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Crossing Continents Thursday, 2 December, 1999, 18:04 GMT
One Love in Trenchtown?
Decades of violence have ravaged the streets of Trenchtown - but now there are signs of change
By Linda Pressly

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Lorna Stanley doesn't look forward to Fridays. It's the day when up to half the pupils at her school in Rema, Trenchtown, west Kingston fail to turn up. The reason is simple: the poverty and hopelessness that's afflicted this violence-ridden inner-city ghetto for most of the past 30 years.

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Lorna Stanley hard at work in her classroom
"Some children don't come because at the end of the week they don't have any lunch money," says Lorna, a feisty, determined former journalist who moved to Kingston five years ago from West Palm Beach, Florida, to set up the school. "Others skip school because they're parents themselves -- even though they're so young - and they don't know where the next meal is going to come from. Friday is market day.. so everyone has to be out hustling, trying to sell anything they can, just to have something to eat at the weekend."

Lorna does what she can to fill the bellies even of the kids who can't afford lunch. A breakfast of porridge or bread and jam is always the first item on the daily timetable, before prayers. There are sacks piled outside the classrooms from which she sometimes distributes food to the needy. But she knows that hunger isn't the only thing that makes it hard for her pupils to concentrate on their studies. Many of them are deeply traumatised by the gang warfare that until recently pitted street against street in Trenchtown.

"We didn't used to learn anything, because of the violence," one girl told me. " If you saw any shots being fired by a person with a gun, you had to look both ways before you crossed the street, and if you went into a shop you often had to bend down or you would get hit."

Territory in Trenchtown was carved up between Jamaica's two main political parties, the PNP (People's National Party) and JLP (Jamaica Labour Party). They sponsored "dons" to enforce their authority in the so-called "garrison communities", ensuring that only their own supporters had any chance of jobs or housing - and literally blasting out any opponents with guns.

Gradually, the dons outgrew their political masters and became more interested in the drugs trade - but the warfare continued.

At one of Kingston's many funerals, mourners for another gunshot victim
Teenagers at the Restoration School told me they often attended several funerals every weekend. Girls lived in constant fear of rape. For years on end, groups of young men slept in shifts to avoid being surprised by the enemy at night. People of all ages were unable to walk more than a few streets from their homes, lest they cross one of the invisible front-lines.

Slowly all that's changing - making it possible for Lorna's school to operate. People in Rema and other parts of Trenchtown are beginning to turn away from violence, realising they've been used by the politicians since Jamaica became independent in 1962, and gained nothing in return.

Now they want to try to bring new life to their communities. The murder rate in west Kingston has more than halved in the past four years. And though most uptown Kingstonians still wouldn't consider setting foot in Rema, there are hopes that foreign tourists might be less prejudiced.

Reporter Tim Whewell with Michael Smith of the Trenchtown Development Association
Michael Smith, of the Trenchtown Development Association, is trying to find funds to develop a "culture yard" on First Street where the legendary singer Bob Marley spent much of his youth. Today, it's an area of dingy, delapidated tenements, zinc shacks, and rubbish strewn yards. Only a Rastafarian flag fluttering over a gate marks the place where reggae classics such as "No Woman, No Cry" were first penned.

But a cardboard model in Michael's office shows a future museum, a flagged arena for performances, a statue of Marley holding a dove of peace, even a Queen of Sheba restaurant and a Lion of Zion souvenir shop.

Rema schoolchildren sing of their hopes
Will all that one day become reality? It would still take a big leap of faith to invest in west Kingston.. But at least some of its future citizens - Lorna Stanley's pupils - seem to have faith in abundance. "This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine," they sang before they began their lessons, - and then added defiantly "Let it shine -- all over Rema".

Also in this edition of Crossing Continents: a report from the lively new film festival, being held in the plusher surroundings of Montego Bay.

Lorna Stanley, teacher, Kingston, Jamaica, Nov 1999
on 'dons', new hopes, and old problems in Trenchtown...
Rema schoolchildren, Kingston, Jamaica, Nov 1999
Eavesdrop on the singers of Lorna Stanley's classroom in Rema...
See also:

01 Jul 99 | Americas
16 Jan 99 | Americas
20 Jun 99 | UK
19 Jun 99 | Americas
18 Jul 99 | Entertainment
22 Apr 99 | Business
Links to more Crossing Continents stories are at the foot of the page.

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