Commentary Jamaica Magazine

West Indian Crickets In The Dark

Written by Craig Dixon

I. For an intern, I lived and studied in the Spice Isle for an unusually long time – at first, under the auspices of the Caribbean Internship Project (CIP) via the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona and the Caribbean Child Support Initiative (CCSI) together with the Roving Caregivers Programme (RCP) and finally, though briefly, at the Ministerial Complex, alongside a coterie of social development workers and a youth-led-and-oriented advocacy group from T.A Marryshow Community College in Tanteen, St. George. In all I spent roughly twelve months.

Barbadian Novelist and anti-colonialist George Lamming is right to think of the Caribbean as a country with parishes strewn about the sea. A claim that Grenada’s ‘father of the West Indies Federation’ Theophilus Albert Marryshow would have approved were he alive today. I was in a land far from my own, in actuality more than a thousand miles away and I did not know the difference. I did not see it, it was not felt. I was at home and, I admit, I would not have had it any other way.

I was interested in the historicity of Maurice Bishop’s Marxist-Leninist New Jewel Movement (NJM) People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s and what it meant at the time to the Caribbean proletariat; the educated, rising, radical middle-class and in the world context of Third World dissidence. The Grenada Revolution of 1979 was supported, initially, by many in the region, in spirit and in praxis. Many leftists and political activists migrated to Grenada to buttress the Revolutionary Government and to send a clear message of dissent to the purveyors of western hegemonic rule.

My tenure in Grenada began this way, understanding first of all what that moment (March 1979) in history meant to the region: to Jamaica, Cuba, Guyana; to the poverty-stricken and suppressed person everywhere, barely surviving as eternal victims of pitiless and megalomaniacal governments.

The revolutionaries, in high dudgeon, self-destructed in ‘83, inevitably; but the bread and butter spirituals of survival, the natural urgings of life, the poor man’s audacities, the assurance of each man’s right to dream, which gave the revolutionary spirit its wings, continue to soar in Grenada and the region today, and will, perhaps, do so forever.  

From as early as the second week of June 2010, I was able, with vague opinions and learning going in, to identify the umbilical cord which connects the region to a common womb and why Mr. Lamming holds his particular view of the indispensible oneness of our existence.   

It became clear to me why we need to be together. We are prodigal isles of the same parentage, from the same bedrock through to the topsoil. I mean no offence when I say that Grenada is an extension of Jamaica, like Carriacou is to Grenada and Tobago to Trinidad – save for the obvious geo-political ties and the accent, which are inconsequential. The point herein is that we are so much alike, it smacks of absurdity to be apart.

I discerned too that few things are more important than what I went there to do. 

I worked as a media intern with the Roving Caregivers Programme (RCP), which is a non-formal Early Childhood Development (ECD) programme for economically deprived families and their 0-5 year olds. RCP was created in Clarendon, Jamaica, in 1993, by the Rural Family Support Organization (RUFAMSO). In addition to Jamaica and Grenada, RCP operates in St. Lucia, Dominica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Belize.

I was, as a son of Jamaica, given the privilege of entering the homes of my brothers and sisters in Grenada, to share with them, in effect, the message that their’s and their children’s existence is evidence that this and future generations need them; that the Caribbean Community cannot advance without their integral input.  

In the Eastern Caribbean, the funding, top-level coordination, technical assistance and structural framework of the RCP are provided through the Caribbean Child Support Initiative (CCSI), established in 2002 and headquartered at the Caribbean Centre for Development Administration (CARICAD), situated in Barbados. The CCSI:

…is a creation of the Bernard van Leer Foundation (BvLF – located in Holland) established ‘to address issues germane to poor parenting practices and inadequate cognitive stimulation of young children living in difficult social and economic circumstances….The CCSI represents a departure from (the BvLF) usual approach in the Caribbean with the Foundation opting to work with a thematic focus, have a regional scope, make transition from project programme approaches, build on the merits of networking, and use a local intermediary structure to facilitate implementation[i]

Seventy per cent of children living in the Caribbean have no access to Early Childhood Development (ECD) services. An Early Childhood Policy Scan conducted in 2006, showed that of the infants and toddlers living in Grenada, only 568 out of 6,117 had access to ECD services. Within a seven year stretch commencing in 2004, the RCP in Grenada, has provided ECD stimulation to approximately 3,000 belonging to this fold. Over 2,000 families have been engaged, with about 300 Rovers[ii] and hundreds of other stakeholders and activists. Across the region, in excess of 10,000 children have benefited from CCSI-supported and cost-effective initiatives.

