Stuart Taylor

Lots of Jamaicans are helping others – and not “doing a ting”

By Stuart Taylor

What is your image of life in Jamaica, for the average Jamaican?  Some people think the island is rife with deception, trickery, stealing and corruption.  “Doing a ting”, as people say.

Like many people, I have been amused by some of the stories of “doing a ting”.  There’s the perhaps mythical story of the ex-London bus driver.  After thirty years of driving the streets of London, he returns to Jamaica.  He has a few car driving lessons and studies the highway code.  Test one – fail!  Test two – fail!  Test three – fail!  How can this be?  But his friend explains, “yu mus do a ting”.  Once his paperwork for the examiner is accompanied by £100, he passes – no problem!

buses

Then there is the policeman who was so helpful by accepting the fine for a minor traffic infringement to save the driver from having to spend all the next day in court.  Yet he asks the motorist to pull in to the side street as there’ll be fewer persons with cell phone cameras to record this fine transaction!

Okay, we could all go on and on with examples.  “Doing a ting” happens in many countries in one way or another.  The GP in Romania’s health system will often anticipate a tip in addition to the standard payment – and that’s in a part of the EU!

We can easily be blinded by all the talk of “doing a ting” in a negative way.  Many of my personal experiences suggest the opposite.  A primary school in Trelawny set up an early start breakfast club that is helping children that face particular difficulties to get up to scratch.  Teachers are choosing to start work earlier, for no extra pay.  Parents are helping with breakfast preparation.  Others are helping to pay for the food.  Pupils are keen – some even arriving before the teachers.

After viewing a house in Runaway Bay, on the north coast, the man showing me round walked to my car and spotted wires hanging below the front bumper.  Within a second, the bonnet was up and the problem sorted.

Then there are the friends or neighbours – tax or legal experts – who will sort your technical difficulty with no expectation of financial gain to themselves.  Just like the stranger standing in the road who gave me a bag of mango one day and a sack of yam the next.

Cowman's cows

Cowman’s cows

Surely this cannot be the Jamaica that we so often hear about?  Well, if you live there for long enough you can come across even better examplesThere’s the recent case of a labourer on my building site.  For weeks he impressed me as a hard-working 23-year-old. One day I was anxiously re-tracing my steps, searching, searching, searching.  A few site workers had encouraged “Cowman” to keep the lost bag of US dollars.  But as I reached the end of my first circuit, Cowman asked whether I had lost the little black bag.  Not only was he fair and honest with me, he also wanted to be fair to his co-workers – whom he believed stood to lose two weeks’ wages.

In a similar vein, I visited a house in Kensington, on the east coast.  A colleague dropped her phone in long grass, as we struggled across rough terrain.  A young lady answered the missing phone and explained how we could find her.  She happily returned a decent UK phone that carried plenty of international credit.

Such real-life stories of individuals “doing a ting” should be flashed around Jamaica – and around the world.  Jamaica really is made up of lots of honest people – however the media may choose to exaggerate.

And we must not forget the Diaspora – Jamaicans working overseas who send large amounts of hard-earned pay back to family and friends. A recent report calculated that almost a tenth of Jamaica’s annual income (GDP) comes from individuals living in the USA.  Adding in remittances from Canada and Britain means that perhaps a sixth or a seventh of Jamaica’s economy stems from the “gifting” of Jamaicans living abroad.

The Rotary club is a hospital where the local’s people volunteer their time to help people in the community.

The Rotary club is a hospital where the local’s people volunteer their time to help people in the community.

In addition, there are the many persons who contribute each year to Labour Day activities – or through more frequent assistance to individuals and their community.  And there remain a good few examples of credit unions and “partners” pooling financial resources to help individuals at certain times.  As the Jamaica Co-Operative Credit Union League says, the Credit Union Movement “continues to have a significant impact on Jamaican society, promoting the ideas of self-help and community co-operation”.

A year after Jamaica’s 50th independence anniversary, we see many, many examples of honesty, endeavour and good spirit on the island – from individuals to millions at home and abroad.  Whatever the cynics may say, we repeatedly see people, day-in, day-out, year-in, year-out living by the spirit of Jamaica’s wonderful National Pledge:

“Before God and all mankind, I pledge the love and loyalty of my heart, the wisdom and courage of my mind, the strength and vigour of my body in the service of my fellow citizens; I promise to stand up for Justice, Brotherhood and Peace, to work diligently and creatively, to think generously and honestly, so that Jamaica may, under God, increase in beauty, fellowship and prosperity, and play her part in advancing the welfare of the whole human race.”

