Fears for family’s safety force claimant to close lawsuit against anti-gay laws; and in his own words

Please find below a press release from J-FLAG, dated Friday, August 29, 2014. I have also added Javed’s thoughts on the matter. 

Javed Jaghai, a gay man who brought a legal challenge to Jamaica’s anti-buggery laws in the country’s Supreme Court, has discontinued his case following threats of violence. Mr Jaghai argued that these laws violated his and others’ constitutional rights.

In a signed affidavit, a copy of which is attached to this statement, Mr Jaghai attributes his decision to personal threats, the burden that the litigation was putting on his family, and continuing incidents of violence against Jamaica’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. In his affidavit, Mr Jaghai told the court:
“Though the cause and the case are noble, I am no longer willing to gamble with my life or the lives of my parents and siblings.”

Janet Burak of AIDS-Free World, which supported Jaghai in his case from the beginning, said: “The fear that drove Javed to withdraw from the case is the same fear that keeps gay men in Jamaica underground, away from effective HIV testing, prevention, treatment, care, and support interventions. Jamaica’s own Minister of Health has publicly stated that stigma and discrimination are driving the HIV epidemic among men who have sex with men. The country’s HIV prevalence rate for this at-risk population is the highest in the western hemisphere (33%), and Jamaica’s anti-gay law is among the most severe in the Caribbean region, with sentences of up to 10 years in prison for consensual sexual relations between men.”

J-FLAG, which had brought the claim alongside Mr Jaghai, said it understood his situation and that it fully supported his decision. J-FLAG has therefore consented to a Notice of Discontinuance.

Dane Lewis, Executive Director of J-FLAG, said: “A law criminalising what two consenting adults do in the privacy of their own home has no place in a free society that values and protects all its citizens.

The existence of this law and the closely related cultural hostility experienced by LGBT Jamaicans should be carefully considered in light of the reasons for Javed requesting that the case be discontinued. This is a live example of the ways in which the continued existence and enforcement of the anti-buggery law contributes to the lack of access to justice for sexual and gender minorities in Jamaica.”

All parties involved hope that in the aftermath of this there will be an opportunity to engage in a series of consultations with multiple stakeholders, including government, geared at sensitising Jamaicans about the LGBT community.

AIDS-Free World has been working, and will continue to work, in the Caribbean and elsewhere, to eliminate laws and policies that inhibit a more effective HIV response, including Jamaica’s anti-sodomy laws.

J-FLAG remains committed to advocating for the rights of Jamaica’s LGBT community and will continue to support any legitimate means to effect meaningful change to improve their lives and to ensure that the community enjoys the rights afforded to all.

J-FLAG logo

The J-FLAG logo includes the colors of the Jamaican flag (black, green and gold).

Contacts:

AFW: jburak@aidsfreeworld.org +1 (212) 729-5084
J-FLAG: admin@j-flag.org (876) 754-2130
Mr Jaghai filed a constitutional challenge to the buggery laws against the Attorney General on 6 February 2013. On 3 September 2013, J-FLAG was added to the action as a claimant.
AIDS-Free World is an international advocacy organization working for more urgent and effective global responses to HIV and AIDS. To learn more, visit
http://www.aidsfreeworld.org.
J-FLAG is the foremost organisation in Jamaica advocating for the rights of LGBT people, and is committed to promoting social change, empowering the LGBT community, and building tolerance for, and acceptance of LGBT people. Through our programmes we seek to foster the acceptance and enrichment of the lives of same-gender-loving persons who have been, and continue to be an integral part of society. To find out more, please visit http://jflag.org/.

 

AIDS-Free World

AIDS-Free World

END NOTES from Javed Jaghai:

After a period of extensive reflection, I am confident in my decision to withdraw as claimant for the following reasons (in no particular order):

My family is currently attending to the urgent medical needs of my sister. My participation in the case and the attendant social consequences place an extra burden on us that I cannot justify at this time.

Jamaica is a very small society with many poorly socialized people. Unstable individuals regularly harm unsuspecting others for choosing to live in a way that displeases them. While I have never been harmed physically, I have been threatened enough times to know that I am vulnerable. Though the cause and the case are noble, I am no longer willing to gamble with my life or the lives of my parents and siblings.

The plantocracy in the colony of Jamaica ratified the law in question in 1864 – a year before the Morant Bay Rebellion. Great Britain granted the island independence in 1962 and one-time subjects of a violent empire became citizens of a new nation. Fifty-two years after independence, we are debating the constitutional validity of an 1864 law that is silly. I simply cannot continue to submerge my consciousness in an 1860’s reality to make sense of a legal system that acknowledges no discontinuity between colonial Jamaica and Jamaica in 2014.

I am very concerned that this case could go into 2015 and beyond given consistent delays. If this matter should be taken to the next level, which my lawyers suggested is likely, then we can expect another few years of sensationalized deliberations. I refuse to stand by while prominent voices in the society use this moment as an opportunity to incite mistrust and instigate waves of hysteria. I am not fighting any battles. This is not a war. I do not fight, I promote peace. But participants in island-wide protests and subsequent media reports and commentaries insist that “we” are at war, so I am going to lay down my weapons. I do not want to be characterized as a villain anymore.

After reading the submissions made by the many interested parties in the case (please read their submissions), it is clear to me that the “homosexual” or “gay” is a fantasy born of ignorance, fear and misguided convictions. I will dedicate no more of my time, energy and intelligence to grappling with anyone’s illusions. We only get to witness a slice of cosmic time. I want to enjoy the phenomenal chance I get to ride this rotating planet in space.

For these and other reasons, I think it is best for me to withdraw the claim. A genuine challenge deserves a claimant who is actually convinced that there is justice to be pursued by way of The Law.

The Systematic Dismantling of Paradise: A Preliminary Checklist

I get emotional about certain things. One of them is the destruction of the few relatively untouched areas of our planet, in the name of unsustainable “development.” Despite the recent warnings that the damage we human beings have already done is beyond repair, in terms of climate change, some among us relentlessly move onwards in pursuit of profit and perhaps economic domination. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in a leaked draft report, noted a few days ago: “Without additional mitigation, and even with adaptation, warming by the end of the 21st century will lead to high to very high risk of severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts globally.”  But hey, they are probably exaggerating, say our “investors,” sweeping all before them. Let’s build another coal plant.

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Here’s a little list I started – beginning with what is closest to our home, and one would hope, dearest to our hearts. You will notice a common thread in this list of destruction/planned destruction, I am sure.

