This business of trust
The Editor, Sir:
How refreshing to read Martin Henry's column 'Building on trust', published Sunday, April 11. For some 15 to 20 years I have been greatly concerned with the catastrophic fall in social capital which has been occurring in Jamaica.
As an experienced community development worker who has written and delivered under-graduate and postgraduate courses (the University of Derby), trained many hundreds of community development workers (Federation of Community Development Learning, Sheffield University, the University of Derby, De Montfort University), been a training agency representative with the National Youth Agency for the professional endorsement of youth and community work courses, and acted as external examiner (De Montfort University and Manchester Metropolitan University) on such courses around the UK, I have been witness to the deterioration of community in Jamaica, the country of my parent's birth.
It has been no surprise to me that academics have revealed findings that back up what I have been saying - because very little has been done to develop and maintain social capital, social cohesion and active effective communities. I believe I know why this has happened - it is because people labour under the same assumptions here in the Jamaica as they do elsewhere in the world.
They assume that communities are natural and that they therefore take care of themselves - even in the face of the most drastic economic circumstances, including the high level of indebtedness that characterises Jamaica. They assume that the work people do in their communities of interest (the church) will somehow permeate to where they live. They believe that providing opportunities for the individual will lead to better community relations; they work on the belief that as much effort and resources as possible must be directed towards capital projects.
They fail to understand that the best, most effective civil societies work because there is investment (not necessarily in financial terms) in both communities of interest and geographical communities (i.e., neighbourhood communities). This means doing things that strangers will benefit from. It means going out of your way to make sure that where you are becomes a better place to live.
Breakdown of trust
The physical regeneration of places has its place - but as we have found when people's trust breaks down and the money runs out, individuals and families look out for themselves and the physical structures are left to become dilapidated. They attract vandalism and further neglect.
To be fair to the country's citizens, especially its poor, I feel they have done extraordinarily well under very difficult circumstances. When First-World countries lend money or give out grants, the ties which bind places like Jamaica are ones which often lead to even greater problems for the poor. We shouldn't be surprised that people have become more individualistic - that is in that nature of liberal economic policies. What we should be surprised about is the strength of the country to at least maintain its traditional safety nets, those of the family and the Church. They should be praised for what they have been able to keep hold of. But they need help.
After investing over 25 years in the training of professional community development workers, it is always a great shame to me that the subject area has failed to get the recognition that it rightly deserves and the added value it can bring a society.
My advice - don't try to reinvent the wheel - learn from people and countries that have the experience to save the country from any more anguish than it needs.
I am, etc.,
When First-World countries lend money or give out grants the ties which bind places like Jamaica are ones which often lead to even greater problems for the poor.