Few countries across the world can rival such a splendid pledge.  Perhaps Singapore gets nearest.

So, let’s celebrate Cowman and his many sisters and brothers who strive to build the better Jamaica that Jamaicans long to see – “whatever dem may sey ‘bout doing a ting”.

If you would like to find out more about Stuart experiences contact stuart@bespokehomesjamaica.com

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Local charity shops are helping to build stronger communities

by Stuart Taylor

We see them everywhere.  Every high street across Britain has charity shops.  Mostly the big names, like Heart Foundation, Cancer UK, Help the Aged, Scope, and Oxfam. Raising money for great causes.  Each addressing a specific problem, often tackled at the national or international level.  Increasingly, however, we are seeing locally-grown charity shops, raising money to fund a whole range of locally-based needs, galvanising and enabling more people to bolster the health of their locality.  Often it is just an individual – or two – in each locality that is needed to get the whole process moving. This is the tale of one such shop, The Cuckoo’s Nest in Marsden – a village in West Yorkshire

slaithwaite snow

Some twelve years ago, three women of Marsden came together around a vision.  Judi Thorpe had just retired from a job at Oxfam, where she had seen at first hand the public willingness to give to charity.  Diane Green first noticed the scope for a charity shop in the village.  And Pam Etheridge was able to handle money in the early stages.  The three knew the strength of local community and neighbourly spirit.  And they knew the real grit and determination of Yorkshire folk.  Thepeopley wanted to bring these and other virtues together to forge something greater than the sum of the parts.  As Judi, said: “My vision is for the Cuckoo’s Nest to be in partnership with the village, the customers and the givers.  I always hoped that the partnership would achieve a truly concerted village effort: each group with different roles; but all focused on promoting the health and well-being of Marsden.  And I think that is what we are achieving.”

The partnership bore fruit long before the shop opened.  A local carpenter installed all the shop fittings at no charge.  A local decorator donated paint.  The European Union’s Social Fund paid for shop fittings.  The local charity shop in nearby Slaithwaite – the church-backed “Community Spirit” – provided an interest-free loan to cash-flow the Cuckoo’s Nest through its first rent payments.  Kirklees Council allowed young offenders to spend some of their period of community service painting the shop.  “They were great, the ‘naughty boys’.  They even came back to Marsden for the official opening of the shop.  Everyone else was marvellous, too.  A truly community effort to get us up and running.”

Over the twelve years, all people’s interests have benefitted.  “There’s a huge diversity in the projects we support.  Culture, sport, the elderly, schools, scouts, playgroups, and much more.  As just one example, we paid for the football club’s railings, to stop the club having to sweep away sheep droppings!  We try not to fund operating costs.  But for several years we have supported a CAB adviser to enable residents to gain advice locally during two afternoons a month – a service that is very much appreciated.”  Grants totalling more than £300,000 have been made since the shop opened in June 2001.

shop

Judi expanded on the range of benefits being achieved.  “We have supported the Mechanics’ Institute quite a lot over the years – most recently with a new kitchen.  By doing so, our benefits spread far and wide.  Local groups – from the brass band to local orchestras, theatre groups and modern musicians – perform in the Victorian auditorium.  Many local groups meet in the smaller rooms.  By supporting the Institute, we simultaneously contribute to the Marsden Community Association – another key part of the big society found within this small community.  Together with other groups and businesses we also support the village’s wonderful Christmas street lights and the annual Marsden Jazz Festival.”

The commitment and hard work of the shop’s fifty volunteers makes a great difference.  They have ranged in age from 17 to 94 years old.  All are local residents.  All have a great desire to serve others.

I personally discovered the delights of the Cuckoo’s Nest and the Marsden community long before the phrase “big society” came to be used by national politicians.  Now, however, I see threats.  Council cuts forced the Information Point to squeeze in with the library, vacating its self-contained shop and reducing its scope.  Marsden’s annual Festival of Fire has just been cancelled, due in part to the council removing its grant.  The need for funding from the Cuckoo’s Nest becomes more vital to the survival of local groups.  Yet charity shops are struggling as the recession has led to the giving of less valuable goods.

Hopefully the shop’s partnership with the village, the consumers and the givers can be sustained and enhanced.  To continue to foster the health and well-being of the village.  As government cuts bite deeper, the role of people like Judi Thorpe and shops like Marsden’s Cuckoo’s Nest can only become ever more important to civilisation as we know it.

If you would like to find out more, email stuart@bespokehomesjamaica.com