Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Jamaica wins Judges Award at FIRST LEGO League

On a cold and rainy day in San Jose, Jamaica and the Caribbean's sole representative at the Northern California FIRST LEGO League arrived to compete with the top 64 teams in the state. After 3 rounds of robot missions in the morning segment, their highest score of 117 was not sufficient to rank. Dejected and disappointed, they did not know that destiny had other plans for them to make their mark.....make their loved ones and one love country, proud, and find greater pride in themselves and their lives.

For the other participants, a team from Jamaica was a sweet novelty and many came over to greet them. A Jamaica national living in San Francisco, read about the team on the Internet and took time out to come and see them.....and even took a picture of them to take back as a memory. More than they realized, they were already being celebrated.

In the afternoon, the team re-spirited to face the judging of their research presentation, robot design and teamwork ability. And so even as the weather remained cold, these 7 innercity kids from Jamaica warmed the hearts of the judges with their passion and song, about their lives and the robotics programme in their community.

As we sat patiently awaiting the awards ceremony, one of the organizers asked me to introduce "the team from Jamaica". I introduced them as some of "the pioneers of robotics" in Jamaica and to the rousing applause of an gynasium filled with almost 2000 people, the kids stood and took their honours, in what I thought would have been their greatest triumph on that day.

After announcing the awards for some 15 teams, they reached to the special Judges Awards. Not only are these awards only available at some tournaments, but they are also optional. Additionally, out-of-state teams are not normally eligible for awards at an out-of-state tournament as these are reserved for teams from within the state. We were out-of-country.

The announcer begins to speak of award that was unanimous among the judges. One that they all got behind and said, "this the team should get it". An award for the team that "came the furthest and overcame the most obstacles to be at this competition......Halls of Learning LEGO Yuh Mind from Kingston, Jamaica!". It was our proudest moment yet.

Such is the spirit of the FIRST LEGO League, 3 months from now they will forget what the robot did....but they will always remember the experience.Thank you Scotiabank.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Jamaica's first Innercity Robotics Team

In a press conference at the Jones Town Agency for Change, Scotiabank announces their support for Jamaica's first Innercity Robotics Team. Newspaper reports are carried in both the Gleaner and Observer, news items are broadcast on both TVJ and CVM-TV, with a feature shown on Jamaica's 24-hour news station, JNN, about the robotics programme in Jones Town.

In a heartbeat

January 3, 2006:
[9 days before scheduled departure and no funding finalized]

On this morning, along with their parents, we approach the emergency window at the US Embassy in Kingston with VISA applications for 6 boys and 2 girls. When we get inside the embassy, it is brought to our attention that 5 of the applicants have the older version of their birth certificates, which is no longer being accepted. Three applications are accepted, 2 VISAs are granted.

With the strong support from the Halls of Learning Family, two trips are made out to the Registrar General's Division (RGD) to apply for new birth certificates. Thanking the two angels at RGD who stay behind, at 8pm, Coach Arrianne receives 5 new certificates hot off the press. On this second trip, we stay at RGD for over 4 hours.....waiting for tomorrow was not an option.

January 4, 2006:
[8 days before scheduled departure, no funding yet, no final count of students]

Another early morning trip to the to the embassy. By now the staff have become familar with us and understand the mission. Four of five VISAs are granted. The final will be granted once a doctor's certificate is presented to justify why a grandfather is accompanying his granddaughter instead of her mother, who has lupus and recently suffered a stroke.

January 5, 2006:
[1 week before departure, we approach a number of individuals for funding]

Final morning at the embassy, and the last of the flock is let through the gates. The security and staff at the US embassy have been extremely helpful and the consular officer, very understanding. The figure required is finalized, a proposal is sent out, numerous phone calls are made and we begin to meet with potential supporters. Upon advice from an old school mate, we also send our proposal to Scotiabank. The Scotiabank officials are in meetings all day the proposal is not looked after until 3pm.

At 4:30pm, we are contacted by Scotiabank to say that they would cover the entire costs of the trip.

Great people supporting great things, make it happen in a heartbeat...

5 boys and 2 girls will represent Jamaican at the robotics competition in California.

On this night we give thanks, and our minds find some relief in rest.

We not giving up

This photo essay is a tribute to the children of Jones Town and Arnett Gardens, who are the pioneers of a robotics programme in their community. It tries to document the period of their preparation to participate in the robotics competition in California, from their first team-building activities to their research on impact of garbage on the Kingston Harbour to building an oceanic environment from LEGO pieces and designing a robot to perform missions.

