Janet Silvera, Senior Gleaner Writer
Twenty-two-year-old Alton Pinkey has never before got close to taking a photograph next to a Christmas tree.
Last Friday night, the young man, who lives in the upper St James community of Camrose, donned his new threads and waited for The Gleaner to photograph him beside the next best option - a beautifully decorated ackee tree in the square.
"Mi feel happy. Right now, mi feel the vibe. Mi feel di spirit," said an elated Pinkey, as he tried to explain the difference the Christmas ackee tree had made to the spirit of Christmas in the community.
"Mi like how everybody come together and light up di place," he added, noting that in the nearby city, Montego Bay, "di Christmas tree nice, but mi nuh miss it."
His 19-year-old friend and neighbour, Jamar Watkin, too, was for the first time seeing the ackee tree used instead of the regular pine as a Christmas tree. The youth themselves decorated the tree.
Pinkey and Watkin are among a number of young men and women in a community that has been stigmatised by negative press in the past. Today, Camrose has embarked on community tourism, with the attraction, Ahh … Ras Natango Art Gallery and Gardens leading the way.
This Christmas, they have lots to celebrate. The ackee tree is just one of many.
American investors Mark and Francis Tucci of Hilton Head, North Carolina, have pumped much-needed cash into the attraction, which now employs seven persons directly and another seven as temporary labourers.
"The injection from the Tuccis has made a positive difference. Most of them (youth) standing here have money in their pockets because they worked the last two weeks," explained Tamika Williams, one of the five partners of Ras Natango.
By January, she said, eight persons from the community would be trained by the Tourism Product Development Company as tour guides and security officers.
At the same time, a woman, who Williams named 'Miss Lilly', has come on board to help start a cottage industry.
Williams and her husband, Ian, will provide uniforms for the workers and, of course, pay their salaries which they say have doubled as a result of the new investors.
Admitting that Jamaica has lots of problems, the Williamses said just knowing the youths in their community can buy what they need is enough.