health, education and
April 22, 2000
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Swift River Valley
Far from the luxurious resorts of Jamaica is an ancient land, in the eastern hills of Jamaica, almost untouched, holding to old ways. It is a luxurious, mountainous terrain, original home of the Tainos people. They lived for centuries on the rich and varied fruit and wildlife.
On his second voyage to the New World in 1494, this tip of Jamaica was the first land sighted by Christopher Columbus. The mountains looked blue from a distance, so he called them, with characteristic Spanish flair, "The Blue Mountains."
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The British captured the island in 1755, and it remained a British colony until 1963, when it won independence. The British brought slaves to the island, and used it as a slave trading and supply post for the New World. This sad and tragic history had one positive outcome for the island: it brought the beauty of African culture to Jamaica, where it mixed with island and European peoples to produce one of the world's most fascinating fusions.
For centuries, the Blue Mountains were home to the banana and coffee industries, but the wild hills above Portland remained largely untouched, covered with a lush original tropical rainforest, flooded with birds, animals and water life that have been preserved from the modern world. The rainforest here teems with oranges, orchids, tropical apples, ferns and bamboo.
The people of these hills live as they have for over 400 years, close to the land, artistic and expressive, using music in every act of daily life. This is the land of the Windward Maroons, independent and strong, many of them the descendants of escaped slaves.
The Swift River Re-Development Association seeks to sustain this purity, while connecting the people to the world at large, building modern conveniences of health and education, maintaining a sensitivity to environment and tradition. This Association was started and operated since the early 90's by people from the area, led by Pauline Stuart, who grew up here, and her husband Jack, a retired business executive.
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Read about A Community Battered by Disaster, by the noted Jamaican author Dr. Hazel Bennett.
Greenstar came to Jamaica, and in particular to Swift River, through a careful evaluation that started with introductions by Charles Nesson, a professor at Harvard's Berkman Center, who is concerned with the development challenges Jamaica faces. Through the assistance of the U.S. State Department's "Internet for Economic Development" group, the advice of Jamaica's Minister of Commerce & Technology, Philip Paulwell and local Member of Parliament Errol Ennis, and with the key help of local writer Barbara Blake Hannah, Greenstar began to learn a little about the needs of modern Jamaica. Also instrumental in this process was Henry Miller, owner of a small hotel on the ocean in nearby Port Antonio.
We sought a rural village site with limited electrical power and communications, far from the usual tourist path, with arts, language, music and a way of life as close to their historical roots as possible. When we learned of the already strong community organizing being conducted by the Stuarts in Swift River, a strong bond of common interest was formed. Greenstar has developed digital culture programs in Swift River, provided equipment, training and advice, and is helping to create a new source of revenue for the community, to use as it decides to educate its children and improve the quality of life in Swift River.
The Stuarts maintain a wonderful website, with free original Jamaica recipes and lots of information about the island at
Henry Miller's Rio Vista resort is a lovely small retreat convenient to the town of Port Antonio, near the beach and harbor. If you go to Jamaica, consider staying at an inn like Henry's, for while the luxurious international hotels of Jamaica are the equal of any luxurious international hotels in the world, it is only at places like Rio Vista that the true character of a place can be felt.
Pauline Stuart says, "I was born on the banks of the Swift River and my family lineage dates back to the time of slavery. My wonderful childhood was spent swimming and roaming the mountain ranges where lots of exotic fruits abound. No major development has taken place in the village; to some extent this is a blessing, because there is no degradation of the environment."
Recently a strong community association, driven by a desire for improvement has emerged with a vision to:
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In addition to solar power panels, a computer, scanner and digital camera, Greenstar has provided a Sun Oven to Swift River, in conjunction with Sun Ovens International.
Two village women have been selected to be bakers using this clean, completely solar-powered oven, which can bake several loaves of bread at a time. We have provided an initial supply of flour, oil, salt, yeast and other ingredients, and the women will operate a small Sun Oven business, selling bread to the other women of the village.
Find out much more about the Global Sun Oven.
Swift River Development Association, Jamaica
all rights reserved
production manaagement: Jack Stuart, Jock Gill
music direction: Alan Roy Scott
music engineer: Rick Cowling
photography by Jock Gill, Rick Cowling
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