The Importance of Community Groups to Drive Community Action.

This is not just in Jamaica, but worldwide.  Although this blog will focus on Jamaica because I am here.  As a country Jamaica is step up in a governing system simulating British Parliament system.  Why?  Well because until 1962 Jamaica was a British Colony, under British rule and governance.  Sadly things tend to crumble at this point.  Once given its independence, Jamaica was left with no underlying support from the British.  It is like setting a boat to sea with no engine or sail and a small paddle to get anywhere.

As I have been working with a local Community Based Organization (CBO) or community group I can tell you how it is supposed to function.  Lets take a look at how that looks.  Community groups can be sports clubs, they can be a provident society, church groups, or any number of groups, the thing is they have to be registered and they have to keep meetings and report to the governing body in which they are registered.  Depending on the group type is how they will register and which agency they register with.     The Social Development Commission (SDC) is the governmental body that oversees the community groups.  The SDC is hands off in the management of the groups, they simply are aware of what groups do what where.

commmunity groups

The community groups are supposed to send a member to a Community Development Committee (CDC) and report all that went on that month.  The CDC is the first official group that the SDC is hands on with.  The SDC helps them with governance and other small issues that may arise.  The CDC is then to send a representative to the Development Area Committee (DAC).  The DAC is composed of all of the CDC’s in the proposed development area.  These monthly meetings they compile those concerns of all groups and prioritize them to report to the Parish Development Committee (PDC).  The PDC hears all concerns from all DAC’s and then prioritizes them to present to the Parish Counsel.  This is how it is supposed to work.  This, however is not how it usually works.

The Parish Counsel is often too busy to address all the single CBO’s so they are dependent on this system to bring to their attention pertinent issues within the different communities.  On paper this looks great, in reality, at least in my Parish it has not become fully functional yet.  The importance here is that we continue to try to make it work.  I have been holding meetings with community members trying to get this new community group established, and last night we finally voted in an interim 3-person executive committee.  When people find out that things are happening that they can stop and have a say in they tend to move toward action.  Here it is first to try to get the government to intervene and when that fails block the roads.  Block the roads, from what I hear is an effective way to get government action.  Sadly it affects most individuals in a negative manner.

From experience I can tell you to get more people to attend a meeting promise a politician or a representative from different governmental agencies and people will storm the walls.  Last night our Parish Senator showed up.  I thought he was invited, but he saw the announcement on a Facebook page and took the time to ask if he could attend.  Sadly there was not enough time to get the word out to the community and not as many people showed as we would have liked.  Still we had enough to form an interim executive and set the agenda for the next few meetings.

SDC day

Here is the importance of having community based organizations outside of government, these organizations can access funding for projects and grants that the politicians and government cannot.  There is a multitude of funding sources that specifically require community action and work outside of political parties.  There are groups that focus on sports, schools or health.  These programs are set  up to mobilize and empower communities to help themselves.  This is where the meat of the development work happens.  It is not government or politicians that are going to get things done, it is the community unifying and working together for a better future, this is what it is about.  And this is what I am seeing to my amazement.  You cannot dig yourself to China with a spoon along, but you can start and others will bring shovels and backhoes!

I was asked last night from the last meeting what have I been working on since I got here.  Well have I got some stuff going.  I have the new income-generating plot on the farm going and a group of farmers working together.  I have a request for fiction books for the local school libraries, that should hopefully come soon.   I have enrolled two schools in an environmental competition and will be re-starting an environmental club for one school and hopefully starting an environmental club in the other school.  I have helped facilitate the formation of a community group and we are focusing on a multi-purpose court for the community and I still hope to find the funding for a playground in the park area.  I have started to talk water saving techniques with local people and there is discussion of a literacy program that I would facilitate to help with adult literacy.

farmers field school

Wow when I list it out like that it certainly looks like a ton of things going on.  Even if half of this falls apart, the fact that I can say I tried to do all of this is still a major win.  I got people talking to each other about community concerns and that is amazing.


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