Citizens rap SDC for underperforming in the west
Despite the mandate of the Social Development Commission (SDC) being to promote the social and economic empowerment of citizens as part of national development, the organisation's performance has gained mixed reviews from residents in western Jamaica.
While some residents gave passing grades to the SDC, others stated bluntly that they had no clue what, if anything, the organisation was doing to benefit their communities.
Shaneka Carey, a resident of Wakefield, Trelawny, said that while the SDC has contributed greatly to sporting events in her area, she wanted the agency to develop a stronger bond with the communities it serves.
"I have not had much experience with them, but I have seen the level of the community-based sports competitions they have been involved in, and I have to commend them on that," said Carey. "However, I would like to see a more rigorous approach to foster a sustainable relationship with members of the communities through other social programmes, especially for young people."
By sharp contrast, some citizens in St James and Westmoreland were seemingly not aware of any work being done by their parishes' SDC branches, even though the SDC's mandate calls for it to be the Jamaican Government's principal community mobilisation and organisation agency in both rural and urban areas.
"I could look up what they (SDC) are doing, but if you want my random opinion I don't have a random opinion, because I don't know what they are doing," said Yolanda Smart, a resident of Montego Bay, St James.
NOT HELPING MUCH
Christal-Ann Richards, an entrepreneur from Bethel Town, Westmoreland, said of her parish's SDC branch: "They are probably there but I have not seen them helping much in the development of my community. There are a lot of young people there who are unemployed, and they have children, and those children are not going to school. I would love if SDC could come and assist with that."
Such declarations run counter to the SDC's seven-step objectives of community empowerment, which include: strengthening of a participatory governance framework; provision of funding to improve community groups; inter-agency networking in each parish; community research and database compiling; local economic development support to bolster viable economic enterprises; priority planning to determine immediate, short- and long-term priority issues and corrective projects; and promotion of sporting events to break down community barriers and promote social development.
In addressing the concerns of a perceived lack of activity on the agency's part, SDC parish manager for St James, Randy Hill, said community benefits take time to be built and must be implemented through collaboration with other state agencies.
"Persons always complain that nothing is going on in their communities, but when we look at all the community assets, we can ask, 'How can other service-providers utilise this asset map based on what exists, and all the skill levels, etc?'" said Hill. "When you engage them, persons look for immediate tangible benefits, (but) in terms of building capacity, it is going to take time."
Hill continued: "From an inter-agency perspective, we have packaged a number of services from the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, HEART, the Peace Management Initiative, the National Youth Service, the National Centre for Youth Development, JAMPRO, and others. Currently, we are crafting a proposal from the inter-agency network to target some 3,000 young men within the parish of St James, through a sports and behavioural component, and we are targeting some 21 communities that have harsh indicators in terms of crime and violence and poor infrastructure."
SDC parish manager for Trelawny, Paula Barrett, spoke glowingly of the efforts her office has made to carry out its projects across the parish.
"The people are feeling our presence. We have four officers that cover the entire parish, and in all things we would want to have greater range. We treat as many problems as we can," said Barrett. "One of our main programmes is the Local Economic Development Support Programme, which looks at getting our community groups to use the resources they have to establish businesses or to strengthen existing businesses in their communities, and we currently have 15 initiatives that are ongoing."