Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer
TREASURE BEACH, St Elizabeth:RURAL COMMUNITIES took the top three spots in the 2012 National Best Communities Competition and Programme with Treasure Beach, St Elizabeth, taking first place; Mount Peto, Hanover, second place; and Runaway Bay, St Ann, taking third place in the island-wide competition.
Launched in 2006, the competition seeks to encourage the development of sustainable communities through their involvement in a variety of activities that promote local governance, self-help, and self-reliance. Of the 783 communities in Jamaica, 248, comprising 1,456 districts, took part in the 2011-2012 competition.
Treasure Beach received $2-million from the Digicel Foundation, while Mount Peto pocketed $500,000 from the Jamaica National Building Society, and Runaway Bay got $250,000 from the Tourism Enhancement Fund. In addition, the communities were also awarded an additional $300,000 for winning at the parish level during the awards ceremony held on Thursday, August 23, at the Stella Maris Church Pastoral Centre.
For the St Elizabeth residents, who were entering the competition for the third consecutive year, it was a vindication of the spirit of collaboration which has been a way of life for the western seaside community, according to Denise Wedderburn, coordinator of the Treasure Beach Women's Group.
She told The Gleaner: "It is acknowledgement of the hard work we've put into the community … and that our community is a wonderful place to live. We all know this because we choose to live here, but it also means that we now have a little bit to continue our work in adult education, in developing economic opportunities in the community."
Wedderburn described the win as a community effort centred on the work of the Treasure Beach Community Group, an umbrella organisation for the Treasure Beach Women's Group, Breds Foundation, and Greater Treasure Beach Citizens Alert. Wedderburn also cited the importance of community unity.
She explained: "The three groups have contributed. BREDS deals with the youth, sports, some education, and environmental, aspects of our community. Citizens Alert deals with infrastructure - roads and the bushing of the roads and keeping the community clear and clean. The women's group, we focus on economic development and adult education and continuing education and health clinics, and it all comes together for the community."
Citing Treasure Beach as the place where community tourism started with Desmond Henry, who pioneered the concept, the once sleepy fishing-farming community is now transitioning into a full-fledged tourism community, according to Wedderburn.
"The whole community comes together to provide the things we need. We are not a community that looks for a handout; we look for a hand-up," the former Corporate Area resident boasted.
Unable to resist its lure, Wedderburn relocated to Treasure Beach in 2008 and is actively involved in working to make it a benchmark for community development, powered like most other residents by a desire to achieve the 2030 goal well in advance of that deadline.
"We want to do it way before then because we all choose to live here, stay here, and work in the community," she said.
Fired up by this vindication of their efforts, Teasure Beach residents are looking to use the prize money to good effect. From its facility on Old Wharf Road, Treasure Beach, the Women's Group operates a craft shop showcasing the work of some 80 area artists under an arrangement which sees the craftsmen/women getting 80 per cent of the sale price and the group retaining 20 per cent for its marketing effort.
"It (prize money) will help us to continue our programme of adult literacy and to continue to give economic support. In addition, it will help us to extend our facility so that we can continue our programmes because we are beginning to outgrow our facility," Wedderburn shared with The Gleaner.
This was endorsed by Elliston DeLeon, president of the Treasure Beach Community Development Committee, who described the win as a timely shot in the arm.
"We are delighted, and it has encouraged us to do more for our community. We have plans in the pipeline to develop on what we are doing."
These plans include the deve-lopment of a reception area and enhancing the facilities to improve service to guests, as well as the establishment of a library and small museum in the future. Come Wednesday, September 5, starting at 7 o'clock, the community will host a celebration of its latest win.