We are traveling to Jamaica regularly and we love the country – it’s people, the music, Jamaican food, tropical climate, laid-back lifestyle… We have lived there for some months, we study the history, we are part of the international reggae music scene and we have seen many different facets of Jamaica. The more we learn about the living conditions in Jamaica, the grinding poverty in certain areas, the high murder and crime rates and widespread unemployment in the country, the more we know that we want to contribute and do something positive!
During our stay in Kingston in October 2007 we visited the Trenchtown Reading Centre (TRC) – a private and non-profit based library in the West Kingston downtown area – we were amazed by what we saw – a fascinating book collection you wouldn’t expect in a library in one of Kingston’s most notorious ghettos! Immediately we were convinced that this is the kind of project we want to support! The vision soon grew and we decided to take the idea to a next level, founded the non-profit organisation HELP Jamaica! and started to raise funds for our own library and education centre which will be established in the community of Cassava Piece.
Ghetto Life in Cassava Piece
Zinc fences, stony tiny roads, children play in the streets, young mothers sit on the street side and discuss the latest gossip or hairstyle. In the evening, boys gather at their corners and stroll along the streets. In the nights, most people prefer to stay at home. Gunshots regularly scatter through the silence of the night, dogs are barking when strangers pass along. Most people have lost a son, brother, uncle, neighbour or friend. A murder is the news for the day, but often before the nine-night is over, a next person lays gunned down in the street. Especially since the 2008 election, Cassava Piece can’t find no rest. Every murder demands revenge…
Amongst the young parents are many single mothers, who struggle hard to find money for saltfish, chickenback or cowfoot-soup and clothes for their numerous children. Sometimes there is no bus money, no money for school books or a new school uniform. Sometimes there is no time to check if the children reached their school after they left the house. Sometimes there is no energy after a long day of work to read or play with the kids or to check if they have done their homework. In many households there are no books. But every house has a TV, in many households it is never switched off. In Jamaica, beating children is a widely accepted way to punish them. There are no playgrounds in Cassava Piece, no youth centre, no library, no music class. Growing up in such a surrounding it is difficult to develop self-esteem, a positive outlook, confidence and a vision for a better future.
Many youths look for acceptance and recognition and dream of power and a quick way to make money to be able to change their life. In this reality dominated by murder, violence, drugs and crime, which Mavado, the singer from the area, describes without belittlement, a career as a “shotta” in a gang or in the drug- and gun-business seems to be a way out of poverty.