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Penlyne is self-reliant - deep, rural, 'yesterday Jamaica'

Published:Sunday | May 23, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Mansy Hardy takes a little time to 'airbrush' his works of art on his Christmas Tree farm in Penlyne Castle, nestled in the cool Blue Mountains of St Thomas. The community is built on self-reliance.- File

Laura Redpath, Senior Staff Reporter

Penlyne Castle, nestled in a valley approximately 4,000 feet above sea level and surrounded by rolling hills, is a community that maintains its self-reliance away from gangs, with very little to ask of the State.

Located eight miles from the Blue Mountain peak in St Thomas, Penlyne Castle is the last community one passes before reaching the highest point in Jamaica.

Known for its scallion, peaches, thyme, Christmas trees and coffee, Penlyne Castle is an agricultural community where most of the residents are self-employed, are homeowners, drive four-wheel-drive vehicles, and persons as young as 15 have their own farms.

"They will farm as far as five miles on the other side of the mountain," said Social Development Commission's parish governance coordinator, Clement Batiste.

Batiste described the Penlyne community as hard working and likened it to "deep, rural, yesterday Jamaica".

Communal living

"(The people) have a very cohesive relationship," he said. "Everyone works on everyone's farm. It's a very communal type of living and they are very strong on that.

"It's a nice community. You wouldn't want to leave there."

District Constable Stephen Duffus is stationed with the Cedar Valley police, the branch of the Jamaica Constabulary Force that responds to Penlyne Castle's policing needs. He pointed out that the community, although self-reliant, does not stand alone.

"Hagley Gap and Epping Farm are nearby. Those are three communities that are linked together," Duffus said.

With a population of 3,000 people, Penlyne Castle hosts groups such as the Penlyne Castle PTA, the Penlyne Basic School PTA. It is also home to two churches, a playing field, three hostels, two basic schools and a primary school.

Aden Jackson has lived in Penlyne Castle for his entire life and has been serving the community as principal of Penlyne Castle Primary, which accommodates 80 students, since 1997.

"(The students) are very disciplined and very energetic," Jackson said. "There is regular attendance."

Students doing well

Recent Grade Four Literacy and Numeracy test results showed a 100 per cent literacy rate across the board, with 92 per cent of the students doing well in mathematics.

"The (five) teachers are fully qualified, with the exception of two diploma teachers," Jackson, who also teaches grade five, said. "We have close community contact and a very good rapport with the students."

Upon completing their elementary level of education, usually five or six students then attend high school in Mavis Bank, another nearby community, or venture out of the mountains into Kingston and Morant Bay.

"Some students go on to Alpha, St Thomas Technical High, Morant Bay High and Ardenne High," he said, listing the more regular choices.

Penlyne Castle resident Alice Gilroy is the mother of two children and she approves of the education standards in her community.

"School is great," she said. "The children obey their teachers. My kids come home with extra books to read. They have extra reading classes and my girls come home with a lot of homework."

Children, when not in school, are able to roam freely, and adults feel comfortable on the road no matter how late it may be.

"You can walk every hour of night and nobody trouble you," Duffus said. "It is the best community to live in."

Gilroy said she thinks community-police relations are good. Everyone is on a first-name basis but mainly identifying each other by nicknames.

"If there is a problem, we don't wait until the problem gets big," the mother of two said. "We deal with it."

She recounted a scenario where a non-resident was taken into Penlyne Castle to do some farm work. This is not unusual, considering that coffee farming is a source of both inside and outside employment, especially during the crop's August-March season.

"(The newcomer) started acting like bad man, threatening'bout gun," Gilroy said. "We just call the police. The community tries to investigate who the stranger is. Sometimes (strangers) know they're being investigated."

Duffus said residents cooperate with the police. Then his voice became hard, taking on a very firm tone as he said, "This gang business is a no-no."

Maintaining cohesion

In order to maintain the community's cohesion, Penlyne Castle residents get together on a regular basis for meetings where topics such as the environment, community policing, road infra-structure and water supply are raised.

"We talk about getting the water system up and running. We talk about keeping the environment clean and less cutting down of trees," resident Gilroy said.

Duffus, who is all ears for community members who voice their concerns, said the two most pressing matters are the limited roadwork and inconvenient water supply.

"The road condition is terrible," he said. "It needs proper maintenance. If we could have a proper water system and the roads were fixed, everything would be fine," he said, also suggesting erecting communal standpipes because not everyone would be able to afford water.

Despite the rocky mountainous trails meant to be roads, and troubled water supply, Duffus said Penlyne Castle is a hot spot for foreigners who fall in love with the serene atmosphere of the Blue Mountains.

"We have diverse communities of foreigners, especially in Hagley Gap. They have no problems when walking about all hours of the night."

According to the district constable, a man emigrated from the United States, taking "his mother, father, sister, everybody" to live in Hagley Gap.

"He loves it here and has no problem, except for that time he went into Half-Way Tree (St Andrew) and got robbed."

lauraredpath@gleanerjm.com