Thursday, December 12, 2013

Ahhh Ras Natango Garden and Gallery,

View of garden and house (partially hidden)
I recently visited Ahhh Ras Natango Garden and Gallery, the brainchild of Tamika and Ian Williams, who on Monday were declared  the TripAdvisor 2013 Winner, and were awarded a Certificate of Excellence. This premier attraction is in Camrose, on the right hand side of the road running from Montego Bay, through Granville to Kempshot. A steep driveway leads to the house and the amazing garden, built into a hillside where you would think any kind of cultivation would be washed away. However with skillful use of terracing, suitable habitats for a wide variety of tropical and temperate plants have been created, alongside walkways which allow the visitor to admire them. Among the plants grown for their flowers and foliage are Iris, Coleus, Nasturtium, Aquilegia, Roses, Orchids, Crotons, Kalanchoe – Mother of Thousands (which if you’re not careful will take over your whole garden) Anthuriums, Bromedliads, Impatiens, Red Ginger, Cockscomb, Moses-in-a-Basket (Rhoeo) and many more. You can see Tamika’s beautiful photos of her flowers on Ahhh’s facebook page.
Beside the walkways are whimsical touches such as unusual carvings of animals including sharks and snakes, a miniature village, Jurassic Park, and the Zen Garden.
The Village

The Waterfall
At the far end is a waterfall, not less attractive for being man-made. You can relax in comfortable seats near the waterfall, soothed by the gentle sound of water, and take in the breathtaking vista of Montego Bay and the Caribbean Sea.  Stately cedars and other native trees enhance the view.
View of Montego Bay
I must also mention the compost heap, in which garden waste breaks down to form a natural soil-conditioner. I was heartened to hear that no garden waste is burnt here, and neighbours are encouraged to do likewise. 
The Art Gallery and Gift Shop occupy rooms on the ground floor of the house. The Gift Shop was placed 1st among shops of this kind in Jamaica, mainly because all the merchandise is made locally and no pressure is put on visitors to buy. The Art Gallery is filled with paintings of flowers, people and scenery, by Ian and his son Ayale, who show great versatility.
     The beauty of the garden is complemented by the friendliness and courteousness of the staff working there. My thanks to Tensie, who showed us around the garden, and to Marcia who came with us to Buckingham Primary School, where I was to do a book reading.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Old-time Storytelling at Montego Bay Community College

Flyer for Ananse Sound Splash 2013

Amina Blackwood Meeks with her peas soup
An old-time Storytelling evening, mysteriously called “Gi Laugh fi Peas Soup”, was presented in the Montego Bay Community College Lecture Theatre on Friday, November 22nd, by the MBCC Performing Arts Society in association with Ntukuma (The Storytelling Foundation of Jamaica) and the Council of Community Colleges of Jamaica. It was the 8th leg of Anansi Sound Splash 2013* - an Eight Legged Storytelling Conference and Festival.
     After opening remarks by the energetic Philip Clarke, Amina Blackwood Meeks got the evening off to a rollicking start with us all skipping around to the born-in-the-month song. The MBCC Band gave a lively rendition of “Evening Time”, Tashelle O’Connor entertained us with Rolling Calf, and the drama group gave us an Ananse story.
     I read an excerpt from “Flash”, my short story which won a silver medal in the JCDC Creative Writing Contest 2010. I picked out a quarter of it, which I hope gave the gist of the story about a boy inspired by Usain Bolt. If you want to read the whole story, you can download it free from Smashwords 
Marline Stephenson Daley
     With Marline Stephenson Dalley’s side-splitting jokes, we had our laugh and were rewarded with peas soup, made by Andrea Nelson. After Eric Daley recited Easton Lee’s poem “My Mother”, Amina took the stage again with “Her Story”, challenging the audience with questions about customs of bygone days. She also plied us with riddles: “Riddle me dis, riddle me dat, guess this riddle and perhaps not”, or “parrats snap”, as she heard it, as a child. I was reminded of hearing the same phrase on the radio, in an advertisement for Grace products, when I first came to Jamaica. I wondered at the time what a “parapsnat” was! Amina rewarded those who guessed riddles correctly with pens from one of the sponsors.           
     Then she introduced the guest of the evening, Kenyan storyteller Mara Menzies. Mara maintains that stories should not be read but be told, eye to eye, mind to mind and heart to heart. She supported her theory with demonstrations of how to tell stories, with energy, with mime and movement, with variation in facial expression, and in pitch and rhythm of her voice. In her first story, a noisy bird, a banana tree and a turtle met their demise, while the little bug was able to get a good night’s sleep. Her second story, about how the cat came to live in houses, was applauded by all the women in the audience.
Mara telling a story
The remainder of the programme consisted of more performances by the band, another poem Eric Daley, two pieces by the Performing Arts Society, and “Peep Inna Mi Pot” by the MBCC Choir.
This most enjoyable evening demonstrated that we don’t have to go to technology for entertainment. A similar activity could take place in our own homes and communities. Thanks to Philip Clarke for organizing the event.
In attendance were Dr. Angela Samuels Harris, Principal of MBCC with her husband, Glendon Harris, Mayor of Montego Bay, Dr. Maureen Nelson, Vice-Principal of the college and Mrs. Barbara Nelson, recently inducted as an Honorary Fellow of the college, for her years of service to MBCC.

