Over the past three years the community of Rose Gardens, a community in Central Kingston, has been rocked by violence with many residents in fear of their lives as they do their day-to-day business. But today, residents are hopeful that there is a change on the horizon as Project STAR, a social and economic transformation initiative created by the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) in partnership with the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) works with the community.
Juliet Blackwood, a member of the Community Transformation Board in Rose Gardens is one such resident who believes that things will improve. “We have seen a positive impact in the programmes that have been implemented through Project STAR,” she said.
These programmes include community sporting activities, an employment training and placement programme and a school feeding programme targeting four early childhood institutions.
“Because of the violence, there were no sporting activities happening in the community and since Project STAR entered the community, this has been restored with the recent sports day held last month. They have exposed our young men to football outside of the community which is another big thing as persons were not going outside of the community,” she stated.
“Football in general brings people together. Through this sporting programme, this has made a positive impact on the community, and I think that over time we shall be hearing and seeing more,” she said.
Damion Hylton, senior technical project officer at Project STAR said that they have been using sports to engage the community, especially the males; providing exposure to the participants and also as a vehicle for social cohesion and transitioning unattached youth to community structures (such as clubs) and employment opportunities.
“This is a very important part of our approach, for us to have conversations with them and utilize social influencers to provide motivation and inspiration. We have Walter Boyd, a former Jamaica national footballer who has been a source of encouragement to them,” he explained.
“So, we have been using sports to reach this demographic and it aligns with our main strategy which is to collaborate with stakeholders at the community level so we can advance sustainable development in our communities through an evidence-based and data-driven approach,” he informed.
For Walter Boyd, football has transformed his life. “Football is my joy. It brought me everything. I came from a humble background. You can be the next person to take your family out of certain situations [through football],” he said, noting that he was happy to work with Project STAR to inspire the young men.
Jevonnie Campbell, who is part of the football programme, said it had a positive impact on his life. “From my perspective, football with Project STAR is the best thing that has happened to me,” he shared.
But while social intervention programmes are reaping success in Rose Gardens, the issue of crime remains a challenge for the community. Superintendent Berrisford Williams, head of the Kingston Central Police Division, said this is a work in progress.
“We have been in the community a lot more, engaging the citizens, along with Project STAR which has had social intervention programmes such as the training and employment programme, the sports programme and an educational component. What we have seen over the last couple of months is a significant reduction in criminal activities,” he said, noting that there have been one or two recent crime-related incidents.
He said the community members are coming out and doing more socialisation and businesses opening later than usual. “Citizens have expressed confidence in the security forces. The fear will not go away quickly, they will need time, but the progress I am seeing is very encouraging. As you see, citizens believe that Rose Gardens can be a peaceful community again,” he said.
Superintendent Williams noted that partnership was key to addressing crime and violence and that citizens’ participation was important in this.
“We will continue to maintain a presence in Rose Gardens and continue our operational activities with a view to apprehending the deviant and the outlier and it is going to take some time,” he added.