History of the Peace Corps in Jamaica
The Peace Corps was first asked to work in Jamaica in 1962, and Volunteers worked in cities, towns and the countryside as teachers, agricultural extensionists, health educators, and rural development workers. In the mid-1970s, Volunteers were assigned to schools, hospitals, health clinics, and other government ministry offices as teachers, nurses, and loan officers.
The most recent shift in approach to development was conceived in 1989 and is now a reality. Current assignments are part of a uniform plan that has a significant community development core. While each project plan has specific tasks and skill requirements, Peace Corps/Jamaica assignments generally involve facilitating the growth and development of communities and their members in a way that empowers them to make and carry out better decisions about their own lives. Not all Volunteers are placed in small rural communities. Sites also exist in small towns, peri-urban centers, inner cities, and tourist cities such as Montego Bay, Negril, and Ocho Rios. No Volunteers are assigned to Kingston (the capital) or Spanish Town.
An age-old dilemma in development work involves charity and dependency versus facilitation and empowerment. It has been—and still is—easier to give and to “do things yourself” than to be the facilitator and help others to grow and learn on their own. But such charity-based practices have proven to be short-lived, unsustainable, and not desirable in many developing countries, including Jamaica. Therefore, you will learn how to build capacity and empower people to improve their own living conditions, thus making development more fulfilling and sustainable. A successful development specialist gives ownership of a development or project to the entire community. When everyone strives to reach a common goal, the effort is conceived, implemented, and achieved with a much greater sense of ownership, accomplishment and satisfaction. This sense of ownership by all is the key to success and sustainability when working in community development.
History and Future of Peace Corps Programming in Jamaica
More than 3,500 Volunteers have served in this hospitable country of loving and dynamic people struggling for success. Jamaica’s population faces the same struggles as those of many other island nations. There are many areas where people still practice subsistence agriculture. Many youth are without jobs or lack the skills to contribute to the development of their communities. In addition, a wealth of biodiversity exists in the country, and protecting its valuable natural resources, while benefiting from tourism, is essential to Jamaica’s economy.
Volunteers are engaged in development work that is essential to the Jamaican people at the grassroots level. They are working to conserve natural resources, to promote hygiene and healthy living, helping to fight the HIV/AIDS pandemic, to promote information technology and small business, and to help youth gain the skills and education they need for their future.
Peace Corps/Jamaica has three primary sectors or projects: youth as-promise, community environmental health, and environmental awareness. All three sectors/projects are fully integrated with small business and information and communication technology (ICT). These two cross-cutting areas are critical to all Peace Corps projects in Jamaica and more generally to the development of the country. All Volunteers are trained in basic small business development, HIV/AIDS prevention, and ICT instructional techniques. They are able to integrate ICT into their projects as appropriate and to train counterparts and community members in ICT integration.
One of Jamaica’s primary concerns is marginalized youth, defined as young men and women ages 10 to 25 who are not in school and have few skills or opportunities for employment. In helping the government of Jamaica address these critical issues, the youth as-promise project focuses on youth development, HIV/AIDS education, prevention and support, ICT, and small business development.
Volunteers assigned to “The Green Initiative,” or environmental education project, focus on increasing awareness of issues such as solid-waste management and recycling, watershed protection, overfishing, coral reef conservation, and appropriate farming practices. Volunteers work with environmental organizations, schools, and community groups to promote knowledge and skills that will foster environmental conservation.
Waste management and water quality are key issues in Jamaica as the demands of tourism and a large population, coupled with unhealthy practices, pressure the country’s water supply. Some Volunteers in community environmental health serve at the national and regional levels influencing policies by government agencies to support the development of sustainable water treatment systems. Other Volunteers serve in rural, peri-urban, and urban squatter settlements, assisting communities in health hygiene and implementing water sanitation projects.