From the island of Jamaica to the extended reach of the Diaspora, the excitement surrounding Jamaica’s 50th independence anniversary on August 6, is palpable. And in this an Olympic year, the elation is amplified for virtually every Jamaican at home and around the world.
Jamaica has a lot to be proud of. Accomplishments span far beyond the island borders. Most famously, Jamaicans have given the world reggae music; the world’s fastest man Usain Bolt; and many scholars and various artists too numerous to name. Of all these things however, most outstanding is the Jamaican spirit.
The energy and vibe with which Jamaicans live, work and play is recognizable as the hallmark of Jamaica.
But, have we done as well as we could have?
When the party ends, there is still a lot of work to do to ensure that the quality of life of a much broader cross-section of Jamaicans is better in the next 50 years.
While there may be a lot to celebrate, development in Jamaica has been slow, uneven and unequal. Economic and governance issues perplex the nation. Poverty levels have steadily increased to just below fifty percent and Jamaica is ranked poorly among countries according to the perception of corruption and ease of doing business indexes. Crime has immobilized many in the public while infrastructural development is crippled by inefficient planning and mismanagement of public funds.
The government and the private sector play important roles in governing Jamaica but missing until recently, has been the third critical factor, an active civil society.
A Vital Need for Strong, Active Community Organizations
Positive change going forward depends significantly on this group.
Communities are both consumers and constituents. Businesses and political representatives depend on them for sales and elections. They make up a significant part of civil society and have the greatest potential to make far-reaching changes in Jamaican society. Most Jamaicans may not associate themselves with the term civil society – but civil society is all the citizens of Jamaica.
Civil society is quite distinct from the business community or government; it includes churches, citizens’ association, school alumni group, youth club, trade union and community-based organizations, to name a few, that mend the fences, paint the schools, fill the potholes, care for the children and the elderly and mentor the youths in the neighborhood. Partnering with the business community and government is vital to reach these goals.
Change Has Already Begun
Some communities have taken these issues and others, such as employment, justice, environmental preservation, housing and transportation, into their own hands – and with some successes. Just last month CURE (Citizens United for the Reduction of Electricity) won a landmark case against the monopoly giant Jamaica Public Service (JPS) challenging its exclusive right to transmit electricity; and Harbour View and JETS (Jamaica Environmental Trust) succeeded in compelling the government to fix the sewerage treatment plant that for 20 years was releasing untreated waste into the community and the sea.
No community is able to be successful and sustainable without partnerships, and not just with elected officials. Partnering with other communities and organisations is key to building strong, long-lasting communities.
Community and Non-governmental Organizations
Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) such as Hear the Children’s Cry, Citizen’s Association For Free and Fair Elections (CAFFE) and Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) are examples of other types of local organizations pursuing areas of equity and justice in Jamaica.
Depending on unique issues faced by communities, partnering with a local NGO might be able to provide strategic support for a community’s ventures. NGO’s and communities traditionally have similar focuses and in many instances work closely together. Communities should find Jamaican non-governmental organizations to help support initiatives and help it to grow in a sustainable manner.
Community and Businesses
Jamaicans are serial entrepreneurs. In this poor economy Jamaicans have already begun to “tun dem han an mek fashion” or be resourceful with what they have on hand. But today, business has to be tackled on a scale beneficial to greater numbers of people in the communities, and waiting on the government to come up with a solution may not be a viable option. Find local Jamaican businesses here.
Communities can use these and similar resources to find new opportunities in nearby areas, or find companies that can help them get their goods sold online. By searching through this and other directories, Jamaicans can find financing for their business and technical support to get started. Communities must take initiative to be successful. Otherwise they risk being overlooked by outsiders and big businesses.
Community and the Diaspora
Working internally can limit the number of opportunities available to the communities. The Diaspora has many needs that can be supplied only by Jamaica, which creates tremendous earning possibilities. Through contacts with the diaspora, more opportunities can become available providing economic and job growth.
Where do you see Jamaica in the next 50 years?
Photo by April Pink