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Lecture points to root causes of youth violence

Published:Sunday | March 28, 2010 | 12:00 AM

"We must understand the mindset of our youth - the ones who walk our streets and enter our schools with guns or other weapons and seem to place no value on human life." This was among the challenging calls from Dr Alvin Curling in his delivery of University of Technology's (UTech) 24th annual Anniversary Lecture held on Thursday, March 18, at the Alfred Sangster auditorium on the university's Papine campus.

Dr Curling is a senior research fellow with the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), Ontario, Canada. He served as co-chair, together with former Ontario Chief Justice Roy McMurtry, of Ontario's Commission of Inquiry into the Roots of Youth Violence.

While admitting that no single set of factors can explain all violence, Dr Curling disclosed that his research revealed that youth are most likely to be at immediate risk of involvement in serious violence if they:

Have a deep sense of alienation and low self-esteem

Have little empathy for others and suffer from impulsiveness

Believe that they have no way to be heard through other channels

Have no sense of hope

Believe that they are oppressed, held down, unfairly treated and neither belong to, nor have a stake in the broader society.

The roots of youth violence

Zooming in on the root causes of youth violence, Dr Curling outlined a plethora of factors found to be directly related to youth violence in Ontario - poverty, racism, lack of education, poor community design, mental-health related factors, family issues such as lack of a father figure and lack of economic opportunity. Dr Curling emphasised to the gathering of academics, private-sector leaders, members of the diplomatic corps and students in attendance that, "poverty does not directly cause crime". Rather, it is "poverty without hope, poverty with isolation, poverty with hunger, poverty with marginalisation or outright exclusion" that can lead to immediate risk factors for violence.

The CIGI Research Fellow argued further that poor planning and poor design of the built environment can be as much of a risk factor for youth violence as poverty. He explained that a suitable place to socialise and play is as important as educational needs.

resolve the problem

Dr Curling expressed the view that the most effective institution that can resolve the problem of youth violence is the educational system. "The educational system has to put its best - not its most willing or most compassionate - its best and most highly paid - if we have people here in Jamaica who can train young Jamaicans to defeat the entire world in track and field - again and again, then we have people who can catch youth violence in the bud and transform it into productivity, into civility, into the good life. But it must be a priority, nothing less will do," he argued.

Children's advocate, Mary Clarke, who brought greetings at the lecture, underscored Dr Curling's thesis that in order for Jamaica to have a secure future, we should encourage continued research and investment in preventative programmes to deal with the issue of youth violence.

UWI/EFJ establish biodiversity centre

The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, and the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica (EFJ) have collaborated to establish a biodiversity centre at the Port Royal Marine Laboratory.

The Port Royal Marine Laboratory UWI/EFJ Biodiversity Centre houses wet and dry displays of mangrove biodiversity and seagrass and coral reefs which show the inter-relatedness of these coastal systems. An indoor display with interactive zones and aqua-rium exhibits is complemented by an outdoor facility which shows the typical dry-limestone cactus and sand dune coastal habitats transmitting into a mangrove tree/forest habitat with flow-through seawater connected by a boardwalk.

Iguana hut

An iguana hut is part of the dry limestone display as iguanas are typically found in similar areas in the Hellshire hills. These iguanas on display have been hatched in captivity at the Hope Zoo and are part of the 'head starting' project to relocate iguanas back into the natural environment.

The UWI/EFJ Biodiversity Centre complements the work of the UWI Port Royal Marine Lab in coastal and marine research and teaching over five decades. The centre will focus the environmental education thrust of the lab as it responds to the university's mandate of serving the Caribbean in the areas of environmental use, management and education.

In addition to being a resource for UWI researchers and students, the biodiversity centre is an eco-tourism destination in itself. The biodiversity centre and Port Royal marine lab have benefited from partnerships that have made the UWI's marine and coastal research available to every Jamaican.

Training the trainers

The World Health Organi-zation/Pan American Health Organization (WHO/PAHO) and the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR), in collaboration with the UWI's clinical Epidemiology Unit (UWI-CEU) within the Epidemiology Research Unit (ERU), will host a follow-up four-day training workshop for six researchers and an administrator from April 6-9.

The WHO/TDR Initiative, 'Planning for Success', was established in 2003 to support skill-building for project management in health research in developing countries. The intention is to strengthen the skills of potential trainers to enable them to train researchers to effectively plan, implement, monitor and evaluate biomedical research projects.

The objectives of the course are to check/ensure that the process of project planning and evaluation has been assimilated and the related skills have been strengthened; to enhance abilities and confidence to transfer these skills; to researchers; to strengthen presentation skills; to strengthen training skills including facilitation skills and to strengthen course organisation capabilities.

Several institutions are contributing to these long-term efforts geared towards developing sustainable capacities for health research in the Caribbean. PAHO, WHO/TDR, CIDEIM and the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation for Development have partnered with UWI to host this workshop.

The UWI is grateful for this support as it positions itself to be a reference centre for these skill-building activities within the Caribbean.