Early this morning I went downtown with Zahra Burton of 18 Degrees North to meet some of our community journalists. This is part of the project I have been talking about to train community members from across Jamaica in investigative journalism. It is organized by Global Reporters for the Caribbean and in partnership with USAID’s COMET II and National Integrity Action. At the end of the three-month period, which is upon us, we will have produced 10 stories that have underlying them an attempt to hold authorities to account, shine a light on an issue that doesn’t normally get attention and provide a voice to those who may not have one.
We were going on air on POWER 106 with hosts Damion Mitchell and Althea McKenzie to discuss one of 10 stories we will be publishing in the next few weeks.
In this case, a mother, Lushana Bennett, tragically lost her 11-year-old daughter, Donye Coore, to an asthma attack. The family (her step-brother carried her on his shoulders) attempted to get her to the hospital in time, but she perished upon arriving there. The family feels, and doctors corroborate, that if the roads were in better condition, young Donye would have have survived. She was just 11 and she had just completed her GSAT exams.
Done was from the community of Mount Industry, a small district of about 2,000 people high in the hills above Kingston. The road to their community can not even be called a road, more of a rocky foot path. As a result, it is not accessible by car. People have to walk about 2.5 miles to get a taxi and farmers must carry their goods on their heads. When it rains, children cannot go to school and the elderly have a hard time getting health care.
In other words, this community for decades has been denied basic services such as health care, which are guaranteed by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. So one may ask, why do they live there? As the community journalist, Suzette Walters put it, “Because we own the land! We pay taxes and we vote.” Indeed, voter turnout is relatively high in this district, according to Elections Jamaica. It also goes back to the days when the slaves were freed, one expert in the subject told me. They wanted to flee as far from the plantations as possible, so they fled to the hills.
In any case, this girl should not have died. But her mother was brave and strong on the radio show. She was later joined by former MP for the area Damion Crawford, current MP Juliet Holness and Action Medical Officer of Health for the South East Regional Health Authority Debbie Carrington.
The interview was lively, informative and hopefully will result in some action. Mrs. Holness explained in a call to me after the interview that she has been trying to address the situation for awhile now. However, it is complicated by overlapping government agencies, a lack of funding and other competing demands.
Overall, this is what journalism is all about and what we hoped this program would result in: accountability and action.