KINGSTON, Jamaica, March 9, 2010.- Trench Town is not only the neighborhood where Bob Marley lived before he became famous, but it is also one of Kingston’s poorest communities, better known for its gang-related crime and violence. A World Bank project is trying to change that.
Years ago, Jamaica identified inner-city renewal - with a focus on crime and violence prevention - as a top priority, and a key player in that effort has been the Jamaica Social Investment Fund, or JSIF, created in 1996. JSIF has taken the lead role ever since in implementing the various anti-poverty initiatives of the Jamaican government and its international partners.
The Jamaican government asked for World Bank assistance to step up its anti-poverty efforts and integrate the human, the social, the economic and the environmental components with the unveiling of a comprehensive inner-city renewal program. As a result, the World Bank has been supporting a series of national community development projects, and in 2006, approved a US$29.3 million loan to provide an array of services to 12 poor inner city and urban communities, including Trench Town.
Since then, the Inner Cities Basic Services Project is working with the local community to improve the neighborhood’s conditions though an approach that combines crime and violence prevention services and infrastructure projects to give local residents the opportunity to live and raise their families in a violence free-environment.
The project, which has already benefitted 1,135 people in Trench Town, provides local residents with basic tools to help improve their quality of life. Those tools fall into three broad categories:
- Basic services, such as potable water, waste disposal and electricity.
- Family support and life skill services, including civil registration, vocational education, financial management, and the prevention of alcohol and drug abuse.
- Public safety strategies, such as conflict resolution, mediation, and anger management programs.
Taking a bath in an open shower in the middle of the street or fetching water for cooking and washing from a community faucet may seem odd to some, but that is exactly what many Trench Town residents do every single day.
The Inner Cities Basic Services Project is providing improved sewage disposal systems and installing water supply lines to connect homes to a water main. In addition, community representatives have agreed to form a Community Based Organization that will be responsible for collecting water and sewerage fees.
The project also built a multi-purpose community center, which is nearly complete, and will be accessible to all Trench Town residents. The center will have a playing field, a multi-purpose community hall, a branch of the public library service, and four shops.
Family Support and Life Skills
Birth certificates and tax registration may not sound like a conventional way to fight poverty, but these documents are requirements for several key benefits, including entrance to secondary school and access to the government-sponsored conditional cash transfer program, or Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH), among others. The project undertook a program to increase the access of residents to these services through registration fairs and over 200 local residents have already taken advantage of this.
A combination of tutoring, remediation and sports programs are assisting students with academic and social skills to help them get through school. One program specifically targets students taking a sixth grade standardized test, the GSAT, used to determine whether Jamaican youngsters will go from sixth to seventh grade. This program currently assists 120 students (48 boys, 72 girls) in Trench Town, and provides assistance to reduce the levels of violence exhibited by the children in the community. The program is managed by the community.
“This project changed my life around,” said Dorreth Campbell, Hospitality Coordinator for the Federal Gardens Community Committee. She explained that because of the project, she was able to pass the GSAT, find a job as a community leader, and remodel her tiny apartment in one of Trench Town’s four-unit, two-story buildings. “Now I have a bedroom for my daughter and another one for myself, a kitchen, a dining room, and a bathroom,” she exclaimed, very proud of her accomplishments. “Look at my nice bathroom,” she repeated, showing the neatly tiled room, although buckets of water can be seen peeking behind the shower curtain. “Now the kids have a space to do their homework,” she added, pointing to the kitchen table.
Conflict resolution initiatives include efforts to obtain signed peace agreements between local gangs, anger management counseling sessions, and training for local community-based mediators. Trench Town is already showing a drop in crime, where there have been dramatic improvements in the murder rate, the crime rate and the incidence of domestic violence disputes.
Trench Town is just an example of how the Inner City Basic Services Project is contributing to the reduction of poverty in Jamaica by improving access to basic infrastructure, expanding the acquisition of job skills that will bolster employment rates and income, and reducing crime and violence. It also holds great promise for improving the lives – the educational attainment, and the living conditions – for tens of thousands of Jamaican residents.