We, the 51% Coalition,wholeheartedly welcome the Ministry of Education’s new policy which permits girls who leave school for reasons of pregnancy to return to class after the birth of their child.
The 51% Coalition -Women in Partnership for Development and Empowerment through Equity –recognizes that Jamaican citizens are fully aware of the right to education of every child, girl and boy. In amending outdated discriminatory regulations, the new policy is an important step in removing a form of gender discrimination which could deny a girl’s right to equal access to education.
We commend Opposition Senator Kamina Johnson Smith for her consistent advocacy on this matter, and congratulate the Ministry of Education for responding positively toSenator Johnson Smith’s parliamentary motion. The Ministry proposes that school places assigned to pregnant adolescents must now be retained during their absence,for them to take up after the birth of their baby.
Research has shown that investing in a young woman’s education is absolutely critical to ensuring the positive development of both mother and child. Follow up studies at the Women’s Centre, where pregnant girls receive comprehensive educational and counseling support, show that most girls are able to avoid another unwanted pregnancy during their teen years, and many become effective peer counsellors. We therefore sincerely hope that the “Re-integration Program” newly established in the Ministry of Education’s Guidance and Counseling Unit will be properly resourced so that it can provide the necessary sensitive support to the student-mother and her family.
The second item of good news that the 51% Coalition applauds is the recent appointment of Ms. Sophia Frazer-Binns to the Senate. This brings to 5 (of 21) the number of women in the Senate (23.8%).
We welcome this progress, as we inchforward towards gender balance in the high-level arenas of decision-making. Ms. Frazer-Binns is one of the many very well qualified women in Jamaica whose expertise can enhance the process of policy making.
In fact, the 51% Coalition has proposed a ‘gender landscape’ in high-level decision making that would see Public or Private sector Boards comprising no more than 60%, and no less than40%, of either sex. This move towards gender balance can be achieved partly through the use of gender quotas.
In a population of 51% females and 49% males, it is a matter of equity, justice and human rights that both genders should be fairly represented in the areas where decisions are made about policies that affect the daily lives ofwomen and men right across the society.
For further information, please contact the 51 % Coalition Media Team:
Ms. Hilary Nicholson, Tel: 467-9906
Ms. Anna-Kaye Rowe, Tel: 929-8873, 487-8268
Dr. Marcia Forbes, Tel: 361-1643
- Gender-Based Quotas: “A step forward” towards a more equitable society for all Jamaicans (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Gender equality must be a development priority in its own right | Naila Kabeer and Jessica Woodroffe (guardian.co.uk)
- Gender balancing – quotas or social pressure? (skillssource.wordpress.com)
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2013/02/28/this-is-how-change-happens/ ”This is how change happens” (petchary.wordpress.com)
This week is Education Week in Jamaica. It means (obviously) that the Minister of Education is exceptionally busy, with a flurry of additional functions and school visits. We have also embarked on Child Month – when much wider issues affecting children are under the microscope. These “issues” are so wide-ranging that they cannot possibly be addressed during a few speeches/seminars during one month. We must keep them at the forefront of all our thoughts and discussions right through the year. In our hearts and minds.
Earlier today – Teachers’ Day – I spent some time at St. Michael’s Primary School, in the inner city area of Rae Town. The occasion was the donation of ten computers to the school by a U.S.-based company, GTECH Corporation (see press release below). The school is tucked away on a narrow lane, in one of the oldest parts of the city, close to the waterfront. There are remnants of old brick walls, broken kerbs and overgrown patches of land. This morning, rows of lilac-colored clouds furrowed the pale morning sky; the early light was soft and a faint humid breeze blew from the harbor. And just beyond the school loomed the red brick, Victorian walls of the “General Penitentiary” – or correctly named, the Tower Street Correctional Centre, spiked with barbed wire. The children must, one assumed, be used to these close quarters, this walled horizon.
The Chairman of the School Board, the Rev. Dr. Alton Tulloch, told me that the original St. Michael’s Anglican Church, where he ministers, was destroyed during the 1907 earthquake. It was close to or on the site of the current school, and was rebuilt further back from the shoreline, on Victoria Street. (The National Library of Jamaica has a wonderful photo album on Flickr, which includes a photo of the old church after the earthquake - little more than a pile of rubble).
