Quick Reflections- Seminar Beijing, China (May-July, 2017)

Below is an excerpt of my reflections on a training seminar in Beijing, China.

Represented sector- Land Development; Urban Planning and Research &Development (Informal Settlements and Indigenous knowledge)
QUESTIONS*
1. Overview, general comment and impression of this SEMINAR
The above named seminar was structured to fulfil the main purpose of assisting Jamaica in developing a sector around bamboo. The weekly schedules all consecutively flowed into each building a knowledge base and enhancing the capacity of the country representatives. All culminating into the practical application and demonstration afforded us by the three (3) well thought out weeks in YongAn, Fujian Province.
2. Professional knowledge you have learnt from this SEMINAR, including lectures and field trips. You can talk about this combined with your working experiences.
Having spent almost twenty (20) years in various capacities spanning Central and Local Government as well as in academia, I have learnt that LEARNING DOES NOT STOP. As a professionally trained Urban Development and Environmental Planning practitioner currently involved in projects and programme implementation, I understand the challenges involved in transferring knowledge into tangible actions that directly help the poor and vulnerable in the Jamaican society. Bamboo (and specifically the specie indigenous to Jamaica) can be used as a medium to alleviate some critical issues in Jamaica among which- reducing youth unemployment; providing low cost housing for the 30+% of the population who live in sub-standard housing and fuel the entrepreneurial efforts taking shape in the private domain.
3. What suggestions and comments for this SEMINAR? Are you satisfied with this SEMINAR?
Professionally, I satisfied with the organization of the lectures, cultural experiences and the opportunity to live in Fujian Province- one of the bamboo ‘capitals’ of China. My expectations for a seminar, as named above, were mostly met and many were EXCEEDINGLY met. I would suggest the following:
(a) Condensing of the first four weeks to three and perhaps a lengthening TO four (4) weeks in Fujian and,
(b) Reducing the final two weeks to one- this is all that is needed to wrap up the seminar.
With these two suggestions the duration would be two full months representing one week of savings.
4. Difference and shared things on Forestry and Bamboo in academics and industry. Specific examples are welcomed.
As a graduate of a College of Environmental Science and Forestry in the US, I have always noted the deliberate efforts to have comprehensive Forestry Management Plans (FMPs) in the US and paucity in Jamaica. Observing a similar approach in China especially as it pertains to bamboo plantations has made this deficiency very clear. Further the fact that project driven activities drive afforestation efforts in Jamaica is also a concern. Working on some – namely the CIDA- Ridge to Reef and the USAID- PARC projects highlights the vulnerability and unsustainability of the Jamaican forestry sector. Bamboo itself had been viewed as an invasive species so, much work is needed to remove this stigma and to begin to coalesce all the ground work thus far into a formal, national industry. Much work to be done.
5. Overall impression of Beijing and China
Personally, I know I have not begun to see even the ‘tip of the iceberg’ into the full essence of China-the country. However, what I have been able to see surpassed my dreams and ‘bucket listing’ of this country. Despite some inter-group issues- there was nothing that was allowed to diminish the beauty and appreciation of the experience. Being a city dweller and a professional Urban Planner I recognised the common issues of large urban areas and have even documented some of them. Overall, the best part of this first visit to China was the three weeks spent in YongAn, Fujian Province. The encapsulation of the rural-urban juxtaposition and the precision of the organization of the tours to offer demonstration and application of bamboo uses were absolutely impressive.
6. Possible cooperation idea between China and Jamaica in Forestry and other disciplines.
Many opportunities exist, a multi-sectoral, inter-agency approach is needed (LOCALLY) along with a multi-national partnership(INTERNATIONALLY) at certain stages of concrete milestones along the development cycle. Notwithstanding, Jamaica would need to either produce the resource in large volumes or directly manufacture value-added bamboo products (under viable financial conditions). Jamaica has a high national debt including huge import bills and the latter options would have to be done with several subsidies. Subjected to a tight fiscal space such subsidies may be hard fought. For the opportunities to be realized many activities have to occur concurrently and /or simultaneously. For example, a fast tracking of a policy (Central Government) inclusive of the full range of applicable standards (BSJ’s role).
*Questions provided by Facilitators – July 13, 2017

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AIR SUPPLY (and I do not mean the musical duo… even though they are cool).

