Advocacy in all shapes and sizes

In April, I had the opportunity to sit in on a training on Advocating for Improved and Non-Discriminatory Services for LGBT People. One of the facilitators spoke of the different levels and stages of advocacy, these being from: 1 Inform ➡️ 2 Motivate ➡️ 3 Persuade ➡️ 4 Move to action ➡️ 5 Champion the issue. The facilitator also said that advocacy can take place in many forms, including through public education, lobbying, research, training and through media; and it is important to engage all sorts of people in different spaces.

It has been interesting to see how J-FLAG engages its community, the public, the government, and intergovernmental organizations, through various levels and methods of advocacy, but all with the overall goal of advocating for a better Jamaica. This includes, but is not limited to, advocating for the rights and protection of LGBT persons, the environment, children and youth, vulnerable and marginalized communities, etc.

I cannot speak for the experiences of others, although the J-FLAG social media can give a nice overview, but here are some highlights from how I have been able to experience J-FLAG’s advocacy in all shapes and sizes in the past months:

J-FLAG, its community members, and volunteers were moved to action in the clean up of Hellshire Main Road beach back in April. Cleaning up and preserving spaces around them is important to ensure that beautiful spaces continue to exist and be accessible to all Jamaicans in the future. Following the clean up, there was a Twitter chat to discuss #BanStyrofoamJa, on how potential bans in the use of Styrofoam could reduce the harmful environmental impact and allow for potential creation of alternative sustainable substitutes.

J-FLAG engages in a lot of visibility activities. Two that I got to participate in were the Montego Bay City Run and the Food for the Poor Run in Kingston. These activities are not only great opportunities for the volunteers and community members to get together, have fun, and stay active, but visibility is crucial in sharing to the public the presence of the LGBT community and the work of J-FLAG. Visibility is important in creating equality in representation.

13133127_10154176683376670_2645525302357684208_nFood for the Poor Run

The 4th Annual Larry Chang Human Rights Symposium, which took place on IDAHOT (International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia), was a day of celebrating a community of love (see Mya’s post on the symposium). The event was followed by PRISM, an evening of arts, poetry, singing, dancing, and celebrating, it was a beautiful opportunity to come together and showcase the talent of members of the community. These two events were once again opportunities to challenge negative perceptions and accurately inform the public about the LGBT community.

Larry Chang SymposiumSpoken word poetry

The community also met with parliamentarians around IDAHOT, to speak with representatives of the government about issues that affect them, to persuade them to act on improving the rights and protection of LGBT persons in Jamaica, as well as, improving the lives of all Jamaicans. I had the opportunity to attend meetings with the Minister of Labour and Social Security and the High Commission of Canada in Jamaica, along with very passionate J-FLAG staff, volunteers and community members.

Ministry of LabourHigh Commissioner of Canada in Jamaica

Posted in IYIP 2015-2016, Jamaica | Leave a comment

From the City to the Country

Khon Kaen - Songtaew - Thanon Prachasamoson

For two months I was living and working in Khon Kaen. It’s not as big and bustling as Bangkok, but it’s still considered an up-and-coming city. I’m quite the city boy, so I did have some reservations about living in a smaller city. It turned out to be a very positive experience and it has allowed me time to appreciate a different part of Thailand. As a northeastern province, Khon Kaen’s culture is actually a mix of both Lao and Thai cultures. You can see this mostly reflected in their language, music, and dance. I particularly enjoyed the Isan music, dance, and entertaining ‘mor lam’ concerts.

Continue reading

Posted in IYIP 2015-2016 | Leave a comment

From Kampala to Kibera!

I was recently lucky enough to be sent to Nairobi for a week to work with Kijiji Cha Upendo, a community-based organization (and partner to the CAP Network) that is located in Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya. This was a particularly exciting task for me since Kijiji Cha Upendo’s creators have been friends of mine for nearly 10 years. Kijiji Cha Upendo’s aim is to support households caring for orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) affected by HIV/AIDS in order to reduce economic vulnerability, improve children’s access to education with the provision of school fees, and to help expand the income generating activities of the caregivers of OVCs through the facilitation of entrepreneurial skills training and micro-loans.