These children came out to training inspite of the torrential raindrops.....and the torrential rain of gunshots which regularly barked through their homes and even bit the lives of their loved ones. They demonstrated committment, dedication, courage and sacrifice in honour of only a promise from a strange face that they may one day travel on a plane to the USA, see a different world and expand their options. It could be said that through robotics they learned problem-solving, collaboration and how to work with limited resources or it could be said that they were born doing those things in order to survive in the innercities of Kingston, and robotics was just another exercise.

They never gave up hope and we will never give up on them.

Click on the image to begin downloading the slideshow.
File size - 57MB, Duration - 4:33s

Photography: Arrianne Williams
Soundtrack: We not giving up by Machel Montano

Requires QuickTime
Get QuickTime

Inside Jamaica

Struck by the people and images encountered through our work in Jones Town, we share with you a photo essay and inspired poetry both titled,
Inside Jamaica:

Each day we pass these faces
Living in their confined spaces
Sometimes surrounded by waste
Most of them growing with the taste
Of sufferation and despair
And then add violence, gunshots ring through the air
But still hardworking and full of pride
So even in their eyes, they cannot hide
The feigning of hope
And so they cope
Some waiting and singing 'betta mus come'
Some sacrificing and plodding for the better, to come
Some wishing for the wings of a dove
Most surviving on the fumes of love
Look inside Jamaica and see the crying need
It might not be your neighbour, but you should take heed

Click on the image to begin downloading the slideshow.
File size - 95MB, Duration - 4:57s

Photography: Arrianne Williams
Soundtrack: Love by Anouk

Requires QuickTime
Get QuickTime

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas Jones Town

I could not genuinely say it to the kids today.

For what was really "merry" and where did they see the celebration of Christ?

On the night of Christmas Eve, there was yet another drive-by leaving at least 5 men shot and 1 dead. Gunshots rang out mid-morning Christmas day, as a police vehicle trying to make an intervention was turned back by the gunfire of heavier artillery. The streets had only a sprinkling of people but still an excess of garbage. As we walked down to the meeting place, the police jeep that was making a patrol through the area had their M-16s aimed at us....just in case.

So I continued to ponder what was really "merry" and what was "christmas" for them. They had no family dinner to attend. There was

no Christmas tree,

no Christmas decorations,

no Christmas lights,

no Christmas presents from Santa for any of them to open when they got back home and to top it off, there were no chestuts roasting on an open fire with no Nat King Cole singing Merry Christmas to you...

While we never thought we could bring Christmas to them, it was still our intention to share a drink of sorrel, some Christmas pudding and a Christmas card. We wanted to remind them that the spirit of Christmas was about sharing and showing love. (Thank you Coach Arrianne for your efforts)

So on this day, although the children did not program robots we tried to help them understand their greatest fear.
(incorrectly attributed to Mandela's inaugural speech of 1994 but nonetheless powerful words from Marrianne Williamson)

Our two female team members were absent today.

After the murder of her grandfather 2 weeks ago, one of our girls had to flee to an area outside of Kingston and has since found the commute more difficult. The other was afraid to walk on the road after the Christmas Eve drive-by and mid-morning gun battle.

We challenged the young boys present, to remember their responsibility of being male and to try to keep positive words in their minds.

We dared to make this session more powerful than the regular gun sessions and its 24 disciples.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Beginning Now: Jones Town is the Beginning

It was hard to begin......and decide where to start, so i chose to start now.

Now, we approach the 8th weekend of our work in Jones Town.
Since Oct 1, 2005, we have been renting a classroom in the hardly used building of the Jones Town Agency for Change. For 2-3 hours on Saturdays and Sundays, 10 middle school students meet in preparation for the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) robotics competition in San Jose, California, January 14, 2006

These students were selected from a group of 100 scholarship awardees that attended our Creations Lab programme in July 2005. (The scholarships were made possible by the kind generosity of the National Commercial Bank and Vickers One Corporation)

The challenge for this years FLL is Ocean's Odyssey and as a part of the project section, the students have to identify an activity that impacts on the health and biodiversity of our rivers, streams and oceans.

And wasn't that easy:

garbage dumped behind the building and into the gully, flows through the network, untreated and unchecked, into the world's 7th largest natural harbour, our been-loved Kingston Harbour.

So we began the process of educating and enlightening a group of young students about an issue that was not the number one nor in the top 10 biggest problems of their community.

After sharing a little apple

and being entertained by the not-yet-celebrated members of Jamaica's first gymnastic team at the Olympics

the group embarked on their first team-building activity

and realized the power of trust and collaboration

to put the pieces together.....and begin to solve the problem.