The school was busy getting itself in order when we arrived; a few curious students wandered up to the room where we were to peer at the beautifully decorated walls, swathed in blue and yellow. They were shushed away. There was excitement in the air, and the narrow schoolyard was filling up with strange cars. The visitors were arriving…
Monday was Read Across Jamaica Day. Ms. Deika Morrison of Crayons Count visited the Sunrays Educational Centre and read to the young children there. Pelican Publishers’ Latoya West-Blackwood visited the Central Branch Infant School and tweeted, “Don’t know how the teachers do it! So much energy in the room!” The photographs below tell the story of enjoyment and fun. Crayons Count campaigns, and provides materials, in the area of early childhood education – those years when a child’s thoughts awaken. The brain absorbs; the eyes widen and imagination begins to flow.
Albert Einstein said, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” I grew up on fairy tales, and I don’t think they did me any harm.
Books, learning and exploring are at the core of the children’s experience at the Trench Town Reading Centre, which will celebrate its twentieth anniversary later this year. Situated in the heart of Kingston 12, just opposite the “Government Yard” where Bob Marley spent his youth, the Centre is bursting with energy and life. It is also a book-centred place of learning. No tablets here, no fancy technology; but so much creativity – hands-on – craft, music, art, gardening, dance, performing arts, and books, books, books.
And learning comes in many packages: whether it’s a tablet, a picture book or a computer such as those GTECH is providing to institutions in Jamaica.
So, wherever you are, and especially to my Jamaican readers… This month and throughout the year please do whatever you can to bring that shining light of discovery into a child’s eyes. The learning experience gives as much pleasure to the teacher and guide as it does to the young recipient. Try it, nuh! And please support organizations such as Trench Town Reading Centre and other places where the love of learning flourishes!
GTECH DONATES COMPUTERS TO ST. MICHAEL’S PRIMARY SCHOOL
Kingston, Jamaica, May 8, 2013 - Global information technology company GTECH today, Teachers’ Day, continued its commitment to fostering educational growth through their After School Advantage Programme with the handover of ten computers to St. Michael’s Primary School in Rae Town, Kingston.
This was their fifth such installation for Jamaican institutions, with two more planned by year-end. The Programme donates computers to non-profit organisations and schools with the aim of bridging the “digital divide” and empowering disadvantaged youth.
At the handover ceremony, Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining Phillip Paulwell, who gave the main address, praised GTECH’s vision. He expressed his enthusiasm for and commitment to the use of information technology in schools, as a tool that will “create inquisitive minds” and encourage innovation and creativity. He recalled an early Jamaica Computer Society programme in rural schools that resulted in “almost immediate improvements” in reading.
“I thought: therein lies the answer,” Minister Paulwell observed. He expressed the belief that, once given access to information technology, Jamaicans could become technology leaders on the global stage.
GTECH Jamaica’s General Manager Debbie Green stressed that the Programme is much more than simply donating computers. “It is about establishing a relationship with the institution,” she noted, that includes continued support and maintenance. As an example of this, St. Michael’s Primary will be GTECH Jamaica’s Labour Day project onMay 23 this year; their staff members will be engaged in painting and refurbishing activities at the school, which houses 235 students.
GTECH’s Regional General Manager/Caribbean, Ann-Dawn Young Sang, quoted Jamaican National Hero Marcus Garvey’s words, “Knowledge is power.” She noted that in this “era of rapid advancement, there should be access to the digital world for every child.” In pursuit of this vision, she noted that GTECH works in over seventy countries worldwide, with over 200 After School Centres established. Emphasizing the importance of early childhood education, Mrs Young Sang sees information technology as a vital component for the region’s competitiveness.
St. Michael’s dedicated Principal, Dave Allen, expressed his gratitude for the computers, which he said would empower his students to “become good citizens of the world.” Noting the presence of veteran educator Verna Duncan, he celebrated the significance of the day – Teachers’ Day – for his school “in our little corner” of the city. Mr. Allen and a lively percussion section accompanied a group of charming students, who performed traditional folk songs for the guests.
Technology Specialist with the USAID/Jamaica Basic Education Project Dr. Melody Williams commended the GTECH family for its focus, pointing to several key benefits of information technology in schools. “If used effectively,” she suggested, “IT enhances the child’s creative skills.” Students must be “good digital citizens,” she added, pointing to the need for responsible use of the Internet.