Kijiji Cha Upendo’s commitment to the OVC households they support has a positive impact not only on the children and caregivers it targets, but also the Kibera community at large. Part of the caregivers’ commitment to being beneficiaries is to form a cooperative with other caregivers and attend bi-weekly meetings using Kijiji Cha Upendo’s office space. These women save together and even take turns supplying sugar and soap to the group, ensuring that all households always have some. In this way, not only are they supporting OVC households but they are strengthening community development.

Eunice Nambusi’s story is a great example of the impact that Kijiji Cha Upendo’s support and resources can have on promoting sustainable livelihoods at both the household and community level. Eunice first started her tailoring business in 2001, but she continues to dream of its expansion. Eunice used to specialize in making curtains, but since becoming a Kijiji Cha Upendo beneficiary in 2010, she has diversified her business to include items such as bed covers, high quality mosquito nets, pillows and pillow covers.

Eunice is a caretaker to orphans and receives support from Kijiji Cha Upendo to pay their school fees. The relief that Eunice receives from the burden of school fees has enabled her to use her income to sustain the livelihoods of her family and to make investments in the growth of her business. She also takes out micro-loans from Kijiji Cha Upendo and has a very good history of paying them back in full and on time. She has invested her loans wisely and has purchased equipment that she uses for tailoring; additionally, she is able to rent out this equipment to other tailors in the community to generate more of an income when she’s not using the machines.

Eunice Nambusi shows us how to use her tailoring machine that punches holes in curtains in her business space in Kibera, Nairobi

Eunice Nambusi shows us how to use her tailoring machine that punches holes in curtains in her business space in Kibera, Nairobi


Representatives of Kijiji Cha Upendo (Leonora Obara and Leah Atieno) and I admire samples of Eunice’s tailoring work

Eunice claims that Kijiii Cha Upendo’s support has helped enable her to become more self-sufficient, and she is eager to return the favour in serving others in the community. Her hope for the future is to be able to expand her workshop so that she can train other young women/ Kijiji Cha Upendo’s beneficiaries in tailoring so that they gain skills that can help them support themselves and their families in the years to come. Eunice’s strong work ethic and pay it forward attitude is demonstrative of the kind of community development that can be seen at play every day within Kibera.

If you would like to learn more about Kijiji Cha Upendo’s efforts in Kibera, Nairobi, you can visit their website at:



Posted in IYIP 2015-2016 | Leave a comment

“We are all worthy of love”

May 17th marked the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia and to commemorate it, the Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) hosted the Larry Chang Human Rights Symposium in Kingston, Jamaica.
The theme “Celebrating a Community of Love” was celebrated beautifully with performances and stories from LGBTI individuals. The space was big, bright and definitely filled with  heart


With more than 150 people in attendance, it was an uplifting night where, regardless of your sexual identity or sexual orientation, you could be yourself. There were various speakers and performers, with my favourite being the stories told by 3 different couples. They shared their struggles, accomplishments and everyday way of life.
One woman in particular who is a police officer and is engaged to a woman said “I didn’t want to change myself to gain acceptance from my peers.” As a lesbian working in a male-dominated field, it was inspiring to hear her story and her fight to stay true to herself.IMG_3790
I must also say that the audience in particular caught my attention as Jamaicans bring a strong energy, especially when it comes to music! I have yet to attend an event that doesn’t have a musical guest (or two, or three, or….) and audience members are usually singing and dancing along with the lyrics and beat. It is incredible to witness! Definitely lightens and brightens the mood.

To get the full scoop, jump on social media and use the hashtag #PowerofLoveJA

“We are all worthy of love”-Neish McLean from J-FLAG.

Our CVC work team! Leah, Marlon and I.

CVC  team! Leah, Marlon and I.


