BY MARK CUMMINGS Editor-at-Large, Western Bureau email@example.com
MONTEGO BAY, St James - Canterbury's violent past may increasingly look like history, but the depressed community continues to grapple with numerous social and economic challenges.
Area residents, however, remain hopeful that they will soon begin to see an improvement in their living conditions.
Earlier this month, a programme which involves the training of roughly 30 women from the community in art and crafts got underway in the community.
According to Pastor of the Redemption Chapel in Canterbury, Lascelles Thomas, who has been working in the community for many years, the project is being spearheaded by Shirley Hylton, a Jamaica native, who now lives in Texas, USA.
"She is a missionary and she came to Canterbury a few years ago and she said that the Lord wants here to do something for the community. Initially, she donated football gear to community but that didn't really work out, so we met with the residents and find out exactly what they want to do in terms of skills training and they have so indicated," Pastor Thomas explained.
He added that coming out of the discussions Hylton sourced the materials and later commenced the project.
"So right now they (participants in the programme) are now doing sewing, crocheting, knitting, making hand bags with leather...... with the idea that the finished projects will be sold and persons in the community will get a part of the money, while the other part will go back into buying materials so we can keep the programme going," he explained.
The start of the programme comes on the heels of a tour of the depressed community by Minister without Portfolio, Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing Dr Morais Guy, who promised the more than 2,000 residents that he would be taking steps to get their certificates of title for the properties they currently occupy.
Dr Guy also gave an undertaking to work with the representatives of Canterbury to explore the possibilities for improved housing and other developments in the area.
One of Montego Bay's 19 squatter settlements, the densely populated community consists mostly of flimsy board houses crammed together.
Canterbury's image as a slum is not helped by outsiders who are reluctant to enter the community, a section of which is nestled in a deep valley surrounded by hilly terrain.
There is only one entrance and exit by road and the community which sits on roughly four acres of land, is not accessible by vehicular traffic.
According to a socio-economic survey conducted by the Social Development Commission (SDC) in the community just over three years ago, 55 per cent of the houses are made from board a similar percentage of the residents' garbage are picked up by truck. The other 45 per cent, the report indicated, are disposed of "by other means".
Additionally, almost 80 per cent of household members have no academic qualification while there are high levels of unemployment in the area.
Councillor for the area Suzette Brown told the Jamaica Observer West that she is committed to working with the residents in ensuring the formation of some governance structures to make representation on behalf of the community "as we move forward in having some of their most pressing issues addressed by the requisite state agencies."
To this end, she said, focus will be placed on the formation of a Canterbury Citizens Association.
"This has become even more necessary following the recent announcement by Dr Morais Guy who said he will be taking steps to providing residents with titles to the land on which they are residing in the area," she emphasised.
"As councillor, I'm also mindful of other issues affecting residents of the area that we would want addressed. However, I consider it important for the residents to organise themselves and assist in making representation in a structured way. Truth be told, Canterbury is in need of special attention, as it regards infrastructure, whether it be improvements in pathways/roads, construction of a new and sturdier bridge and other basic amenities, so I consider it important for the residents to let their voices be heard in a meaningful way, and that can come through active governance structures, inclusive of the Canterbury Youth Club that is now operating in the community."
According to Brown the assistance of the SDC is being sought to assist with the process. Already, she noted, the SDC officers are active in the area working with the residents in an effort to improve their standards of living.