Along with RCP, CCSI has established, via the University of the West Indies, the Caribbean Internship Project, of which I am a beneficiary – as well as close to 200 graduates from U.W.I’s three campuses…in addition to the Universities of Belize and Guyana.

The impressive list of CCSI’s programmes includes: the Regional Youth and Community Advocacy Network (Regional YouCAN); the Early Childhood Health Outreach (ECHO); the Family Learning Programme (FLP); the Spice Island Young Readers (SIYR) project; the Storytelling for Early Childhood and Parent Support (STEPS) initiative; the Regional Radio Project and numerous workshops and community based training programmes have been conducted as well.   

The aim of policy advocacy as articulated by the CCSI is to heighten awareness about, and enhance understanding of child rearing practices and issues; create more demand for quality ECD and family support services, influence policy makers and practitioners, through work and care related topics and issues; consolidate and mainstream RCP-type service model through conceptual ‘buy-in’, marketing and fundraising in public and private sectors[iii]

At the community level in Grenada, the CCSI/RCP has proven to be much more than early childhood education providers. The RCP has managed to galvanize thousands to join the realms of child rights advocacy and youth development activism. In an article entitled ‘RCP’s Philosophical Outlook’ published on February 11th 2011 in the Grenada Informer newspaper, I wrote: 

Bearing in mind that a child’s character is shaped by numerous agents of socialization, the Roving Caregivers Programme has extended its support and philosophy of interactivity to community-based clubs and schools. Rovers are admonished to work with families and communities with the goal of establishing child-rights advocacy groups as well as to urge existing organizations to support RCP’s projects and campaigns.
           

Writing in the Grenada Informer’s April 8 2011 edition, Angelique Durant, a member of the T. A. Marryshow Community College Youth and Community Advocacy Network (TAMCC YouCAN), in reference to a recently held eight-mile-long walkathon organized to raise awareness for the RCP and its affiliates, stated:

         YouCAN was created in January 2010 by the Caribbean Child Support Initiative…and supports RCP in its quest “to reach children birth to three years of age who do not have access to any form of formal early childhood education”…

         One of our major objectives included a walkathon aimed at sensitizing the public on the benefits of early childhood development. This took place on the 25th of March 2011 from RCP’s office in St. David to Old Trafford – St. George. The turnout was fantastic! Under the heat of the sun, singing, dancing and pumping tunes decorated the streets. Banners held by students and parents alike waved in unison, information brochures were enthusiastically handed out to onlookers and even to drivers along the route.

The CCSI/RCP not only gives hope, it provides the greatest avenue of hope for the creation of a more educated, active and progressive region. Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) is the mother-seed of this from which the Caribbean shall redefine herself, integrate and secure her seat in the market place of global competition.

II.  I spent most of my evenings in Grenada behind my home at Westerhall Point peering at the vegetation of a tiny island from where an auburn cape staggers into the Caribbean Sea.

Each evening, I hurdled over a silver chain which hang laxly like a rope-bridge from one gate-post to the next; slipped gingerly by a red-inked ‘no trespassing: trespassers will be prosecuted’ sign; strolled over a dishevelled lawn punctuated by yellow-brown Almond leaves, to the rear of a uninhabited house a minute of two from my own.

To my knowledge, there is no better view of the surroundings than this one. No better spot to unwind, muse or peruse profound literature from the ambivalent ‘60s and ‘70s.   

I was caught in a triangle of natural beauty, truly. The still island to my left; the swaying guinea grass and leafless morass to my right; the waves surging to the height of the headland straight ahead arrested my attention. These sights and sounds soothed me after a taxing day mountaineering the steep hills in St. George’s Town.  