CHEC equipment near Little Goat Island. They are doing test boreholes. (Photo: Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation)

CHEC equipment near Little Goat Island earlier this month. They are doing test boreholes. See savegoatislands.org for more information. (Photo: Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation)

  • Portland Bight Protected Area/Goat Islands, Jamaica: Still a closely guarded secret, the Goat Islands area is the target of China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), with whom the Jamaican Government recently signed a mysterious agreement. CHEC intends to build a transshipment port that will accommodate the mega-ships that are designed to pass through the expanded Panama Canal. “The Portland Bight Protected Area, including the Goat Islands and the adjacent areas, were protected under Jamaican law by the current Administration for good, scientific reasons and after considerable study,” says Diana McCaulay of the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), which is spearheading the campaign to save Goat Islands. Why the lack of transparency? What is really happening? For more information and to sign the petition, visit savegoatislands.org and the JET website and Facebook page.
The western bay at Little Goat Island is rich with seagrass. I have seen this for myself. (Photo: Kirsty Swinnerton)

The western bay at Little Goat Island is rich with seagrass. I have seen this for myself. (Photo: Kirsty Swinnerton)

 

Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Portia Simpson Miller (fifth left), cuts the ribbon to officially open the Linstead to Moneague segment of the North/South Highway, today (August 5). Also participating are Opposition Spokesman on Infrastructure Development, Dr. Horace Chang (left); Regional Director for China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), Tang Zhongdong (third left), and Minister of Transport, Works and Housing, Dr. the Hon. Omar Davies (seventh left). (Photo: JIS)

Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Portia Simpson Miller (fifth left), cuts the ribbon to officially open the Linstead to Moneague segment of the North/South Highway on August 5. Also participating are Opposition Spokesman on Infrastructure Development, Dr. Horace Chang (left); Regional Director for China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), Tang Zhongdong (third left), and Minister of Transport, Works and Housing, Dr. the Hon. Omar Davies (seventh left). (Photo: JIS)

  • The Highway 2000 (Mt Rosser leg of North-South link) plus 1,200 acres: Built by CHEC and opened with great fanfare, ironically, just before Independence Day – with a huge Chinese banner and Jamaican women dressed in Chinese costume. Minister of Transport and Works Omar Davies told journalists that in addition to the toll to be collected by the Chinese for the next fifty years, the Jamaican Government also agreed to give the company 1,200 acres – adding they have not decided “which 1,200 acres they want.” Take your pick! What if the land is native forest? What if it is an area of particular interest re: biodiversity? I understand the land will be “along the highway” somewhere. What will CHEC do with this land? Will they build a factory, a coal plant and if so, will they have to go through proper environmental approvals?
  • The huge Baha Mar construction in the Bahamas, two years ago.

    The huge Baha Mar construction in the Bahamas, two years ago.

    Baha Mar Resort, New Providence Island, Bahamas: Backed by China’s state-run Export-Import Bank of China and constructed by the China State Construction Engineering Corp., the huge 2,900-room Baha Mar Resort broke ground at Nassau’s Cable Beach in February 2011 with plans for four new hotels plus what had previously been the 694-room Sheraton Nassau Beach Hotel as well as a casino, a golf course and a convention center. It is trying hard to promote environmental sustainability and energy efficiency, although there have been major issues regarding its air-conditioning systems. It is scheduled to open in late spring 2015 and has provided employment for thousands of Chinese workers.

A wide swath of mangrove forest cleared on the north side of North Bimini, Bahamas. Save The Bays has been urging the declaration of a marine protected area for northern Bimini to preserve remaining mangrove habitats and some of the most treasured coral reefs in the world. (Photo: Dr. Kristine Stump)

A wide swath of mangrove forest cleared on the north side of North Bimini, Bahamas. Save The Bays has been urging the declaration of a marine protected area for northern Bimini to preserve remaining mangrove habitats and some of the most treasured coral reefs in the world. (Photo: Dr. Kristine Stump)

  • Bimini, Bahamas: These three small, laid-back islands, famous for their pristine marine environment and eco-tourism, are now under threat from the Genting Group, a Malaysian consortium, which wants to build a huge pier with mega-ferries bringing many thousands of tourists daily from Miami to the smallest (nine-square-mile) island, where it has already built a casino and resort. Marine biologists call the plans “an ecological and socioeconomic disaster.” (There is a world-famous shark research lab there). Please watch this beautiful short video from Bimini on the importance of mangroves: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/314266880221474431/ Source: Telegraph UK, Save The Bays
Some of Antigua's small islands from the air. (My photo)

Some of Antigua’s small islands from the air. I saw a lot of mangrove forest and coral reef. (My photo)

  •  A US$1 billion mega resort in Antigua, Barbuda and surrounding small islands (including Guiana Island) is to be built by the Yida International Investment Group. The new government signed an agreement with the Chinese the day after it was elected in June. Slated to be 50 per cent larger than the above-mentioned Baha Mar resort, construction on the “Singulari” scheme is slated to begin in 2015 on 900 acres of land in the north of Antigua and 700 acres of tiny islands (much of it previously owned by former “investor” Alan Stanford). It will include several luxury hotels, hundreds of private homes, a school, hospital, marinas, golf courses, an entertainment district, horse racing track and the Caribbean’s biggest casino. Little Antigua is about to turn into a mega construction site. I wonder how its lovely small resorts feel?  Source: Various websites
A picture of the planned Chinese mega-resort in Antigua.

A picture of the planned Chinese mega-resort in Antigua.

A tiny fraction of the deforestation in Guyana on the Kwakwani/Ituni trail by Bai Shan Lin. (Photo: Kaiteur News)

A tiny fraction of the deforestation in Guyana on the Kwakwani/Ituni trail by Bai Shan Lin. (Photo: Kaiteur News)

  • Our neighbors in Guyana are simply suffering from the depredations of a Chinese company, part of a group of 11 companies operating in Guyana. They are all part of the China Forest Industry Group. These companies have seven logging concessions in Guyana, covering a total area of 960,000 hectares (about 4.5% of the area of the country). The company has also ignored, on three separate occasions, a cease order for sand mining and is building a road illegally. The Kaiteur News has posted devastating videos of massive deforestation, taking place apparently without parliamentary approval.   Source: REDD-monitor.org, Kaiteur News and Mark Jacobs blog.

 

The proposed Nicaragua Canal route. (Nature, International Weekly Journal of Science)

The proposed Nicaragua Canal route will cut through nature reserves and the Bluefields wetlands as well as rainforest. (Nature, International Weekly Journal of Science)

  • And further afield… The planned Nicaragua Canal will cut a swathe right across the country and work is supposed to start this year. If completed, it is said to be the largest engineering project in history and will be much larger than, and a rival to the Panama Canal. According to AP, residents of the Brito region in south-west Nicaragua are alarmed and feel intimidated by groups of Chinese and Nicaraguans, accompanied by police and soldiers conducting a “census” to see if they can buy their land to build the canal. The Nicaraguan government has already granted the previously little-known HKND Group headed by Wang Jing of China rights to the canal, ports, highways and rights of way stretching across the country from The Brito River on the Pacific to Bluefields Bay on the Atlantic. Ometepe Island, designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2010, is directly in the path of the proposed canal. It includes Lake Cocibolca, the biggest fresh water reservoir in the country; developers would have to dynamite their way through it. It also includes a “restless” volcano, unique elfin forest and is a special place for migratory birds heading to North America. Activities include agriculture, fishing and community-based eco-tourism. It is just beautiful.

That’s all for now. I could go on, but this list is long enough already, don’t you think?

  • Concepcion Volcano, Ometepe Island, Nicaragua,  a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve threatened by a planned canal project. (Photo: retirenicaragua.wordpress.com)
Rodolfo Molina, an 81-year-old retired mechanic, dries rice for storage outside his home where he has lived for 40 years in Rivas, Nicaragua. Rivas is the town where the first phase of an Inter-Oceanic canal is planned to be built in 2014.  (Photo: AP)

Rodolfo Molina, an 81-year-old retired mechanic, dries rice for storage outside his home where he has lived for 40 years in Rivas, Nicaragua. Rivas is the town where the first phase of an Inter-Oceanic canal is planned to be built in 2014. (Photo: AP)

The Death of a Minister, Plenty Rain and Back to School: Sunday, August 31, 2014

The summer is disappearing, fast. And we are getting bucketfuls of rain. Oodles of it, filling the streets with galloping waters.

