CommUNITY Renewal

renewal |riˈn(y)oōəl| noun
• the action of extending the period of validity of a license, subscription, or contract
• resuming an activity or state after an interruption
• the replacing or repair of something that is worn out, run-down, or broken

Take away the special events and the themed lessons, volunteer collaborations, Peace Corps relations and extra-curriculars.

What I do and what I am is a community person.
This is my primary project.

Yeah, I’m technically a Health volunteer and, yeah, I am attached to a Farmers’ group in Millbank. But as the Ting Tings say “that’s not my name,” and that’s really not my game.

I’m a big believer in first things first.
Fresh out of college, my boss at Staffmark gave me a piece of wisdom, one of several, that has stuck with me:  When you spend the time and effort on the front end (good organization, record keeping, and attention to detail), you will save yourself tons of panic and extra work in the end.  If you make a “good match” the first time, you won’t have to replace and replace and replace. This axiom has wrung true over and over in my adult life and I’m close to perfect at it now…psych. But I think I’m getting better.

Translation into Peace Corps wisdom: First Things First…Communities like ours want for, above all, committed and trustworthy leadership to speak for them and advocate for their needs.  Without this aspect active and in tact, no amount of money, notoriety or Peace Corps attention will do much good.  In fact, without this aspect, the same seemingly progressive signs (Our community has a PCV! Our community got funding for a Community Centre!) can actually make the state of things worse.  This is something I learned early on in my service and it’s something I have been living this past 21 months.

The Social Development Commission (SDC) is a government agency tasked with building capacity of local community groups.  Our Portland SDC had just helped to establish our local CDC (community development committee) when Josh and I arrived on the scene in August 2008.  I was happy that this important step had already been taken and welcomed a partnership with the SDC, since we seemed to share common goals.  Well, things change and some times bad things happen to good communities. September 08 through February 09 brought Tropical Storm Gustav, tragic market truck accident, road land slippages and a long, hard rainy season.  Soon, it seemed like the community had dissolved into ‘every man for himself.’  SDC officers and concerned citizens still made efforts to establish something, anything that would draw the community together, but few people really expected ANYthing to work.  For over a year, our new CDC was inactive and even non-existent.  And people noticed that things were/are getting worse, even as some of the recent tragic events lost their acuteness and sting.  Families pulling their children out of local schools and paying more in travel to send them to schools nearer to town, youths leaving to find work or staying and becoming the “idle hands” in another axiom we’ve all heard.  Last Spring, the community pulled together (or at least several members of all three districts) to compete in the SDC-sponsored Best Community Competition.  We followed all the rules and really made a go of it–We thought we had a good chance of placing and getting some prize money to help spruce up the place.  Well, we didn’t place and people took it hard, with a “what’s the point” kind of attitude.  I tried to make the best of it, but there was no way the same people would opt to compete the following year.  District leaders became involved in their own pet projects–GHEG received some funding to upgrade their burial grounds and BPFA got a couple of grants for expansion of their eco-tourism and conservation goals (yay us!).  Other leaders started training classes of their own which required all their free time.

Fast forward til last month.
The last eight (8) or so months here in Comfort Castle have been scary…and surprising so, although perhaps a rise in crime shouldn’t be too surprising.  Five houses have burned within our middle district (4 burned all the way down) and two deaths have occurred as a direct result of these fires.  Everyone thinks they were burned on-purpose (arson) but the reports aren’t finalized yet (and might not every be).  We are acquainted with the families who have lost everything, one of whom is a very dear friend.  All the fires have happened in the evenings, so people are reluctant to venture away from their yards at night.  In addition to the fires, we’ve had a couple of assault/robberies happen on the main road over this same time period.  Thefts at people’s houses are on the rise too.  And this is cause for lots of concern because this is Portland, for goodness sakes!  It’s supposedly the safest parish and we’re way up in the bush in a small, tight-knit, maroon community….If we’re not safe, who is?

Josh and I have reasoned about the threat of something bad happening, be it theft, robbery, fire, etc.  We’ve taken all the precautions we can and have made the situation known to our PC support in Kingston.  We aren’t in danger, as far as we are aware and we aren’t planning to leave our post.  It’s just that it IS a concern–for our community and, I’ll admit it, for ourselves.

The good news is that this resulting collective fear and concern has been formed, quite beautifully I might add, into a call for community renewal and unity by our lay CDC chair-woman.  She called one evening to discuss that we all give it another try, given that people are desperate and seem game to try ANYthing.

Here are pics from meetings we’ve had over the past month–The CDC officers (mainly 2 or 3 ladies) have arranged for guest speakers to come, successfully begged funds for refreshments and have really put in good efforts in order to give this community leadership thing another full try!  And, so far (fingers crossed), it seems to be working.

Record numbers in attendance for our first CDC sponsored Town Hall Meeting w/ Police and Fire Brigade present. At this meeting, citizens voted to start a Neighborhood Watch program, spoke of the felt need to source training opportunities for youth in the community, and voted to reinstate officers of the CDC.  The follow-up meeting was also well-attended and the group laid out plans for formation of the Neighborhood Watch.

Our third and next meeting is scheduled for the 29th and will hopefully include some information from SDC on how to formalize this new commitment on paper.

Wish us luck?

I tell you what–I haven’t single-handedly lifted the Comfort Castle CDC out of the rubble, but I’ve certainly helped to facilitate the resurrection (if you will).  I would LOVE to leave our home here in August, knowing that the CDC is active and on sure footing. Gosh, that would be quite an accomplishment for the community and something I’d be so happy with.

Just thought I’d keep you all in the loop, for what it’s worth.

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2 Responses

  1. it’s worth a lot sista! LOVE knowing what you’re doing, what your heart’s invested in. will be thinking about/praying for you today for the third meeting!

  2. Thanks Jess. I look forward to the updates!

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