The nightlife at Westerhall Point is not spoilt by an abundance of artificial sounds and lights. So I lingered up to ten some nights to listen to the compelling chirp of West Indian Crickets and watched as they brought life to their mini galaxies, exhibiting great Responsibility, Communality and Purpose (RCP)…these are among the virtues we need to cultivate in this moment of history, as we commit as a people to providing revolutionary and affordable Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) for our children.

In Grenada: Island of Conflict, historian and former Prime Minister of Grenada, George Brizan, states that ordinary working people did not play “a continued and dominant role” in the political and social processes of the 1979 Grenada Revolution. He notes that “Grenada’s constitutional experience manifested four major characteristics”: political inequality of opportunity; external dependence; dominance of elitist groups in the socio-economic and political spectrums and no clear outline of a path to development – an observation which condemns fully all but a handful of countries in the region today.  

Amidst this and the many well established consequences and implications herein; we have before us a formidable team of West Indian Crickets in the Dark; of very ordinary women and men, organized into an easily replicable, cost-effective, tried and proven, never-seen-before, grassroots early childhood development movement.

This revolution is markedly different from ‘79. It is free from the strident and often inflexible fists of rigid top-to-bottom leadership. In this revolution the real leaders and heroes live and work in and among the most common caste. In this revolution, the people that matter most are providing their own answers and solutions to their problems; using their own resources and talents. Most importantly, they see themselves as the solutions.

There are calls today, everywhere, from Jamaica to Grenada to Belize for more investment in early childhood care and education and here it is, the answer: (RCP) on your neighbour’s veranda, in your neighbour’s yard, in grocery and barber shops and on your streets. I say with full confidence and absolute personal urging, that the Caribbean Child Support Initiative (CCSI) model can create a vast revolutionary uprising in early childhood development services in the Caribbean and beyond.  

At the end of this year, the Bernard van Leer Foundation will cease its funding of the CCSI. In response to this, CCSI is evolving into the Foundation for the Development of Caribbean Children (FDCC), which was officially launched in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in June of this year.  

The FDCC’s Directors are convinced about the compelling need for this foundation. There is sufficient evidence of high levels of poverty…insufficient parental support and significant challenges faced by regional states in allocating resources to early childhood development.

The FDCC will therefore take over the work of the CCSI, providing the region’s only comprehensive response to the needs of disadvantaged children…[iv]

This is an important event in the region’s history. The Foundation for the Development of Caribbean Children (FDCC) must now assert itself in the popular imagination of the publics’ concerned, which is impossible without your support and generous giving. We have answers for all your questions. There are riveting stories about the overall impact of CCSI. I write as an example of a life that has been transformed forever, as a witness, as an advocate, as a West Indian Cricket in the Dark, awaiting the promise of dawn.  

About the Author:
C. Ghunta Dixon, a youth activist, was an intern with the Roving Caregivers Programme (RCP), in Grenada from June 1, 2010 to April 11 2011. He is now on internship at the Caribbean Child Support Initiative (CCSI), based in Barbados, which is evolving into the regions first indigenous foundation focusing on Early Childhood Development (ECD)-the Foundation for the Development of Caribbean Children (FDCC).


iThe Capacity to have an Effect: An Efficacy Study of the Caribbean Child Support Initiative (2010) by R. Eyben and F. Wilson

iiRovers, who receive basic training in delivering ECD services are  dynamic young (usually) women who are responsible for conducting the stimulation sessions with children and parents in the home

[iii] The Capacity to have an Effect: An Efficacy Study of the Caribbean Child Support Initiative (2010) by R. Eyben and F. Wilson

[iv] Foundation for the Development of Caribbean Children (FDCC) Fact Sheet

Contact:
Caribbean Child Support Initiative (CCSI)
Caribbean Centre for Development Administration (CARICAD)
1st Floor, Weymouth Corporate Centre
Roebuck Street, St. Michael, BARBADOS, W.I.
Tel: (246) 436-8702 – Fax: (246) 436-1709
Email: [email protected] URL: www.ffcchildren.org

 

About the author

Craig Dixon