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Over thirty years ago Kenneth Wilson and a group of residents joined forces to stem the gun violence that has stained the image of August Town.
Through various social intervention methods, the August Town Peace Builders reaped its biggest success in 2016 when the community recorded zero murders.
“We never set out for any type of award when we started. But, the fact that we have reached this point where we are being recognised, it is a good feeling and it is like fertilizer for the work that we are doing to save lives in August Town,” says Kenneth Wilson.
The August Town Peace Builders was among 65 institutions and persons honoured with the Prime Minister’s Jamaica 55 Commemorative Medal of Appreciation for contribution to nation building recently.
Like Mr. Wilson, Michael Rutherford and Simeon Francis have been at the heart of the peacebuilding efforts inside the Eastern St. Andrew community since inception.
“When we started no one from outside told us to. We did it out of our own conviction that something needed to be done. Some of us are so embedded in this community that we want to keep it stable. So, we formed a group and if a fight starts, before it involves gun, we intervened,” Mr Rutherford reveals.
He explains, however, that bringing peace to August Town was no easy feat.
Over the decades, the men and women behind the peacebuilding efforts have put themselves in harm’s way on many occasions, Mr Rutherford adds.
“There was one occasion when we had a meeting and said ‘citizens when you see a man with him gun call the police on him’. We tell them ‘right now is law and order we a deal with, the more informer in the community the safer it will be’.”
“There are times when we would have to go into the bushes and sit with gunmen. But one of the key pillows of what we do is respect. Once there is a conflict we have never taken sides and they recognise that we are always consistent,” Rutherford shares.
Despite the recent flare-up of violence inside the community, the Peace Builders say the community is still a far cry from what it once was.
“People used to be afraid to go inside the police station. The only time you would find a person inside the station in August Town was when police a lock up somebody or you go to report somebody who commits a crime,” Simeon Francis argues.
“Now, because of the work of the Peace Builders and the police, things have changed. Now people walk go inna station go even drink water.”
“There are youths in the community who used to fire guns and deh back a things. Now them have a pig pen and they [have put down the guns] because they have something doing now,” Francis adds
Noting that there is an ongoing dialogue to try and stem the feud that erupted in recent times, Francis says the group takes its role seriously as every conflict resolved is possibly another life saved.
“The work that we are doing in August Town, we don’t know how many lives we have saved, but we know that our work has saved many lives.”
In the meantime Wilson, who is the lead figure behind the peacebuilding efforts says the goal is to increase the number of peacebuilders in the community.
“Our key aim is to get all of the likeminded people in August Town to come together. If the gunman see all 200 people for example come to them and say ‘this thing fi done innuh’ they are more likely to listen.”
“The gunman will not change unless we force him to change,” he argues.
-By Nedburn Thaffe