Since the start of February 2017 I have been sick…my chest is congested and I have serious allergies and an infected sinus. My child is also afflicted in some of these ways. The problem is especially acute in the nights, impacting our rest and slumber. I saw a news item involving residents bemoaning the quality of the air in the Mandela Highway- Washington Blvd areas including also the community (or is it city?) of Portmore. As I listened I realized that my family and I do have a tendency to get this type of sickness at intervals throughout any given calendar year. Sometimes I can trace and pinpoint the exact issue (a landfill fire- see a previous post) whether deliberate or accidental in nature or a result of sugar cane reaping season. However lately the last few attacks have been a little insidious in nature. As a Researcher and also an Environmentalist/Urban Planner I am somewhat good at identifying patterns and noting change. I am therefore by a process of elimination concluding that chemical interactions are abound at the landfill emitting noxious  and unseen fumes into our air. The integrity of our air quality is compromised and its safe to say that without a sanitary landfill -major incidents or no, we are in perpetual danger.

As it is a topical and current issue an article was published  in a major daily newspaper today linked HERE I read with interest and  I was not encouraged as there was no immediate solution or rescue in sight. Though bummed I am trying to remain an empathetic human being and a realist. I want to be a part of the change I seek so, after pondering over the article, I had some thoughts.

picsay-1486944975

Image source is from the hardcopy printed article with bar graphs highlighting some air quality results of affected areas close to the major landfill over the last five (5) years – data availability allowing.

This article highlighted a myriad of issues. There were inter-connected institutional, operational and policy elements. I also drew on comments rendered during the @liveat7  episode I watched last Friday (10/02/2017) as they rounded out the week of major headlines. A part of the recap included attempts by the panel members to gauge the sentiments, on the ground, as it pertained to the preliminary tabling of the national budget. A part of the discussion was the whole matter of the amalgamation of Ministries and portfolios. It was reiterated against the background that one of the only required Ministry was that of Finance, as promulgated by the Constitution.There was even a suggestion that perhaps there could be a ‘doing away’ with some of the Ministries and portfolios as they existed, one example was the Ministry of Culture, Sports, etc.The rationale being that sometimes the thought behind awarding these portfolios included as political rewards to party die-hards. But this is not what this post is about. I want to posit that we start to look more at Oversight Committees (OC) for matters impacting the ‘commons.’ This OC approach  is already implemented with the Economic Growth Council (EGC) which is aimed at among other things streamlining efforts to achieve the GOJ’s growth and prosperity agenda. Subsequently, an OC for the environment could then incorporate any matter or issue related to the management of our natural environment/ resources. With such an arrangement there could be a more efficient channeling of resources. An immediate gain would be the utilization of specialized groups to address arising (and persistent problems). It may mean a retention of the NEPA albeit at lower capacity and most importantly solely in a regulatory and enforcement function. Afterall such agencies, as they exist, require year round funding for staff and salaries, etc. Therefore some cost savings there as well. It would allow for  NEPA to focus on its core functions – regulate AS WELL AS enforce (bearing in mind that the two activities are not mutually exclusive). The obvious value added to this suggestion is that the public can hold the agency accountable for the fees collected (during regulation) against the service provided (during enforcement).  A comparative analysis could be done to determine the feasibility of operating the OCE versus the cost of the current operations of NEPA. To further illustrate how this would work, the OCE could have a standing order to meet on a quarterly basis in addition to as required for those times of national crisis and  emergencies (in which case a multi-stakeholder approach can be employed such as currently obtain in major disaster responses such as post hurricane events). The option would also be available for different modalities, such as specific to the problem arising,  in which case specialized action may be required. This again would  preclude the need for an all year round staff and agency administration in its current state.

The bottom bottomline– resultant cost savings in wage bills to be diverted to assist with optimizing service provisions such as- I don’t know maybe-  better Air Quality Monitoring capabilities, upgrading the main disposal site on the island (Riverton) to a sanitary landfill, improving municipal and industrial waste disposal, increasing enforcement and providing the JIS* with a bigger public education budget to enlargen the public awareness campaign against illicit dumping and the burning of garbage, etc.

*the suggestion here is that all major national public education campaigns should be centralized and emanate out of the Jamaica Information Service (JIS).

