“It brings us together, it teaches us how to participate and it teaches us how to protect ourselves.” – 13-year-old Alphanso Edwards from Fletcher’s Land, a participant in the taekwondo programme by UP Unity & Peace.
On a hot, still Friday in downtown Kingston residents are awakening from the peak of the lockdown necessitated by COVID-19, yet very much having to cope with its consequences for their families.
Even the sea breeze blowing too slowly up the street from the harbour feels tired. Meantime residents recount stories of reduced incomes, increased needs – not least being able to feed and occupy the energies of their children. Serving six downtown communities, UNICEF partner Fight for Peace and its team members like Parade Gardens Community Coordinator Alphanso Spencer have been challenged to further evolve its UP Unity & Peace programme.
Working together, differently
Before COVID-19, UP was a creative mix of combat sports, counselling and other youth development programmes that had evolved to provide parenting support for their mothers and fathers – all delivered partnering with local organisations. But then the pandemic happened.
“It’s not easy in Jamaica when you don’t have work and like how Alphanso would come around and put you and your kids on a certain programme, or keep a little movie thing every now and then, but then corona stopped that – just like work, school, money coming in, everything just stopped,” says resident Kayon Haughton, her 2-year-old son Dontree sat smiling in her lap.
“Just the good thing that come out of it was the care packages.”
Community members involved
Kayon is speaking about the care packages, for which Fight for Peace collaborated with community wholesalers to prepare and distribute to 200 of the most vulnerable families in the six communities it serves, along with masks created by residents under the guidance of Kingston Creative. In addition to moving all its activities for youth, parents and community organisations online, Fight for Peace worked with its communities to support local solutions to the emerging challenges.
The approach was to bring together the wider community beyond the participants in the UP Unity & Peace programme, not as beneficiaries, but also as providers – sewing the masks, identifying vulnerable families to refer to state services and being focal points to distribute the packages.
“Giving out care packages, giving seamstresses some work making masks to earn a little income due to the coronavirus losing people jobs and opportunities, I believe it is important to help residents themselves play a positive role in their own community,” explains Alphanso. “A lot of persons are struggling right now and so if we found ways for everybody to help somebody – each one, teach one – then together we can reach more.”
His neighbour Calmalee Crossbourn isn’t usually a seamstress. Before COVID-19 she was working in a call centre, but since she owns a sewing machine Calmalee jumped at the chance to participate, albeit in a very different way to the two of her three children who take taekwondo lessons in the UP Unity & Peace programme.
“I do try just about everything because I am not the type of person who will sit around and not do anything. I had to take this opportunity to do it to help my kids and other kids by making these masks,” she says.
A couple minutes’ drive away in Fletcher’s Land, wholesaler Stacey-Ann Francis is cooling out inside her premises. Pre-COVID-19 one of her daughters would also usually be attending taekwondo sessions in the UP Unity & Peace programme, but for now she takes heart in the spirit of togetherness in the community.
Spirit of community togetherness
“You’ll have some parents who help others by looking after them while they are at work. And for those parents who don’t have food, they will cook and give them also,” says Stacey-Ann. “People are helping out their neighbours so if you know someone doesn’t have something and you’d carry and give something to others, or at least give some comfort words.”
Fight for Peace will be continuing its support for families, including tele-counselling check-ins with children and youth on the programme. On several of these calls the Fight for Peace Psycho-social Support Team have found themselves counselling moms and dads and even referring them to government services. It was actually during one of these calls where the need for care packages was flagged.
The Fight for Peace Psycho-social Support Team will be the next post on our blog, explaining how the mental impact of pandemic is being felt in Kingston communities and their work to help families cope.