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Jarman's ark - Palmers Cross resident clicks with at-risk youth in computer hub
published: Saturday | June 28, 2008

Shelly-Ann Harris, JIS Writer

The young and not-so-young share space in the shipping container that serves as a beacon of hope in Clarendon. - JIS

AS CRIME escalates, more Jamaicans are eager to see wayward youths on street corners handcuffed and handed over to prison wardens. But not Mervin Jarman of Palmers Cross, Clarendon. Jarman has spent the last five years making an opportunity for at-risk youth by membership in his modern multimedia centre, a facility housed in a customised 40-foot shipping container.

Armed with a dozen state-of-the-art laptop and desktop computers, digital cameras and other electronic devices, marginalised youths learn animation, video and music production, among other exciting digital art skills.

"The primary target group is what I refer to now as the hardest to reach. This is what we call the bad boys. Di ones who nuh have no value; the ones dem that fit for dumping. And that's probably because that's what I was characterised as," Jarman says.

New perspective in uk

The internationally recognised digital artist remembers being told that he would turn out to be a good-for-nothing. After finishing secondary school, the the fulfilment of prophecy began to unfold. But the plot in Jarman's storyline took a surprise turn when he went to the United Kingdom (UK). There, he took up an offer to go to college where he ventured into the exciting world of film, video production and animation.

"The UK experience changed a lot of the perspective. People started saying to me, 'Wow, you are talented, you are brilliant' and I was like, then some good resonates inside me," Jarman says.

New script

Without a doubt, those affirmative words wrote a new script for Jarman's life. After finishing college in the UK, the digital artist and some of his colleagues formed a group called Mongrel, which would propel him to become a globetrotting philanthropist.

"I knew the language, I knew how to interact, I could get people to engage using the media (multimedia) as tool for them to start to participate effectively in their community," he says.

This is what Jarman aptly describes as 'repatriating technology' and that's exactly what's being done in Palmers Cross through his Container Project.

Growing membership

And the beneficiaries couldn't be happier. When we visited the facility recently, young people were busy building rhythms, digitally editing photos and, of course, surfing the Internet.

"We usually give people a two-hour block to work in; if there is no one waiting to use the equipment, they can continue to use it as needed," Jarman explains.

Currently, the facility has about 300 registered members.

"Our membership scheme is set up where people pay $1,000 for the year and they pay $50 per hour to come in and use all the equipment, including the video and still cameras and all of that." Beginners and advanced users are welcome.

Gregory Forbes, 18, deeply appreciates what the centre is doing for the youth. "It's a great place for learning and developing some (multimedia) skills and becoming a better person in life." Now out of secondary school, Gregory visits the container every day; likes to play around with Photoshop and Imovie, honing his photo- and movie-editing skills.

Skills for agriculture

The centre not only caters to youths in and around the Clarendon capital, May Pen. Michael Barnaby, 22, from Jeffrey Town, St Mary, believes the skills he has learnt will help him to be a more progressive farmer.

"When there is a certain type of disease that affects my plant, I can go on the Internet and research and find out things I can do to stop it. I just go on the RADA website," he shares proudly. Michael plants tomato and cabbage, among other vegetable crops.

Training at the facility is provided through a special initiative under the ICT4D (Information, Communication and Technology for Development) programme. More than 150 persons have also been trained under a special HEART Trust/NTA programme. Furthermore, overseas trainers participate in the project.

Overseas aid

Daniel Flood, a digital artist from Melbourne, Australia, recently checked in at the container to teach a variety of topics, including computer arts, digital imaging, video editing, web design, short film-making and animation. But before getting into those advanced activities, they started with the basics.

"(On the first day), we took apart every computer in the room and rebuilt it to try and demystify the internals of the computer because a lot of people view it as magic," he states.

Flood's expenses are being covered by ANAT, the Australia Network for Arts and Technology. The organisation provides funding for professionals to go overseas and promote cultural and technological transfers.

Local support

In addition to expert training from a core of international digital artists, the container project receives support from the Cable and Wireless Jamaica Foundation, which provides free wireless Internet. UNESCO has also lent its support in a number of digital storytelling projects.

Jarman's container project received international recognition from Sweden through its Stockholm Challenge Award 2008. Of a total 145 projects, the container was one of six to receive 5,000 euros and a Stockholm Challenge Trophy.

This is a special collaboration between the Jamaica Information Service and The Gleaner Company. Email feedback to

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