Fighting Inequality(ies)…

The week of January 14-20, 2017 is being utilized as a week of action to FIGHT INEQUALITY. Initiated by the  Fight Inequality Alliance, its aimed at drawing attention and focus on inequality within the global economic realm and especially highlighting the far reaching effect of poverty and general impoverishment. This is purposely to coincide with the World Economic Forum occurring within the same period in Davos, Switzerland.

fight-inequalityThe reason for this global call to action is expressed below, as per the website – http://www.fightinequality.org:

Inequality has reached extreme and dangerous levels, and has put too much power into the hands of millionaires and powerful corporations. What’s worse, a growing number of hate-filled leaders are gaining power by pretending to stand up for the poorest. But they are not champions for ordinary people and have no intention of ending corporate greed, tax dodging, privatisation of services, and exploitation of workers, women and minorities. In fact, they are stirring division and discrimination that threatens to take us back to the horrors of the past.We know it’s possible to have a society where everyone matters, and nobody is rich or powerful enough to be immune from the rules. But powerful elites and corporations won’t change a system that works for them without pressure.

Evidence to this is given for example by OXFAMAmerica which highlights that just 8 men have as much wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population. Source:www.oxfamamerica.org/just8.

 

Related image

Image source: Sustainable Human

Consequently this leads to disparities in income (micro) and the disproportionate economies of scale (macro) which manifest into all types of inequalities and inequalities at all levels, namely social and spatial inequalities. The capitalist mindset stemming from modern day commerce and industry have through the centuries, post -Industrial Revolution era, contributed to the accumulation and amassing of familial wealth. The wealth have been so concentrated within these hands that it is a vain attempt at extricating same except through philanthropy and endowments.

Image result for inequality definition Image result for inequality definition

The promise of wealth accumulation by those outside of these circles have had flickering success through the signing of social entrepreneurial spirits. New inventions and the technological age have opened new frontiers for innovation and thus creating new opportunities for virtual richest.

North-South debate (examining inequality on a geographic scale)

To dial back to an earlier point in the discussion though, the laissez-faire /captalist model is referenced as having contributed to the highly extractive approaches that have left many countries in the developing world reeling with the after-effects. The growth and development of many countries in the ‘North’ at the expense of countries in the ‘South’ is debated in many lecture theatres, college hallways and in social media. The main take home is that the wealth in the hands of the few have been also at the expense of so many  with far-reaching geographic impact.

So in the inequality dialogue one must examine what the global recessions – in quick succession, harsh economic climates and banking crises and such have unearthed- serious and indepth analyses at the individual all the way through household and country levels.  From a theoretical perspective it is not surprising that many of the economic paradigms of the last decades have been reviewed and are now being examined. Many of the problems of this world involving inequality for example cannot be resolved by economic means. This is as many researchers and policy analysts have determined that the economic approach have contributed to and have been the cause of much inequality. As we navigate a paradigm shift social engineers only seek to determine whether or not there are key salvageable and meritorious elements of economic models that can be utilized to assist with a re-engineering of our thinking. Inequality after all is a quantitative measure, in so much as it is able to be, used to explain the qualitative construct of the problem.

 

 

 

Marginalization and its consequences…

fight-inequality

I have been grappling with the thought that sometimes- well meaning efforts can have inadvertently deleterious effects despite being impactful. This often happens when I am immersed in some gender related activity. I think on the ways in which many cultures still do not allow the girl child to achieve her fullest human potential. Some girls are primed only as brides and thus chattels of their male counterparts whether as a parent or later as a spouse. It is therefore important work to empower females who are so socialized or who have escaped these oppressive regimes they had been forceably subjected to.

However, observations made in the field, in other societies including mine, is that young males have, or had at some point previous, become themselves marginalized. In Jamaica girls are out performing their male counterparts in most of the indicators of human development. See below for the educational attainment indicator example in Jamaica.

Although the number of boys and girls in Jamaica is roughly equal, according to some recent statistics, 48,992 boys and 81,111 girls sat CSEC subjects, and the girls outperformed the boys in all arts subjects and all science subjects, except mathematics. More than twice the number of females (67 per cent) are enrolled in the University of the West Indies (UWI) than males (33 per cent), and 59 per cent of those enrolled in post-secondary non-tertiary education are women.

Its long been accepted that boys develop differently than girls. Strong family support is needed to nurture  the children  in such a re-socialization process so as to take these into consideration. Girls have a proclivity to learn at faster rates than most boys. The education system must, even through resource constraints, have specialized approaches to capture and retain boys as well as girls. Concurrently, there must be a demystified definition of the gender roles. Our boys AND girls must be equally socialized to realize their fullest potential  within the context of modern societies. Traditional roles have to be retooled such that there are no restrictions contained in either.