Anansi Sound Splash 2013 was endorsed by JCDC and The Institute of Jamaica. Supporters included Scotiabank, First Global Bank, RBC, British High Commission, The Gleaner and Irie FM. Mara Menzies was sponsored by the British Council. 
Mara and Amina
A member of the band
The MBCC Choir

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Practical Reference Books for Writers - Part 1

All of us as writers try to find our voice, but at times this conflicts with what we learned, – and taught – in those dreaded English Grammar classes. I have found 3 books particularly helpful in releasing me from that straitjacket, and recommend them to writers of essays, short stories and novels.

It is easy to look things up in the timeless “The Elementsof Style” by William Strunk and E.B. White.  The first chapter, on ‘Elementary Rules of Usage’ includes reminders of when to use the singular verb form, and how to avoid dangling modifiers. Chapter 4, ‘Words and Expressions Commonly Misused’ includes examples such as ‘state’ which should be used in the sense of “expressing fully or clearly”, as in “He refused to state his objections”, and not simply to make a change from ‘say’ or ‘remark’. The fifth and final chapter, ‘An Approach to Style’ ends with the observation that “Style takes its final shape more from attitudes of mind than from principles of composition.” All of us who write can find gems in this handy reference book.
It’s also available in a Kindle Edition.

“The laws of grammar come and go,” says Patricia T. O’Conner in her book “Woe is I - the Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in PlainEnglish”, another favourite of mine. In a readable style, she takes a logical approach to the rules of grammar. She advises us, in chapter 9, which laws of grammar should be followed and which are passĂ©, for example splitting the infinitive. I was trained never to put another word between ‘to’ and its related verb. Then came “To boldly go where no one had gone before”. Nothing wrong with that, says O’Conner – be guided more by the sound of your sentence than following a rule.

One would not expect a book on punctuation to be entertaining, but I enjoyed “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” by Lynne Truss. In her enlightening chapter “That’ll Do, Comma”, she quotes Sir Ernest Gowers, “The use of commas cannot be learned by rule”. 
She also gives examples of the effect of changing the position of the comma. “Go, get him surgeons”, and “Go get him, surgeons” have different meanings; as do “Verily I say unto you, This day thou shalt be with me in Paradise”, and “Verily I say unto you this day, Thou shalt be with me in Paradise”.

A final note to writers, it’s easy to be so taken up with rules of grammar that creativity is stifled. To prevent that happening, when writing your first draft, turn off your inner editor and let your writing flow. After writing that, you can turn the inner editor back on. Then you can battle out with a critique group partner, or an editor, your interpretation of rules of grammar.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

JCDC Creative Writing Contest Awards Ceremony 2013

"Gold Anthology" Writers
 This year the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission celebrated 50 years of the Creative Writing Contest. To commemorate this milestone, they have published a “Gold Anthology” containing Gold-Medal-Winning short stories from 1999-2006.  The writers are Rudolph Wallace, Verone Johnston, Michael Reckford, Claudette Beckford-Brady, A-Dziko Simba, Nadine Tomlinson, Charmaine Morris, Rhonda Harrison, Carroll Edwards and Dionne Jackson-Miller.
The Gold Anthology was unveiled at the JCDC Creative Writing Contest Awards Ceremony 2013, held in the Grand Caribbean Suite at the Knutsford Court Hotel, on Tuesday, November 5. There to witness the unveiling were this year’s awardees and their families and friends, who were entertained by a programme of exceptional quality. Mr. Roy Rayon took us back through the years with his Suite of Festival Songs and had us singing along. 
Dr. Erna Brodber
Dr. Erna Brodber, the guest speaker, explained to us how she, as a sociologist, worked to collect the oral histories and the stories of elders in rural communities of Jamaica. She sensed that the way she had to present her findings failed to capture the stories she heard. The novel, she realized, was a better medium.  Hence her four novels: Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come Home (1980), Myal (1988), Louisiana (1994) and The Rainmaker's Mistake (2007). She won the Caribbean and Canadian regional Commonwealth Writers' Prize in 1989 for Myal. In 1999 she received the Jamaican Musgrave Gold Award for Literature and Orature. She encouraged us to continue to tell Jamaicans’ stories.

Then followed the presentation of over 50 awards - Certificates of Merit, Bronze, Silver and Gold Medals, Class and Category awards and Overall Awards,  interspersed with poetry readings by Chadwick Foster, Mrs. Gloria Malcolm-Foster and Ms. Ambrozene Simpson, and a attention-grabbing dramatization of a scene from Omaall Wright’s silver-medal-winning play “Belly Woman”.
I was happy to be among the awardees, with a silver medal and Best Intermediate Novelist for “The Last of the Marogs”, sequel to “Delroy and the Marog Princess” (bronze medal, 2011) and Delroy in the Marog Kingdom (published by MacmillanCaribbean 2009).  

