Sports is being used as a catalyst to unite former volatile communities in the Red Hills Road area.
The communities of 100 Lane, Park Lane, Donmair/Common, 85 Red Hills Road and 60 Whitehall Avenue/Beverleydale, are now enjoying relative peace and camaraderie with the launch of the Red Hills Road Comm-Unity Sports Initiative.
Funded by a $1 million grant from the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF), it aims to foster unity and break down borders in the four communities.
For several months now, the Social Development Commission (SDC) in collaboration with the Med-Haven Ministers Fraternal, the St. Andrew North Police-Community Safety and Security Division, and other critical stakeholders have been working with the residents to improve their relationships with each other, and to maintain peace.
Groups have emerged out of the intervention. There is the Vision United Club from Park Lane and 85 Citizen’s Association as well as there is also the vibrant Whitehall Gardens Cricket team known as, ‘The Strikers’, which placed second in the parish round of the SDC’s 20/20 Cricket Competition.
In a recent interview with the JIS, Field Services Supervisor of the SDC, Luther Cummings, revealed plans to form the White Hall Community Development Committee, which will deal with the issues and plans for the area. Vision United Club will be involved in sports targeting young persons between the ages of 15 and 25.
Mr. Cummings is confident that the initiative will be successful based on the level of cooperation and support from organisations within, and outside of the communities.
“The business community has been very receptive, the SDC has been doing the necessary mobilization and getting the groups together, the Minister’s Fraternal has been playing a fantastic role and with this type of collaboration we are confident that we can maintain our objectives,” he says while expressing appreciation for the grant from JSIF.
At one of the planning meetings held at the Hillside Christian Church, on Red Hills Road, a resident of Donmair/Common, Nadeisha Harrison, said she was happy for the organised sporting events in her community.
“It's important, not only to me, but for the younger kids in the community to spread the love abroad, they can relate to each other without being violent and they can speak to each other in a calm way and know what to say to each other so people do not get easily upset,” Ms. Harrison says.
She recalls that in the past, persons were unwilling to participate in community projects. “It would be better if everybody get involved so everybody can be one, bring back the one love,” she remarks.
President of the newly formed Vision United Club Kenroy Jones says the initiative is an essential programme. “It is important, it is very important. 100 Lane never used to come to Park Lane and now 100 Lane people coming to Park Lane and Park Lane going to 100 Lane, so it is joining us together as one big family. So it is doing well,” he adds.
Kenroy, who is also the netball and football coach of the Club, says he has never had difficulty entering another community since he was well known in the area. “Only when war set a way, I don’t go over there,” he said. However, he notes that the regular planning meetings have helped “to draw the fear” out of the youths, and they now associate with persons from other communities.
According to Kenroy, the Club has formed a netball and two football teams and there are plans to set up a basketball team. He expresses the hope for a community and homework centre in Park Lane for the youth, while noting that the most urgent need was sports gear and books.
Parish Manager of the SDC, Sandra Goulbourne, says the SDC’s main role is to unite the communities by using sports, culture and entertainment so as to “bring young persons back into positive community endeavours and activities."
“We realised that persons do not feel free to move along borders for whatever reason. Anti-socially, you have orders set up and persons do not feel free. What this activity is doing is allowing persons to come together from the various areas,” she explains.
“Unfortunately, the younger persons are sometimes the perpetrators of anti-social behaviour and so we have a strategic focus on culture, sports and entertainment to bring young people together and to work through some of the issues of violence, anti-social behaviour and school drop-outs,” she continues.
Another important role of the SDC, she says, is to empower citizens and to engender the formation of community groups that will give them a voice in planning and participating in their own development.
She notes that the SDC has been working closely with critical stakeholders in the communities. “We work with the churches; we work with all critical stakeholders. The business sector has been very instrumental here. We work closely with the Member of Parliament because they have their role to play in the development of the community,” she adds.
Since the launch of the initiative, residents have been attending planning meetings and friendly sporting competitions, which recently culminated in the community’s first sports day on March 3 at the Hughenden Community Centre. At that event, youths engaged in friendly competition in football, netball, basketball, and cheerleading.
Additionally, she says the SDC has organised a number of behaviour modification workshops for children, adolescents, and young adults aimed at creating positive behaviour change through conflict resolution.
A number of parenting workshops focusing on proper parenting skills and guidance were also held for the residents to effect behaviour change in their homes.
“We try to twin some of the life skills with the actually sport, so they use the sport as a way of learning life skills,” she adds.
While noting that already there are signs of behavioural change occurring, Ms. Goulbourne points out that total change will not happen overnight.
“Some of these attitudes and relationships or mal-activities do not happen overnight and therefore unraveling and untangling and finding a solution to this is not going to come overnight, but we just have to take the small steps and we celebrate the small victories and build on those,” she says.
However, Ms. Goulbourne theorises that if the communities are to develop then there is need to deal with the economic as well as the social and psychological empowerment of citizens.
For that reason, she says the SDC has engaged the Hillside Christian Church to submit a proposal to the Universal Access Fund for an Information, Computer Training and Literacy Improvement facility at 105 Red Hills Road.
“We have to look at ways now to empowering the young persons especially,” she says, adding that the focus is providing the youth with skills instead of finding jobs for them.
“Often times if you go into a number of communities, you’ll find that their priority issue is unemployment, both at the adult level and at the youth level, and when you explore further you realise that they are unemployed because of issues of literacy or the issues of skills,” she says.
“I feel excited about it because of the potential it has. Most great things start off small, just like a mustard seed and it grows into a large tree,” Pastor of Hillside Christian Church, the lead organisation in the Initiative, Gilbert Wesley says.
His desire is to see a Red Hills Road United Football, Netball and Basketball Teams formed in order to get young people active in their communities. Apart from sports, he says, the residents’ greatest need is economic, but “the greater part is education, because that will really help them to get out of the economical challenge that they face from day to day."
Pastor Wesley says the Church is in the process of seeking funds to establish the Education/Computer Centre at the Hillside Church. The Church is also planning to expand a small homework centre, which it started some two years ago. “There are plans to expand the area, so it becomes the lighthouse of the Red Hills Community, where each child will get a hot meal after their homework,” he adds.
By Elaine Hartman Reckord