Tue | Oct 23, 2018

Peter Espeut | What does social intervention mean?

Published:Friday | September 22, 2017 | 12:00 AM

In the beginning, the slogan describing the strategy to be employed in the zones of special operations (ZOSO) was 'clear, hold, build'. I don't see it in its publicity or on its website, which probably means that the strategy is not well understood, or has been revised.

'Clear' and 'hold' we understand; that is what the security forces have been doing since Independence when they declare a curfew, or execute a cordon and search. The idea is to clear out the bad guys, find the illegal weapons, and then maintain peace in the area. It is a strategy that has clearly not worked, for during the intervention, the bad guys go elsewhere with their weapons, and when the security forces are gone, they return with their guns to their women who live in the area.

What is supposed to make ZOSO different is the 'build' component, where social interventions are to be put in place to convert the crime-ridden, pothole-riddled, garbage-strewn ghetto areas with zinc fences and pit toilets, where the theft of electricity and water is common, and where illiteracy and unemployment are high among the residents, into a place of choice for Jamaicans to live, work, raise families, and do business.

The idea is that if there are no meaningful social interventions, social change will not occur, so that when the ZOSO comes to an end, things will return to normal (i.e., high crime, illiteracy, unemployment, etc.). What ZOSO is tasked to do is to establish a 'new normal' in these special zones.

I wonder how many sociologists and behaviour-change specialists the Government has developing the 'build' component of the ZOSOs? If they have none, they won't get far. And if they have good ones, they will tell the Government that you can't reverse decades of underdevelopment and social marginalisation in six months, or a year, or 10.

So far, the PR has highlighted the number of guns and bullets that have been recovered, and how many wanted persons they have held. That is good! That is the 'clear' and 'hold' part of the ZOSO strategy, which is the same-old, same-old. The real measure of ZOSO's success in Mount Salem (the pilot project) will be the nature of the social interventions implemented and the quality of their deliverables.


Community service


So far, a community services fair has been held in Mount Salem, where residents were able to apply for birth certificates, passports and TRNs, and sign up for training programmes offered by the HEART Trust. Residents also got free medical and dental services, while recreational activities were provided for the children.

As good as this first effort is, it is not going to take Mount Salem very far towards meaningful social change. The social problems of Mount Salem are the social problems of Jamaica, and the Government is unlikely to create an island of social development in a sea of social underdevelopment and disadvantage.

I would like to make a few suggestions.

The first step towards social change in any community is to make the residents feel good about themselves and their neighbourhood, and I believe that implanting the strategies suggested by the Broken Windows Theory of social change will take us a far way in that direction. This requires government spending on infrastructure (removing garbage, fixing roads and sidewalks, repairing/installing streetlights), to create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness.

All motorcyclists must wear helmets, according to law, and all cars driving into the area must be properly registered and passed fit.


Establish community centres


A community centre must be built/established, and classes in parenting skills, grooming, deportment, rÈsumÈ writing and interview skills should be offered. Opportunities for gaining literacy and numeracy skills should be provided. Competitions for the most appropriately dressed persons in streetwear and in clothing for various work environments may be held.

A non-partisan community association should be formed, to discuss community issues and interface with local and central government representatives and agencies.

The law requiring compulsory attendance at school for all children must be enforced, bringing PATH into the picture, if necessary. Homework centres equipped with computers and reference books, and staffed with retired teachers to assist the students with their assignments, should be established in the community.

Residents can be provided with grants from the NHT to remove the zinc fences, and to fix up and paint their homes; legal electricity and water connections should be established, and pit toilets should be replaced with flush toilets.

Using this approach, the appearance of the community and its residents should improve, creating a new normal; and it may indeed become a place of choice to live, work, raise children and do business. And the residents may become more intolerant of crime and violence. That would be a good start for the 'build'.

- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and rural development scientist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.