Olivene Burke | UWI, Mona: We’ve got lots in Common
As part of an initiative to foster a better relationship between 'town and gown', a concept adopted globally by many universities and colleges, The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, has embarked on an ambitious programme to redevelop Mona Common, the informal settlement that has sprung up in the area adjacent to the University Hospital of the West Indies.
The decision will see the UWI becoming even more active in the social, cultural, and economic welfare of the community. The university is now engaged in several consultations regarding a sustainable pathway for the transformation of the community. However, while much work has been done over the last three years, a final decision on the project design is not complete.
The UWI has adopted a collaborative approach as it searches for a new kind of engagement with Mona Common. A broad-based research team was commissioned in 2012 to conduct research in the community with a view to informing transformation of the settlement to a community. Given the results, a stakeholder meeting was called by the then principal in 2013. Stakeholders present included heads of all institutions along Golding Avenue, the Papine Area Development Committee, representatives of the newly formed Mona Common Steering Committee, and representatives of both political parties, along with the UWI/Mona Common Research and senior management teams. The participants had one thing in common: to fix a more than 50-year-old problem and looming catastrophe that the Mona Common posed.
Over this four-year period, data collection has continued and stakeholder meetings and presentations held with different interest groups as the UWI seeks buy-in and funding for the Mona Common Redevelopment Programme. Included in the stakeholder interest group are the present and former ministers of housing, the present and former member of parliaments and councillor under whose portfolio the Mona Common area falls, the National Housing Trust, and various relevant government ministries. The discussions are geared towards creating the best model of transforming the settlement into a community - one that can bring lessons for the transformation of the hundreds of squatter settlements in Jamaica.
A 2008 rapid assessment report and the National Security Policy for Jamaica 2012 have identified that at least 20 per cent of the population resides in squatter settlements. These settlements pose health and safety risks, some of which are featured in Mona Common.
A budgeted investment in excess of $7 million is tackling the education priority need. Since 2014, five young adults have been awarded the UWI Township scholarship to study full time in any faculty, with full tuition paid. The scholarship recipients were required to maintain a GPA of 3.0 over the duration of the programme and complete a mandatory 56 hours of community service. The first awardee is due to graduate in October 2017.
Additionally, the Mona Common Basic School, which had been operating for more than 25 years without a formal permit, was renovated at an initial cost of $350,000 and assisted to meet Early Childhood Commission standards. It received the Permit to Operate in 2012 based on the university's intervention. The UWI now maintains regular upkeep and renovation of the facilities at the school. In 2013, a small lunchroom was erected at the school at a cost of approximately $100,000. Eighty-seven children and about 40 parents are directly affected.
It is unfortunate that a recent article published in The Gleaner titled '500 PNP votes saved - Eastern St Andrew Comrades Praise UWI for Allowing Mona Commons Squatters to remain' attempted to position the university's decision to redevelop the Mona Common as a political act, rather than as an attempt to transform the lives of hundreds of persons and viewing it as a possible initiative for some application to informal settlements spread across Jamaica.
The UWI is concerned that the headline and article have distorted the reality with the potential to negatively affect the institution's best intention for the residents.
- Olivene Burke is executive director of Mona Social Services, UWI, Mona. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.