During the summer and fall of 07, the Educational Partnership grant between CRI and the University of the West Indies (UWI) began the wrap-up of its three-year project. The culminating activity was the co-sponsorship of a one-day conference on conflict resolution at the UWI campus in conjunction with the Eighth Biennial Caribbean and International Social Work Educators' Conference, hosted by the Association of Caribbean Social Work Educators.
Goals. In 2000 and 2005, Trinidad and Tobago enacted laws that established and later expanded Community Mediation Centres throughout the country as a means to clear clogged court dockets, provide alternatives for justice, and improve efficiencies in government and non-government institutions. In addition, the Trinidad and Tobago Commission on Law Reform identified restorative justice as an important potential element in the criminal justice system. This created a need for more formal training programs in conflict resolution and mediation. The primary focus of this grant project, funded by the US State Department's Bureau of Cultural and Educational Affairs, was to develop local capacity at Trinidad & Tobago's flagship university, UWI St. Augustine, to provide education and training in mediation and conflict resolution appropriate for the Caribbean context. Sponsored by the Social Work department under Behavioral Sciences, sub-goals included the establishment of a master's program in conflict resolution/mediation at UWI; increased faculty teaching capacity; increased capacity for effective practice at the community level in Trinidad; establishment of a resource center on the St. Augustine campus; examination of theory-based models of conflict resolution for relevance to the Trinidad and Tobago culture; and providing students from both universities with a greater international perspective.
Grant Activities. During the first year, there were two primary faculty exchanges for mutual education as well as ongoing mentoring and discussion throughout the year as new curriculum was developed and the Resource Center planned. Project Co-PI Dr. Ruth Parsons taught a course in-residence for UWI during their Spring Semesters 2005 and 2006 on conflict theory and mediation strategies, and provided consultation to the UWI faculty in their developmental work. Preparation of the institutional foundation for supporting mediation training at UWI culminated in the second year in the opening of a UWI Resource Center that will support public outreach, public education and training. Along with the continuing success of the Post Graduate Diploma program in Mediation Studies, UWI project participants achieved the final hurdle of formal approval of a Masters Degree in Mediation Studies, the first in the Caribbean region. They also successfully launched a Certificate training program in Mediation Studies.
The second year saw additional faculty exchange visits. Training and public education in restorative justice forms of mediation was the main focus of the fall visit, at UWI's request. UWI and DU faculty also made progress on their joint research on cultural significance and adaptation of conflict resolution models. The third year of the project sponsored two visiting scholars from each university to the other for an extended period of time. (See pp. 6-7 this issue) Intended to enrich each program with an international perspective as well as develop further capacity for teaching mediation/conflict resolution, the visits represented the final faculty exchanges.
The third year also saw the finalization of two pilot research projects conducted under the grant. One project explored carnival in Trinidad as a metaphor for indigenous conflict and its resolution. The second one used interviews with community members to determine some preferences for how third party mediation should be conducted. Models of conflict resolution appropriate for the Caribbean context will continue to develop as research started as part of this project continues.
The successes of this project are highlighted in a survey conducted by grant evaluator Donna A.M. Parchment, L.1B, CD, JP, in which participants noted that "the programmes developed at UWI under this project are effective in preparing persons to act as mediators," and "substantial awareness exists of the UWI/DU project and programmes at UWI in the public and civil society sectors." Additionally, Parchment noted that "new collaborations between the partners and with other institutions and programmes in the area, such as school-based mediation, restorative justice, dialogue, ombuds services and other have been stimulated by the lessons learnt and the success of this project."
CRI is proud of its involvement in helping UWI St. Augustine to expand its capacity in training students, the criminal justice system and community members in conflict resolution. The development of appropriate dispute resolution competencies and strategies is critical to ensure justice, peace and space for the development of citizenry. This project has institutionalized those capacities and intentions in Trinidad & Tobago and provided invaluable learning and insights at the University of Denver.
Future. The diversity in Trinidad & Tobago with Indian, African, European, Lebanese, Asian and Amerindian conflict and conflict resolution traditions provides fertile ground for further investigation and action. New collaborations between the partners and with other institutions and programs in areas such as school-based mediation, Restorative Justice, dialogue, ombuds services and others have been stimulated by the lessons learned and the success of this project.
- R Parsons and A Gorman