Since 2006, GTECH Jamaica has provided assistance to a number of schools and institutions, including Lawrence Tavern and Easington Primary Schools, Sylvia Foote Basic School, the University of Technology, Caribbean Maritime Institute, Portmore Community College, Dunrobin Primary School, Holy Trinity High School, the Jamaica Christian Boys’ Home and the SOS Children’s Village. On average, the GTECH-funded programme invests US$15,000 to open and maintain each IT centre over a period of four years.
The GTECH After School Advantage Programme started in the Caribbean in 2005 in Trinidad and Tobago, where it has established twelve centres since 2011. In the U.S. Virgin Islands, GTECH has partnered with the Queen Louise Home for Children in St. Croix. It plans to open a second centre in St. Thomas this year, as well as one in the Dominican Republic.
http://www.usaidjamaicabasiced.com USAID/Jamaica Basic Education Project
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/pages/history/story0017.html Disaster: The Earthquake of 1907
http://www.flickr.com/photos/28320522@N08/ National Library of Jamaica Flickr Photostream
http://dogoodjamaica.org/crayonscount/2013/05/07/open-books-smiling-faces-read-across-jamaica-day-2013/ Open books and smiling faces: Read Across Jamaica Day 2013
http://www.trenchtownreadingcentre.com Trench Town Reading Centre
Jamaica is a patriarchal society. Yes, you may say, “But Jamaican women are so strong.” But the evidence is out there and easy to find. Jamaica is a traditional, conservative, patriarchal society. Men in their fifties and sixties run things. They may wear uniform, they may wear a business suit, they may sit in Parliament. But the men are the ones busy preserving the status quo.
It is true: Jamaican women are very strong – or, I should say, resilient. I have always known this; but since I started working with a small non-governmental organization called Eve for Life I have become much more aware of the complex web of disempowerment that operates daily at many levels and in many aspects of women’s lives. It is a kind of network of “no’s” - no, that is not possible; no, that is actually against the law; no, that’s not for you. The “no’s” are especially loud, and visible, in our change-resistant public institutions, as well as in churches and in many business places, sadly. And it is painfully evident in inter-personal relationships, where the disempowered woman so often ends up… yes, a victim of harassment, abuse and worse.
Imagine, then, if you are a vulnerable teenage mother. Some of the girls whom Eve for Life supports are also living with HIV. I was pleased to participate last week in a television program (“Live at Seven” on CVM Television) to discuss the concerns raised recently by Opposition Senator, Kamina Johnson Smith. The young Senator has questioned the law that states that pregnant schoolgirls must be “excluded” from high school; and that they are only allowed to return if the Minister of Education approves (this practice has, we are told, been somewhat modified over the years). But in any case, a student who has given birth has to apply to the principal, in the hopes of being admitted to her school (or another school) to continue her education after the child is born. The school principal will decide whether the girl is deemed suitable to return to school.
In the opening report, a journalist interviewed two teenage mothers, who became pregnant at fourteen and fifteen years old and who are now back at school, thanks to the efforts of Eve for Life. They face challenges – the stigma of being in a “baby mother class” as they have fallen behind in their studies by this time. The teachers “don’t expect much of them.” But they do their very best. Their “baby fathers” were in their twenties. They committed statutory rape (see Article 50 of the Offences Against the Persons Act) as the girls were under sixteen. Were these young men charged? I am not sure.
And so, the girl is punished. Firstly, by being “excluded” (a nice word for “kicked out”) when she is discovered to be pregnant, and sent home to consider her misfortune, like the “bad girl” she is. The second stage of humiliation is having to go on bended knee to be allowed to continue the education that, Eve for Life believes, is firmly her right.
The Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) representative on the program wanted to “dispel the myth” that throwing a pregnant girl out of school is punishment. He went on to say that the pregnant teens are well cared for by the Women’s Centre Foundation of Jamaica – a government agency that he said does a “fantastic job” – and that “almost all” students are, in fact, “re-integrated.” Everyone is happy and caring, and the system works perfectly. (Back at school, the guidance counselors are – well, stretched. In fact, the JTA rep mentioned that at the high school where he is currently principal, there is one guidance counselor to 700 children. We know that the stressed-out counselors spend most of their time dealing with schoolyard fights, etc. Do they have time for a young mother?)