Former Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke, who died in Fort Lauderdale on August 28. (Photo: Gleaner)

Former Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke, who died in Fort Lauderdale on August 28. (Photo: Gleaner)

The death of Minister Clarke: Our Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke died suddenly last Thursday. He was at Fort Lauderdale Airport on his way back to Jamaica after undergoing back surgery in Florida, and died of a heart attack. Tributes and remembrances have been flooding in; there is no doubt that many people inside and outside politics were very fond of the Minister and genuinely liked him as a human being. He was what Americans would call a “mensch.” He seemed unusually free of the “tribalistic” leanings of the vast majority of our politicians.

A party stalwart, too: Minister Clarke was a staunch “comrade,” and as such the People’s National Party (PNP) will miss him (he was a Vice President Emeritus). He joined the political fray at the local level in the 80s and served as Mayor of Black River, then served as a Member of Parliament since 1991. He was unbeaten at the polls, whether in local or national government – a highly successful politician.

Chistopher Tufton (left), who was then the minister of agriculture, greets Roger Clarke, who was the opposition spokesman on agriculture at the time, during the launch of the Eat Jamaican campaign at the Coronation Market in Kingston on March 1, 2011. (Photo: Gleaner)

Chistopher Tufton (left), who was then the minister of agriculture, greets Roger Clarke, who was the opposition spokesman on agriculture at the time, during the launch of the Eat Jamaican campaign at the Coronation Market in Kingston on March 1, 2011. (Photo: Gleaner)

BUT agriculture needs to “step up”: As a cane farmer himself (he was apparently the largest sugar cane producer in Jamaica), Minister Clarke was undoubtedly close to many farmers at the grassroots level. We got used to him in the agriculture portfolio, which he held for about twelve years altogether. But is the “people’s touch” enough? I really think a sharp mind is needed to give Jamaican agriculture the high profile required in the world of international trade. And let’s face it, agriculture has been on steady decline in Jamaica for the past decade at least. Sugar, coffee, citrus, for example. Praedial larceny still ravages the sector and has not been dealt with. The much-touted agro-parks have not been a roaring success. We can’t blame the MInistry for the terrible drought, which brought J$1 billion in losses, of course. Minister Clarke was a lovely man, but…For what concrete achievements will he be remembered?

No new Cabinet member: Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller says Minister Clarke’s former portfolio will be transferred to someone who is already in the Cabinet, perhaps with the assistance of a state minister. Social Security and Labor Minister Derrick Kellier had been acting in the Minister’s absence. And clearly a by-election is due, in what has always been a “safe” PNP seat (the Jamaica Labour Party only won it once, in 1980).

Talking of the drought, we have had enough rain in the past week to keep us happy for a while. But water levels in our main reservoirs have only increased by five per cent, we are told. So water restrictions remain. And I hope Minister Pickersgill is still looking at a thorough overhaul of our water management system, so that we will be at least able to better cope with future “water crises.” It’s not impossible, Minister – put your mind to it, please.

Back to school issues and non-issues: While we all keep fingers crossed that the academic year will start comfortably this week, the Jamaica Observer managed to find a “sexy” story with which to grace its front page: A tale of conspiracy and corruption among teachers and bookstores to “pad” school book lists. The article offers no evidence whatsoever of this (which schools? which bookstores? how does it work?)

Executive Director, Jamaica Tertiary Education Commission, Maxine Henry-Wilson addressing a public forum on ‘Financing Tertiary Education’ held on February 25, 2014. (Photo: JIS)

Executive Director, Jamaica Tertiary Education Commission, Maxine Henry-Wilson addressing a public forum on ‘Financing Tertiary Education’ held on February 25, 2014.  To her credit, she did urge Jamaicans to make sure they enrolled for accredited programs and with approved institutions. (Photo: JIS)

A much more serious issue involves Jamaica’s tertiary institutions. The external quality assurance body for tertiary education in Jamaica, the University Council of Jamaica has registered 44 tertiary institutions, and accredited one university (the University of the West Indies/UWI) and 255 academic programs of study. In other words, all UWI’s programs are accredited; many others are not. A UWI professor and Gleaner columnist, Carolyn Cooper, put the cat among the pigeons on this. There is alarm among students and recent graduates who fear their expensive degree or diploma may not be worth the paper it’s printed on. I understand, though, that it is very costly and may take years to get a program accredited. Ridiculous! As Professor Cooper notes, there is a huge need not just for accreditation but for regulation in this sector – the task of the Jamaica Tertiary Education Commission headed by a former education minister, Maxine Henry-Wilson. Ah, but the Commission is not yet legal! (A year ago it promised “more information” on its Facebook page. None forthcoming).

Tivoli Gardens enquiry: The Commissioners who took the Oath of Office before former Chief Justice of Jamaica, Hon. Mr. Justice Lensley Wolfe this week are: Chairman, Retired Chief Justice and former Attorney General of Barbados Sir David Simmons; Retired Judge of the Court of Appeal of Jamaica, Mrs. Justice Hazel Harris, CD; and Director of the Institute of Criminal Justice and Security, University of the West Indies, Professor Anthony Harriott. These people are charged with determining whether anyone’s rights were violated during the May 2010 incursion by security forces into Tivoli Gardens, the conduct of operations by the security forces during the State of Emergency at that time, and much more. No date has been set for the Commission to start its deliberations; I hope we hear soon.

Chikungunya on the rise: The number of people with the Chikungunya virus (“chik v”) is 21 and counting; and with the recent rains, a whole lot more mosquitoes will be breeding. We really must be careful and seek out possible breeding spots around the yard. Mosquitoes can breed even in a leaf or flower…

Members of the Rotary Club of Trafalgar, New Heights on a work day at Shalom Basic School in August Town, St. Andrew, last weekend. (Photo: Facebook page)

Members of the Rotary Club of Trafalgar, New Heights on a work day at Shalom Basic School in August Town, St. Andrew, last weekend. (Photo: Facebook page)

Special “big ups” to the Rotary Club of Trafalgar, New Heights (“the first new generation club of its kind in Jamaica and the Caribbean”) which is very busy under its new President Coleen Lewis. The Club staged a Health Fair for children going back to school in Maverley, Kingston yesterday.

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And the Jamaica/Ireland connection! At the Irish arts festival Electric Picnic, Irieland TV (clever, eh?) has launched a 40-minute creative documentary film that “tells the story of Belfast poet Gearóid Mac Lochlainn’s musical pilgrimage to Jamaica, to see if the message of ‘One Love’ that crossed sectarian divisions during his youth in Belfast, is still alive in Jamaica today. In a musical voyage that brings him from Trenchtown to the Trelawny maroons, from Inna De Yard to a Nyabinghi groundation ceremony, Gearóid looks beyond the famous recording studios to the very roots of roots Reggae.” Very cool! It’s called ‘Ceolchuairt Jamaica‘ and perhaps someone can tell me what the first Gaelic word means!

To finish off, I am going to quote from Gleaner columnist Gordon Robinson’s column today: “According to the Planning Institute of Jamaica, 9.9% of Jamaicans lived below the poverty line in 2007. By 2009, the figure was 16.9%; and, by 2011, over 20%. Today, more than 1.1 million Jamaicans live below the poverty line. Jamaica has dropped, on the Human Development Index, from 79th in the world (2011) to 86th since 2013. Barbados is ranked 36th; Haiti 100th.” Let’s just allow that to sink in.

