Sunday, June 18, 2006

Thanks to everyone for a great trip!

lighthouse group2
Originally uploaded by Edu-Tourist.

I'm finally back in Philadelphia for good (at least until we pick up the moving van) and am finally able to find the time and the bandwidth to catch up readers with some of the wonderful stories accumulated during our month in Jamaica. There were too many highlights to the trip for me to be able to pick one. So you are just going to have to suffer as I share these several stories over the coming weeks. Special thanks to Nelson and Novella Keith for hosting the group of Temple University students at Carleva Bay: The Center for Global Understanding.

Special thanks as well to Peter Thompson and the staff of RADA's office in St. Thomas. Temple students Jillian Blair and Matthew Borda always enjoyed their trips into the field with Mr. Brown. Some of our more ambitious tours of the region were led by Mr. Colan Parke. Keep an eye on this space for discussion of the difficult state of infrastructure and drainage in the parish as hurricane season comes around again, based on the stories and testimony of our own eyes in the Yallahs River and Negro River watersheds.

Mr. Park also introduced us to the wonderful and engaging guide Bev Smith, a community organizer in Eastern St. Thomas who is developing heritage tourism materials and exhibits to welcome the expected influx of visitors next year. Bev Smith organized a spendid cultural trip of the region on bahalf of the Edu-Tourism staff and students. Early in the morning we drove right of the hill behind Yallahs to visit Orange Park, the old estate house renovated by famous Jamaican artist Barrigton Watson. We enjoyed seeing what he had done with this former coffee plantation. Later that afternoon, we were able to drive all of the way out to Point Marant, the furthest eastern location on the island of Jamaica. Here sits the amazing cast iron lighthouse installed in the 1840s. As you can see from the photo, the lighthouse now runs on solar energy cells that recharge batteries in the lighthouse and keep the beacon lit, stearing vulnerable vessels away from the shoals.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Edu-Tourism in Jamaica - Report #3

Hello everyone: As our return to Philadelphia approaches, I would like to take some time to update you all on the various sorts of activities we have been engaged in. So expect a flurry of blog posts here. As before, I will begin with a summary of our daily events, and follow with more in-depth description and analysis. More pictures shortly.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - Working at various sites.
Mike, Matthew and Jillian had a long meeting in the RADA office with assistant director Peter Thompson. He provided us with a good overview to RADA operations, and how they seek to develop partnerships with different community groups. After a discussion of various projects that we might be able to assist with, Mr. Thompson drove us out to see a fledgling project in a community called Airy Castle, called the St. Thomas Women’s Agricultural Initiative. We arrived there just in time to observe their business meeting. Seems to be conducted very professionally. A banker from PNC Bank (“The Farmers’ Bank”) had been invited to the meeting to explain the process by which the farmers would be able to save money for the future (individually and as a group). After the meeting I took a look at their computer and noted that they don’t have any useful office software. Peter Thompson and I discussed the possibiliy of adding Open Office. They have limited available space on their hard drive, and Open Office is designed to be smaller and simpler than the Microsoft Office Suite. Other groups of students traveled to their typical sites, the basic schools and the Women's Center.

That evening we decide to have a bonfire on the beach. Sans marshmallows, we tried our hand at roasting bananas. Much more difficult!

Saturday, May 27, 2006 - Excursion Day
The group decides to drive west past Kingston and through Mandeville in St. Elizabeh to visit Treasure Beach and attend the renowned Calabash Festival. We left late because our driver Garnett failed to show up that morning. And because of the state of roads and the fact that Kingsley Kieth was driving an unfamiliar van the drive itself was almost five hours long - in both directions! Now we can see why Treasure Beach is designated an ‘alternative’ tourist destination. I took a number of pictures of the authors and really enjoyed myself. I wound up buying one book by M. G. Vassanji entitled The In-Between World of Vikram Lall that I have been enjoying since. It is set in Kenya during the 1950s and features the difficult position that a family of South Asian background finds themselves in amidst the winds of change. It is an epic and is very well-written. .