But alas! Most of the time “the child excludes herself,” said the JTA representative (but I thought he said most of them returned?) And why does she voluntarily stay out of school, one wonders? Of course, it is clear that they were not wanted at school; it takes enormous will and determination to throw yourself at the mercy of a school principal, who may or may not accept you back. It’s at his/her discretion. Many of the girls do not have the family support or the remaining self-esteem to be able to do this. Certainly little or no support from the “system.”
So, let us look at some facts and figures: According to Jamaica’s Registrar General’s Department, there were 42,161 live births in 2008. Of these the vast majority were out of wedlock (35,596) by the way, so it would be safe to say that all the teens fall into this category. Out of this number 7,680 births were to girls age 19 and under (229 of them under 15). My Math isn’t brilliant but by my calculation this means that 21.55 per cent of all live births in 2008 were to women under 19. Births up to age 24 accounted for 44.75 per cent. This is way above the global average of 11 per cent. For 1,178 of this number this was their second child. In that same year, 18.8 per cent of births in the 15-19 year age group were actually planned – twice as many as in 2002. And 21.4 per cent of 15-24 year-olds in Jamaica have more than one partner during any given one-year period.
Eve for Life currently works with a total of 65 teenage mothers, ten of whom are aged fourteen to sixteen years and not HIV-positive. The remainder are aged 15-24 years. We also conducted a program with fifteen girls at the Women’s Centre to develop ICT material on pregnancy prevention – the website is at http://www.eveteens.com. Most of our girls did not return to school after they had their children; many had more children afterwards. Currently, 24.6 per cent of our girls are enrolled in the formal education system – either at school or pursuing training.
Now let us be clear: A significant number of Eve for Life’s mothers became pregnant as a result of rape or incest (at a workshop in St. James, this was 83 per cent). We know this to be widespread in the general population. In the five years of Eve’s existence, we have worked with over eighty girls, mostly HIV-positive.
It is true that there will be challenges, as everyone on the program noted. A pregnant schoolgirl may suffer ridicule; or conversely she may encourage other girls (although I believe the latter argument is an excuse; is pregnancy contagious?) The poor girl will not be able to manage, the exclusionists say. So, how will she manage at home, often with little or no family support, enduring the comments of her family and neighbors on a daily basis, and trying to avoid the predatory males in the community – some of whom believe it is actually beneficial to have sex with a pregnant girl? These are challenges she will face anyway. But at least she will be in a learning environment.
What about the young men? They are free to continue with their lives, pursue education and training, continue with their job, perhaps impregnate one or two other under-age girls. How many of them are actually charged with statutory rape, actual rape or incest? It would be interested to obtain more information on this, although I wonder if records exist.
The girls don’t want our pity. They do need sympathy and a real understanding of their situation; and they need us to make it possible for them to pick up their lives, determinedly, and carry on. We empathize, but as Gleaner columnist and youth/human rights activist Jaevion Nelson noted recently, showing empathy is not an endorsement of early sex. Disapproving lectures on morals are not the answer, either. And although many of these girls are actually victims of rape and incest, they do not want to be seen as victims, or “bad girls” either.
It’s clear that the old system, based on patriarchy, tradition and a conservative/religious mindset, is outdated and is not serving our girls well. If the teen mother stays home, with the fragmentation of the Jamaican family, chances are she will slip further back and quite possibly have another baby. This will be a greater burden on the state, and the cycle of poverty will continue. It is a no-win situation. If we take a fresh approach (out of the box, or as someone said recently – no box at all) and decide that we will support the girls, enabling them to reach their full potential, there is a good chance that they will become educated, trained and productive members of the society. High school graduates have more to contribute.
The JTA might be surprised to know that the vast majority of the girls do want to continue their education. They know that it is their hope for the future, and for their children’s future. With mentoring, counseling and determination, they can do it. And they do.
And isn’t that the goal and purpose of the Ministry of Education – to empower our citizens, including our vulnerable girls?
Please, let’s not reject or deny them. Let’s have a rethink.