I am very sad to say that the number of Jamaicans murdered each week seems to be increasing. Since Wednesday the following names have come up, and I send deepest sympathies to all the families:

Angela Bennett, 39, Coronation Market/Chapel Lane, Kingston (allegedly by police)

Nelvin Hunter, 30, Half Way Tree, Kingston

Jenice Reid, St. John’s Road/Spanish Town, St. Catherine

Bradley Watkiss, St. John’s Road/Spanish Town, St. Catherine 

Omar Peart, 36, Cumberland, St. Catherine

Lynette Graham, 42, Faith’s Pen, St. Ann

Lamar Williams, 18, Coxheath/Runaway Bay, St. Ann

Filo Wint, Florence Hall, Trelawny (German national)

Clinton Butler, 63, Maggotty, St. Elizabeth

Gordon Swaby: The Power of Follow Through

Many Jamaicans have circled Monday, September 1 on their calendars, and not because it’s the first day of the month. It’s the day school starts, after the long summer holidays that began in July. It’s not an easy time of year. Parents, teachers – and most of all the students – are in a state of growing nervous tension. The stores are full of anxious mothers trying to find the best deals in school bags, pens, pencils, exercise books. The stress level in bookstores is particularly high; parents make notes on the lists in their hands, comparing text book prices. Street vendors are making a big sales push in downtown Kingston, spreading their goods on the sidewalk; some are chased away by the police. Times are hard; people are trying to make ends meet.

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One young man who has seized on the importance of education for Jamaica is Gordon Swaby. And this is the first  (and probably not the last) time I will mention his youth. But just to emphasize, he is young - not yet 24 years old. Through his online social learning platform, EduFocal, Gordon focuses on making learning fun. Good Lord – he has even made examination preparation fun, if you can imagine that!  Students working towards the dreaded GSAT and CXC exams register on the EduFocal website for a low annual fee. Once logged in, they do not simply take tests that reinforce what they have learned in school. The EduFocal system is much more than that. It is modeled on what Gordon calls “gamification.” There, I’ve learnt a new word. It’s not only interactive, with input available from peers and teachers; it also progresses like a video game. And you know how addictive those are. There is always an incentive to go on to the next level, and rewards in the form of sponsored prizes. Students can also track their progress, and there is a leader board competition, too. That’s gamification.

EduFocal Awards 2013: Shamique Francis, the winner in the Grade Six Achievement Test category, accepts her prizes from Julian Robinson (left), minister of state in the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, and Peter Levy (right), managing director of British Caribbean Insurance Company. Sharing in the moment is Gordon Swaby, CEO, EduFocal. (Photo: Naphtali Junior/Jamaica Observer)

EduFocal Awards 2013: Shamique Francis, the winner in the Grade Six Achievement Test category, accepts her prizes from Julian Robinson (left), minister of state in the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, and Peter Levy (right), managing director of British Caribbean Insurance Company. Sharing in the moment is Gordon Swaby, CEO, EduFocal. (Photo: Naphtali Junior/Jamaica Observer)

It was video games that got him started, Gordon tells me. As a fifteen-year-old high school student he built Advance-Gamers, a video gaming resource website. I wasn’t going to mention his youth again, was I, but Gordon laughingly calls that period his “younger days.” He adds: “I started Advance-Gamers because I liked playing video games, but my parents refused to buy them for me. So I started the website, and when it got big enough I wrote video game publishers who would send me the games to review and keep.” He then began to develop the EduFocal concept with his older cousin in 2011. “He was doing his Masters at the time and didn’t have much time to contribute so I toiled along alone,” says Gordon.That year was intense. EduFocal was launched on March 15, 2012 at Kingston’s Jamaica Pegasus Hotel. 

The center of the town of Christiana, Gordon's home town.

The center of the town of Christiana, Gordon’s home town.

Gordon grew up in the small farming town of Christiana, in Manchester’s cool hills. He attended Holmwood Technical High School. Who or what inspired him as a boy, I asked him? “I was influenced by many things and people growing up,” Gordon responds. My parents, brothers, TV shows, cartoons and friends…But if I had to choose I would say that my parents [Lloyd and Olivene Swaby] had and continue to have the biggest influence on me. They’re both entrepreneurs.”  At EduFocal, he also recognizes his supportive board of directors: Peter Levy (chairman), Lloyd Swaby, Grace Lindo, Maxwell Jardim, JJ Geewax and Renee Rattray. “Outside of my board, I have to thank others who have contributed to the continued growth of the company, EduFocal’s lead developer Paul Allen and Shane Shipston,” says Gordon.

He describes himself as being “an average student” at Holmwood. He says he learned to read and write “very late” - after which English became his favorite subject. In fact, he has been blogging since the age of fifteen (read his blog at gordonswaby.com) – a veteran! Gordon chuckles at his teenage blog posts. “Some of them I imagine are very embarrassing,” he says. Clearly he doesn’t look back at them often, although he does say he has a tendency to “introspect.” Nevertheless, I suspect he mainly keeps moving forward.

I am curious as to what drives Gordon. He says he is good at strategizing and negotiating – but confesses to being “a chronic procrastinator…I’m surprised when I get anything done.” I find this hard to believe – he has been moving along at such a snappy pace. Gordon insists: “I have a bad habit of waiting until the last minute to get stuff done. This has been something I’ve struggled with since I was a child. I would wait until the last minute to pack for a trip, do my homework etc. But with that said, I usually am a man of my word. I’m very persistent and I love to follow through.” Gordon places a great deal of value on follow-through, and I agree with him that it’s something many people in and outside business don’t take seriously. “I think I’d credit that for me getting so far so fast in my short time on this earth,” Gordon stresses.

Gordon Swaby. (Photo: Gleaner)

Gordon Swaby. (Photo: Gleaner)

Gordon’s spirit of enterprise has been recognized. Soon after the launch of EduFocal, he was selected as one of twenty up-and-coming businesspeople to be provided with skills training and mentorship at the Montego Bay-based Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship. That same year, he won one of the Jamaica Gleaner Fifty Under Fifty awards for business leadership. Earlier this year, the Inter-American Development Bank named Gordon as one of ten Young Innovators for Latin America and the Caribbean. He was off to Bahia, Brazil, where he was invited to meet with the IDB’s board of governors. Judging from his enthusiastic tweets, it was an exciting experience for the Jamaican entrepreneur. He has also been spotted at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Geneva very recently. Why? He is the Founding Curator of the Kingston hub of the WEF’s Global Shapers Community. Oh, he is also a winner of The Governor General’s Youth Achievement Award and the Commonwealth Youth Award in Development.

Another award which I did not mention: Gordon receives the Student Entrepreneur of the Year Award from the University of Technology in Jamaica.

Another award which I did not mention: Gordon receives the Student Entrepreneur of the Year Award from the University of Technology in Jamaica.

It would be almost impossible to pick Gordon out from this amazing group of Global Shapers at the World Economic Forum earlier this month.

It would be almost impossible to pick Gordon out from this amazing group of 310 Curators of  at the World Economic Forum earlier this month.

I asked Gordon about his vision for the future. In five years’ time, perhaps, when he would have reached the lofty age of 29. He hopes EduFocal will have gone public by then, and he would have moved into the position of chairman. But of course he won’t sit still.I am passionate about startups and will likely consult and invest in other startups.”

Gordon feels passionately about entrepreneurship. I asked him if there could, perhaps, be too many entrepreneurs in Jamaica. “Definitely not!” he retorts. “Entrepreneurs are the lifeblood of any economy. You can’t have too many. I think informal entrepreneurship thrives in Jamaica. People turn to entrepreneurship out of a need to to take care of themselves and their families. I hope we can move from informal to formal entrepreneurship soon; Jamaica will be better off for it.” 