Sunday, May 28, 2006 - Excursion Day
Novella, Mike, Annie, Matthew, Ciarra, Hazel, and Cheraine, w/ Kingsley driving: Again heading to the city in the Yallahs High School van. Breakfast deliberation had resulted in multiple options for the day. But the primary vote-getter was to go to Port Royal and then take the ferry out into Kingston Harbor where we enjoyed the luxurious white sand and coral on Lime Cay. The water was absolutely beautiful, and it was definitely a fun place to spend the afternoon. Appeasing the dietary needs of the four vegetarians on the trip, we made sure to stop at a vegetarian restaurant in Kingston before returning to Yallahs (and returning the high school van). Two students who had selected another destination as their preference, Casey & Christianne, were able to arrange with our chef Jhay Grant to visit to Reich Falls.

Monday, May 29, 2006 - Sites Day
Jillian, Matthew and Mike: We arrive at the RADA office too late this morning to accompany Mr. Brown into the field. Instead, we discuss a possible itinerary with Mr. Parke. Drive to the east past Airy Castle and through Bath. We are checking out Eastern Banana Plantation as we drive east towards Hordley Crossing. Taking a road to the left, we climb Johnson Mountain where we meet several ginger farmers sitting in shade along the side of the road. Interview continues with Jillian and to a lesser extent Mike peppering them with questions. Weather threatens to change and we drive down Johnson Mountain and meet Beverley Smith at her house on the old Hordley Plantation. There we discuss her manifold plans to develop the heritage tourist aspects of the region. That evening, Edu-Tourism board member Nicola Shirley arrived from Philadelphia.

Thursday, June 1, 2006 - Another Sites Day
Peter Thompson driving Mike, Matthew, Jillian and Cheraine: We drove north from Morant Bay through dairy fields at the base of the Blue Mountains. The visit to Serge Island Dairy and Juices was short but very interesting. Many of the beverages sold in UHT containers at local stores are in fact produced here. Only a few of them are explorted, such as the Cadbury’s chocolate milk. Most are consumed within Jamaica. We learned much more about their marketing challenges besides the powdered milk issued depicted graphically in the documentary Life and Debt. After our trip, Cheraine returned to Morant Bay to shoot more video activities at the Women’s Center.

June 3, 2006: Day of our hike into Portland over the Cunha Cunha Pass
I woke up around 5:00 am – actually failed to sleep with anticipation and worry. Roused Matthew and the other students around 5:30 am. Garnett arrived with the van at 6:00 am and we finally left for the trip around 6:45 am. Our intent was to get on the trail before the sun was high in the sky and our hiking got too hot. But instead we just happened to choose a day for the hike when the weather would undergo a permanent change.

For the first time Mike Dorn was taking sole leadership for the group of students hiking the Cunha Cunha Pass. Novella, Nelson and Kingsley each decided to forego the trip this year. The designated trail guide Shaggy and Mike offered all of the leadership that this group will really need.

We meet our local trail guide Shaggy alongside the Hayfield Road as we are driving up. We take the time for a few group portraits before heading into the darkness of the trail. We are able to take in some beautiful sights – indigenous snails, and Shaggy ascending the hillside to cut down some sugarcane to suck. I commented that we were ascending into the clouds – it wasn’t long before the sky opened up and the rain began to fall. We particularly appreciated the shelter at the summit of the pass. New trail signs helped to remind us that we were on a trail that had been well maintained by the Bowden Pen Farmers’ Association, and they were about to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Blue Mountain / John Crow Mountain National Park. Their work had made this section far more enjoyable than the climb up Blue Mountain Peak that we made last year. Hiking down into the Rio Grande Valley the rain continued. We stopped at one of the waterfalls to refill our water bottles. Lunch was superb – the usual boiled tropical fruits, but also a vegetarian stew and immense crayfish caught growing wild in the local streams. This is a real delicacy, and was prepared superbly. After another nap and a walk down to the river, our hostess Lynette Wilks heralded the arrival of our special guests. We had arranged in advance for presentations by Ivelyn Harris (an internationally-recognized herbalist who will be coming out with a new edition of her excellent book shortly) and Brother Isaac (a Maroon spiritual leader). I look forward to telling readers of this blog about these unique speakers.

