Paradise Found?

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IMG_0005Undaunted by snow or sequestration, 10 SPH students made it to Grenada early this morning. They’d flown through the night via JFK.

A primary goal of their week-long plunge into public health practice on this small Caribbean island (pop. just over 100,000), says Phyllis Meadows, director of the U-M SPH Office of Public Health Practice, who’s here on the trip, is to “explore public health in a cultural context and perhaps learn about the particular nuances of delivery here in an environment that is different from the United States.”

We’ll start later this morning with a visit to the spice market and a first glimpse of everyday life in downtown St. George’s.

Later in the day I’ll make my own first foray into public health practice when I attend a focus group of women who’ve been involved with Partners for Peace, a United Nations program initiated in the wake of Hurricanes Ivan (2004) and Emily (2005) to try to break patterns of domestic abuse in Grenada.

It’s the first program of its kind anywhere in the English-speaking Caribbean.

Rates of domestic abuse are high throughout the Caribbean. It’s a partial legacy of two centuries of colonial rule and a brutal slave system tied to the island’s sugar and rum trades. You see it played out today in cultural norms for Grenadian men, says SPH alumnus and Paul Cornely scholar Rohan Jeremiah, who’s spent the past several years working to reduce violence on the island. From the age of eight, boys here are expected to contribute to household incomes, Jeremiah says. By the time they reach adolescence, many forego school in order to apprentice in a trade. The combination of high economic expectations and scant education, in a society where men are expected to exert power and control at home, and women are discouraged from speaking out, contributes heavily to a culture of domestic violence. Domestic abuse rates throughout the Caribbean are sobering:

  • 30% in Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados
  • 25% in Guyana
  • 29% in British Virgin Islands, Trinidad and Tobago
  • 70% in Suriname

Overall, the rate for domestic violence in the Caribbean is double that of the global average.

Just before my flight landed here last night, the pilot announced that the weather in Grenada was in the low 80s (Fahrenheit). “It looks like a beautiful evening here in paradise,” he said. I’ll be thinking about that phrase a lot as our group begins its work.

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