The overall winners were:
1st place - Best Overall Writer - Gloria Malcolm-Foster, (Trelawny), for 3 poems (1 gold, 1 silver and 1 merit) and her play “GSAT!!” (Certificate of Merit)
2nd place - Outstanding Writer - Ava-Gay Bennett, Best Intermediate Poet, for her poems “Di Blackberry” (gold) and “Georgie Porgie” (silver). Ava-Gay hails from St. James, so I’m looking forward to meeting her at JCDC events staged in our parish.
3rd place - Special Writer - Ambrozene Simpson, (Kingston & St. Andrew) Best Adult Poet, for her poem “Constant Companion” (gold).
4th place - Choice Writer - Nattalie Gordon, (St. Catherine), Best Junior Poet, for her poem “New Shoes Blues”, (gold).
Nattalie Gordon delighted with her award

5th place - Noteworthy writer - was shared between Chadwick Foster (Trelawny) for his poem “Monster Maid”, (gold)  and Malachi Smith (Kingston & St. Andrew) for his poem “Cotton Piece”.

The work of all awardees is on display in the Jamaica Creative Writing Exhibition Tour 2013, currently at The National Library of Jamaica until November 22. Between then and July 15, the Exhibition will move from parish library to parish library in a clockwise journey starting in Kingston and St. Andrew. I urge anyone who writes to enter the 2014 contest (final date for entries - last Friday in June), and to read work exhibited to get an idea of the standard of the award-winning entries. 

Here are some links to other articles about the Awards Ceremony:

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Cleaning up the Beach along the Old Airport Road, Montego Bay

   I was wondering where to start on my account of our beach clean-up on the old airport road, when I read Judith’s poem, “Garbage Runs”, written for International Beach Clean-up Day. It says it all!
Bags of garbage collected at Old Airport Beach
Why spoil the view ?

     Many years ago, I used to take students on field trips to the old airport beach, where, at low tide we could use sampling methods, such as line transects, belt transects and quadrats to estimate numbers and distribution of species of nerite and sea urchin. Not much has changed. It is still a popular spot for people to sit and eat from Styrofoam boxes, and drink from plastic bottles or cans, use condoms, and then toss their garbage into the ‘bush’. My questions to these people are, “Do you like to come to the beach and find garbage? Is that why you leave your garbage here?” Perhaps fewer people visit here because of the mess left by others. Will they return now we’ve cleaned it up? If they do will they take their garbage home with them and dispose of it appropriately, including the recycling of plastic bottles? It would be interesting to return in a few weeks and see.
    I was curious about how quite a few pieces of clothing – blouses, shirts, a skirt, a belt – came to be where they were, tangled up with rocks and driftwood, in the sea beside the road. I suspect they were carried there by the storm surge after Hurricane Sandy.
What's tangled up in the driftwood?
Oh! It's a blouse.

A storm surge would also account for the amount of ‘old garbage’ half-buried by sand and fallen leaves. The main change I noticed since I was last there, (about fifteen years ago), was that the vegetation between the road and the beach had grown taller and denser, I suspect hiding more garbage we couldn’t reach. It also provides a refuge for crabs and mongooses.
This crab could still walk in spite of lost legs.
    The group I was in didn’t go beyond the old airport beach, but other groups went as far as Tropical Beach. The clean-up was scheduled to end at eleven, by which time thunder had begun to roll and rain to sprinkle, but not before the volunteers, most of whom are employed at the airport, had assembled for a group photo. The coordinator was Mr. Orville Grey.
   At the same time, other beaches from Freeport to Dump-up were being cleaned by a total of 800 volunteers from  Service Clubs, NGO's and corporate Jamaica.Over 4000 lb of garbage was picked up  The whole Montego Bay Beach Clean-up was organized by Montego Bay Marine Park Trust. Congratulations on a job well done!
Volunteers pose for the camera.

The Beach Clean-up brings into focus the larger question of attitudes to garbage in general. Careless disposal of garbage is not confined to Jamaica (100 countries had Beach Clean-ups on Saturday, September 21), nor is it confined to any social class, political affiliation or religious persuasion. I knew of people in England who encouraged their children to drop garbage in the street because – “People are paid to sweep the streets.”  When I had my school, some parents objected to my asking children to take their turn in picking up litter from the yard - litter the children had dropped.  The residents of some countries are more particular. When I was with a group of students on a visit to Mexico, in 1972, a girl who dropped a sweetie wrapper was told, “We don’t do that here.”