Posted in IYIP 2015-2016, Jamaica | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Marijuana Culture: An International Game of Broken Telephone

You know the game we played as kids? The girl with braided pigtails and awkward buck teeth gawkily whispers a message into her crush’s ear, who passes it down the spit-fueled line to the poor kid at end who has no idea what was originally said. In the game, the result gives everyone a chuckle when “Firetruck” turns into a license to say naughty and explicit words. Who knew this game would be extremely relevant in the miscommunication between cultural practices.

I use broken telephone as an example because of the nature of children. There is always that one darling child, who decides that it would be fun to twist the message, interesting to throw in some cuss words, and thrilling for no one to know where the mix up happened. The perpetrator knows that the result will be funnier, more exciting, and cause a commotion amongst their peers. These sprites grow up, and sometimes they become marketers, business persons, and the like. I’m not saying that it is always this twisted, or intentional. However, our desire to sell things and make them sexy to one culture, is done best when twisted from the perspective that it came from the source, much like a kid throwing in a cuss word and blaming it on the first person in the line.

So what am I getting at here? 

There is a large divide, a canyon, between what many North Americans think of reggae, Bob Marley, and all things Rasta.

 In April, North America celebrated “4/20” (April, 20th). The origins of which are more shrouded in urban myth than reality (See Lopez). For one it has nothing to do with Bob Marley, as many believe. To clarify he was born on Feb. 6th, 1945 and died May 11th, 1981. These dates, particularly his birthday, are celebrated by Rastafarian people in Jamaica.

The more I am around the Rastafarian culture, the more I realize that many people in North America who wear the Rasta colours: red, gold, green, and black have no idea what they mean, nor do they realize the immense weight that comes with the cultural identity.

Rastafarian people have experienced prejudice from Jamaicans for years, despite the tourism industry exploiting the internationally recognized colours, the wonderful music of reggae, and the well-known affinity with marijuana use.


Many products are available in “Rasta colours”

Exploitation of the culture can be found everywhere. As criticized last month, during the 4/20 celebrations, Snapchat supplied a Bob Marley filter. Not only is this tacky, but it is celebrating Bob Marley with black face. This is extremely offensive. The history of black face is not a pretty one. Black face has specifically been used to “create a feeling of abhorrence in white people, especially white women, against colored men”; Please visit this link if you are unfamiliar with why black face is not OK: Coleman.

CNN, Hope King. Snap Chat Bob Marley Filter (April 20, 2016)


So what is this cultural weight and identity that I’m speaking of? I would like to provide a brief overview of the Rastafarian culture as I have come to understand it, however also recognize I am not Rastafarian. Additionally, not all Rastafarians follow the same guidelines, and different variations on the practice are present. However, I think a brief overview would do this game of broken telephone some justice.

The historical aspect:

Most of the world only became aware of Rastafarianism through the elevation of Bob Marley and the Wailers to international musician status, but the cult first emerged in Jamaica during the late 1930s. The history is given here according to Barrow and Dalton (2001) in their “Rough Guide to Reggae”.

Prince Regent of Abyssinia, Ras (Prince) Tafari Makonnen had been crowned King Negus Negusta. On November 2nd he assumed the official title of Emperor Haile Selassie I (a common name found in lyrics of roots reggae music). Emperor Haile Selassie I is important for making a large impact on black people around the world with media coverage showing a powerful African king, receiving recognition and tributes from leaders of the developed world, an event forecast by Marcus Mosiah Garvey.

Marcus Garvey was a largely influential figure in the black empowerment movement, fundraising for the Universal Negro improvement Association, which he founded in Jamaica in 1914, gaining five million members by the 1920s. Black nationalists in Harlem, in particular and organization known as Abyssinians, gained impetus from the coronation of Halie Selassie I. They advised fellow black people to burn the American flag and sold certificates of Abyssinian citizenship.

