Editors' Forum | 'Give us a seat at the table' - NGOs argue for formal role in anti-crime fight
Two of Jamaica's leading non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in the island's toughest inner-city communities have warned that the fight against the crime monster will not be won unless they are given a formal role in the battle.
Less than 48 hours before Prime Minister Andrew Holness convened a meeting of the National Security Council to review the social intervention framework in the first zone of special operations (ZOSO), representatives of Eve for Life and Rise Life Management Services told a Gleaner Editors' Forum that the current approach by the State is unlikely to yield lasting results.
"They need to bring us to the table so whatever area they are going to be working in they need to recognise which are the civic groups doing the work on the ground in that community, and they need to involve them," said Sonita Morin Abrahams, executive director of Rise Life, at the forum last Wednesday.
"These NGOs should be at the table from the ZOSO is being set up so that they know, and the minute it begins the community groups should be brought in to do whatever is needed, whether it is the educational pieces, the lifestyle training, vocational training or whatever," added Abrahams.
She told Gleaner editors and reporters that Rise Life was not invited to be part of the ZOSO declared in Mount Salem, St James, on September 1, and it appears that no other NGO was invited to the table.
According to Abrahams, the NGOs need to be given the resources to do the work and allowed time to try to achieve lasting changes in these violence-plagued communities.
"To make changes that are going to last the interventions have to be comprehensive, they have to involve civil society, government, parents, and community people, and there must be resources from agencies such as the National Housing Trust so that you can uplift the community.
"You can't have people living in filth, with no bathroom facilities, and expect them to come out smelling like a rose. The crime is going to return if you don't have a long-term intervention," added Abrahams, as she pointed to the effort at community renewal by the Citizen Security and Justice Programme (CSJP).
Failed attempts to reduce crime
Programme manager for Rise Life, Shawn McGregor, is a product of one of the tough inner-city communities in the Corporate Area and he has seen the failed attempts to reduce crime in several of these areas without a long-term plan.
McGregor pointed to a programme administered by Rise Life through the CSJP in the crime-plagued west Kingston community of Fletcher's Land.
"For about eight or so years we had no violence in the area, but once the plug was pulled the war started," said McGregor.
"That is a perfect example of not having community-based intervention and what community-based intervention can do in even a volatile community like Fletcher's Land," he added.
According to McGregor, Rise Life's intervention involves the implementation of specific programmes for each community.
"So the programme we designed for Fletcher's Land would not be the same one we would design for Waterhouse. We go into the communities, we meet the players in the communities, we know what is happening and then we design a programme based on what the needs are.
"We implement the programme using different strategies, but we make sure these are strategies which the community would welcome," said McGregor.
Late last week, the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) said the National Security Council considered the planning and progress of community development initiatives in Mount Salem and accepted the initial plan of the Social Intervention Committee.
But the OPM provided no details of the social-intervention plan from the committee which is chaired by Holness and includes head of the Jamaica Social Investment Fund, Omar Sweeny, several permanent secretaries, government technocrats and social anthropologist Dr Herbert Gayle.
Jamaica needs NGOs more formally involved in the fight against crime and violence because:
Richard Henry: Programme Coordinator, RISE Life Management Services
I think people who work in the NGOs have a lot more passion for what they are doing than some government organisations.
Jermaine Williams: Life Skills Facilitator, RISE Life Management
Persons in NGOs are on the ground and know the work better than government agencies. I think the Government must set policies and let the experts in the areas carry out specific duties.
Sonita Abrahams: Executive Director, Rise Life Management
More passion, less bureaucracy, more expertise exist in the particular areas of focus. We are trusted more, because we are seen as less political. We are less biased and we can sustain and do it more effectively at a lesser cost."
Shawn McGregor: Programme Manager, RISE Life
Failure to do so will postpone Vision 2030.
Joy Crawford: Co-founder EVE for Life
We are closer to the ground and we are closer to the issues, and we are the ones most times that feel the consequences and know how to deal with it.