        Efforts to improve attitudes in Jamaica, including “Best Kept Community” competitions, advertising campaigns, “Anti-litter Laws” (hard to enforce), seminars, workshops, and exhortations by environmentalists to “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle”, don’t seem to have made much of a difference. Attitudes are hard to change, but there are some incentives which could be put in place. All PET plastics can be recycled. If a refundable deposit was charged on these bottles, fewer of them would end up in the garbage. Styrofoam is highly toxic and carcinogenic, especially when it dissolves in fatty foods, or is heated in a microwave, or worse still, thrown on a fire. My recommendation is a total ban on Styrofoam containers. We lived without them before and could do so again. 
        There’s slogan on the side of some garbage trucks: “Jamaica’s beauty is our duty”.  All of us living in Jamaica, disposing of our garbage responsibly, can help to keep her what she is, one of the most beautiful places on earth. 

Yes, I was there.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Going Solar in Jamaica

"Silicon cells, from which solar panels are constructed, manufactured from 1 ton of silica sand can produce as much electricity as 500,000 tons of coal."

Solar panels  (Solar Direk photo.)

There's so much information available about photovoltaic systems, it's hard for someone considering installing a system to know where to begin. My purpose in writing on this topic is to highlight some of the information which may interest homeowners in Jamaica.
The usual components of a photovoltaic system are the solar panels, charge controller, batteries and inverter.
I’m starting with batteries, because it's not widely known that, if you are still connected to the grid, and have permission from JPS for that connection, you don’t have to have batteries. Those used in most PV systems are lead-acid, deep cycle batteries. The advantage of batteries is that they give you an uninterrupted power supply, which would be important if you have frequent power-cuts.
The disadvantage of batteries are
·          that they are expensive (about Ja$40,000.00 each);
·         energy is lost in charging and discharging them, making the system less efficient;
·         there are more components to install;
·         as they near full charge, hydrogen is produced and vented out of the system. Hydrogen is a highly explosive gas, so they should be in a well-ventilated area, free from naked lights;
·         they require regular maintenance and have to be refilled with ionized water;
·         their life expectancy is shorter than that of the solar panels.
Battery bank (Solar Direk photo)
Charge Controllers
The charge controller controls the current going to the batteries from the panels. It works as a voltage regulator and prevents the batteries from being overcharged or over discharged, which would shorten the life of the batteries.
Grid tie system
You can have a grid tie system with or without battery back-up. Even with battery back-up, there are advantages to this system. It is not necessary to install a PV system to supply the maximum load – the shortfall can be supplied from the grid. For example, you may use your a/c units only in the summer months, at which time the fridges are working harder and fans may also be in use. Thus your maximum load is in the summer. For the rest of the year, the load is less. To supply the maximum load without grid tie would mean more solar panels, and higher cost.
If you plan to install a grid tie system, you should first get permission from JPS. If you have an analogue meter, when you connect your PV system to the grid, during the day when the panels are generating excess current, your meter will spin backwards and in the night it will reverse as it draws current from the grid. If you connect to a digital meter, it will spin forwards all the time, even when you are sending current to the grid, so you would be charged for the electricity you have supplied to JPS! So that isn’t an option. Either way, JPS would prefer that customers apply for Net Billing, before system is installed.
To apply for Net Billing
1.      Complete the application form in duplicate and submit one to JPS and the other to OUR (with non-refundable fee of Ja$2,000.00). Keep a photocopy for yourself.)
2.      Submit the following documents:
a.       Electrical drawings of Renewable Energy System.
b.      A completed System Component Information Form.
c.       Test and compliance certificate for inverters.
(These 3 would have to be prepared by the company installing your system.)
3.      The Government Electrical Inspector (GEI) has to inspect the system and approve the drawings, and his certification should be forwarded to JPS.
4.      Pay at JPS parish office for
a.       Net Billing Meter (about Ja$50,000.00). 
b.      Utility Disconnection Switch (if that isn’t already in your system).
c.       Deposit Upgrade - total of last 3 months light bills.
5.      Submit proof of insurance, ownership of property and system.
Solar panels seen from below

