Think of Jamaica and the average North American might conjure up images of warm, sunny weather, endless pristine beaches, reggae music and an island paradise. And where all these things are true, Jamaica also has its share of social and political challenges. It consistently ranks as one of the five most violent nations in the world and youth violence is among the top concerns of the island residents.
Due to these challenges, Peace Learning Center (PLC) was asked to offer resources that might help stem the tide of this continuing trend toward violence, particularly among Jamaica’s youth. The request came from members of the Indianapolis Rotary Club, which has maintained a 15-year “twin club” relationship with Rotarians in Savanna la Mar, a town in Westmoreland parish in the southwest corner of the island. After several months of consultation with a Jamaican primary school principal and former police officer, PLC developed a three-year proposal that was initiated by the delegation’s visit in mid-January 2007.
The PLC delegation was part of a “Hoosier goodwill entourage” that included representatives from Indianapolis Rotary, Ambassadors for Children and Dyslexia Institute of Indiana. The entourage also included many esteemed Hoosiers such as former first lady Judy O’Bannon and Carmel Mayor Dotti Hancock, Judge Patricia Riley and a dreadlocked African-American Elder, James Taylor, who was treated as a visiting diplomat by many local Jamaicans.
With invaluable assistance from Rotarians in Savanna la Mar and Negril, the goodwill entourage was able to visit seven schools, offer dental and medical clinics, and conduct two conferences with over 70 teachers, principals and social workers representing four parishes in southwest Jamaica.
As a result of the visit, teachers were trained on how to identify and assist students with dyslexia and other learning challenges; children and adults were provided with dental care and medical check-ups; local schools received bookshelves, art supplies and computer equipment; Jamaican students and Hoosier volunteers exchanged countless hugs; and hundreds of students and teachers participated in preliminary peace education programming.
PLC is eager to continue with this partnership and implement its three-year proposal to assist in developing effective peace education resources that resonate with local youth while supporting a cultural exchange program and co-sponsoring future regional conflict resolution conferences.
Jamaica is a welcoming place, locals are enthusiastic to bump fists and greet visitors with salutations like “One Love” and “Respect.” It’s ironic that in a land that produced Marcus Garvey, whose pan-American UNITA movement of the mid 1800s attempted to redress social, political and economic disparity of people of color, there are world-class resorts situated less than a mile from grossly overcrowded schools without basic sanitation. Throughout history, Jamaican people and culture has inspired movements for social justice and compassion worldwide. It is in our best interest as global citizens to assist the caring people of this Caribbean Island to foster positive change and forge a better future for all of us.Look for an upcoming televised segment of the Jamaican visit on Judy O’Bannon’s “Communities Building Community” series on WFYI.