If you want to read more about this community, check out this link.
This morning, we went on a site visit to Majestic Gardens. It is a small community about 15 minutes outside of the city. It literally overlooks the harbour- cranes used to haul shipping containers from barges are visible from the main road. A government department in charge of planning for Jamaica’s future invited us as they are interested in our mentoring program. We arrived around 10:30 am and waited for our contact to meet us. We had some trouble reaching her and as we waited, we began to draw some attention from some fellows gathered in a bar. Outsiders do not usually venture into this neighbourhood, and if they do, it must be cleared by the don. So the sight of four new faces in a shiny, black SUV was certain to be noticed. Upon making contact, our government representative gave us directions and we drove slowly down the rutted road. And missed the community centre altogether. So we attracted even more attention.
We finally sorted ourselves out and met the leaders of the Community Development Commission, including its president Wayne. They took us on a tour of the community, which stretches south about half-a-mile and runs about a quarter-mile east-to-west. The poverty is evident. There is no reliable water system, nor power, nor garbage collection. So people have rigged up wires to bring power into their homes. These wires hang low and are strung precariously throughout the neighbourhood. With no garbage collection, people have called upon pigs to do the job instead. We also saw another serious safety concern in the way of a stockpile of propane gas canisters. Given the extreme heat, occasional gunfire and the fact that these canisters are not secured, this community is at serious risk.
This community is in serious trouble for many other reasons and the government is in the midst of razing some homes and erecting new apartment buildings. There will be some kind of financial aid system for the residents who cannot pay the mortgage. (The project remains stalled for now, however, as the contractor stopped working as a result of safety concerns).
This entire proposal initially was met with skepticism by the community’s don, but he has apparently come around. (The don is in some trouble of his own, it seems, as he was not paying some workers a fair wage. They subsequently shot him in the hand and he relocated within the community as a result). People are being systematically moved into new housing as it goes up. A major roadblock to relocating families, however, is the fact that many people are illiterate so they are incapable of reading and filling out all the paperwork.
One of the major challenges is the social aspect: the community is family-based and small, but it is shorn in half by an artificial border and conflict consistently erupts between the “top” and “bottom” of the community. “Conflict” here is defined as death by gunfire or injury by any other means, in other words, it is serious.
Poverty here is abject, as the government representative told us, although we had gleaned this fact ourselves. Three families are crammed into many of the one-bedroom apartments. Houses are run-down and there are no major stores or facilities. Only one Anglican Community Centre, which itself is bright and airy and was bustling with activity when we were there. It is a cliche to state the following, but I found it to be true: there are feelings of both pride and community. Indeed, we met three members of a dance crew called “Boom Squad,” who will compete at a national competition next month.
This community definitely has basic needs that are not being fulfilled. At least they are starting to attract attention.