Solar Panels
    A variety of solar panels is available with a range of prices.
Monocrystalline panels are more efficient than polycrystalline, because they continue to work at lower light intensities.
The wattage of on the panels indicates the maximum which they can supply in ideal conditions, i.e. at solar noon on a clear day at a temperature of 25 degrees C.
One would think that with all the sun we get in Jamaica, our systems would supply more current than those in a temperate climate. However, panels are dark in colour and are directly in the sun, so they get hot. Any increase in their temperature above 25 degrees C reduces their efficiency. Surrounding air above that temperature would not be able to cool them in the way a cooler temperature could.
    Shading of the panels, including partial shading and cloud cover, reduces their performance. For example, in July, an array of 12 monocrystalline 300W panels produced a high of 21.3 KWH on a sunny day, and a low of 4.6 KWH on an overcast day, and an average of 16 KWH per day. As the system had battery back-up, not all of this was available for use.
Solar panels generate and batteries store DC (direct current), but household appliances use AC (alternating current). Inverters convert DC to AC. Today’s inverters are sophisticated, computerized pieces of equipment. There are different kinds for stand-alone systems, for grid tie, for grid tie with battery backup, and some can even incorporate generators.
Which company?
Listed in the Jamaican Yellow Pages are about twenty companies which sell and install PV systems. Your choice of company would be influenced by their experience, expertise, and quality of relationships with customers. Having selected a company, you can partner with them in coming up with a design to suit your requirements. They would make a site visit to see where you propose to locate the panels and inverter, and batteries and charge controller, if you plan to have a battery back-up system; and recommend which brand of components you should buy.
Other considerations
With the cost of electricity as it is in Jamaica, most people have taken steps to conserve, replacing incandescent bulbs with fluorescent and now LED bulbs, and replacing electric with solar water heaters. The appliances which use the most electricity, and have the highest wattage, are those which heat and cool. If you have an electric stove, and have good reason for not wanting a gas stove, this will present a challenge.
A final word
Find out as much as you can about SV systems before you install, because whatever you buy becomes your responsibility.  
The initial cost of the components is high, and they do require energy for their manufacture. It takes a solar panel about a year to recoup the energy used in its manufacture. All components of solar systems have to be imported into Jamaica, and require foreign exchange. However, in the long run, a large number of PV systems installed would reduce the country’s oil bill.
120,000 customers, each with 10 x 300 watt panels could provide 360 megawatts, the same amount of power as the new power plant to be built.  Initial cost would be about US$ 1800 million, considerably more than the new power plant, and less reliable, but eventually could reduce the oil bill considerably.
    Thanks to Solar Direk (in Montego Bay 979-7994 and Kingston 946-9860) for use of their photographs.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Review of Dr. Pearnel Bell's book

In an interview with Dr. Pearnel Bell on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, which I posted on January 22, 2012, she informed me that she had written a book on the behaviour disorders, which would soon be available in books stores in the USA. A Teacher's Guide to Understanding the Disruptive Behaviour Disorders: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, and Conduct Disorder is now available in Jamaica. Copies were on sale at Dr. Bell’s book launch on Friday, August 23. 
    The information in this book made a profound impression on me. Since reading it, certain ideas have played over in my mind. One of my passions is that all children should learn to read. I volunteered at Chetwood Memorial Primary School, one afternoon a week to help Grade 2 children who had not yet learnt to read. Mrs. Amoy Virgo also helped the same children on another afternoon. A student from Montego Bay Community College helped in the 2011-12 school year. He motivated the students, and they liked him. I had hoped to involve more volunteers, especially students at the tertiary level, but this was not to be. Perhaps there was a reason. I had concentrated on the teaching of reading instead of focusing on the children.
    Mrs. Virgo and I were faced with a real problem when it came to discipline. Several of the children couldn’t concentrate for more than about five minutes – they crawled around under the desk to pick up things they’d dropped on the floor, they liked to slide on the ceramic tiles in the library, they were distracted by every little thing and made frequent requests to go to the bathroom. It is possible that they had a disruptive behaviour disorder. The better behaved children in the groups were distracted by them. I tried to use positive reinforcement, but I have to admit that from time to time, I raised my voice and glared at them. One student may have suffered from Oppositional Defiance Disorder, as he point-blank refused to do as he was told.
    Dr. Bell’s book indicates to me that I should have taken an entirely different approach. Ideally, the children would have been referred to a psychologist, who would work with teachers, parents and social workers to modify the children’s behaviour. Given the large numbers of children in relation to the numbers of psychologists and social workers, the second-best is for the teachers (including myself) to have a better understanding of the disorders, and reward desirable behavior instead of punishing undesirable behavior.   
    The book does not prescribe a simple remedy to the problems confronting teachers when they have children with disruptive behaviour disorders in their classes. Rather, it identifies the direction in which teachers should look to find their own solutions to these problems. Dr. Bell begins by defining the disorders and discusses teachers’ knowledge and perceptions of, and experience and attitudes towards them. She recommends that teachers read more about these behaviour disorders and provides and extensive list of references.
Dr. Pearnel Bell
        In her second chapter, she draws on her own research into Jamaican teachers’ knowledge, experience and attitudes. When confronted with a child with a disruptive behaviour disorder, many teachers will reprimand, shout, give the child a cold stare, or even beat the child. When these strategies are ineffective, teachers are overcome with feelings of frustration.  They may send that child to the Guidance Counselor, or Principal, or send the child out of the class. Not only are these strategies ineffective, they have actually been shown to make matters worse. In her third chapter, she discusses in a balanced way the use of medication as a treatment option.
    Chapter 4: “Strategies Teachers Can Use to Deal with ADHD, ODD and CD Students”  is probably the one which many teachers and administrators will find the most helpful. The usefulness of the ecosystem approach, involving psychologists, teachers, social workers and parents is explained. The shortage of trained personnel in Jamaica hinders widespread use of this strategy. However, much can be done by administrators to train teachers and encourage teamwork among teachers and parents. The importance of teachers giving positive reinforcement for good behaviour cannot be overemphasized. “Experts are unanimous in supporting the use of praise and positive reinforcement as a powerful tool for reducing problem behaviour and improving academic performance.”
    The final chapter “Self Care: Stress Management for Life Management” is an often overlooked aspect of training for teachers. Throughout the book, Dr. Bell makes reference to how disruptive students make teachers feel, and therefore react, and the effect of the teachers’ reaction on these students. Chapter 5 includes stress reduction tips and emphasizes the importance of self-reflection and self-monitoring.
     I strongly recommend this book to all teachers and school administrators. A copy should be available in every school and teachers’ training college. Since it is based on workshop content, it could also be the basis for workshops within a school or college. Chapter 4 ends with questions for discussion among workshop participants. I regret that it was not possible for Dr. Bell to include samples of responses to these questions. We look forward to further publications of this nature by Dr. Bell.
    There is evidence that children with untreated disruptive behaviour disorders often find themselves on the wrong side of the law. What if all of these children could be treated, or at least given positive reinforcement for desirable behaviour by their teachers? Perhaps we would see a reduction in the crime rate, hence a reduction in the cost of crime. The money saved could be used to employ more psychiatrists and social workers. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Dr. Pearnel Bell’s Book Launch

