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Sometimes we feel like giving up

JFJ admits advocacy is taxing, but tells what keeps it going

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS Senior staff reporter dunkleya@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, December 09, 2013    

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THE group was honed by the fiery fracas known as the 'Gas Riots' of April 16, 1999, which almost locked down the country. And although it had taken on many fights that caused mightier men to wilt, the rights group that is Jamaicans For Justice (JFJ) has had days when all its members wanted to do was quit.

In the days following the three-day riot, which left several people dead, the group of 'concerned citizens' had no idea that their decision to hold further discussions about the disorder would have led to them becoming the voice for many Jamaicans who felt their rights and lives were being trampled on by the State.

The members have been the unrelenting town crier for the rights of children, especially those in State care; the reform of Jamaica's justice system; the delivery of human rights education to thousands of students in educational institutions annually; public education campaigns to raise the awareness of Jamaicans about their human rights; the development of Access to Information legislation, and the support and strengthening of the mechanisms for this access; work on corruption and misuse of government funds and resources; and seeking justice for some of the most vulnerable in the society, such as the Montego Bay 'street people'.

Have they ever felt like quitting?

"Every month, and I've only been there for seven years," JFJ Chair Lisa Lakhan-Chen confessed frankly to the Jamaica Observer Press Club last Wednesday.

Outgoing Executive Director Dr Carolyn Gomes gave clarity to that confession.

"This work is fairly draining and everybody on the board will acknowledge this; it'snot nice for people not to you, we don't take that very lightly, and clearly they have been really wrong," she noted.

Some instances in which JFJ has been flayed with even threats from the criminal world of extinction come readily to mind.

"The issues around the 'Dudus' (former West Kingston strongman Christopher Coke) extradition were very raw for us, very challenging for us as an organisation, it reached to the point of us calling for the resignation of a prime minister (Bruce Golding). Very recently we had the case of Mr Neville Boyd a 53-year-old Jamaican killed in Spanish Town (an alleged case of police extra-judicial killing)," Gomes reflected.

Unpaid and many times unappreciated in the countless moments when their strength flag, home and other pursuits beckon, Gomes — who left a successful paediatric practice to head the organisation, said only one thing has kept them afloat.

"What keeps any of us going is that we know Jamaicans can do better and we know honest, decent, law-abiding Jamaicans who deserve better and who come to us every day and search for solutions every day," she said.

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