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Giving hope to the inner city: Gala fund-raiser to help Rose Town on February 12

Published:Saturday | February 6, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Trudy Simpson, Gleaner Writer

Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall are accompanied by Morin Seymour (right), executive director of the Kingston Restoration Company, and scores of residents as they tour the inner-city community of Rose Town in 2008 as part of their official visit to the island. - file

For years, Rose Town in west Kingston suffered, with patchy houses, dirty streets, gang warfare, poverty and illiteracy that blighted the talent and potential of many residents.

Now, the inner-city community is getting a makeover, from the ground up, initiated in 2000 by the Prince of Wales Foundation for the Built Environment.

The project is also getting help from caring locals such as the Rose Town Benevolent Society, the Jamaican and United States governments, and private sector organisations such as the University of Technology (UTech) and American Friends of Jamaica.

To help fund activities, a fund-raising gala dinner will be held at tourist attraction Rose Hall Great House in Montego Bay, on Friday, February 12.

Attendees will also be invited to a private showing of a play, at the Fairfield Theatre, dubbed 'White Witch', based on a Rose Hall legend.

"We're hoping to raise US$100,000," said Michele Rollins, chair of Rollins Jamaica, which owns the Rose Hall Great House.

Donors are being asked to pay US$500 per person to attend the fund-raising event.

Interested persons should make cheques payable to The Prince of Wales Foundation or contact the Rose Hall office.

building partnerships

The funds are to help a growing craft initiative and build a partnership between Rose Hall in Montego Bay and Rose Town in Kingston, Rollins said.

The craft partnership involves carvers from the Rose Hall area and Success Craft Village working with potters in Rose Town and is part of a larger regeneration of Rose Town.

"Rose Town is a beautiful name. We want to make it a beautiful community," said retired US ambassador to Jamaica, Brenda Johnson, a lead liaison person on the Rose Town regeneration project. Johnson is continuing to raise money for the new Rose Town Foundation.

The overall aim, said Rollins and Johnson, is to ensure that Rose Town not only gets decent housing and education for residents, but that the community becomes sustainable, meaning that residents get opportunities to learn trades or set up businesses, earn money and keep it.

"Of everything that we sell for these artists on the north coast, we will give 75 per cent to the artist and 25 per cent goes back into the foundation to keep paying these mentors to come back and teach. It's a wonderful idea that translates into income," said Rollins, who collaborated with Johnson to raise the first US$1 million for the Rose Town project.

The craft from the joint project will be sold on Jamaica's north coast.

"What they want and I want is to have something that is distinctly Jamaican. We need to brand our craft products. It's not enough to have reggae music, Bob Marley, jerk seasoning (and) sports. I think it's time for crafts because we have some very talented artisans," said Rollins.

making a difference

Johnson said changes already made under the US$4 million project, such as building some homes, are making a big difference to many Rose Town residents.

"When the people in the community learn how to build or electrical, plumbing and carpentry (skills), they are on their way to having a profession ... . And when you combine that with resources like (UTech's) Faculty of the Built Environment and the professionals that are coming in from the Prince of Wales Foundation and with the funding that we can do, you really have a recipe for success," Rollins added.

Dr Carol Archer, dean of the UTech's Faculty of the Built Environment, agreed. She said the regeneration had also boosted areas such as literacy skills, conflict resolution, parent training and even provided a library, homework and computer centres.

"It is not just providing housing, (but also) the social support that is necessary for a community that has been disenfranchised for so many years. You provide the skills training and you are connecting them to a wider global market. You can see this being sustained for a long time."

Dr Archer said the regeneration had also resulted in increasing community spirit and crime reduction. "Using local help and partnership are critical when we talk about sustainable community development," Dr Archer said.

major accomplishment

"Transformation happens gradually. For this community, when we are talking about a five or 10 per cent reduction in crime, it's a major accomplishment. When we are talking about transformation, we are talking about a young adult male being able to say (as an artisan) 'I am signing a contract to sell 50 pots;' saving a young teenager from going to a don to get support and from having a child when she is 13. It's going to the library at 3 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon and seeing 10 children sitting there reading. That's serious transformation," she asserted.

But Rollins, Johnson and Archer, who were in London to attend Prince Charles' conference for the Built Environment, emphasise that the work and the fund-raising for regeneration are ongoing, so donations and volunteers are always welcome.

"It does not have to be in thousands of dollars. We are grateful for any amount," Johnson said. "Our aim is to take the projects and events that we have started and build on them. The project of Rose Town is a lifetime project. We want the community of Jamaica to realise that this project is ongoing and vital, not just to the sustainability of Rose Town, but for all projects aimed at building a better Jamaica."

Johnson added: "It will, hopefully, end up being a showcase environment that will be an example of what can be done in other impoverished areas, for example, in Haiti."