Teachers, family, friends and well-wishers gathered in Room 21, UWI, Western Campus on Friday, August 23, 2013 for the launch of Dr.Pearnel Bell’s book, “A Teacher’s Guide to Understanding the Disruptive Behaviour Disorders – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD), and Conduct Disorder”. The publication of this book is a testament to Dr. Bell’s determination and dedication. She made time to write in spite of her busy schedule of work as a Clinical Psychologist, Regional Consultant with the Ministry of Health, University Lecturer and Researcher. It is described by Dr. Daniel Eckstein as timely. I wish I’d had the information in this book years ago, and therefore describe it as long overdue. However, the book could not have been written sooner, as it contains up-to-date information, much of the research into these disorders having been carried out in the 21st century.
Joy Crooks

Chairperson for the launch, Joy Crooks, Nurse Administrator of CUMI (Committee for the Upliftment of the Mentally Ill), extended a warm welcome to us and introduced Dr. Luz Longsworth, Director of the University of the West Indies Western Campus, who brought greetings. Dr. Claudette Crawford-Brown, Lecturer in Sociology, Psychology and Social Work in the Faculty of Social Sciences at UWI, and Director of the Child and Adolescent Academy of Jamaica also brought greetings. The need for training and networking of all practitioners in the field of mental health is being addressed by this academy, and Dr. Bell’s book contains important reference material to be used by the academy. Dr. Crawford-Brown taught Dr. Bell, whom she named among the top ten students she has ever taught. Dr. Crawford-Brown is the author of “Children in the Line of Fire”.
There followed a Cultural Item “Gimme Dumpling” entertainingly and confidently performed by a little girl from Montego Bay Infant School.
Kay Osborne giving the Keynote Address

The keynote address was given by Kay Osborne of Kay Osborne and Associates, whom we remember as having taken over the reins at TVJ at a critical time. She had read Dr. Bell’s book from cover to cover and highlighted some salient points. She surmised that it was love that drove Dr. Bell to write this most important book, a great achievement in a country where people love to talk but not act. Many of the problems in Jamaica, including crime and violence, stem from mental health problems. Teachers are not usually aware of contributing to harming a child, and could instead help the child if they knew how.  Even small interventions can be helpful, including encouraging the class to applaud good behavior in a disruptive child. Parents sometimes abandon children with problems to the teacher, but a child can be helped best when teachers, parents, social workers and psychologists work together.
Dr. Bell made her response after an introduction by Mrs. Shona Herron, who claimed that Dr. Bell lives what she teaches, and is a social worker at heart, finding great joy when she is able to diagnose and treat. She is a graduate of UWI, received her doctorate at Nova South Eastern  University and her post-doctoral work was at Walden University. Previously, she was a teacher at St. James High School for many years.

Dr. Bell herself confessed that teaching was her first love. It was in schools that she found that teachers lacked the knowledge of disruptive behavior disorders, and what to do when confronted by them in the classroom.  

Books on sale.
Dr. Bell signing a copy of her book

If you are a teacher, I strongly recommend you to buy this book, or ask your principal to buy it for your school. If you’re not a teacher, please encourage all the teachers you know to get hold of a copy and read it.

Next week: a review of the book.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Zero Tolerance or Infinite Tolerance?

