Sunday was an exciting day, which follows a pretty hard couple of weeks. The aftermath of my very poor handling of a situation still weighs heavily on my mind. I would like to have some kind of excuse for it, but I sincerely do not. I simply just lost my temper and my cool. It has required Peace Corps staff to re-evaluate my site and safety and the terrifying aspect that I might be placed in a new site were all results of my personal actions. The reality is that my actions brought to a head multiple small incidents that were of minor concern to the safety officer, and since I am honest to a fault, she wanted to re-evaluate my situation.
Happily I will continue here, but my role will be refocused. I have taken the last few days off to figure out an action plan, and I have one. I am not quite ready to share it to the public yet, but I do have a plan of attack for the next year and I think it will accomplish many of the Peace Corps goals that are assigned to my department.
Sunday, however was planned a week or so before all this happened. It actually strengthens my plan of action and focuses some of the fine points. Sunday UNEP (United Nations Environmental Protection) and the US EPA visited my site with a focus on clean waterways. This falls in line with the clean-ups that my community has participated in. It also showcases the need for trash skips and a better trash handling program, including eliminating styrofoam and recycling programs to help deal with the massive number of plastic bottles that are typically tossed in the “bush” on the way up from the taxis.
Some of the outcomes of this meeting will not be seen for some time, but now that these agencies understand the challenges we have improvements and support are bound to follow. For example: citizens just dash trash on the side of the road with the mind-set that they are creating jobs. The NSWA (National Solid Waste Administration, I think) hires people to clean-up the roadsides every so often. So technically it does create a short-term job. Sadly if we focused on hiring more garbage men and less clean-up had to take place we would have more stable jobs that were not a simple day job.
Other implications are that due to the truck being too full and not always picking up, (last month it was 3 weeks without a truck pick up) citizens will resort to burning trash. This includes styrofoam and plastics, which increases greenhouse gases and asthma in the elderly and young. The people who do have regular pick up also have issues with dogs and birds tearing into the trash. This creates more clean-up problems. These are all issues that I see in my community on a daily basis. How can I convince them to pick-up if there is no one to carry it out and no place to properly dispose of it? This is where the trash skips are so needed. By putting in large bins that close up, it eliminates the dogs and bird issue. It also has the potential to keep persons from burning trash that they simply have no place to put. By building skips and running educational campaigns our newly founded Citizen’s Association is trying to address these issues.
Other issues are also at play, something I have not talked about, politics. Just like back home, there is a two-party system and it is just as non-functional for the common man as ours is. Trying to get anything done is like pulling teeth because you have to go through so many ministries and then they do not really communicate to each other what is going on and so you sit around with a big confused mess as to what to do! In some cases it is better to ask for forgiveness than permission and that is a sad place to be. In a perfect World, you would simply need to go in and register your complaint/idea/group plan/action agenda/etc. with one entity it would have a list of all other ongoing projects/groups/disputes of the same area and tell you either yes or no based on what is going on around you, but this is not even close to how any government works. Sometimes I think government is just a way to frustrate the holy hell out of anyone and the only ones to ever get through are those who are serious about their proposals. I have worked in government on two different levels and I can tell you it is no better on the other side of the table! Rules and regulations should make things go smoother, but instead they just collapse the idea of unity and working together, no wonder the world is now a to each his own attitude. ( If you cannot move everyone forward I am just going to get myself a better deal.) This puts the environment at great risk.
Another great Jamaican phenomena is captured land (captcha land). This stems back to Emancipation and freeing of the slaves. Those persons, just like former American slaves now have freedom but no land or way to support themselves or a family. So here they just cut up a slice of land and call it their own. The government accepts this and by all rights it should be easy enough to get title for the land, since the government has released much of the land back to the people, but it is not simple at all. In fact it leads to murder and boundary disputes and jungle justice and inability to get things as a group done. This has been my life for the last year. I do not talk about it because I can do nothing about it. The farm land is all captcha land and there is bickering and fighting and politics involved. Politics here can get you killed! Not beat up, not frustrated, straight up killed! People are passionate about who they support and you have to tread lightly on how to approach persons with a belief system so deep.
The reason I bring this up is that the new group is supposed to unify the community, but there is a distinct separation with political beliefs. It sometimes gets difficult to navigate. I have managed to stay clear, but it does rear up occasionally. I find this dynamic exhausting and frustrating. I am trying to figure out a way to bring both sides together in a civil and unified matter. One thing I have noted is how things are presented, instead of demanding, statements should be made in an asking format. Stop telling people how things are to be done and instead ask them how to get things done, it works so much better. I also like to “lead from behind” as I call it. I am not a leader, I hate the idea of leadership. I like to think that empowerment is so much more effective. I observe and find persons passionate about specific areas, then I suggest a way to improve or get something done. I simply suggest it, I do not tell them it needs to be done, I suggest it and give them an idea of how it can be done. I then step back and watch them expand the idea and create a tangible outcome. This is probably my biggest strength. I do not want to be the one to do the project, because when I leave that will just die off with me. I need them to be passionate about it, only then will things become sustainable.
My summer will be filled with community development and environmental clubs. I want to get the kids in the dirt, cleaning the community, planting trees and flowers to show others how easily it can be done. Now all I need are some adults who are willing to help launch this project, so wish me luck!