From Elsie Sayle, Council of Voluntary Social Services: The First Fifty Years, Kingston Publishers, 1994, pp. vii-viii; 1-6



A great surge of creative energy swept through Jamaica in the thirties and forties. Generated by a combination of labour discontent and nationalism, it expressed itself in many ways:

in literary and artistic effort, in political and scholarly activi­ties, in community development and the rendering of volun­tary service in a score of fields.

But an outpouring of energy, a burst of interest, an idealis­tic response - these are not enough. Ways have to be found of so channeling the energy, of so harnessing the idealism that, after the first burst spends itself, one continues to tap the deep underlying stream of goodwill and interest.

Jamaica Welfare Ltd was a result of this deliberate effort to create an organisation that, by its very nature, would rekindle the vision that brought it into being. Within ten years, under the leadership of Norman Manley, it achieved an international reputation for the quality of its leadership and for its record of practical results.

Jamaica Welfare was not the only result of this surge of creative effort. Citizens' associations flourished, the churches increased their voluntary organisations, sixth form students in secondary schools formed associations - and so it went on.

It soon became clear that all the voluntary organisations would benefit from having a co-ordinating agency of their own, maintained and directed by them, which would be charged with co-ordinating and organising such activities as training, the publication of study material and the like.


At the time Professor Tom Simey was adviser on social welfare to the Comptroller of West Indian Development and Welfare. This history gives an account of the discussions that led to the decision to set up the Central Council of Voluntary Social Service (CCVSS). It was at this point that Jamaica Welfare played a decisive role. It never sought to take over and control other organisations. It was its policy to improve organisational capacity, to strengthen leadership, and to multiply its efforts by assisting other organisations concerned will community development. The history of the Council of Voluntary Social Services (CVSS) testifies to the wisdom of this policy.

philip sherlock





Whenever what is thought to be a new idea is about to be born there appear amazing indications that the same or a similar idea has been conceived in the minds of more than one individual or group, unknown to each other. It is then through communication, consultation, discussion and consensus that there emerges something that is generally desirable and positively workable. However, regardless of how brilliant an idea may appear to be, it will very likely become moribund if there is not the right kind of alchemy to transform it into something of lasting value to the environment to which it is most appropriate. Other factors which influence the actualisation of ideas in any society 'are:the circumstances of the time, the inclination of those who would be affected, and the necessary resources human and -material which are needed to bring the idea to fruition.

In Jamaica the idea of a co-ordinating body for voluntary organisations seems to have taken root in the minds of various individuals and members of voluntary organisations towards the end of the decade of the 1930s. After a series of meetings and discussions, there actually came into being in November 1940, the Central Council of Voluntary Social Services (CCVSS). How did it all come about? What were the prevailing conditions of the time? Politically, Jamaica was a Crown Colony under British rule, subject to directives from London which were channeled through a British governor

and administered by British civil servants at the top. At this particular time the colonies were sharing with the Mother Country the horrors and the restrictions of one of the devastating wars in all history. Economically, the island was reeling under high unemployment and low wages: which had sparked a series of outbreaks of unrest labour field throughout the country. The social conditions which were mainly an offshoot of the economic m revealed a high birth rate/ inadequate health and educational services and very poor housing facilities.


In the midst of these almost insurmountable difficult 1937, Jamaica Welfare was incorporated and was run through an agreement signed by Mr Norman Manley (later the Right Excellent Norman Manley, National Her) representing the All Island Banana Growers Association, and Mr Samuel Zemurray on behalf of the United Fruit Cornpany whereby a half-penny on every bunch of bananas exported was to be used to promote improvement in the economic conditions of the Jamaican people.

The operations of Jamaica Welfare brought enthusiasm and hope to the people of the country. There a new surge of nationalistic expression. Songs were written, clubs and other voluntary groups were formed, voluntary service became a most desirable activity and "Social Work” was added to the list of employment options. The Rev. H Sherlock (Father) was busy going between Jamaica Canada in preparation for the establishment of Boys' Town and Mr Willie James was setting up 4-H Clubs around the island. It was understandable that the voluntary organisations, particularly the youth groups, should have been examining their role in the light of one of the newly arranged national songs: We're out to build a new Jamaica. One of the more established voluntary organisations, composed mainly of teachers, the Christian Auxiliary Movement, met for its Eighth Annual House party at the Holly Mount gui House in St Ann in July 1940, and one of the participants, Mrs

The CCVSS Comes Into Being                                                     3

Pearl Brown, reported on that meeting as follows:

The forces keeping individuals apart and the binding influences were among the concerns requiring priority attention. The under-utilisation of available manpower and the duplication existing among the struggling social service groups, all having similar goals, objectives and problems, but working in isolation and self-contained compartments, was a common feature which needed to be addressed. The answer seemed to be to institute an umbrella organisation to co-ordinate the fragmented voluntary groups so that the combined force would be better equipped to fill the needs of the community with the limited resources.

