First Blog Post! Better Late Than Never, Right?

Hello from Jamaica! Since this is my first blog post (I know we are now half-way through the internship, but I’ve been busy!), let me take a minute to introduce myself. My name is Christine Kinoshita. I am 22 years old and from Toronto. I have a Bachelor of Arts in International Development from McGill University. Lastly and most importantly, I have now been living in Kingston, Jamaica for the past three months. What a crazy three months it has been! Where to begin…

I work for an organization called J-FLAG, which stands for Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays. Although it presents and is perceived as an organization centred on human rights advocacy and the fight for equality, it is so much more than those grandiose abstract concepts. Its projects are extensive and span the fields of education, HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness, gender-based violence, women’s rights, transgender rights, human rights policy, youth empowerment, sexual and reproductive health… the list goes on and on. J-FLAG has a passionate, extremely hard-working and dedicated staff who have devoted their lives to the fight for positive change and development in all of these areas in Jamaica.

Since my arrival, I have been able to assist on many projects. As we are nearing the end of the year, the past month has been especially busy and exciting. Two weeks in particular stand out to me, as it is very likely that they will be two of the most memorable weeks of my whole internship. It seems as though I have already told many family members and friends about them, so I figured I would share them here.

It all began on November 22nd. One of the larger ongoing activities in J-FLAG’s health project is the facilitation of human rights and stigma and discrimination sensitization training sessions with health-care workers and service users. These typically include presentations about the history and fundamentals of human rights such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, how to recognize a human rights violation, human rights mechanisms in Jamaica etc. They also often include training sessions designed to sensitize participants on various topics relating to LGBT persons including learning the terminology, how to be respectful, some of the challenges that members of the LGBT community face in Jamaica etc. Lastly, they involve educating participants about stigma and discrimination—what each concept is, how to avoid perpetuating them and how they relate to human rights as well as the LGBT community. From November 22nd to the 23rd, I assisted two J-FLAG staff members in the facilitation of one of these training sessions with health-care workers. Over the course of the two days, I was able to talk to a number of the participants and hear their perspectives on the topics we presented in the training session. The questions that they asked, their comments and their feedback were extremely enlightening for me. I watched the progression that occurred in their opinions from the start of the training to the end, and, let me tell you, it was remarkable. It made me realize just how vital workshops like these are. It was evident that the participants were open to learning more about the LGBT community so that they could better serve their LGBT patients. A conversation that I had with one of the participants at breakfast on the second day really stuck in my mind. I will try to summarize and paraphrase our conversation as best I can. She said that until very recently, things seemed very black and white. Generations of Jamaicans were born and raised with certain values and ideas, which they then passed on to their children and so forth. These values and ideas were extremely rigid. You are either a boy or a girl. You adhere firmly to a religion that tells you that men marry women and have families—this is the norm and you don’t dare go against the norm. Outsiders and social outcasts are often not treated very well in Jamaica. With such rigid customs so deeply engrained in Jamaican culture and society, it can seem an impossible task to try to change one person’s mind, let alone a national social consciousness. But the truth is, many parts of the world at one point or another held these same rigid views. It has been organizations similar to J-FLAG that have found a way to introduce diversity into the social norms of societies worldwide. In Jamaica, these rigid traditional views about humanity seem to be a little more resilient, but that doesn’t mean that people are not open to learning and changing. It takes time, but progress is being made.

I think it was the same participant that mentioned in the training later that day that she thought that all health-care workers island-wide should be trained in this material. Everything she said has really lingered in my mind; honestly I think about it almost every day. People tend to fear and reject what they don’t know or can’t seem to conceptualize. I have my age, my upbringing and the environment in which I was socialized to thank for my respect, understanding and acceptance of the LGBT community, but my background is not shared by all and my perceptions and beliefs are certainly not universal. What J-FLAG has done is they have recognized a gap—a need for information about LGBT persons, gender and sexual diversity and human rights to be readily available for those who want to learn. This two-day training session definitely gave me the necessary perspective I needed to better understand my work here.

While I had been away at the training, one of J-FLAG’s partner organizations, Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL), had been carrying out a week of events and festivities to commemorate its 25th anniversary. Luckily, I was able to attend two of its events, a research dissemination seminar and a silent protest to end violence against women. The purpose of the research dissemination seminar was to provide interested parties with some of the findings from a study executed by a partnership between JASL and Dr. Carmen Logie of the University of Toronto into factors and determinants of HIV testing and prevalence among key populations in Jamaica and factors relating to stigma and discrimination. The study involved a lengthy survey in which participants were asked a variety of questions to better understand HIV infection and testing among specific vulnerable populations such as transgender women. Although they are still reviewing surveys, analyzing the data and compiling their findings, the study is groundbreaking in that it is helping to create a data set that was non-existent in Jamaica. I left the seminar that day feeling both saddened by the statistics but also well-informed and hopeful.

The next day, I attended the final event of JASL’s 25th anniversary, the silent protest to end violence against women and girls. A large group of people comprising NGO representatives, civil society actors, activists and individuals who support the cause gathered and marched down one of the major roads in Kingston. Dr. Logie was still in town and had decided to attend the event, which gave me the opportunity to have a great conversation with her about her study, how she got into the field, Jamaica and many other topics. It’s these types of opportunities that really give added value to my internship as a whole—being given a platform to speak with and learn from highly accomplished and esteemed individuals working in various areas of the international development field. One of the main purposes of the International Youth Internship Program is to allow individuals to gain practical experience in the field that they are considering building a career in, but in my case it has done so much more than that. It has put me in a position in which I have been given direct access to influential individuals and resources, building relationships and forging networks that are all vital in helping me make an informed decision about my future career while also facilitating my growth, both professionally and personally.

It looks like I will have to cut this blog into two sections as this is getting quite long, so look out for part 2 soon where I will talk all about the craziness that was World AIDS Day!

xx Christine

Christine Kinoshita

Christine Kinoshita

Christine was born and raised in Toronto, Ontario. She recently graduated from McGill University in Montreal with a Bachelor of Arts in International Development.
Christine Kinoshita

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About Christine Kinoshita

Christine was born and raised in Toronto, Ontario. She recently graduated from McGill University in Montreal with a Bachelor of Arts in International Development.
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