P.S. Earlier this week, Malala Yousafzai packed her bag and returned to school in Birmingham, England. In October, 2012 she was shot in the head by the Taliban in Pakistan because of her outspoken campaigning for girls’ education – at the age of fourteen. She is the bravest teenage girl I know. And she believes in girls’ education so strongly she risked her life for it.
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=43037 Senator wants expelling pregnant schoolgirls removed from the books: Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Baby-Madda–story-come-back-again_13865068 ”Baby Madda” story come back again: Barbara Gloudon column/Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120923/cleisure/cleisure5.html Remove blinkers from sex education: Kamina Johnson Smith op-ed/Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/results/Offensive–mean-spirited-and-baseless–Mr-Johnston_13808454 Offensive, mean-spirited and baseless, Mr. Johnston: Letter from Kamina Johnson Smith/Observer [column by Dr. Johnston, an advisor to the Minister of Education, is not available online]
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130124/cleisure/cleisure4.html Children need sex education: Jaevion Nelson column/Gleaner
http://www.crin.org/resources/infodetail.asp?id=27239 South Africa: Stigmatizing pregnant schoolgirls: Child Rights International Network
My take on allowing pregnant pupils to remain in class (observer.org.sz)
A Legacy of Emancipation In the Diaspora (repeatingislands.com)
Why are we sighing? Because it seems that, after all the jubilation and celebration, Jamaica is returning to reality. And reality doesn’t look too good right now.
For a start, the police recently announced a decrease in major crimes, and even a sixteen per cent drop in murders. Coming on the heels of our celebrations, this felt rather good. OK, Jamaica is regrouping. But. If you look at the list of names at the end of this post – it has been a very bad week. As the police doggedly pursue the scavengers and vampires otherwise known as the “lotto scammers” (eight more were arrested in the Montego Bay area) three people were murdered in one small area of the city yesterday; one does not know, of course, if the two activities were connected. And this morning came news that an attorney-at-law and lecturer at the Norman Manley Law School and University of Technology in Kingston, Clover Graham. The bare, cruel facts are that her body was found this morning in Caymanas, St. Catherine, near the Polo Club – a lush, green and relatively undeveloped area off the highway between Kingston and Spanish Town. Nearly four years ago, Ms. Graham’s son Taiwo McKenzie and his girlfriend Janelle Whyte were murdered in what came to be known as the “good samaritan” murders. The couple were involved in an motor vehicle accident in Kingston in which two men were injured. They took the men to hospital and the next day went to help them, taking with them medicine, crutches etc – and were never seen again. Two men were convicted of their murders in June.
So another intelligent, caring Jamaican who had already given – and still had so much to give – to Jamaican society has been cruelly killed. It is hard to make any sense out of all this. The old, familiar feeling of loss hits you. When a middle-class member of society is murdered, the shock lasts for a few days in uptown Kingston, and then we get back to our lives. There is a big funeral, eulogies, tears. And then on, until another “high profile” murder occurs.
For me, all such sad and violent deaths are high profile – whether uptown or downtown. All are stories of a life abruptly severed. That is why I include a list of all those Jamaican citizens, young or old, rich or poor or in-between, who have left us. I grieve for their families, their friends and colleagues. We see them nightly on the television news, unable to find words, a lost and distant look in their eyes; or wailing and throwing themselves to the ground while sympathizers try to hold them up on their feet. People who live outside Jamaica don’t know how it feels to experience this almost on a daily basis. Perhaps we should be numb. I need a heavy anesthetic, the kind where you can sense something happening, but you don’t feel the pain.
It was not my plan to talk about the crime issue today, but to point to a couple of other issues that flared up last week. The two “e”s – Education and the Economy.
Now, I have often teased our Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites in this blog about his many stirring motivational speeches over the past few months. But he brought me up sharp on Thursday morning, during an interview with radio talk show host Barbara Gloudon. The topic was, unsurprisingly, teachers. The disappointing Caribbean Secondary Examination Certificate (CSEC) examination results had already dropped into the lovely calm pool of post-Independence, post-Olympics “good vibes” – creating disturbing ripples. Minister Thwaites bluntly told Ms. Gloudon that during his tour of the island visiting numerous schools, he was “not sanguine” about the quality of English teachers – in fact, he suggested, many of them are not capable of teaching English properly. They must be proficient in English themselves. The thorny issue of patois-speaking teachers teaching standard English – and admonishing the students, as I have often heard, in raw patois – has been with us for a long time and is unresolved. Minister Thwaites declared, “We have to overcome our ambivalence about the English language…This is crazy.” Crazy, indeed. He then dropped a bombshell that reverberated like the fireworks I heard after the Independence Grand Gala, which shook our windows. Only sixteen per cent of teachers, Minister Thwaites pointed out, are actually qualified to teach Math.