These incidents echoed in Jamaica through the actions of Leonard Percival Howell (aka Gangunguru or Gong) who preached that the poor should pay allegiance to the Emperor of Ethiopia and not the the British crown. In the 1930s he sold pictures of Haile Selassie I to his followers, which earned him two years’ of hard labour, however his message lead to the establishment of the Pinnacle community, a focus for Rastafarianism. This community faced harassment from the police and after being broken up by the police in their original location of Spanish Town, they relocated to the squatter camps of West Kingston. The numbers grew to between ten and fifteen thousand Ras Tafari in the Back-A-Wall community. The tensions between the growth of the Jamaican economy and the conditions of the West Kingston ghettos lead to violence and the death of two British soldiers and three Rasta men, resulting in the demonization of Rastafarianism This was eventually cleared, and by 1961 a large public housing programme was initiated dissipating tension between the groups (Barrow & Dalton, 2001).

Many tenets of the Rastafarian philosophy, in particular the culture of the Ethiopian Orthodox church with its emphasis on Selassie as the Elect of God, were derived from the newspaper The Voice of Ethiopia; the official newspaper of the Ethiopian World Federation founded in 1937 by Malaku Bayen.

Poor Jamaicans were primed for the message of Rastafarianism, having long sought solace in the Bible – the Book of Revelations (“Weep not, behold the Lion that is the tribe of Judah”) along with the Apocrypha, provided many texts that yielded to reinterpretation by Kingston’s ‘sufferers’. Also a source for many of the reggae lyrics. Jamaica was granted independence in 1962, and Rastafarianism quickly spread, fueled by the Black consciousness movements in the US, as well as the unique situation of Jamaica as an underdeveloped Caribbean island situated close to the world’s wealthiest and most powerful nation. The desire of struggling singers to jump on the bandwagon was undoubtedly an element in the explosion of Rastafarianism in the 1970s. This faith offered a positive alternative to a life of crime or the despair of the ghetto.

To be Rasta is a religious statement.

Some Rastas attempted to establish a coherent system of beliefs along the lines indicated by Ethiopian Orthodoxy, Rastafarianism is not a church with a hierarchy and official doctrine. Rather, ever since the name first came into use in the late 1940s, it has always consisted of a core of spiritual, historical and social tenets open to a range of interpretations, as espoused in more recent times by such Rastafarian associations as the United Ethiopian Body, the Ethiopian Youth Cosmic Father, the Ethiopian Coptic League and the Twelve Tribes of Israel (Barrow & Dalton, 2001).

Even the classic image doesn’t always hold true. Some wear dreadlocks, some do not, some view marijuana as a religious sacrament, but others don’t smoke at all.

What all Rastafarians share is the belief that Africa is the Black race’s spiritual home, to which they are destined one day to return. The West, where their ancestors were taken in chains, is vilified as ‘Babylon’ after the place where the Israelites were enslaved. Most Rastafarians recognize a divine line of royal succession descended from King David, with Halie Selassie I as the 225th in that line. Even his death after the communist coup on September 12, 1974 failed to shake this belief, presumably since God is ever-living (Barrow & Dalton, 2001, p. 154).

Rasta Colours

The wearing of the Rasta colours by North Americans is often used in solidarity to demonstrate a culture that approves of their habit. Using it to identify their own culture of marijuana smoking, regardless of the Rastafarian views.

Many don’t stop to ask what the colours mean. These colours come from Ethiopian heritage and represent the colour of the people (black), the wealth of the land (gold), the lushness of the land (green), and the blood of martyrs (red). Yes, martyrs, Godly Christian martyrs. The wearing of the colours demonstrates your faith in Halie Selassie I.

It is appropriated and used to reinforce colonial exploitation when placed on factory/sweatshop made products in developing countries. This can be equated to the mass production of Che Guevara images, being sold in gift shops globally, the opposite of his philosophies and life ethic. Similarly Red Stripe in Jamaica produced a Bob Marley beer this year for his 71st birthday. Bob Marley did not drink, as it was against his beliefs.