And Gordon is happy with the way things are going for EduFocal. “We’re about to expand into Trinidad and Tobago and I’m very excited about that. We’ve also partnered with First Global Bank for a project that we will be launching in September. We are also expanding into SAT test prep via a partnership with Versan Educational Services.”

George Henry (left), principal of Spalding High School, greets Gordon Swaby, CEO of EduFocal, as Dean of Discipline Yvonne McLeod-Myrie looks on. Gordon was at the school to give a motivational speech to students. (Photo: Dave Lindo/Gleaner)

George Henry (left), principal of Spalding High School, greets Gordon Swaby, CEO of EduFocal, as Dean of Discipline Yvonne McLeod-Myrie looks on. Gordon was at the school to give a motivational speech to students. (Photo: Dave Lindo/Gleaner)

A serious final question. How does Gordon see the future of education in Jamaica? He has concerns. The world is changing fast. The way things are going, Jamaica will be far behind the rest of the world in the next twenty to thirty years. Education should create thinkers, thinkers who will be placed in jobs that have not been created yet. I would hope that the future of education in Jamaica reflects this.”  I would hope so too. One of those quantum leaps is required.

And a final reminder from Mr. Swaby: Don’t forget to follow through.

Gordon Swaby has an easy smile...

Gordon Swaby’s easy smile.

 

A Geometry Lesson

I was watching a steamy film last night. It was full of smoldering jealousy, betrayal, anger, deceit, remorse, hot sex in unusual locations, murder, agonizing body disposal, guilt… You name it, everything was piled in there – except boredom. The film was about a married woman, who was having an affair with a younger man with a thick French accent and a sort of smoochy Bohemian appeal (he turned out to be rather unreliable, as Frenchmen often do). The cuckold husband fumed and fretted and committed the dastardly deed. His wife was a mess, and only seemed to be having fun when canoodling with the aforementioned Frenchman.

Olivier Martinez giving us a sexy look.

Olivier Martinez giving us a sexy look.

This was a classic triangle situation, Hollywood-style. Also, amusingly, I realized that the actor who played the passionate lover, Olivier Martinez, had got himself into a real-life triangle situation (sort of) some time back (his personal life has been more interesting than his movie career, so far). He has been married for about a year to the alluring movie actress Halle Berry (her third attempt), and they have a baby boy (I hear this marriage is on the rocks now. Poor Halle!) Before they were married, the smoochy Frenchman Martinez got into a fight with another Frenchman – sorry, French Canadian – a pretty boy called Gabriel Aubry, Halle B’s former partner. They both ended up in hospital, and a flurry of lawsuits ensued. Phew. Mostly bruised egos, though, nothing more.

The "Menage A Trois": a 1910 postcard.

The “Menage A Trois”: a 1910 postcard.

Now, let’s not confuse this with what is called a “ménage à trois” (literally, a “household for three”) – which seems to me altogether more fun than the rather competitive triangle. This means, of course, that three people settle down together in a cozy sexual relationship. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, in searching around for a word to rhyme with this expression, suggested “ayatollah.” Well, that would make for an amusing little poem. A haiku, perhaps. No, I won’t go there.

Love triangles are fertile ground for country and western songs, operas, novels, and of course movies. Arguably the most famous love story of them all, William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” involved another man. The tempestuous 19th century novel “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Brontë is a pretty mind-blowing love triangle: Cathy, the rebellious wild child; Heathcliff, the gloomy, passionate man of the moors, her “soulmate”; and the refined Edgar, a gentle soul. Plenty of dramatic declarations, the wind howls, and so on, and so forth. Don’t tell me those Victorians were dull and stuffy.

The 1939 version of "Wuthering Heights" with Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) and Cathy (Merle Oberon) perched on the cold moors. They've got all that passion to keep them warm.

The 1939 version of “Wuthering Heights” with Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) and Cathy (Merle Oberon) perched on the cold moors. They’ve got all that passion to keep them warm. And dear Edgar hanging out in the background.

And artistic types themselves seemed to get into these kinds of situations rather regularly, and probably still do. The German composer Johannes Brahms spent half his life in love with fellow composer and friend Robert Schumann’s wife Clara (one is not sure whether anything “happened” between them, even after Schumann’s death). At the other end of the musical spectrum, Linda, Joey and Johnny Ramone (of the punk band The Ramones) got very tangled up. Joey was apparently the Mr. Nice Guy, Johnny was the aggressive one, and Linda was sort of…in the middle. Joey and Johnny continued playing together even after Linda married Johnny, but didn’t talk to each other. Awkward.

Two-thirds of a triangle: Johnny and Linda Ramone.

Two-thirds of a triangle: Johnny and Linda Ramone.

Hmm. Real-life love triangles often don’t end well, do they? For example, there was a hugely public and very sad situation in the British Royal Family some years back, involving Prince Charles, Princess Diana and Camilla Parker Bowles. “There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded,” said Diana.

Bob Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks" is one of his moodier albums.

Bob Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks” is one of his moodier albums.

One of my favorite love triangle songs is a not very well-known one by Bob Dylan – one of his storytelling songs, from the great album “Blood On The Tracks.” Although with Lily, Rosemary, Big Jim and the Jack of Hearts in that particular song – could be a rectangle there.

Yes, did you know that there is something called a “love rectangle”? I was never very good at geometry, but clearly this involves four people, and is presumably even trickier than a triangle. Some people like to make their lives complicated, I suppose. Presumably the rectangles are equilateral – but, perhaps not. These kinds of situations appear quite regularly in light opera, farces, and so on, with people hiding behind doors and chasing each other across the stage and then back again, until the audience is utterly confused. Do they really occur in real life? How utterly nerve-wracking it must be.

As for me, I think I will stick with the safe old “one on one” relationship. You know, a straight line, so to speak.

Boring, I know. But all of the above takes up far too much energy, it seems to me. I like the quiet life.

Empty Barrels, A Shortlist and the Mike Brown Connection: Wednesday, August 27, 2014

I am sorry. The flu got me. I have just emerged from it with a somewhat painful cough. Hence the hiatus on my blog.

Bus fare problems: Last Friday, we heard (briefly) that the Jamaica Urban Transit Company’s (JUTC) fare hikes had been “put on hold” after discussions among the Government and trades unions. This was after a rising tide of protests from various groups – notably, from those representing our seniors under stress. Then something went wrong. The Government confirmed that there had been a slight adjustment – seniors’ bus fares would be doubling instead of tripling – but the other fare increases, including for students and the disabled, would remain. The increases took effect on Sunday.

Minister of Transport, Works and Housing (and former Finance Minister) Omar Davies, M.P. (Photo: Ministry of Transport & Works)

Minister of Transport, Works and Housing (and former Finance Minister) Omar Davies, M.P. (Photo: Ministry of Transport & Works)

The Jamaica Civil Service Association (JACISERA) thought the meeting had gone differently. It is embarrassed and feeling “dissed” that Transport Minister Omar Davies had in fact scarcely backed down. JACISERA now says it does not trust the Minister, noting there was no consultation before the decision to increase fares, either. They are upset that the Heads of Agreement signed last year for a Social Partnership – which was supposed to help government, unions and civil society share the burden of Jamaica’s embattled economy – seems to mean little more than the paper it was written on to those in power. There are rumblings, and the rumblings might grow louder. I wouldn’t rule out industrial action.

A JUTC bus.

A JUTC bus.

