Ex-gang members in Hannah Town and Jones Town in Kingston, as well as Effortville and May Pen proper in Clarendon, are learning how to manage conflicts and improve their economic circumstances through Project X-Change, an initiative of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), being implemented through a partnership with the Violence Prevention Alliance (VPA).
The project, which commenced in March 2023, targets high-risk youth, who have been assessed and have expressed a willingness to make a change in their lives and move on a more positive trajectory, and away from the potentiality of being involved in a life of crime and violence.
Colleen Wint-Bond, Project Coordinator at the VPA, said that the project includes life skills training, and job readiness, which helps put the beneficiaries, ages 18-29, in a better position to obtain gainful employment or to develop their own entrepreneurial activities. Project X-Change includes peace building activities such as conflict prevention, conflict management, conflict resolution and transformation and post-conflict reconciliation. Project X-Change is a two-year project.
“Under the project, participants are encouraged to reflect on their spoken words, be in tune with their emotions and show respect to others. Respect begets respect, and Project X-Change aims to contribute to building trust and positive relationships within and between communities,” explained Wint-Bond.
Dwight Spence, Community Activities Coordinator for the project in Kingston, said that the feedback from some of the high-risk youth participants in Hannah Town and Jones Town has been positive. Along with teaching the participants about conflict management and economic opportunities, they are being assisted in getting basic civil documentation, such as their birth certificates, if they do not have one, and their Tax Registration Number, among other means of identification.
“It has been going good so far. The participants are enthused and eager to complete the training as they look forward to exploring the employment and entrepreneurship opportunities that they will receive through the project,” he said.
A participant from Hannah Town expressed happiness in being in the programme and the opportunity to explore entrepreneurship.
The project is now being executed through USAID’s Positive Pathways Activity, which is a five-year violence prevention initiative that aims to build the resilience of youth and their parents or caregivers within 12 hot spot communities in Jamaica.