Thursday 27th July, 2006

Leela Ramdeen
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Building peaceful communities

This week I participated in an annual fund-raising event organised by Living Water Community (LWC) via its Trinity Communications Network (cable TV, Channel 10). The theme for the week is: “The beauty of Christ and the joy of communicating it.”

LWC has been televising programmes since 1993. This technology provides a wonderful opportunity for sharing God’s word, for inspiring people, motivating and uplifting them, strengthening and teaching them.

TCN plays a major role among Catholics in T&T by complementing what goes on in parishes and in various groups.

TCN “fosters authentic Christian values that lead to the development of the whole person and the transformation of our society. TCN’s primary function is to strengthen what is already present within our communities, challenging them to broaden horizons, take innovative steps and thus deepen their commitment to serve their wider communities.”

Thank God our people in T&T are generally praying people from different faith communities. If not, the devil would have had his way in this land of ours. God knows he is trying hard.

LWC is one of our largest NGOs whose members have been working tirelessly in T&T for over 26 years. Yet when they applied for a radio licence they were refused. I urge those in authority to reconsider LWC’s application.

Recently I travelled from London on the same flight as Anand Ramlogan. We had an opportunity to talk about some of the challenges that we face in T&T. He was returning after representing the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) at the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council on the issue of its application for a radio licence.

As we know, the Law Lords in London ruled in favour of the SDMS, finding that the Maha Sabha was discriminated against by our Government. The Law Lords also directed that our Attorney General “does all that is necessary to procure and ensure” the issuance of a FM radio broadcasting licence to Central Broadcasting Systems Ltd (CBSL), a company incorporated by the SDMS in August 2000.

We have become a litigious society because we fail to dialogue with each other and to trust each other. This brings to mind some of the words used by Archbishop Edward Gilbert at the community policing awards ceremony at St Martin’s Catholic Church in Gonzales recently.

Archbishop Gilbert rightly said that the reason the Pride in Gonzales initiative is going well is because the many leaders involved in it had taken the decision to listen to each other, to dialogue with each other, to collaborate with each other and to begin to trust each other.

“These four essential conditions are at the heart of this work,” he said.

As I drove along the streets of Gonzales on my way to the award ceremony, my emotions were different from the first time that I visited Gonzales in 2003 when I was chair of the Catholic Commission for Social Justice (CCSJ).

High on CCSJ’s agenda was the issue of crime and violence in T&T. His Grace had asked me to initiate a practical project in the East Port-of-Spain area to demonstrate the church’s concern and commitment to justice and peace. Inter alia, CCSJ aims to promote, record and share good practice.

Fr Jason Gordon, a priest attached to LWC and a member of CCSJ, had been appointed as parish priest in the Gonzales area. He took on the challenge to initiate the kind of project that Archbishop Gilbert had proposed.

Gonzales was an area that was ravaged by violence. At that time there had been six murders recorded over a five-week period. I must admit that having heard and read about the violence in that area, I said my prayers as I drove to the first community meeting which Fr Jason organised.

I prayed more earnestly when I discovered that a man who challenged me at the meeting was a member of a certain organisation. He has since been extradited to the US where he is imprisoned.

Fr Jason worked tirelessly to build the Community Intervention Transforming Youth (City) project which, inter alia, aimed to bring about social change in the area through assistance in community development, renewing social programmes and creating activities for residents.

Today, the City project manages three homework clinics, an Internet cafe, gang intervention activities, programmes in the arts, computer literacy and technology, counselling and crisis intervention programmes.

The Pride in Gonzales initiative is a collaboration of City, the community of Gonzales, the Ministry of National Security, the city of Port-of-Spain, the Canadian Institute of Planners, and UWI.

I recall how elated people in the area were when five standpipes were finally installed in the area in 2005. Sadly, residents were forced to come out on the streets to protest after their hopes were dashed. For weeks no water flowed through the standpipes.

Through the Pride in Gonzales initiative, Fr Jason was successful in forging a partnership with the Ministry of Public Utilities to improve the pipe-borne water supply and street lighting in Gonzales. He is also working with WASA to implement a comprehensive plan to upgrade water delivery to the area.

It was with great joy and pride that I watched Fr Jason step up to receive the first place award for the Pride in Gonzales “project.” It was no mean feat to win the Association of Caribbean Commissioners of Police 2006 competition, which is sponsored by Motorola. The competition was created to encourage police relations within communities and to improve the quality of life in communities. As Fr Jason has stated:

“This project is about participation and about the community taking back its space and cultivating a peaceful community. We offer participation as a path to social development and a multisectoral approach to facing community challenges.”

Our Minister of National Security said some time ago that there are about 61 gangs in T&T. Fr Jason’s experiences of working with gangs in Gonzales to bring about a truce as a step towards building a peaceful community is worth sharing. I know that he is recording the process so that this can be shared with others.

Congratulations also to ASP Earl Jackson on his award. He and other members of the police service who are involved in the project must be commended for their efforts in cultivating sustainable and trusting relations with the Gonzales community.

Each community in T&T needs people like Fr Jason who are prepared to go the extra mile to build the common good. But since “two hands have to clap,” as the saying goes, I call on the Ministry of Community Development to enter into meaningful dialogue with residents in Gonzales about their ideas for the rebuilding of their community centre that was destroyed in 2002 and about the pan facility planned for the area. This is an ongoing project and we need all hands on deck.

Let us play our part in building peaceful communities and shine a light in the darkness that threatens to engulf us.

Leela Ramdeen is a lawyer and education consultant






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