JIS News

Jamaicans no longer have to rely solely on government’s decision to effect changes within their communities. Now they can plan and implement projects through their involvement in Community Development Committees (CDCs), which are to be found island wide.
Simply put CDC’s are federations or networks of individual community based organisations, such as neighbourhood watches, youth groups, citizens groups, and women’s groups among others. These are combined into one umbrella group to discuss development issues, make plans and advocate for positive changes within the community.
Director of Governance at the Social Development Commission (SDC), Richard Billings informs that there are some 5,000 Community Based Organisations (CBOs) located in some 784 communities. According to him the SDC has been promoting this notion of CDCs from as far back as 1998.
” We have actually refined the ways in which we access these entities and the kind of support that we give to them to make them real organisations and not just existing in name. Over time we have been strengthening and working with these CDCs on an ongoing basis to make them stronger,” he says.
Explaining further how the Committees work, Mr. Billings says “in any given community what we want to do is to find out what are the existing entities, the existing community based organisations in this community, what are they doing and try and get them to recognise that broader community development requires them to work with other entities and with other citizens and that there is a benefit to be gained by coming together and working cooperatively”.
According to Mr. Billing the initial stage of identifying CDCs involves the identification of what CBOs are and who their members are. Having identified them, he says it is then a process of sensitizing the CBOs to the broader issues that would face the community.
“In a given community if you are a member of a school Parents Teachers Association (PTA) then you would be interested in issues related to the school but there are other issues that may relate to water, housing or crime, employment, training or any other issues the PTA in and of itself would not consider,” he says, adding that people need to recognise that there is need for a forum that considers broader development issues within the community.
This, he says, would be broadly referred to as sensitisation or information sharing. “You would want to move from that to identifying some core persons who would come together from the different community development organizations to o form an initial executive/steering committee that would look to get more persons involved and try and pull together this body within the community,” he explains.
Subsequent to this, he says, is ongoing work to get more persons involved, to get that entity properly structured in terms of having an executive, regular meetings as well as the necessary support and training to be able to look at the community and to get wider participation. Identifying who the entities are; building awareness and knowledge; building capacity; exploring issues; making plans and carrying out those plans to make development happen within the community are just some of the functions of CDCs.
f the 784 communities identified in Jamaica, Mr. Billings informs that some 45 per cent or 353 of these have CDC’s. According to him, a little under half of them have active community development committees that meet the criteria that the SDC has set out.
Parishes are pooled into regions to include Kingston and St. Andrew and St Thomas, which has 133 communities with some 77 per cent of those communities having CDCs. St. Catherine has 49 communities with 36 CDCs which translate to some 73 per cent, while Portland, St. Mary and St Ann have approximately 50 per cent CDC. Trelawny Westmoreland, Hanover and St. James, have 244 communities with some 27 per cent of these being CDCs. The remaining parishes of St. Elizabeth, Clarendon and Manchester have 212 communities with 34 per cent of these being CDCs.
“There is a fluctuation as we go across the region and that could be a function of whether or not we have field officers to service some communities because where we have no field officers then the work with communities is not as advanced therefore that reflects in the number of CDCs that are there,” Mr. Billings says.
He adds that the current number of CDCs do not reflect work in progress. “So we could actually have communities that are fairly well organised but not yet quite at the point where we would say that they are full fledged CDCs,” he says.
For persons wishing to become involved in a CDC, Mr. Billings explains that there is no age or gender limitation. However interested persons should first seek to identify what community organisations serve their community, and examine the way in which information is transmitted from their CDCs to individuals. “The more that citizens are aware of these things and ask questions then the closer we will get to getting a greater level of participation,” he informs JIS News.
One of the keys to having a successful CDC, Mr. Billings explains is to be able to get persons who are already involved to recognise the need to become more inclusive of citizens who are not yet involved.
This however, he says can be a bit tricky as the medium for transmittal of such information is at times limited. “We do not always have access to the various media to get the word out. Chances are that we have not been able to reach as many persons. Some people hear the message and probably do not act on it, while others hear it and act on it.. we have no control over the response in the end,” he says.
In the individual communities participants have regular meetings to discuss issues that affect the community and these meetings are usually held at community centres, schools and church halls. There have even been instances where persons meet under a tree.
“We have found sometimes that engaging people where they are is best. It could be engaging some youth who are playing football on a field if you can get them for 10-15 minutes to talk about a specific programme, if that is what is required then that is what you do,” he says.
The effectiveness of these CDCs is evident in a number of communities, which have sought to effect change on particular issues. One such example is in Cedar Valley, St. Thomas where a CDC group received training in disaster awareness and planning and were able to be quite responsive during hurricane Ivan last year. Mr. Billings also made reference to Manchioneal in Portland where during the Haitian crisis members of the CDC there were able to get the refugees settled until the officials were able to respond.
The Old Harbour Development Area Committee is another community group, which has come together to plan and prepare for development in their area. “There are countless other community entities who would have come together did their plans and access funding from the Social Investment Fund and other donors to carry out programmes in their communities,” he says.
Mr. Billings says it is the SDC’s intention to get to a level where there is high coverage island wide where all 784 communities can active CDCs. “Our intention so far is to use the community development officer to get out there on the ground, identify these communities that do not have a CDC and get that process started,” says.
Participation rates within these CDC’s he notes will vary. The Executive or the smaller steering committees would probably be more involved in the micro planning and details, while the general members will do the actual hands-on work.
“What happens when we are doing broader community planning process we actually have focus group meetings where information is taken from across different points in the community to get inputs from more persons and in doing that you are not necessarily engaged with people who are members of a CBO or the CDC itself but just the ordinary citizens in the community,” he explains.
Parish Development Committees (PDCs) also play a critical role in CDCs. PDC’s offer a forum for bringing together the citizens in a parish with the local authority and private and public sectors to look at development concerns within the parish. A CDC, however, is seen as a better medium to get the views and inputs of citizens into that forum.
“The way it was originally configured was that you would have CDC and then the CDC would send their members into the PDC to talk with the local authorities and other stakeholders about development concerns in the parish and to share information. The person who went to the PDC would bring back the information to the community and have citizens aware of what was discussed and what was agreed,” Mr. Billings explains.
Training for those persons involved in CDCs is done base on identified needs within a community. “It is a combination of persons who wants to be trained and those serving within the communities who would access training,” he says.
Part of the Commission’s goal for CDCs, Mr. Billings informs JIS News, is to eventually have these Committees in all communities and to educate persons on their functions. “We would expect to have citizens being far more knowledgeable about the services that are available and about the ways in which they can access the services,” he states, adding, “We would expect to be in a position where citizens know what the issues are in their communities and start to look at what can be done to have a far more strategic engagement with ministries and departments and agencies of the government, strategic engagements with the elected representatives and a more strategic engagement with the private sector and donors in terms of what needs to happen in their communities”.
Mr. Billings points out that persons are more familiar with the SDC doing work more exclusively with youth in the area of sports. This he says is however, no longer the case. “This is a far more facilitating role that we are playing in terms of connecting citizens with different arms of government and other section of the society,” he points out.
The Director adds, ” This approach requires citizens to be more proactive and more dynamic in responding to their situation. The relationship with the government is not so much waiting on someone to come and do it for you but bringing attention on what needs to happen and having dialogue to ensure that it happens in a timely manner”.