Many questions: Questions are rattling around about the JUTC’s management, in particular its staggering financial losses. Former Contractor General Greg Christie and others are calling for a full and proper audit (the Auditor General pointed to many failings in her last report). The Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) – after a rather ineffective protest on a rainy Monday morning – is calling for Messrs Campbell and Roper to resign. And of course, let’s bear in mind that those in rural areas (not served by the JUTC) pay much higher fares than their urban counterparts. 

Reverend Garnett Roper, Chairman of the JUTC.

Reverend Garnett Roper, Chairman of the JUTC.

A miserable affair: I listened with a sinking heart to a radio interview during which two young journalists attempted to discuss issues relating to the JUTC’s operations with its Chairman, Reverend Garnett Roper – who, like its Managing Director Colin Campbell, is a high-profile supporter of the ruling People’s National Party (Mr. Campbell is a former General Secretary of the party, but also a former State Minister in the Transport Ministry). The interview ended with Rev. Roper hanging up on the journalists after they asked him a simple question: “Do you have any expertise in running a transport company?” The tone was most unpleasant, and I would say disrespectful and patronizing. Journalists are just trying to do their job!

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller takes every criticism personally.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller takes every criticism personally. Please, Madam.

Another rant: I don’t know where to start on our Prime Minister’s latest outburst. It is getting embarrassing, now. Portia Simpson Miller was responding to comments by Opposition Leader Andrew Holness’ remarks about “empty barrels.” He didn’t mention her by name, but our Prime Minister happily took the bait and went into another rant to People’s National Party (PNP) supporters over the weekend. Amidst a sea of orange, with a strange sneer on her face, she called Mr. Holness “rude and crude,” shouting, “How dare you!” I thought Mr. Holness’ remarks were quite mild. The response was disproportionate, ill-considered and as one talk show host put it, “unbecoming” of a Prime Minister.

Does she have any advisors? The Prime Minister does have a public relations team, I am sure of it. What do they do? I suspect they may all be “yes men” or “yes women” – otherwise, surely, they would advise her against this string of intemperate remarks? Especially at this time, when many Jamaicans are “fed up.” 

Protesters placards at Monday morning's protest organized by the Jamaica Labour Party, which some commentators say "fizzled." (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Protesters placards at Monday morning’s protest organized by the Jamaica Labour Party, which some commentators say “fizzled.” (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Andrew Holness is surely only doing his job: The Leader of the Opposition is a constitutional office. In opposing the current administration, Mr. Holness is simply doing his job by criticizing. “How dare he?” He should, in fact, keep up the pressure and try to draw the Prime Minister’s attention to serious issues affecting Jamaica. The economy? Human rights? Public health issues? Can you start talking about things that Jamaicans care/worry about? No more tracing matches, please!

"We will be your worst nightmare": Portia Simpson Miller, then Opposition Leader, at the PNP Annual Conference in September, 2007. (Photo: Ricardo Makyn/Gleaner)

“We will be your worst nightmare”: Portia Simpson Miller, then Opposition Leader, at the PNP Annual Conference in September, 2007. (Photo: Ricardo Makyn/Gleaner)

Flashback: On September 16, 2007, at the PNP’s Annual Conference soon after the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) was voted into power, then Opposition Portia Simpson Miller shouted: “I am going to let them have sleepless nights … We are going to be their worst nightmare!” (Yes, she did shout; I remember it well. The JLP tossed and turned, no doubt!)

So sick and tired of it, but praedial larceny (the theft of agricultural crops and animals) is still out of control. Well, the police did catch a man recently, who had stolen some goats from an elderly woman. He got a six month sentence, which the magistrate seemed to think was a “strong message.” No, I don’t think so. The other night I watched a farmer openly weeping on television after his goats were stolen, saying he would not be able to help his child pursue further education. People suffer, and our Agriculture Ministry is missing in action. So far as I know, the Minister is still in a Florida hospital.

Jasmine Rand and Benjamin Crump, two American human rights lawyers who are taking an interest in Mario Deane's case.

Jasmine Rand and Benjamin Crump, two American human rights lawyers who are taking an interest in Mario Deane’s case.

Mike Brown and Mario Deane: It is odd the way things work out sometimes, and I like to think social media may have had a small part to play – but two tragedies were playing out in two very different (but close) countries, Jamaica and the United States at the same time. One was the shooting death of Mike Brown by the police in Ferguson, Missouri; the other the beating and death of Mario Deane in a police lockup in Montego Bay.  Now, the same pathologist who performed the autopsy on Mr. Brown, Dr. Michael Baden, will conduct an autopsy on Mr. Deane’s body next Tuesday, September 2. Meanwhile, a U.S. attorney who is representing Mr. Brown’s family, Jasmine Rand, has taken an interest in Mr. Deane’s case and will arrive in Jamaica this weekend. A lawyer who also represented the family of Trayvon Martin in Florida last year, Benjamin Crump, has also expressed sympathy and support. It’s not exactly clear what role they will play, but I believe this will be in an advisory capacity.

Ambassador Carlton Masters is Jamaica's first envoy to the African Union. He presented his credential on March 21, 2013. (Photo: The Habari Network)

Ambassador Carlton Masters is Jamaica’s first envoy to the African Union. He presented his credentials on March 21, 2013. (Photo: The Habari Network)

Jamaica has its first representative at the African Union. His name is Carlton A. Masters and he is co-founder, chair and CEO of Goodworks International, a PR/lobbying/consulting firm working to strengthen relations between the U.S. and Africa (in particular, Nigeria). He is now an Ambassador and the appointment was actually effective February 4, 2013. Former Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson is a Senior Advisor at Goodworks. Mr. Masters’ appointment as Special Envoy of the Prime Minister appears to have sparked some controversy recently. I will leave it at that.

Wannabe Commissioners: The Police Services Commission has not included a Jamaican-born FBI official in its six-person shortlist for the post of Police Commissioner. Representatives of the diaspora in the United States are pretty angry that Wilfred Rattigan will not be interviewed for this very sensitive post. However, bearing in mind the sensitivity of the position, one would expect thorough background checks to be made on each candidate. No doubt they were done.

Pit latrines in schools will be a thing of the past… by the end of next year, says Education Minister Ronald Thwaites. Meanwhile, 270 schools are identified as having water problems. Will their thousands of students have to bring in their own water then? Do they have water at home?  School starts on Monday, September 1.

Dear Jamaica Observer, this is not a "heron" and her chicks. It's a Brown Pelican! But a great article on "Refuse Cay." (Photo: Kimone Thompson)

Dear Jamaica Observer, this is not a “heron” and her chicks. It’s a Brown Pelican! But a great article on Refuge Cay in the Palisadoes mangrove forest, which we sarcastically renamed “Refuse Cay.” (Photo: Kimone Thompson)

Terrific reporting: Journalists were galvanized by last week’s thought-provoking trip round Kingston Harbour, where we viewed acres of garbage (see my recent post and the latest article I did for gleanerblogs.com). Excellent reporting – including a punchy piece in the Sunday Gleaner by Chris Serju, and a good in-depth look at the issue on CVM Television’s “Live at Seven.” A correction is needed, though, on the caption to this Jamaica Observer photo! Live at Seven’s Simon Crosskill also made sharply apposite remarks on the matter this evening – pointing out that Jamaicans need to take personal responsibility for the garbage menace and “reduce, reuse, recycle.” Now.

