When I read the Jamaican newspapers, I am saddened by the relentless escalation of gang violence in my beautiful island. Today’s Gleaner reported that murder victims were up to 500 already this year. One story told of a young man gunned down in front of a police station, another about a female police officer being shot to death, and on, and on.
Bruce Golding’s government is cracking down with such moves as appointing a new head of security and expanding the police force. And I must admit with sorrow that I can see no alternative to combating violence with violence — at least in the short term. But what about the long term?
I was heartened to read a column in the Observer by my friend Jean Lowrie-Chin. She lamented the horror of the violence raging in Jamaica, but described one long-term initiative that is producing results.
Returning home from Toronto after meeting with members of the Jamaican Diaspora to promote aid to the island, Jean was struck by the contrast between Jamaica’s scenic serenity and the turbulence in its society. Here is how she put it:
“Returning home, viewing from above the Jamaican landscape, so green and sedate, it was hard to believe that such evil could lurk amongst our graceful mountains. Where does it come from, this wicked streak in our populace, and how can we scrub it clean? I shared with my friends in Toronto that at our home and office, we take the usual security precautions, but we found that there was one sure way to make ourselves safer, and I had the proof.
“Take a look at the Stella Maris Foundation in Grant’s Pen, co-founded 10 years ago by Monsignor Richard Albert and one of Jamaica’s most brilliant attorneys, Peter Mais. In those first years, we had to hold adult education classes outside of the community because there were so many “no walk” zones.
The citizens grew to realise that we had no hidden agenda. In our initiatives and interaction, they saw that we were interested solely in “doing what Love requires” (our motto).
“We became a haven for counselling, training, day care, homework assistance, conflict resolution, and referrals for employment and health.”
Yes, the answer is love — love in action.
Strange as it may seem, we can love away the bitterness, the suspicion and the frustration that fuels violence. In one small corner of Jamaica, a few loving citizens are reaching out to lift up the unprivileged and unschooled. And in so doing they are helping to heal the wounds that fester into the running sore of violence.
The Stella Maris Foundation in Grant’s Pen is a shining example of what can be achieved if privileged members of society make a commitment to helping the less fotunate. And it shows the results that can be obtained from programs that rely on bread and spiritual balm instead of bullets and batons.
It is a lesson to be learned not only in tiny Jamaica but in countries around the world.