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JIS News

Judging for the Better Environment for Sustainable Transformation (BEST) Community competition is now underway across the island. Launched by the Office of the Prime Minister in November 2006, the project seeks to engage and empower residents to get involved in the sustainable development of their communities, while protecting the environment.
The competition, which is being implemented through the Social Development Commission (SDC), under the guidance of a steering committee, encourages community residents to come together to undertake projects and programmes to improve the areas in which they live, while vying for $10 million in cash and prizes at the parish and national levels.
Sponsored by the Digicel Foundation, the competition is open to any of the more than 785 communities across the island, which have active Community Development Committees (CDCs).
Community Development Officer with the SDC, Latoya Mullings, tells JIS News that the role of the SDC is to facilitate communities in their preparation to ensure that they had adequate information and to ensure they are guided properly through the process.
“We ensure that all the things that attend the competition for each community from start to finish are in place and that at the end of the competition, the objectives are achieved,” she says.
With a top prize of $2 million for the winning community, Mrs. Mullings explains that the money will be used for community development and upliftment. “The SDC will facilitate a gathering of the community to come up with some issues and have them prioritize those issues and they will determine how this money is spent,” she notes.
Judging is carried out by a panel of volunteers from various organizations with focus on seven main areas: the built environment; the natural environment; socio-economic activities such as job creation opportunities; hazard mitigation and disaster preparedness; education; health and waste management; and heritage and culture.
Marsha Henry-Martin, a judge, who visited the Hagley Gap community in western St. Thomas, explains that in assessing a community, she looks at community involvement in environmental initiatives such as tree preservation, soil erosion control, best agricultural practices and hazard mitigation; cross gender participatory activities, youth integration and involvement and outreach programmes towards literacy.
She says she also assesses waste disposal practices, whether there are garbage and other disposal systems in place, how residents maintain their yards and the streets, and social issues including domestic violence and incest.
According to Mrs. Henry-Martin, “it shouldn’t matter if it is a rural, deep rural or urban community when judging, as each community has its own characteristic”.
“The basic services, access to food, water, shelter and social stability, standard things will remain, but as you look more closely, you will find that a deep rural community will keep their community a little cleaner and social cohesiveness is stronger. The involvement of the youth is 50/50 as it is usually the older persons, who drive the community, so you will find differences and a judge will have to know how to balance it,” she tells JIS News.
Hubert Grant, stalwart of the Hagley Gap community, points out that the BEST community competition will help to strengthen community development. “We feel that if we win this money, we could come together and build a storage tank that we can treat our water so that the whole community would benefit,” he says.
He boasts that the community has several projects, which should impress the judges. “We try and keep our roads and drains clean. One of our health centres is helping over 1,000 people annually and we are proud of it,” he says.
He notes however, that if Hagley Gap does not come out on top, this will not stop the development process and the community will enter the competition again next year. “We will try and try again till we are successful,” he pledges.
As a bonus, communities that enter the BEST Community competition stand to attract significant support from donors, who recognize the efforts of citizens to help themselves.
In the meantime, Mrs. Mullings advises communities that are not eligible to enter the competition because of the lack of a CDC in their area, to prepare to participate next year, by working with the SDC to establish such bodies.