“A zero tolerance policy imposes automatic punishment for infractions of a stated rule, with the intention of eliminating undesirable conduct.” (Wikipedia). The “broken window theory” claims that if a window is broken and not repaired, more windows will be broken and eventually the building will be broken into. Extrapolating that argument, if minor infractions of rules go unpunished, the perpetrators or people in general will continue to expect to be able to  break other laws and not be punished. Arguments and examples can be put forward supporting and  opposing this theory.
Garbage on Sewell Avenue, Montego Bay

However, in Jamaica, the attitude of infinite tolerance seems to prevail. No action is taken against those who break so many of our laws. Take for example the Anti-Litter Act, passed with much fanfare and education programmes in the 1980’s. There are occasional crackdowns, in relation to posters advertising events, but in general there is total disregard for this law. Our drains and gullies are filled with plastic bottles, Styrofoam boxes and other trash to such an extent that they are blocked when heavy rains come and flooding results. Parish Councils are called on to keep these waterways clean, but you never hear of anyone being penalized for dropping the garbage there in the first place. On Sewell Avenue, in Montego Bay, there are two spots where people dump their garbage in an unsightly pile. Garbage trucks pass by regularly and sanitation workers take it up, but minutes later more is deposited. People, where is your civic pride? Couldn’t somebody at least provide a garbage drum at this location?
Open burning

Very few people seem to be aware that there is a law against open burning – a common practice. It’s hard to detect somebody littering - they drop their garbage and disappear, but it’s easy to see smoke and the evidence of a fire in an urban area. If Parish Councils collected fifty-thousand dollars for every instance of open burning, they would need no other source of income.
Slash and burn farming, Caledonia, Westmoreland

Harder to catch are slash and burn farmers in deep rural areas, and those who cut down trees with the intention of selling them. Police in Westmoreland have expressed their frustration at not being able to catch these thieves.
  Another law which is flouted with impunity is the night noises law. Operators of sound systems are supposed to get police permission before holding a session, but many fail to do so. Their noise continues well beyond the stipulated cut-off time and is replete with ‘forty-shilling-words’ which in a different setting would be grounds for an arrest.
  At one time, it was forbidden to import Pit Bull Terriers, and all imported dogs had to be quarantined for six months, to guard against rabies. Pit Bulls and other dogs were sneaked in, by-passing the quarantine. As far as I know, the law forbidding their importation is still on the books, but now Pit Bulls are one of the commonest breed of dog to be found in Jamaica.     
Even the government breaks its own laws by locking up children in adult prisons, and keeping adult prisoners incarcerated for many months without charging them.
  I hadn’t intended for my blog to be a platform from which to rant, as I prefer to be positive and look for solutions. I asked myself whether I would reproach anybody I saw dropping or burning garbage, and the answer was “No”, (except in the case of our neighbour’s gardener to whom we’ve spoken numerous times). However, I know there are many people who think as I do. I’ve heard them on talk-shows and seen their letters in newspapers. By continuing to talk and write, we must make it known that we are the majority, we disapprove of indiscipline and we shouldn’t let ourselves be bullied. We can also lend our support to organizations such as Jamaicans for Justice, and Jamaica Environment Trust, by thanking them and encouraging them to continue to speak out on our behalf.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Dangers of Smoke and Smoking

 I fully endorse the recently passed law banning smoking in public places in Jamaica, and the education campaign to support it. This is a health issue, not only for those who smoke, but also for those who breathe in second-hand smoke.

Equally unhealthy, and perhaps even more so, is the smoke produced by open burning of garbage and garden waste. Very few people, including the police, seem to know that this also is against the law and that there is a $50,000.00 fine for offenders. If they know it’s against the law, they also know that the chance of being convicted and fined is almost zero. In Jamaica, it is a common cultural practice instilled in children from an early age. They are exhorted to “Clean up the yard and burn the trash.” Those who indulge in this practice seem to be in blissful ignorance of the dangers of breathing in the smoke.
This practice of open burning isn’t limited to individuals, but is also carried on by organizations and companies. After bushing the area around the sewage ponds in Montego Bay, workers employed to the National Water Commission burn the trash. More serious, I observed open burning of garbage, which probably contains plastics, at the Sangster International Airport. Their incinerator looks like a derelict heap of rusted metal.
JET's Poster

The following information about the dangers of open burning were sent to me by Diana McCaulay of the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) 11 Waterloo Road, Kingston 10, Jamaica; Phone: (876) 960-3693

Depending on what is burned: soot and other particulate matter, carbon monoxide, methane, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as benzene, semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs) including poly-cyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), carbonyls, lead, mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDDs/Fs). Many of these substances are known carcinogens.

Open burning emissions are released at or near ground levels where people live and work, instead of through tall stacks which aid dispersion. Open fires can affect large areas and persist for a long time.
Technologies to clean up emissions cannot be used for open burning.
Burning after clearing a plot of land

It does. Specifically, biomass fires typically emit 10 VOCs, 12 SVOCs, 15 Carbonyls, and 2 PCDDs/Fs.

Increased infant mortality, low birth weight of babies, onset of childhood asthma, coughs, wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, burning in eyes nose and throat, dizziness, weakness, confusion, nausea, disorientation, exposure to known carcinogens. While the seriousness of these depends on how close people are to fires, how long fires persist and the number of fires people are exposed to open burning increases risk of death among the general population, particularly the elderly, children, and those with preexisting respiratory and cardiac illnesses.

