Curfew challenges - Unruly mothers, their children slow Denham Town intervention programme
Social intervention strategists are banking on a curfew monitoring programme to bolster order in Denham Town, a declared zone of special operations (ZOSO), but just a month into the project a lack of support from unruly mothers, and the absence of stipends for volunteers are threatening its efficiency.
Launched on October 28, the curfew monitoring programme is part of a six-point safe-community plan being employed by the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF).
At one end, it is aimed at preventing unsupervised children from loitering on street corners where they are vulnerable to the lures and effects of criminality; while at the other, it is meant to provide sources of love and guidance for the children through community leaders.
Mona Sue-Ho, social development manager at the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF), said the initiative affords residents a chance to ‘own their peace’, not just relying on the heavy contingent of security forces deployed in West Kingston since October 2017 for stability.
The JSIF has invested approximately $2.5 million in the initiative, which includes training, food, transportation, accommodation and uniforms for 29 volunteers on the programme who comb the street, blowing whistles between 8:00 and 9:00 nightly, sending children home.
Sue-Ho said the numbers are growing and plans are afoot to moved the project into other volatile communities, such as Mount Salem and Barrett Town in St James, and later on to Canaan Heights in May Pen, Clarendon.
“The numbers have since doubled. We are seeing more volunteers coming out to be a part of it, and what’s remarkable is the support that the programme has been getting from the police. That has really motivated them,” said a passionate Sue-Ho, lauding the volunteers’ undaunted resolve during a special workshop for new members in St Ann last Thursday.
“It gives them some amount of status. Some of the policemen call them ‘squaddy’ as a show of respect. So it also helps to build a positive relationship between the community and the police,” Sue-Ho continued. “If the community is engaged, and they own their own peace, then that is a more sustainable model,” she theorised.
“You can see that many of them are passionate about the programme. They want to volunteer and they want it to work,” she said, noting that the two-day workshop exposes the mostly women volunteers to conflict-management and relationship-building skills.
She said each of the mostly women volunteers undergoes vetting to ensure they have no criminal records, and that they are respected in their communities. They are also trained in dispute resolution, said Sue-Ho, emphasising JSIF’s resolve to mend a rash of social challenges in the ZOSO.
Denham Town volunteers who attended the workshop last week said, however, that they feared those same social challenges could stifle the programme in its infancy.
“Me love the programme. It is good because it prevent nuff likkle pickney, especially girls, from nuff things reaching them. Rape and dem ting deh. But them (JSIF) need to put some more money inna it,” noted one female resident. She explained that while the numbers have grown, the original members are fading due to a lack of financial incentive.
“People want to do it but you have to understand that many people not working, and because of that them not so quick to jump up and go out,” added another volunteer who said she patrolled nine streets in Denham Town last week, armed only with a reflective bib, a notepad and a whistle provided by JSIF.
“Some people work in the market and do other hustling, but most of us not working,” said one of the women, who settled on $10,000 per person each month as reasonable payment for their efforts – which they claim has been undeterred by inclement weather.
That money, they said too, would help to cushion the verbal blows they face from other residents, particularly some mothers, who have not been supportive of the project. Some mothers blatantly instruct their children to defy the curfew warders, and in many cases the same children are repeatedly being sent home at nights.
“I send in a likkle bwoy the other day and him mother send him right back out and say is out here him fi stay. Him nuh ready fi go in yet,” relayed another volunteer, adding that sometimes children are made to leave the house so parents can carry out ‘adult activities’.
Some children, as young as eight years old, are extremely disrespectful, threatening violence behind heavy expletives as they run from one street corner to the next, she explained.
The volunteers said the men in the community have been more supportive of the programme, but that they shy away from volunteering as tensions still remain from dormant feuds. Most men will not stray into enemy territory, they explained.
“The good thing is that the police work wid we. So we finish work at 9:00, and then the police start send in the big people dem. So we have a partnership,” explained the volunteer. “But it won’t stop until them (Child Protection and Family Services Agency) come in and scrape up couple pickney. Then them (parents) will take we serious,” she argued.
On Thursday, Sue-Ho said the prospect of providing a stipend for the curfew monitors has not been ruled out. However, the initiative is focused on bettering their lives over the longterm.
“It has several other benefits: we assist them with identification, documents like their birth certificates and so on, they get training in professionalism and personal discipline so that any kind of job that comes up they can just push themselves into them,” she explained.