Developing country. The third world. Those poor people.
We have a skewed understanding of development. Development is a term that is intentionally left vague; standards of development are flexible. A developing country can be highly advanced by measure of certain indicators (like access to education), and far behind in others (like economic equality). Certain parts of the developing country might look like a developed country, with running water and high speed internet, while in more rural areas life might be much more basic, where people must carry in their water on foot and cook their meals on a coal stove behind their board house.
In previous posts, I’ve described Jamaica as contradictory. In many ways, it is.
In Kingston, you can take a modern city bus uptown for a blended iced coffee at Café Blue and use their wifi, or grab vegan cuisine at New Leaf Café, then swing by the Sovereign Mall for a movie at the air conditioned theater.
In Cockpit Country, you may wait several hours for a taxi to have enough space to squeeze you in, only to travel for close to an hour to buy vegetables in an open air market that is parted by an open sewage drain. Forget wifi, you’re happy if you can catch a phone signal or if your power stays on for the whole week.
Peace Corps and other international aid agencies have been in Jamaica for the entire duration of independence – over 50 years.
So what’s taking so long? Why isn’t Jamaica developed? Why do some Jamaicans believe that Jamaica is moving backward instead of forward? These are not questions I have the answer for, nor will I seek to answer them today.
Instead, I’d like to highlight 4 Jamaican campaigns for positive social development. These are campaigns by Jamaica, for Jamaica. They are sowing the seeds for the future of Jamaica, just as we seek to do as Peace Corps Volunteers. Without further ado:
4. Respect Jamaica
RESPECT Jamaica draws inspiration from the idea that everyone in Jamaica reserves the right to be respected. In a country historically plagued by poverty, corruption and inequality, lack of trust and respect for others has become a national epidemic.
Living in rural Jamaica, I’ve encountered sentiments that it is unwise to trust others, that others will take advantage of you if given the chance. The natural response to this is to be guarded, to be tough enough that people are afraid to cross you. Widespread social distrust is not an environment conducive to collaboration and cooperation for the development for the country as a whole. When everyone is just looking to protect themselves from everyone else, respect for others is not high on the priority list.
RESPECT Jamaica is actively working to join people together and to promote an attitude of respect for all. Citing the National Anthem on their Facebook page (“Teach us true respect for all”), the campaign is “an initiative that encourages us to acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of all. Everyone deserves respect, no matter their circumstances.”
Their Facebook page highlights stories of Jamaicans to build awareness in support of the “marginalized and vulnerable,” like children, the LGBTQ community, women, and people with disabilities. Check them out on Facebook here.
3. Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica
“Keep wi island clean, so clean! From di peaks to di beach, so clean! Nuh dutty up Jamaica, please doan dweet…”
As is the case in many developing countries, Jamaica has a substantial problem with littering and proper waste disposal. Despite the existence of a National Solid Waste Management collection system (which is less than effective in lots of rural areas – the trucks may or may not come to collect the garbage), both rural and urban areas struggle with illegal dumping, water contamination, burning of garbage and general littering.
Despite obvious negative environmental and health impacts, Jamaica’s attitude towards waste has more widespread social implications. As an island nation whose economy relies heavily on tourism, litter in and around its natural waterways is a very real economic concern for the hotel industry, which thrives on selling the natural beauty of the country to foreign tourists.
In February, Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica was launched by the Jamaica Environment Trust in collaboration with the Tourism Enhancement Fund. It uses the Patois creole language and culturally-styled songs to help address the garbage problem while garnering popular attention and engagement. From their Facebook page, “Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica is geared at improving knowledge and attitudes with regard to waste and its impact on public health and the environment.”
Check out their PSAs on YouTube:
2. Tell the Children the Truth, a Film about parenting in Jamaica
I learned about this documentary last weekend when I participated in JN Foundation’s first annual Heroes in Action 5k race in Falmouth. A team of runners wore t-shirts bearing the slogan “Tell the Children the Truth,” a lyric from Bob Marley’s song “Babylon System.”
Teen pregnancy, absent fathers, the breakdown of the nuclear family without adequate resources for single parents, and lack of respectful communication between parents and their children are all contributing to a widespread parenting crisis. Children model what they see, and when positive role models are scarce, future generations are at risk for continuing the cycle.
Tell the Children the Truth is a documentary on parenting in Jamaica. It was made by Jamaicans, for Jamaicans. It has recently been vetted by the Jamaican Ministry of Education for use in high schools and with PTAs across the island. I recently spoke with the producer of the film, Tammy Hart, who explained that local Guidance Counselors are gathering at trainings to view the film and learn how to lead conversations with parents and high school students about the choice to become a parent, breaking the cycle of inattentive parenting, and the importance of expressing love for our children.
The film is undergoing final edits (watch this space for more information), but you can view the trailer here:
Check out their Facebook page here.
1. Our Jamaica
Fans of Humans of New York (HONY) will love Our Jamaica. Active on Facebook and Instagram (@OurJamaica876), founder Cecile Brown artfully captures and shares candid stories of real Jamaicans living their lives. Launched in August 2014, Our Jamaica’s Facebook page has grown to a community of nearly 23,000 people from all over the world.
Although hairdressing may be seen as effeminate in Jamaica, twenty three year old Richard Henderson who is from Jobs Lane, Spanish Town has no qualms about what he does. Richard said he has developed a passion for the craft overtime and considers himself multitalented. ‘’I am not only a hairstylist; I am a chef and designer whose ultimate goal is to be on Mission Catwalk,’’ Henderson said. ‘’I try to outdo myself at all times in every way.’’ Richard is the third child and only son for his mother. He has three sisters and growing up among them was sometimes very challenging, as they were always playing with dolls and sewing some kinds of outfit to dress them in. Richard did not want to be left out so he tried his hands at sewing with his mother’s old Singer machine…’’The first time I tried, the needle went straight through my thumb; I don’t know where I fling that needle to this day,’’ Richard said laughing. ‘’I never gave up on designing though. The first piece I did was not very flattering but I kept trying. Then I designed and sewed my sister’s prom dress… I heard Ping’s was having a sale so I went all out. I spent $15,000 on that piece and it is still my favourite. I currently design and sew my own pieces for formal events and church. Going to church is like attending a fashion show for me; I love dressing up.’’ Read more in comment section…
Brown, like HONY’s Brandon Stanton, knows the power of the story. As a Peace Corps blogger, I respect and admire this effort completely. Stories have the power to help us understand other people, whether they’re 5 or 5,000 miles away from us. They can diminish the fear that comes with otherness and promote connection over the human experience.
Check out Our Jamaica for stories of real Jamaicans on their Facebook page and on Instagram.
Do you have other favorite Jamaican development campaigns? What are your favorite social media campaigns in other developing countries that are inspiring social change? Please share your thoughts in the comments section!