November 17, 2016
MONA Social Services (MSS) at the University of the West Indies (The UWI) has received the American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) Civic Leadership Award for Excellence.
The award was presented for MSS’s significant contributions through its township community outreach initiative, which works to foster development within 10 neighbouring, inner-city communities, including August Town.
The initiative, started by The UWI Mona in 2006, targets approximately 40,000 residents through education, sports, culture, health, entrepreneurship and crime reduction intervention.
It has made significant progress in upgrading the standard of early childhood education in August Town, renovating eight basic schools at a cost of $1.6 million, and assisting with acquiring the permit to operate and train teachers who were previously untrained for over 30 years.
Among its other significant contributions are a recent back-to-school treat and health fair organised by MSS in collaboration with Lions Club of Mona and the Mona Common Steering Committee. Over 140 children benefited from school supplies and medical check-ups at the Mona Common Basic School.
Another back-to-school treat, in collaboration with Sagicor, was held for the greater August Town area.
Nine students have also benefited from scholarships worth approximately $2.3 million this year. This sum is part of the US$57-million worth of full-fee scholarships that have been granted to 57 students from the inner-city communities.
Skills training has also been provided to over 150 residents in general construction, housekeeping and data processing, and business development training was provided for 85 youth.
Several other training workshops have also benefited residents of the August Town, Goldsmith Villa, Hermitage and Parade Gardens communities.
A concrete, multi-purpose sporting facility, which replaced zinc fences, was also built, resulting in incident-free competitions and friendly rivalry matches of football and netball.
This has helped to create some stability in the surrounding areas that have been plagued by periodic violence.
Meanwhile, entrepreneurial intervention has been linked to the development of housing stock, resulting in a demand for housing by local and international UWI students boarding in the communities.
Over 300 residents and small businesses, such as hair salons and food establishments, benefit from the investments by students. Meanwhile, kitchen gardens provide meals for 150 students in two schools.
Dr Olivene Burke, executive director of Mona Social Services — UWI Township Programme, said the university has been keen on facilitating development, through interaction between itself and surrounding communities.
“Our goal is to work with community members to change the environment from one of hopelessness to one where potential can thrive and be rewarded by suitable opportunities, whether it is through a scholarship or training for an entrepreneurial venture,” she said.
She stated that efforts so far have helped to change the negative perception of communities like August Town and also improve the community overall.
“MSS takes pride in the success of efforts that have helped to dramatically reduce murders from 15 in 2011, to 1 in 2015. In 2008, we brought together gang leaders to sign a peace treaty that same year, which has not been broken since and has resulted in a dramatic reduction in crime, particularly murders,” she added.
She said that parents and children can now congregate and enjoy sporting activities, and children who become graduates also help to break the cycle of poverty — which helps to improve the quality of life in the communities.
While MSS has provided technical, financial and human resources for all projects, community members and students have been at the forefront in assisting with projects such as the building of the sports complex.
Principal of The UWI Mona campus, Professor Archibald McDonald, said the university remains committed to the social and economic transformation of communities in the Mona valley.
“We are committed to ensuring that this transformation occurs in line with Jamaica’s Vision 2030 goals. We have strong belief in the potential of the residents, and The UWI is committed to financing the intellectual enrichment of residents through scholarships and continuing education, as well as economic opportunities through students on our campus,” he stated.
Mona Social Services is the leading department for civic engagement and outreach in the communities surrounding the Mona campus of The UWI.