out. Thank you Russ for visiting and thanks for highlighting my book; when they read it they will get a feel of reality of Jamaica from a poet's point of view.

Respectfully yours:
Lammy, Jamaica

Great blog "Russford"! Lol

This blog was a great insight to the glories and defeats we faced during our trip to Jamaica! Every word of your blog brought back great and not so great memories that made our trip! All I can say is it was a pleasure to have you join us in our travels and we will always have a reserved spot for a one-of-a-kind guy like you Russ!

From a brother global citizen,
Stay in touch Mr."Russford" Ford! Lol
-Ebba

Awesome!

Good on you & your team Russ - if more of us could do this kind of vacationing the world could be a better place!

Thanks for sharing.

Michele

Everyone needs to go to Jamaica...

Everyone needs to go at least once, Jamaica's white beaches, beautiful tours and activities to keep the kids busy. We only got to see the resort though, I'm jealous you got to eat some authentic food on the island. That's on my bucket list, and you better believe that food tastes better, just like if you came to Saskatchewan and eat at a restaurant, a home cooked meal in someones' house would be waaaaay better.

Cool post! And we're glad to have you back!

Julian

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