June 4, 200 - Return from Cunha Cunha Pass.
Those damn roosters began crowing around 3:00 am, and by irregular intervals thereafter kept everyone awake. The morning was overcast and gloomy, but the breakfast was again excellent. Enjoyed sitting with Ciarra and Matthew on the front porch of the men’s cabin looking out and reflecting on the experience. A very cool morning. Hazel, Annie, Matthew and Mike steal away to find Three Finger Jack falls for a brisk morning dip. By 9:15 am we were all ready for the return hike with Shaggy in the lead. The sky opened up with rain towards 11:00 am while we are on the trail to Bowden Pen. Garnet sent another driver, Mr. Windsor, to pick us up. We met him, wet and dirty, around 12:30 pm. On the way back to Yallahs, we stopped at Mothers only to find that they were out of most menu items (one of the few restaurants open on a rainy Sunday). Nelson and Novella are surprised to see us returning to Carleva Bay so early in the afternoon. I guess the trip to Bath is going to have to wait until another day. With the weather, we experienced a 'bath' of a different sort this weekend. Ha!

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Arrangements for the day - one week left in Jamaica

Hi Carla,

As you can see from the schedule mailed last night, I am off this morning with a
group that is heading to Kingston for the day. We have arranged to meet with UWI
Prof. Michael Witter, a renowned economist who appears in many documentaries
discussing the situation of Jamaican culture and economy. I hope our arrangements
to meet with him prove fruitful. Matthew Borda has prepared a number of questions
for the interview.

Don't know where else I will be heading today. Since I am going into the city, it
would be great to meet up with my old graduate school buddy Susan Mains, who just
last week gave birth to her first child, a girl. She is a professor in the
department of geography at the university of the west indies, mona campus.

You will be happy to know that the rain has finally cleared and the sun came out for
the first time in a week this morning.

It looks to be a clear, if slightly humid day.

Good luck with your day at the cardiac care unit!


Mike Dorn, Ph.D.
Institute on Disabilities
423 Ritter Annex
1301 Cecil B. Moore Avenue
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA

Monday, June 05, 2006

Edu-Tourism's Technological Divide Initiatives

As described on our NGO main website's Projects Portal, Edu-Tourism has ongoing initiatives in four areas in St. Thomas: the empowerment of teen mothers; the promotion of sanitation initiatives to improve public health indicators; computer initiatives with pre-kindergarten Jamaican youth. We see advances in each of these projects this summer. In January 2004, we began installing computers in basic schools across the Parish of St. Thomas. Our goal is to fit all 97 schools with computers donated from corporate sources in the United States and to provide training in their use.

Summer 2006: Two students from Temple University have been volunteering at Yallahs Basic School and at Yallahs Middle School for nearly three weeks under the supervision of Ms. Millicent Grant and her son Jhay Grant. This beginning this week, these students, Casey and Annie, will be working taking the lead in reinstituting the series of computer training sessions begun by students last summer. Designed to meet the needs the basic school teachers, these training sessions cover the components of the computer, trouble-shooting tips, and an introduction to word processing and creative projects such as cards and pictures. In response to the wishes of the teachers, the last session will focus on the basics of navigating the internet and creating their own email accounts.

Because of difficulties in finding a suitable training location with multiple computers and internet access, we will be inviting the teachers over to the Center for Global Understanding at Carleva Bay for this section of the curriculum. At the end of the trainings, teachers with approx. 10 schools will be receiving computers, to be installed by Edu-Tourism staff.

During this training process the last two summers, we have learned that there is also a tremendous need for computer repair and certification in the region. In June 2005 students from Simon Gratz High School in Philadelphia, led workshops in computer repairs and diagnostics at Yallahs Comprehensive School for 20 Yallahs students and other organizations. This trainings represent an exciting new partnerhship between Edu-Tourism, the digital divide initiative of the Pennsylvania Service Learning Alliance and Yallahs High School.

We are also concerned that with the limited access that students in the basic schools are given to these computers. As scarce resources, computers tend to be 'hoarded' rather than shared. By providing teachers with low cost educational programs, and demonstrating their use, we hope to be able to bridge this divide. But I am also very excited by the new initiative at MIT to design a children's laptop computer that will cost less than $100 to produce. Ethan Zuckerman, a blogger active in digital divide and free speech initiatives around the world, and recent published a profile that shows the design standards for their new prototype. Ubiquitous computing is a hot topic right now in Philadelphia - I hope to see St. Thomas participate in this initiative as well.