Among those attending that houseparty was Miss Jessie Irwin, who was then Organiser for Women's Work on the staff of Jamaica Welfare (1937) Ltd and who had herself on the April 5,1940, convened an informal meeting of the leaders of women's organisations and they had together made arrangements for a programme of training for volunteer workers in all the parishes of Jamaica. While the voluntary organisations were having their own discussions, Jamaica Welfare was grappling with the problems of promoting community development, and had identified the urgent need for the training of community leaders. It was in this context that Norman Manley conceived the idea of a body that would be responsible for the training of voluntary leaders who had come forward with a great deal of enthusiasm to serve their respective communities. The amazing foresight of that remarkable man led him to select Jessie Irwin to set up the Central Council of Voluntary Social Services as an institution which would be funded through Jamaica Welfare (1937) Ltd The object of the CCVSS was:

To improve the condition of the people by the following means:

• bringing into friendly co-operation all agencies existing for social improvement;

• ascertaining the facts relevant to social and economic

4                                   The Story of the Council of Voluntary Soda

conditions and the principles and methods of most fitted to improve the same;co-ordinating the efforts of all organisations having their object the fuller education of people an raising of the standards of life and conduct i home and the community.


What more direct mandate could there be for the launching of a comprehensive programme of training for a wide cross-section of the country's population? Within two years the CCVSS had a membership of thirty-eight voluntary organisations. The records show that Jessie Irwin (later Hans Stamm) did an outstanding job in laying the foundation of an organisation which would survive and grow into an important national institution. The speedy maturation of the idea of a Council was undoubtedly due to the fact that on the one hand it was promoted by prospective constituent bodies (Christian Auxiliary Movement and others)and on the other hand it had the wholehearted support of Norman Manley who was strategically placed in Jamaica Welfare from which the necessary funding would come.

The establishment of the CCVSS underscored four requirements in the formation of a co-ordinating body:


1. the constituent bodies should themselves recognise need for and engage in the promotion of sue council;

2. there should be a definite programme of activity to undertaken by the council;

3. there should be dynamic leadership to take t necessary and appropriate action at the right time;

                        4. there should be an identifiable and dependable soul

of funding to sustain the council.


The CCVSS was fortunate in that all of these requiremer were met. Jessie Irwin closed the second Annual Report of the CCVSS with the following:


The future lies before us and whatever developments take place or new opportunities present themselves for furthering the work which the Council has undertaken, we can be sure of this, that the strength of the Council and its very life depend on the fullest co-operation of every member-organisation.


Member organisations of the Central Council of Voluntary

Services as recorded in 1942 were:



• Girl Guides Association

• Boy Scouts Association

• Girls' Guidry

• Boys' Brigade

• 4-H Clubs

Jamaica Women's League

• Child Welfare Association

• Jamaica Welfare Limited

• Settlers Association

• Salvation Army

• Upward and Onward Society (Moravian

• Anglican Church:

Mothers' Union Daughters of the King Brotherhood of St Andrew

Methodist Church:

Women's League

Girls' League Social and Temperance Committee

• Presbyterian Church:

Women's Guild Church and Island Committee

• Congregational Union:

Women's Guild

Baptist Church

Laymen's Association

Women's Federation Young People's Fellowship

Moravian Church:

Women's Fellowship

East Indian Progressive Society

Save the Children Fund

Christian Auxiliary Movement

Friends Social Service Council

TocH (Talbot House Fellowship and Service Society

Jamaica Agricultural Society

St John's Ambulance Association

Athletic Association

Family Planning League

The Woman's Club

Student Christian Movement

Jamaica Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to






These organisations provided the Council with a f foundation which ensured its stability and subsequent growth. It is interesting to note that one of those listed i the Family Planning League (originally the Birth Con) League), which had been formed through the efforts of Miss Amy Bailey and Miss May Farquharson. These t courageous women persisted in the face of severe criticism their efforts to educate Jamaican women on how to limit \ number of their children. Because of this taboo against "Family Planning"/ some church-related voluntary organisations would not seek membership in the CCV because of the presence of the Family Planning League.




The activities of the CVSS would be called civil society activities today. The CVSS can be credited with starting Jamaica’s social work tradition. CVSS coordinated the activities of Jamaica Welfare and these activities now come under the Social Development Commission. It was from these activities that the modern organisations dealing with the aged, youth, disabled, family planning, children, neighbourhood watch, literacy, disaster preparedness, women, citizenship services, and training can be traced. Jamaica’s civil society has its roots in these activities in this period. This civil society movement has its own authentic roots in Jamaica and in promoting the social and economic development of the disadvantaged. It is part of Jamaica’s nationalist tradition and socialist movement. These activities, initially promoted by Norman Manley, were given large state sponsorship in the 1970s under Michael Manley’s Democratic Socialism.