The bridge in Retreat, St. Mary. Surely this wouldn't cost so much to fix? (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

The bridge in Retreat, St. Mary. Surely this wouldn’t cost so much to fix? (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

A dangerous crossing: Residents of Retreat, St. Mary are furious that a footbridge on which they greatly depend is broken and quite dangerous. After dark I would be especially nervous about crossing it (there are no street lights in the country). Residents have protested by blocking the main road for three consecutive days.

Daily protests: But this is just one of the protests that take place in places across the country on a daily basis. There was also one in Manchester over a police killing; and another by a group of mostly middle-aged women. They had adapted the words of a folksong to fit their message about the need for a fire engine in their area, which has been prone to bush fires in recent months. They actually sang rather well. If I were to list the protests, there would probably be about twenty separate ones per week – mostly about lack of water, poor roads and other infrastructural issues; or some act of perceived or actual injustice. “We Want Justice!” is the common refrain.

Drug hauls: There have been several quite large drug seizures at the Kingston Container Terminal lately. This week, police found 267 pounds of cocaine in a shipment of lumber from Suriname, bound for China. Extraordinary!

Please read: My post on the Clean Coasts Project in my “Social Impact” series for the Gleaner Online: http://gleanerblogs.com/socialimpact/  I’d be grateful if you could leave comments on the page! Thank you… (This is a weekly feature – check it out every Tuesday!)

Big ups…

  • To Peace and Love in Society (PALS) - it was once called Peace and Love in Schools. They celebrate twenty years this year, and are now looking to rebuild their volunteer base. If you’d like to help, or for more information on their programs, visit their website at http://www.palsjamaica.org
Quite an intense discussion at Bookophilia this evening with ECCO Magazine and business leaders on "going green." (Photo: ECCO)

Quite an intense discussion at Bookophilia this evening with ECCO Magazine and business leaders on “going green.” (Photo: ECCO)

  • To ECCO Magazine for its highly successful discussion at Bookophilia this evening on “The Business of Going Green.”  Several business leaders and a number of young entrepreneurs filled the bookstore. It was most gratifying to see a growing interest in sustainable business practices. Do also take a read of ECCO’s August “GreenYourBiz” newsletter, hot off the press, here: http://issuu.com/eccomagazine/docs/august_gyb_newsletter_final/c/sldhs6z# (Yours truly is a contributor!)
Maria Gullotta works hard for the rehabilitation of prisoners in Jamaica.

Maria Gullotta works hard for the rehabilitation of prisoners in Jamaica.

  • To Stand Up for Jamaica, a small NGO headed by Maria Gullotta, which works quite quietly in the prisons, helping to rehabilitate prisoners. Quite a few at the Tower Street and Fort Augusta Correctional Facilities sat CXC examinations in Mathematics and English in a program funded by the European Union, and many did well, especially in Mathematics. Ms. Gullotta is rightly proud, and congratulations to all those who studied and passed their exams. (By the way, if you have not seen the documentary film “Songs of Redemption” released last year – it’s really time you did…)

In the past week, many Jamaicans have lost their lives to violent crime. My deepest sympathies are with the families and friends who are mourning these tragic deaths. When will it end? By the way, there was a reported 8.2% drop in murders from January to June this year compared to the first six months of 2013. But this list seems rather long for just one week, since my last blog post.

Christopher Tracy, 39, Arnett Gardens, Kingston

Willie Picton, 37, Arnett Gardens, Kingston

Wayne Gaynor, 41, Duke Street, Kingston

Shanel Rowe, 34, Old Braeton, St. Catherine

Kevin Lawrence, 25, Store Hill/Kitson Town, St. Catherine

Unidentified man, Bendon District, St. Catherine

Norman Blake, Guanaboa Vale, St. Catherine

Horace Reid, 26, New Harbour Village Housing Scheme/Old Harbour, St. Catherine

Shana-Kay Simpson, 21, Middleton Meadows, Linstead, St. Catherine

Garfield Simpson, 35, Middleton Meadows, Linstead, St. Catherine

Ricodel Jackson, 25,Middleton Meadows, Linstead, St. Catherine

Dean Pratt, 43,Middleton Meadows, Linstead, St. Catherine

Brenton Drummond, 25, Orange, St. James

Odarie Sinclair, 24, Orange, St. James

Jayheim Cooper, 2, Lewis District, St. Ann

Lascelles Hyatt, Gayle, St. Mary

Glenton Logan, 33, Yallahs, St. Thomas

Christopher Thompson, 41, Burford Hill, Westmoreland

 

Relatives in shock after the murder of four residents in Middleton Meadows, Linstead. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Relatives in shock after the murder of four residents in Middleton Meadows, Linstead. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

“Work Hard for a Cause”: Yaneek Page’s Inspiring Words to BK Scholarship Awardees

Yaneek Page is Managing Director of Future Services International, Executive Director of the television show “The Innovators,” and a trainer and consultant in innovation and entrepreneurship. She is a woman of boundless energy, drive and enthusiasm, with her feet firmly on the ground. Yaneek was invited to speak to a group of Jamaican students (21 of them) who had received scholarships and book grants under the Burger King National Scholarship Awards Program to pursue secondary and tertiary studies. This is the fourteenth year of the program. 

Here is Yaneek’s speech to the scholarship winners. If you have a child who needs a little inspiration as the new academic year is about to begin, perhaps you could share it with her/him…

An inspiring role model: Yaneek Page. (Photo: Gleaner)

A role model for Jamaican women: Yaneek Page. (Photo: Gleaner)

Thank you so much for this kind invitation, and what an absolute honour it is to be here in the company of tomorrow’s leaders. When I was asked to deliver this charge to BK’s 2014 scholarship awardees I was absolutely elated. After all, what greater privilege could one have than to aim to inspire Jamaica’s future visionaries and game-changers?

I have a very short time with you today but I know in my heart that the next 20 minutes will inspire one of you, if not all of you to change your community, help transform this beautiful place we have the privilege to call home & hopefully make your impact felt around the world – so let’s get started.

The first step in changing the world – as big as that goal may seem – is to change yourself.

I know you’ve probably heard this before, but I want you to stop and think about it for a second. If you stop complaining about all the problems that we face and start thinking of ways you could solve those problems it changes everything. Right?

How many of you see yourselves as problem-solvers? Future leaders? Game-changers? Each one of you has the power to think differently, take bold action and transform your world. It all starts with believing in yourself. Most of you bright sparks have found your drive for excellence at an early age, unlike me. I would describe myself as a late bloomer. It wasn’t until university that I recognized my potential and began to really believe in myself. As you heard earlier I did very well at university, winning an academic scholarship to pursue post graduate studies, copping every award at graduation and emerging at the top of my cohort as the most outstanding student overall. I will never forget feeling so accomplished but yet so uneasy at my graduation…almost pressured. I remember my fellow graduate who gave the vote of thanks at the awards ceremony saying “Yaneek, you have done very well. We are expecting great things from you.” I couldn’t help but wonder, what more do you expect? I’ve worked so hard and done so much already. How can you possibly expect me to top this?

Little did I know that it was possible to achieve more, much more. And so today, I challenge you all, as my colleague challenged me – you have done well and we are proud of you, but this is just the beginning. We are expecting great things from you.

Let me share a few lessons – from me, the late bloomer, that I hope will guide and motivate you along your new journey.

There is a saying that I came across that has resonated with me from the first day I read it. I don’t know the author but those words aptly describe my journey so far. The saying goes like this:

Work for a cause/Not for applause, Live life to express/Not to impress,

Don’t strive to make your presence noticed/Make your absence felt”

I have always worked for a cause, without any expectation of success, recognition, fame or fortune. I focus on my passions – for justice, entrepreneurship, women’s economic empowerment and my beloved family– and taking bold action to make positive changes.

