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Book highlights Kiwanis social work in Jamaica

By Ken Chaplin

Tuesday, August 21, 2012    

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The Kiwanis movement is one of the leading institutions in Jamaica providing myriad social services voluntarily. The rich history of Kiwanis in this country is told in the book, Kiwanis in Jamaica 1964-2009. Edited by Patrick E Bryan, retired UWI professor of history, the book highlights, among other things, the objects and code of Kiwanis International (of which Jamaica is one of its strongest members), the outstanding contributions of Kiwanis to Jamaica's social and economic development, formation and growth of Kiwanis in Jamaica and the work of Kiwanis International Foundation of Jamaica.

Before proceeding with this review, I have to point out that journalism ethics demand that I should disclose my interest or past interest in Kiwanis. I was a director of the Kiwanis Club of Downtown Kingston responsible for communications, and public relations director for Lieutenant Governor Egerton Chinloy, Jamaica Division, Eastern Canada and Caribbean District. So if readers find the writer overenthused over the publication of the book they will know the reason!

The Kiwanis movement in Jamaica began with one club - Kiwanis Club of Kingston in 1964. By 2009 there were 54 clubs across the island with 2,576 members and more than 6,300 members in the service leadership programme in four geographic divisions. Worldwide, Kiwanis International has 240,000 members in 7,700 clubs.

The book gives a comprehensive review of the need for social services in Jamaica following Emancipation and the rise of social organisations. It is this need that led to the establishment of Kiwanis clubs. I find this chapter informative and interesting. Professor Bryan's analysis of the development of voluntary services and the need to tackle social problems opened a new dimension in such work here. Some Kiwanians may ask if this information is necessary to the exclusion of many projects. For example, no mention was made of the "Keep the City Clean Programme" organised by me and launched in 1970 by Michael Manley who was MP for Central Kingston at the time. There are many other important projects which have been left out. From a historical perspective of voluntary social services I am happy that this chapter was included. Besides, to include all the major projects of Kiwanis clubs in the island would require a book double the size of the present publication.

Long history of social organisations

Chapter I states that in its "original formulation Kiwanis was intended to be an organisation of businessmen and professionals, who would promote not only business but fellowship between its members and social assistance to the marginalised". This role has been expanded. The chapter continues to point out that the history of Kiwanis in Jamaica which began in 1964 is part of the long history of philanthropy and of voluntary associations, societies, clubs and organisations in Jamaica. Although voluntary organisations - mainly of the elite - existed before Emancipation in 1934-38 and there was philanthropic action by individuals who financed educational and religious institutions, it is with the increasingly complex society in the post-Emancipation period that we saw the fluorescence of voluntary associations in Jamaica collectively mirroring the cultural, social, and to a considerable extent, racial cleavages.

Lofty objects

The lofty objects and code of ethics of Kiwanis which inspire members to voluntary services are set out clearly. The objects are to:

* give primacy to the human and spiritual rather than to the material values of life

* encourage the daily living of the Golden Rule in all human relationships

* promote the adoption and application of higher social, business and professional standards

* develop, by precept and example, a more intelligent, aggressive and serviceable citizenship

* provide, through Kiwanis clubs, a practical means to form enduring friendship, render altruistic service and to build better communities

* cooperate in creating and maintaining that sound public opinion and high idealism which make possible the increase of righteousness, justice, patriotism and goodwill.

Early childhood education

These objects inspire the work of Kiwanians. Their role in the development of early childhood education in Jamaica is discussed at length. "The Kiwanis in their commitment to addressing the problem of inequalities in the Jamaican educational system have emphasised early childhood education", the book records. "At the time of Independence in 1962 there was a shortage of basic schools, and much was left to be done by way of improving the infrastructure of those schools. Classes were conducted under varying conditions. For example, two rooms and a verandah, a part of someone else's house, a roof supported by wooden poles with a flooring of grass, a church, a community centre, inside a market or inside a single room. Facilities were often minimal," the book states. It notes that Jamaica's historical circumstances with respect to education, favoured the voluntary approach of Kiwanis who have focused on the expansion or improvement of infrastructure and on increasing the stock of basic schools.

Of course, we know that there has been much improvement in early childhood education, especially since the establishment of the Early Childhood Commission.

First club

During the 45 years of its existence the Kiwanis Club of Kingston established 11 clubs. It was not only active in founding new clubs, but in setting precedents and examples for other clubs. The book notes that within its first 30 years, the Kiwanis Club of Kingston had, among other things, built and furnished two vocational centres, one at Rennock Lodge All-Age School, one for woodwork and domestic science, and the other at Liguanea, a fully-equipped air-conditioned 16-bed maternity hospital in Tivoli Gardens, an occupational therapy unit attached to the psychiatric ward at the University of the West Indies and a home for the aged. Other clubs carried out various social and educational programmes. "The mushrooming of Kiwanis clubs in Jamaica was not without challenges and even closures. Some clubs, for example, folded, and others have found it difficult to maintain the minimum number of 25 - now 20."

There have been two significant developments since Kiwanis came to Jamaica. The first was the admission of women to membership for the first time in 1988. Clubs for women have been formed across the country and have been performing magnificently in all areas of Kiwanis interest. This has been fully recognised by the author. The second was the formation of Kiwanis Foundation of Jamaica which complements the programmes and activities of the clubs. "Kiwanis in Jamaica 1964-2009" is a publication which not only Kiwanians will find interesting but also all those who are interested in the development of voluntary work in Jamaica, poverty alleviation, community service, youth development and early childhood education.

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