Dread locks

Wearing hair in dread locks represent the mane of the Lion of Judah, which is one of titles given to all Ethiopian Kings. Emperor Haile Selassie was also very fond of lions and had them as pets around his palace. The lion is also seen as an animal that is gentle but powerful when provoked. He is the “King” of the jungle. Further, not cutting one’s hair is a part of the Nazarite Vow (also where the Ital diet stems from).

All Rastafarians take this vow and claim it is commanded by the Bible (Leviticus 21:5 “They shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard nor make any cuttings in their flesh”).

Samson is believed to be a Nazarite with dreadlocks. Many Rastafarians believe that like Samson, their hair is their strength and also their weakness if it is cut off . The belief in the weakness of cutting of the dreadlocks was used as a way to intimidate Rastafarians in Jamaica in the past, as they would be arrested and their hair cut off. This was one of the reasons many of the early Rastafarians moved to isolated areas (bush) of the Island (Read More)

Ital Diet

Ital food is derived from the word “vital food” (self-determination of the black race resulted in the Rastafarians usage of the word ‘I” to replace the first letter of many words). Ital food means it is natural, pure, and clean food. For a Rastafarian it means no salt, no chemicals, no flesh, no blood, no alcohol, no cigarettes and no drugs (although marijuana is not considered a drug but a herb). Not all Rastas adhere to this diet, but many are at least pescatarian. For more information check out this article: Ital Food


This is a large topic and for the sake of the blog I will just say that Bob Marley used marijuana to do bible studies. When you visit the Bob Marley House (Museum) on Hope Rd. in Kingston, you will find his bedroom kept as it was. In his bible you will find a half smoked joint. This has been left to demonstrate his dedication to bible studies through the use of ganja. Marijuana as a tool of the Christian religion is often not understood in North America.


Again, too complex of a topic to address properly here, the history involves folk music, Pocomania church, Jonkanoo masquerades, the adoption of the European quadrille, and a long tradition of work songs (Barrow & Dalton, 2001).The gospel tradition of the various revivalist churches that commanded a strong following on the island in the early 1900s, particularly in poorer areas, also had a large influence. Many of the lyrics of this church-grounded music were very close in their Old Testament orientation to the type of Rastafarian themes that later proved popular. Much of the reggae music popular today has references to Jah (God), Halie Selassie I, and the tenants of Rasta beliefs.

So much to learn…

In a country so rich with history, it is a shame the Jamaican culture takes on a one-dimensional form. When tourists visit the island, particularly on the North and West coast, they will be bombarded with offers of ganja. There is a miscommunication between tourist encounters with these hustlers and the vision they have of all Jamaican citizens.

It is my experience that many Jamaicans don’t actually smoke marijuana and the stereotypical character painted in North America of Jamaicans is to say the least, skewed. To spend a day in Kingston, many will learn that it is very similar to North America in thoughts and attitudes on the drug; some smoke it, some don’t, some feel strongly against the use of it, and others advocate for its medicinal properties. There are many Jamaicans who do not associate with the Rastafarian people. Only 1.1% of the island identifies as Rastafarian; 64.8% of the island is Protestant (including Seventh Day Adventist), 12.0%, Pentecostal, with a mix of other religions making up the remaining population (Jamaica Demographics 2014)

Further the depth of the culture that does advocate for the spiritual benefits of marijuana are grossly misunderstood. It is a classic method of selling you a product through exploitation. Bob Marley’s messages have been used to make products appear authentic, plastic and other environmentally harmful products like cell phone cases, bracelets, shot glasses, lighters, hats, shirts, wallets, you name it, will have “One Love” printed on it. These products are often made in facilities lacking human-rights and environmental policies, shipped across the ocean causing pollution, and will end up in a land fill. Worse many people act as though the Marley name on a product means that he himself would endorse it.

I hope this article could serve as an entry way into thinking about the Rastafarian culture, and Jamaica as a whole in a different light. Foster critical thinking and I encourage you to do further research if this is something that interests you! Let me know what you find out.

Really though, the bottom line? Don’t be this guy…

Posted in IYIP 2015-2016, Jamaica | Leave a comment