I am sure that some of the increase in the incidence of asthma, sinusitis and lung cancer can be attributed to open burning as well as to the smoking of tobacco.

We should all stop open burning – the unenclosed combustion of materials, and the burning of waste of all types.

·         Reduce waste,
·         recycle
o        especially plastic bottles. Let’s put a cess on all plastic bottles. If you can afford to buy something in a plastic bottle, you can afford Ja$5.00 at time of purchase and get it back later. If you don’t want to return the plastic bottle, someone else will.
o   composting kitchen and garden waste. This doesn’t have to be high tech. Some fancy bins are sold for composting, but even in a small yard, you can fence off, or mark off an area, or dig a hole where you deposit kitchen waste, and cover it with dead leaves or grass clippings. Add layers of kitchen waste and garden trash. You may need to water (with used water!) it in the dry season. Nature will do the rest. You can turn the pile after about 3 months and start a new one. The speed of breakdown of compost in Jamaica never ceases to amaze me. You can mix the resulting compost with soil for growing plants.
This banana had its roots in a compost heap
·         as a last resort bury non hazardous waste far away from water sources.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Emancipation through Reading

On August 1, 2013, Jamaica celebrates a hundred and seventy five years since the royal decree proclaiming all slaves to be free people. However, the effects of slavery on the psyche of the nation are felt even to this day. Marcus Garvey was acutely aware of this. He challenged people to:
“Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our mind.” As he also recommended that reading and writing are the instruments to achieve this, all efforts to encourage children to read and write will in turn contribute to emancipation.
 One such effort is the highly successful Summer Arts Workshop, part of the Granville Reading and Art Programme. It is now in its 3rd year, thanks to the dedication, energy and creativity of its director, Natalie Bennett and her hard working assistants.
Children following while a story is read
What is the Summer Arts Workshop? In Natalie’s words,
“The idea of the programme is to designate time in the summer months, and to give
children unmediated access to books where they can read what they like, be read to, practice various reading and thinking skills, and create works of art that they can use to create and write their own stories.
“The focus is on providing a nurturing space where children can develop a love of reading, where reading becomes a habit that they are happy to feed, and which can be fed without them having to leave their community to go downtown Montego Bay, and whether or not they are in school.
Parents can be drawn into the reading experience through a variety of strategies, whether sending home books and asking them to read with their children, or having them volunteer in the day program." 
Natalie Bennett

The importance of involving parents in children’s education is well documented, but how to get them involved is a well kept secret, which Natalie seems to have unearthed. This was her entry on the programme’s facebook page on July 24:
The highlight was one parent who has two sons in the program, and who cut me off in the middle of my introduction:
"Miss, I don't cut you, but I don't know what unnu doing up there, but these boys love to read all of a sudden. They used to hate reading. Hate it like poison. Now! They cannot wait to go to the program in the morning. You should see them when they come home with their books. Miss, I love that program. I would like to make a contribution towards lunch, or to volunteer -- anything."
Getting parents so enthusiastic is such a ground-breaking achievement, I had to ask Natalie how she did it. This is what she said:
“How I did it? I picked up the phone. Seriously. I dialed their numbers, asked for them, joked with them, encouraged them to continue (or to cease and desist from some unproductive behaviours), and told them I looked forward to seeing them again. It will take more than one phone call, but it's what I feel needed to be done. I think we really underestimate how disempowered the parents feel, and the profound sense of shame they experience when their children are not doing well, they don't know what to ask, and don't even always understand what they are being told.
I think they were all caught off-guard because I didn't call them to tell them their kids were acting the fool. Instead, I called them to thank them for sending their children to the program, to find out what their children's experiences were saying about the program, and to remind them of our expectations of how parents would participate and support the work.

When you tell people what you expect of them, help them to reach those expectations, and give them some options about how they can do it, mostly, they will respond. At least, that's what I believe and that's what I practice until I have evidence contrary to such.”
Shelani reading 'Bolo the Monkey'

I first visited the Granville Reading and Art Programme in July 2012, when I read from Delroy in the Marog Kingdom. I returned today with Bolo the Monkey, by Jonathan Burke. My nine-year-old friend, Shelani, came with me to read. She has a strong voice and reads with expression. Tanya Batson-Savage, publisher of the book had visited the previous week and donated copies, which the children could follow during the reading.
Compared with my visit last year, I noticed that the children settled more quickly, with an air of expectation that a story would be worth listening to, and they were more attentive. There was also something intangible in the atmosphere, which I can only describe as happiness.
Once again I congratulate Natalie Bennett, Director, and Jacqueline Strong-Rhoden, Co-ordinator, and all the volunteers for giving their time and energies to a programme which will continue to produce positive results.
If you would like to know more about the Granville Reading and Art Programme, you can visit their facebook page. Better still, visit the Granville Community Centre on Exhibition Day, August 16, when art work will be on display.