There are two things I have that will make me truly wealthy forever. I’m not saying I’ll be rotten rich, I’m saying with those two things no matter how many times I fail, no matter how hard things get, no matter how bad the economy may be – I will always find a way out. Do you know what those things are? Who can guess?

Yes, education is one. Can anyone guess the other, anyone?

The other key to true wealth is building relationships. Sometimes we get so caught up in trying to acquire material things that we forget how important it is to build relationships with people. My strengths have been investing heavily in continuous education and self-improvement and building strong relationships with great people. Every major break I’ve ever had can be attributed to strong relationships and working hard for a cause, never thinking about applause.

This picture is from my first big break as a professional – I landed a coveted job with GraceKennedy (GK) and was recruited to their Accelerated Development Program for young professionals. They chose 12 people from a pool of over 800 applicants. What’s funny is that after leaving university it took 7 months to find a job- even with a distinction & all those awards! In that time I did a project for Jamaica Employer’s Federation which required some interaction with GK’s Chief HR Officer who invited me to apply. We had never met before, only engaged via email and telephone. There I was minding my business doing this small project to the best of my ability and someone noticed, and offered me an opportunity that lead to my dream job.

It was the experience at GraceKennedy in Risk Management that allowed me to create a viable business model in my company Future Services International. From my days at university after being introduced to the concept of “Restorative Justice” I knew I wanted to find a solution to some of the challenges ordinary Jamaicans experienced in accessing justice but I had no idea how to do it – until I learned those risk management skills at Grace. But even after leaving Grace I had built and maintained strong relationships. In my years with the company I had earned a reputation for being a professional who was hard working and would get the job done no matter what. My boss used to say ‘Give it to Yaneek. If she can’t get it done it’s probably not possible.’ I always had and shared big bold ideas. Whether it as a way to save the company money or help make the company more money, I was all over it. So much so that even the Chairman and CEO Mr. Douglas Orane knew me well. Not usual for a company with nearly 2,000 employees. When I had an idea for a young professionals network to link youth at home with the Diaspora I went to Mr. Orane with a group of like-minded colleagues to get his feedback and guidance. He too was excited about the idea, endorsed it and put me in touch with Sandra Glasgow from the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica (PSOJ). I will tell you that he gave me some great advice and every concern he expressed came to pass. It’s not that he was psychic, but with experience comes wisdom do never you forget the value of older people.

I went on to launch the Young Professionals Association of Jamaica – here I am with Mr. Bruce Golding, who was the Prime Minister at the time and the guest speaker at the event. From an idea to seeking guidance from distinguished leaders, to bold action.

I went on to join the PSOJ, Young Entrepreneurs Association (YEA) and Women Business Owners (WBO) – I was always volunteering to help, never shying away from a challenge, always speaking up, sharing ideas. I went on to become an elected VP of YEA, the youngest elected president of the WBO and an elected executive member of the PSOJ. I dedicated my summer to giving back to students by organizing Jamaica’s first entrepreneurship summer camp. With all this work I was doing, I caught the attention of Sandra Glasgow who nominated me for the prestigious U.S. International Visitor leadership Program (IVLP). You can’t apply to this program; you must be nominated – and the PSOJ CEO whom Mr. Douglas Orane had introduced me to, nominated me. See what happens when you pursue your passions, build relationships, work hard for a cause and act with integrity? The world of opportunities opens to you, and if you use your talents fully it is likely that you also create your own big opportunities.

Every year I think things can’t get better. They do, I continue to be blessed beyond measure. During the IVLP I connected with an organization called the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) – just sharing what I was doing in Jamaica in supporting women’s entrepreneurship. Guess what happened? I was invited to participate in a yearlong mentorship program where I was mentored by one of the US top association professionals and trained by the ASAE. I’m now a member. Even more the US State Department invited me to meet the then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Santo Domingo, Dom Rep. She was amazing, and by far the most famous person I had ever met – but in all the awe I still managed to build a connection with one of the organization’s I met on at that conference – WEConnect International. After the event we exchanged emails, kept in touch and I offered to work for them in Jamaica for free. They were reluctant at first. However we stayed connected and eventually we partnered with them to launch a chapter of their global network in Jamaica – it was the first in the Caribbean (and they had no plans of coming here). Would you believe that since the launch last year we have over 160 self-registered women entrepreneurs. Better yet, on August 1, 2014 I was named the official representative for WEConnect International in the English Speaking Caribbean. How amazing is that?! And it all started with me going over to talk to the founder Elizabeth Vazquez to congratulate her on her amazing presentation and awesome work.

Last year, through WEConnect and the U.S. State Department I learned of an amazing program that supports women entrepreneurs to grow their business – Vital Voices Grow Program. Another wonderful U.S. non-profit. Well I applied, was accepted, received a year of free training and even won a small grant – my first ever in business! But would you believe – it did not end there, by speaking up during the training, helping other participants, volunteering to lead follow-on webinars I was invited to apply to be the 2014 business planning trainer. I did, and was accepted and in October 2014 I’ll be off to Argentina to deliver business planning training to women entrepreneurs from across Latin America and the Caribbean. As I continued to do my work, people continued to take notice – without asking for it or even expecting it I received recognition, awards and much applause.

Now I don’t want you all to think life is a breeze and that you will never have challenges. You will! Believe me when I tell you sometimes those challenges will shake you, even bring you to your knees, but you must stay strong and never let them break you. Challenges are actually amazing. They may be hard at the time but they prepare you for bigger things. Sometimes what seem like good doors will have to close for even better doors to open. For example take a look at this last slide – this was me as the host of Live at 7 on CVM. Funnily enough, I never chose TV. It was the producer who chose me. Yet my stint at CVM was a complete disaster. My first night on air I froze! Dumbfounded and silent on live TV. Can you say embarrassing! I was devastated. CVM was so angry. A few weeks later they said it wasn’t working. I felt like a complete failure. But from that experience, which seemed like my worst nightmare coming to life, came the best silver lining. A few months after leaving CVM I picked myself up, brushed myself off and decided to extract value from the experience and put my new skills in television to work. Everything fell into place as it was meant to be. I had the idea for a great TV show, The Innovators, and wanted to bring it to life. Without the skills and connections made at CVM I would never have been able to do it. In fact, if CVM didn’t let me go I would have been trapped in a two-year contract. I would never be where I am now – proudly celebrating the fourth season of Jamaica’s #1 entrepreneurship television show, The Innovators –which is now aired in 18 countries.

Now that you’ve heard this late bloomer’s story, I hope you have learned some lessons you can use. I want you to keep in mind not only the lessons but these top tips. If you take nothing else away from this presentation today I promise that if you do the following eight things you will unleash your potential to positively impact your community and hopefully the world.

  1. Be constantly aware of the country’s challenges and remember you have the ability to fix them
  2. Work on yourself and aim for experiences that challenge and develop you
  3. Keep learning
  4. Balance knowledge and technical know-how with soft skills
  5. Be bold and create your own opportunities
  6. Find your driving force
  7. Build relationships as you work for your cause
  8. And again don’t fear failure, embrace it. It’s part of the course, a constant source of learning, the best way to new discoveries and most often a prerequisite for success.

I know I may have exceeded my time a bit and I hope you will forgive me, but I hope most of all that I inspired at least one of you to make the most of your education, build strong relationships, think big, be fearless, take bold and make a change. Thank you so very much.