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JFJ full of cash? Not so, says Gomes

BY KARL ANGELL Executive Editor -- Operations angellk@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, December 08, 2013    

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MANY people believe that human rights groups in Jamaica, especially Jamaicans For Justice (JFJ), are awash with cash.

The common belief is that they get monetary support from international donor agencies.

Not so, said Dr Carolyn Gomes, outgoing executive director of JFJ.

"It is a myth, it is not so. We (JFJ) are not endowed with lots of money. On the contrary, we are strapped for cash, and more often than not we struggle to assist those who really need help," Gomes said at last Wednesday's Jamaica Observer Press Club meeting with Sunday Observer journalists at the newspaper's Beechwood Avenue, St Andrew headquarters.

With a look of amazement written on her face, Gomes, who will demit office as executive director of JFJ at the end of this year, in a passionate response, said that when she hears this often trumpeted view about JFJ's coffers bulging with money, she is irritated and amused at the same time.

"I am irritated because it is simply not true. I am amused because the people making this false accusation do so without the facts and are simply on the road of discrediting the work of JFJ and to promote their own agendas," the executive director said.

Recalling her move from being a successful paediatric doctor to heading the human rights group just over 14 years ago, Gomes said that it was a most difficult decision to make and one which was not well received by those close to her.

"I will tell you that when I broke the news of my giving up my medical practice to go to JFJ, even my parents were not pleased, but I made the decision and after 14-plus years, I can publicly state that I have no regrets," she said.

JFJ director Susan Goffe interjected.

"These 14 years have been very difficult for us. We have made some headway, and we are proud of that, but there is so much more we could have achieved if we had the funds to do so," Goffe said.

"I will tell you that at our board meetings, for example, we sometimes are able to buy only some jerk chicken for the directors to eat, and that is about it," she stated.

Gomes said that when the JFJ started its advocacy 14 years ago, it had to depend on the voluntary efforts of persons who wanted to right the injustices perpetrated on the people of Jamaica by the State. She added that now the situation has changed significantly.

"The money we get, and we are very thankful for what we have received, is used to assist those who would never have an opportunity to get redress or have their voices heard," she said.

The JFJ executive director said that now the JFJ is able to hold regular fora on human rights across the island to let the people of Jamaica understand and can appreciate what their rights are and how to access

these rights.

Further, Gomes stated that JFJ now has a communication specialist to interact better with the public and to advance the work of the organisation, in-house researchers who will sift through the various documents and in-house lawyers who work on behalf of JFJ in the interest of those who seek guidance and assistance.

"At present we are receiving over 70-odd cases per month. That is a heavy load, and we use whatever money we get to ensure that the JFJ can provide a genuine service. I state quite emphatically that we do not have money to splash, we do not have money to splurge. The JFJ is cash-strapped but we continue to build and grow in the interest of those who need us most. That is our situation, we are not awash with cash," an emotional Gomes said.

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