Correlation between inequality and crime

Thus, it is ironic that the men are expected to be primary bread winners and providers in their traditional roles as ‘heads of households,’ within the current system that is failing them. In previous articles I have written about the high rate of male drop outs and the large percentage of unattached youths primarily concentrated by the males in the population. With the increasingly high national crime rate and the spate of murders in St. James, data can be found to provide evidence to the underlying cause and effect, not excluding the educational attainment. It is an imperative that we do not attempt to only mitigate against the attendant results but also strive to bring resolution to the innate nature of the problem.

We watch the news and documentaries and we wonder how can people be so murderous. We also wonder how people can be so callous as to scam the elderly out of their pension and life’s savings. It is time for us to get into the belly of the beast and slay the dragon from within. We need to start to understand, not empathize, but to dissect the mindset of deviants. As stated in a TEDWomen talk delivered by Jacqueline Novagratz in 2010 we should seek to understand how someone, ‘…[can] look at other beings, human beings, as lesser than [them]selves and in the extreme, to do terrible things.’ In an episode of the series Black Market on the Vice network, some young males (including boys as young as 12) who were involved in carjacking activities in Trenton, New Jersey, stated, ” its ‘us or them,’ when we are hungry.” This echoes the sentiments by many males who hang on the corner in many inner cities or impoverished neighborhoods here- as well some hardened criminals- and those relegated to a life of crime and illicit activities.

To help to make the connection and to solidify the call for attention to neutralizing gender gaps at the socio-economic levels, Novagratz makes the following point even as she was reflecting on a female parliamentarian who was imprisoned for war crimes.

And there is no group more vulnerable to those kinds of manipulations [see quotation above] than young men. I’ve heard it said that the most dangerous animal on the planet is the adolescent male. And so in a gathering where we’re focused on women, while it is so critical that we invest in our girls and we even the playing field and we find ways to honor them, we have to remember that the girls and the women are most isolated and violated and victimized and made invisible in those very societies where our men and our boys feel dis-empowered, unable to provide. And that, when they sit on those street corners and all they can think of in the future is no job, no education, no possibility, well then it’s easy to understand how the greatest source of status can come from a uniform and a gun.

‘Evolving Intelligence’

I recently, while channel surfing, came across the movie ‘Simone’ starring Al Pacino. What had seemed like a harmless, frivolous quasi- science fiction movie- when I watched it during its first release- had now become an insidiously reflective modern dramatic representation of the reality of artificial intelligence. Further I was led to also reflect on the covert ways in which false narratives have infiltrated our mass media and by extension our minds’ spaces. A pattern is emerging that we need to be aware of in mass media. This pattern can be framed in a question which is- Is it just me or when there are some real serious and earth life threatening events that something- seemingly innocuous- emerges that operates as a side event and/or deliberate distraction. …I am just saying. For example the numerous and questionable killings of black males in the USA vs. Pokemon, Mannequin, etc challenges.

2016 was a watershed year. A lot of societal and value system changing events took place and may have occurred undetected by the masses. It was a pivotal year for Mother Earth and her inhabitants. Just like the discussion around climate change, i.e. is it real or not? There were so many other crises for which real needed attention and resolutions were being derailed by rhetoric. We are in an age of constant ‘clear and present danger,’ environmentally, socially and politically. This requires global consciousness.

The average man cannot afford to be average anymore. We must be (not become) sober. (There is no time for a learning curve). 2017 is the year! This is the year that will set the tone for ….well everything. Our senses, our knowledge, our intelligence should evolve. We should all, as much as possible, dig deeper. Seek clarification. Be more discernible. Determine one’s core belief system. Be resolute. Evolve.

