Tue | Sep 26, 2017

Rosalea Hamilton | St James crisis: tertiary institutions respond

Published:Thursday | October 13, 2016 | 10:00 AM

With about 200 murders in the past nine months, St James is facing a crisis of exploding criminality that demands out-of-the-box thinking. Thought leaders in the tertiary institutions located in the west are responding to what is likely to be an epic crisis for St James and Jamaica if not resolved in a way that can enable long-term, sustainable outcomes.

Commissioner of Police Dr Carl Williams, in responding to calls for a state of emergency, is correct in noting that the deep-seated problems underlying the crime wave in the parish of St James are social problems requiring social solutions.

The long-term, sustainable solutions are indeed social, including economic. The most important and enduring social solutions are educational. Analysts have long established that education is central to shaping long-term, sustainable social and economic solutions. Fifty-two years ago, Nobel Prize economist Arthur Lewis writing in The Gleaner on September 11, 1964, stated: "Nothing is more important to Jamaica's long-run prospects. An economy which has few natural resources has to live by its wits. Education is Jamaica's best investment."

So tertiary institutions, with a core mandate of providing higher education, have a central role to play in influencing Jamaica's long-run prospects. It is therefore noteworthy that over the past few years, nine tertiary institutions in the west have been collaborating to strengthen their core education mandate. Under the leadership of Patrick Prendergast, acting director, UWI Mona Western Jamaica Campus, they have pledged to the formation and establishment of the Association of Western Jamaica Tertiary Institutions (AWJTI) as a "responsive agent of change in western Jamaica committed to promoting and building communities of excellence through advanced education and training of adult learners in response to global challenges".

At a recent AWJTI meeting on September 21, 2016, it was agreed that more information should be shared among the tertiary institutions to enable more effective collaboration on existing as well as newly defined initiatives to tackle the problems in St James. Given the nature and scale of the problem, the tertiary institutions are also collaborating with government agencies as well as the community-based organisations and non-governmental organisations in the St. James Inter-Agency Network (SJIAN) that are at the forefront of tackling the problems. The SJIAN is currently pursuing an ambitious plan to proactively engage approximately 3,500 highly at-risk youths from across St James. Importantly, the plan builds on lessons learnt from interventions such as the Citizen Security and Justice Programme's Goals For Life in 2011 and the Social Development Commission's Bring Back The Love in 2015. Among other things, the plan seeks to focus on interventions to address school dropout, delivering psycho-educational life skills sessions to participants and linking participants with counselling, mentoring, vocational & remedial training and employment opportunities. Tertiary institutions are well placed to deliver these educational services and more.

Through their community outreach arm, the 'ivory tower' image must now be transformed into the 'people's place' where ordinary Jamaicans can find real, practical solutions to the problems they face.

This has been the motivation behind the USAID-funded Fi Wi Jamaica project currently being executed by the Division of Community Service & Development at the University of Technology, Jamaica.

Among other things, it seeks to address the vulnerabilities of women/girls who are likely to be victims of crimes such as human trafficking and domestic/intimate partner violence. In addition to providing information to build awareness about these crimes, the Fi Wi Jamaica project is taking pro-active steps in providing entrepreneurship and skills training to empower at-risk women and girls. In collaboration with the SJIAN and other tertiary institutions in the west, this initiative will be upgraded and adjusted to meet the needs of about 80 women from several volatile communities in St James this month. This and other initiatives will be designed over the next few months in response to the spiralling murders taking place in St James.

Now more than ever, strategic collaboration, bringing 'all hands on board,' is necessary to tame the crime monster in St James.

There is no doubt that the long-term, sustainable solutions include education and, therefore, tertiary institutions must play a pivotal role. However, even with the education of at-risk youths, there is no simple solution to finding alternatives to the lucrative incomes being created from scamming and related crimes.

This will be one of the major challenges facing tertiary institutions in their timely and much-needed response to the crisis in St James.

• Rosalea Hamilton, PhD, is Project Director, Fi Wi Jamaica Project and Vice-President, Community Service and Development, University of Technology, Jamaica. Email feedbacktocolumns@gleanerjm.com or rosaleahamilton@gmail.com