Lady Allen and I welcome the invitation to attend and participate in this meeting of Church, school and community leaders in Mocho, Clarendon.
Like the rest of Jamaica, you too are concerned about the level at of crime and the impact it is having on your community. Your letter of invitation painted a beautiful picture of a quiet, peaceful and productive community that has been changed in recent times because of a spate of criminal activities.
As you have indicated in your letter to me, as leaders you have decided to come together and take back the community, by providing positive values and role models. This is commendable! Now you have come together to share your ideas and expertise and make plans to tackle this serious challenge of crime and violence. I hope that your efforts will lead to the positive transformation that you seek. It is initiatives like this at the community level, the grass, spearheaded by good people like you that will enable the transformation of this nation.
Taking back the Community
At my inauguration in February I said that,
“the conditions which pervade Jamaica life scream at us to immediately develop and implement a survival package in defence of our nation…Each of us wherever we function…must get into action now for the sake of our nation.”
Since that time, Lady Allen and I have been travelling across the country meeting with Jamaicans from all walks of life. We have been getting their perspectives on what is wrong with Jamaica and how we can use what is right to fix some of our problems. We have met with young people from all parishes, members of the clergy and leaders of industry and commerce, among others. This programme today is what is right with Jamaica.
In our travels, people have indicated their concerns about problems in the nation, including crime and violence, a lack of parenting skills, problems in education, indiscipline in schools and throughout the society, to name a few. What we have discovered is that, the societal problems can be summarized under three broad headings.
- Family life and parenting
- Youth and community
As you work through the challenges in Mocho, you may want to focus on these core areas.
What the Church and Community can do
I believe the Church and community should deepen its involvement in social work through its Christian Ministry and step up to the forefront of restoring societal values such as respect, tolerance, fairness, discipline and good behaviour. These values, together with forgiveness, sharing and caring, must remain integral elements of your ministry and an indestructible part of the fabric of our nation. You have to work with the school and wider community to help reinstate the family as the primary institution of learning and socialization in society.
An article published in the Daily Gleaner in July stated that of the 45,790 live births in Jamaica in 2005, only 7,213 were born to couples. Birth to unwed mothers and married women in 2007 was 35,344 and 6,835 respectively. Too many homes have only one parent making it more difficult for children to receive proper guidance and have values imparted in them. We see the effects manifested in delinquency, disrespect and indiscipline. Our churches, schools and communities will have to step up to the plate and offer serious support in raising our children.
Where possible, I believe the leadership of the Church, school and community should become involved in not only providing opportunities for the education of our children, but conducting seminars for parents. Where possible, churches, schools and communities can corporate through mentoring programmes. Children need guidance and motivation. If the home does not provide guidance for children, our reality demands that it must be done at other places where they can be reached. One such place is in our schools and in addition to the hard work they perform on behalf of the nation, Principals and teachers will have to become surrogate parents. You have to mentor and inculcate values in your students because there is the chance that they will not receive it anywhere else.
At the community level, many persons are disheartened and feel a sense of fear due to the mounting incidences of crime. This is where parents and the adults in the community will have to direct young people back to core values.
Several businesses and churches have helped communities with the establishment of homework centres and playing fields. These initiatives are to be commended and encouraged.
Factors Influencing Crime
From your correspondence I could sense the urgency of the situation in which you find yourself. Several factors influence crime in Jamaica but for us, it is primarily our young people especially those in the 15-24 age group, who are prone to crime. Their vulnerability comes from factors such as:
- Low levels of academic achievement
- Violence in schools such as the recent examples in St. Ann and St. James
- Unoccupied youth who are neither in school nor have a job
- Absentee parents and dysfunctional families
- A feeling of social inequality resulting in resentment between the haves and the have not.
On that point let me hasten to say that poverty is not a necessary condition for crime, as the majority of poor people are decent, law abiding citizens. But it is a reality that crime of material desperation does take place. Some people will unfortunately steal food, money and clothing because they find themselves in desperation situations.
Effects of Crime
Crime has devastating consequences and that’s why I was so eager to endorse this initiative by the leaders and citizens of Mocho to take back the community. Some of the effects include:
- Destruction of people, culture and infrastructure, which degrades peoples quality of life and hinders opportunities for employment, health and education.
- Crime restricts mobility and interferes with social and economic interaction, as well as the ability of children to access education. This happens when people cannot cross the border from one community to the next, and their children cannot go to school, or their parents to go to work in certain areas.
- Crime is bad for business as investors see it as a sign of social instability. The cost of doing business becomes inflated due to excessive expenditure on security. The result is that there is a low level of economic activity and a contraction in the number of available jobs.
- Crime undermines governance and community development by destroying the trust between people and between government and society.
- The profound impact of crime is largely personal as families try to cope with the emotional and practical cost of the death and/or disability of a loved one who is oftentimes the sole breadwinner.
These are costs which many children, families and whole communities have had to face, as the nation grapples with the scourge of crime.
For the sake of our children and the future of Jamaica, I hope that this bold initiative taken by the Mocho Welfare Association, Principal and Churches will bear fruit, and that you will be able to establish a model community for other communities around Jamaica to emulate.
In closing, I would like to commend the Lennon High School football team for emerging the top schoolgirl football team in the island. They are the heroes of your community. Please find ways to involve them in the activities that are aimed at transforming the community. They are a shining example of achieving excellence through perseverance and hard work. The young people of the community should emulate them and the tenacity and discipline with which they approach their sport.
Mocho’s perception of the situation it faces and the determination to take back the community defies the belief that we have to accept things the way they are. By your actions you have embraced the, I believe message and will endeavour to show the rest of Jamaica that there is nothing wrong with our communities that cannot be fixed by what is right with them.
I thank you and may God bless the community of Mocho.