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'It's time for someone else'
Social activist Bunny Goodison explains why he's stepping away from voluntary service
BY OLIVIA LEIGH CAMPBELL Sunday Observer staff reporter
Sunday, August 13, 2006

Twenty-three years ago when Tony Spaulding, the member of parliament for South St Andrew asked community activist and sound system operator Vaughn 'Bunny' Goodison to chair the board of the Trench Town Comprehensive High School, Goodison accepted without hesitation.
GOODISON. it gives me a sense of satisfaction and achievement to have served 23 years as chairman in a community as volatile and as difficult as South St Andrew (Photo: Michael Gordon)

And from 1983 till December 2005 when he officially resigned the unpaid position, there was no break in his volunteer service, which at times was as demanding as a full-time job.

"It gives me a sense of satisfaction and achievement to have served 23 years as chairman in a community as volatile and as difficult as South St Andrew," says Goodison, who in December also resigned as chair of the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission's Popular Song Competition.

Over the years, Goodison has clocked a lifetime of man-hours in voluntary service to many organisations, among them the Institute of Sport, the Jamaica Cricket Association, St George's College Old Boys Association, Jamaica Federation of Musicians and as a Justice of the Peace. It's almost second nature, he says, because that's how he was brought up in Kingston's inner-city, in a communal environment where everybody had to help everyone and did so.

But now, Goodison says a new generation needs to pick up the reins, and he feels passionately about that.
"I think a lot of people are ripping off the society!" he says adamantly. "People are ripping off society in that you don't see them sitting on boards like mine, giving back anything. You may see them sitting on 'pretty' boards, collecting high fees, but not giving their time and energy to an inner-city school."

That sort of work, he says, is hard, taxing and largely unrecognised, but needs to go on if Jamaicans are serious about ending societal ills like crime and violence and poverty.
The picture he paints of Trench Town Comprehensive is not at all a merry one, but it underscores his point about the importance of volunteer service.

The school, which has about 700 students that mostly hail from the impoverished and crime-riddled surrounding communities of Rema, Arnett Gardens, Jones Town and Craig Town, is up to scratch on infrastructure and facilities, he says, but because the needs of its students are so great, the school requires a lot of time, money and energy invested from the wider public.

"It's an inner-city school, so you know you have to provide both breakfast and lunch, 'cause it's like home for many of those kids," he says. "For a lot of them there is no supervised home environment.

Many parents have to go out and hustle, many kids have absentee fathers and it is for those reasons the school acts as parent, teacher, everything to these kids. That's why whatever it is the child becomes in life - when it's good - it's the school and the teachers that are responsible for that."

It doesn't help, he says, that there are no major income-generating entities in the community, or that organisations that would normally pick up the slack of fundraising and support don't exist.

"Our Past Students' Association is almost non-functional, and a lot of the parents also don't participate in Parent Teachers Association functions or support the school in any way, so all our assistance came from outside, from friends, people who were sort of public-spirited, but not from the community. And so the school is always behind, always in a hand-to-mouth situation."

In fact, he adds, the members of the surrounding community itself at times contributed only negatively, persisting with violence on or near to the school compound, even going as far last year as allowing the shoot-outs to spill over into school grounds and raping one of the female students.

"I must commend the teachers and principal who stood up to all of this, despite the dangers they faced," says Goodison. "These are the things that, when I reflect on them, they made my job extremely difficult, and that's why I feel this immense sense of pride and accomplishment in knowing that I stuck it out."

In his opinion, the massive neglect of the school by its home community and of the community by the rest of society is a recipe for disaster, as students look to those around them - usually negative influences - as role models, instead of emulating people who are legitimately successful.

"TT (Trench Town) is a comprehensive school, we do carpentry, metalwork, mechanics, electrical work - those sorts of subjects," says Goodison. "Not everybody can have the grammar subjects, but we can give you skills to use your hands. But countering that is this prevailing attitude in society where you see men walking around driving all kinds of vehicles, living high life, and when you check it out they can't even read.

"The average youngster doesn't want to do certain types of work, work they may be skilled to do, because they look in their communities and see people who have little or no skills or education doing well and living wealthy and these are their role models."

Goodison also believes that there is a direct relationship between the lack of positive role models, failing schools, blatant inequality and criminality. When people perceive that they are being disenfranchised, or that they are being persecuted for no apparent reason, he explains, they can only be expected to act out against what they believe is unjust.

"A lot of them see their life span as 30 [years], and a person with this kind of warped view of life is a very dangerous person, because he sees what he wants and he wants it now. That's why they're so vicious. He expects to die by 30 so he will take any risk and pay any price because he wants it now. Chances mean nothing to him, he respects nobody. And when you check it out at the base of it, he's dropped out of school, didn't get properly educated.

"These guys, they are no fools, they say to me, 'we fire gun but them uptown man fire pen'. It's a profound statement, and when you check it out, it's true. Society breeds that kind of animal, and we need to clean up across the board.

I think when the deprived start seeing more social and economic justice, even legal justice, it will make a serious dent in the way he behaves himself. He will say, 'this law is for all of us', but right now I don't think he sees it that way.


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