When Love becomes war…

Towards the end of the 2016 period  there was a lot of persons who seemed extra anxious to just be done with it… in some instances one cannot blame them. There seemed to have been so much that happened in the past several months, especially here on the island, which have given us quite a few scary pauses. One of the most troubling was an inexplicable spate of murders committed against women by their domestic partners. At the close of the 2016 the total stood at 24. As a woman this is twenty-four too many. As a social scientist I know that the reasons will be many and deep rooted. A writer in one of the main newspapers here offered up some suggestions as to why a man would kill a woman with whom he would have had a love relationship, at some point. Some of those suggestions were:

  • hurt pride,
  • sense of being betrayed,
  • the ‘no-other’concept -that the woman was made for ‘him’  and ‘no other’ male should get her,
  • the ‘my investment’ concept- that he has invested in her and no other male should reap the dividends,
  • the “my flagship” concept. This is where the woman through her attributes, whether by way of her education, colour, money, or beauty, makes the man look good. These things he does not possess, but because of his association with her, he looks good…and yet another reason, more often alluded to by many as the underlying cause for most domestic violence against women,
  • he deems her as his’“property”. He claims her as his own physically and emotionally. He feels that he can do with her as he wishes, even to the point of killing her.

These are very thought provoking and also insightful. I would like to add to the discussion that most human beings today operate in a state devoid of the core emotions. I engage with persons each day who are experiencing and have experienced abuse and I have surmised that too often we are so overwhelmed by life that we block out those intrinsic elements of our beings such as – empathy and love.  This suppression happens internally BOTH to the victims and the abusers. For example sometimes the victim stifles self preservation for the economic stability afforded her by being in the abusive relationship. At least on the surface of it that is how it would be perceived. Another example may be that she has low self esteem that the abuse sometimes becomes a sick, warped view of being love until it is too late. To the abuser who would have loved the woman, at some point or even during and throughout the abuse feels he loves her, he I posit, does not understand that love- in its most organic state- is not controlling nor hurtful. Love, in fact, is such that it is able to transcend human nature to dominate and to hold captive, thus enabling the ‘loved one’ to be free instead of bring any harm. Free to leave. Free to live.

Similarly,  suppression of basic human emotions happens, externally, to the ‘others’ who are around. We are able to quite easily videotape human tragedy before offering first aid. We are able to easily stay on our side of the wall or fence and listen to couples squabble and not get involve. Us, the others are able to excuse ourselves with, its their problem, I have got my own- which is so much more consuming. We have primarily become less of our brothers keeper. We have become allies in the love war.

 

Is it really the start or a continuation?…

I have been reading a lot of history and gaining background insight, context and knowledge to a lot of the meanings behind the holidays. There were some information I knew having studied European history from the renaissance to revolution. However there was quite a bit that was astoundingly new and quite enlightening. As we get into this I want to share this gem- Knowledge IS power. GET IT.

Moving forward

Many persons make new year’s  resolutions at this time. The belief, I suppose, is that new year, new beginnings. I had undoubtably also subscribed to this in the past, however I have since been reformed. I now strongly operate from the understanding that life- from birth to the grave is a process…a continuous one. Therefore each blessed year is a continuation. To see this clearly, for each birthdate one does not cap off the past and start over. So too analogously  the new year, each year, whether the gregorian calendar or otherwise, is a continuation…If you subscribe to this then you know its a matter of taking stock and realizing that it is never too late. Everyday the universe teaches us  lesson and reveals new things to us. It unfolds such that people we thought we knew we make discoveries about them. We learn more about ourselves we get to understand just how much we are able to tolerate, who we must avoid, who are true and trustworthy, who really wants us to succeed and who is watching for our downfall.Thus we must be aware.

This is an imperative as you strive to become a better you. You must shed useless situations and people. Learn the lessons and keep it moving. The pressure within must be greater than without.  Similarly, we must make choices. Choose to avoid people and situations that have no real value to your well being. You will know them, these things will  drain your energy, totally defeating your efforts and attempts at growth. Summarily, each juncture is an opportunity to sober up, opening your eyes to all truths, the greatest of which is make your life count. Whilst doing this sustain yourselves spiritually, mentally and physically. Love thyself. If you do not care for yourself then you are no good to anyone. Do yourself the favour.

Happy Independence Day Haiti!

Our sister island Haiti celebrates 213 years as the first independent black country. When you read the history of the series of events resulting in this feat you will be amazed at the tenacity and courage inherent in the people of color.

http://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/History/Haiti-history.htm

However sadly, it perplexes a lot of us and often begs a common question, in relation to the current state of Haiti – why is Haiti so poor? Watch this video directed by Noland Walker.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T8iwPM64DjI

To think that whole process endured for twelve years before the final result! Which brings me to a very important piece of wisdom.

KEEP PRESSING… your best is yet to come. All the very best to a better you!