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Struggling to break free from stigma of crime

Published:Saturday | January 26, 2013 | 12:00 AM
A member of the Kiwanis Club of Montego Bay spends some time with children at the Rose Heights Basic School on a visit to the institution recently. The club donated toiletries, books, food items and sandals to the school.-Photo by Barrington Flemming

Mark Titus, Gleaner Writer

Western Bureau:Despite being plagued by a number of social and other problems, stakeholders in some of the most volatile communities in western Jamaica are working assiduously to reshape and redefine their communities.

In the community of Russia in Westmoreland, the residents have forged an alliance with the Ministry of National Security's social-outreach initiative, the Citizen Security and Justice Programme (CSJP), which is having a positive impact.

"Crime was a feature of life here in Russia because we were a troubled community," said Paul 'Scatta' Richards, a respected community leader. "But thanks to the police and the CSJP, our children are now in school. Like the police, we believe that educated people make a prosperous nation."

While he is pleased with the impact being created by the CSJP, the articulate Richards, who has been at the forefront of many initiatives aimed at reducing gang-related activities, thinks that the political representatives need to do more to impact the quality of life.


"Our political representatives must play their role in the drive to change the perception of our communities. The CSJP cannot do it alone," said Richards. "There are issues such as recreation, among other social needs, that must be addressed by those we have elected to serve us."

Like Richards, Adenike Stephens, community action coordinator for the CSJP in western Jamaica, believes that while much progress is being made in transforming the lives of at-risk youth in the region, much more needs to be done.

"It is encouraging because a lot of them (at-risk youth) are tired of the killing, having seen some of their friends killed right before their very eyes," said Stephens. "It is a challenge … . Through crime, they could probably make 10 times what we are offering through our programmes or from a regular job … . So a part of our mission is to change their mindset."

Unlike Russia, where the changes are measurable, communities like Norwood in St James are being strangled by a lack of financial resources, which has resulted in projects such as the replacing of zinc fences with concrete walls, which was initiated by former Councillor Mexine Bisasor, falling off the developmental radar.

"Changing the depressed look of the community was one of the ways we thought would help our citizens," said Bisasor, noting that the project created employment for over 100 youngsters. "It gave them an opportunity to work for eight hours each day. During that period, the area was totally crime-free."


In Granville, the epicentre of the lottery scam in its genesis, Councillor Michael Troupe, who is also the deputy mayor of Montego Bay, believes the community has the requisite infrastructure to facilitate positive development.

"Everything that you want to assist young people can be found in Granville," said Troupe. "We have a HEART Trust/NTA Centre, the Sam Sharpe Teachers' College, the CSJP Centre, and we are trying to start some training programmes in tiling, masonry, and carpentry."

In Rose Heights, the community, through the leadership of Pastor Knollis King and his Covenant of Peace initiative, has developed numerous projects, but like Norwood, a lack of financing has kept these projects on the drawing board, much to the displeasure of the community.

"As far as the programmes for Rose Heights are concerned, everything is now at a standstill," said King, who, incidentally, is the councillor for the area. "We are operating on a wait-and-see basis, but we are nonetheless hopeful."

Despite being hopeful, Pastor King has pointed out that since 2006, the persistent call for help from the public and private sectors to assist the community with social-intervention programmes has fallen on deaf ears, leaving Rose Heights to battle for solutions on its own.