I wondered if I had heard right. He must have said sixty per cent. That would have not been very impressive, either. But no – he did say sixteen! I foresee a bit of a battle with the Jamaica Teachers’ Association, which is probably overdue anyway. But I do applaud the Minister for telling it like it is. I also feel (as the government has been saying for some time) that much more emphasis must be put in at the primary school level. High school is too late. There is a push towards building early childhood education and literacy; but I know of one newly-qualified early childhood literacy specialist, young and eager to teach, who is still seeking work, with no success. There must be jobs for the teachers if they are encouraged to gain qualifications in these priority areas. Otherwise it doesn’t make sense.
I agree also with Minister Thwaites that education is not all about “swotting” for exams. Self-expression must be encouraged, imaginations sparked, critical thinking taught. During the same program, Ms. Gloudon spoke with the Ministry’s chief public servant about practical matters related to Back to School (often written with upper case these days I’ve noticed), as we are entering that annual period of nervous anticipation now. When asked about school security, she said that fixing school perimeters with fencing or even walls would cost at least J$50 million and there was simply no money for that. She added, with a somewhat wistful air, that “the community must be a watchdog” in keeping the school secure and preventing the frequent vandalism and robbery that takes place. But it seems to me that the community often preys on the institutions that are there to serve and uplift their children. (New computer lab? Ah, that’s a tempting thought…) I can barely suppress my anger when I see some overwrought school principal on television, bemoaning the loss of some recently-donated computers, while the camera pans to empty electrical sockets and a few dangling wires, and perhaps also a ransacked office where the vampires have been searching for cash. (Yes, vampire is my word of the day, I think!)
Rumblings on the economy, too – like today’s thunderstorms rattling around the hills. In case it has escaped anyone’s notice, our Net International Reserves are declining as, I believe, the Bank of Jamaica continues to support our gently sliding Jamaican Dollar. Because yes, it is sliding. Let’s call it J$90/US$1 now – we are just a few cents below that. CVM Television broadcast two well-edited and hard-hitting reports last week that included interviews with local financial analysts Dennis Chung and Ralston Hyman. Both were sharply pointed in their comments. I would recommend Mr. Chung’s article in Friday’s Jamaica Observer, in which he draws our attention to some uncomfortable facts of life. (By the way, Mr. Chung also believes that Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell is “on the right track,” and I agree). There is still no agreement with the International Monetary Fund (although we were led to believe that the whole thing would have been “renegotiated” in short order by the current administration, during last year’s election campaign). In fact, we appear to be nowhere near an agreement. There are warnings from ratings agencies, and we all know that markets – and investors – don’t like uncertainty. That’s one thing they hate. But these are very uncertain times.
The Sunday Observer editorial comments on this unnerving state of affairs today, referring to the Caribbean in general. We have taken a “self-inflicted” course – what seemed to be the easy road, one might say. The editorial comments, very cogently, “Common to all governments in the Caribbean is the ability to deny reality. If we do not take life seriously, do not expect anybody to take us seriously.” But we haven’t grown up. We are still fêting, as today’s Sunday Gleaner editorial cartoon suggests…
Meanwhile, the Finance Minister was busy talking to People’s National Party followers last weekend about Independence. An interesting report in Thursday’s Gleaner (which I cannot find online – what has happened to your search engine, Gleaner?) by Carl Gilchrist notes Minister Phillips’ comments on the great strides Jamaica has made since August 1, 1962. “Let no one tell you no fairy tale that colonialism was a good thing or better for us; foolishness, absolute nonsense!” he expostulated. I would have hoped that a man of his education and knowledge could have put it a little better – and perhaps indicated how, and why, Independence has been good for us in more detail. Perhaps he did. After all that blustering, he did concede that Jamaica still had to deal with one troublesome little matter: poverty. Humph.
Any word on the economy, Minister Phillips? No? Well, as usual in the eternal conflict, politics trumps the economy, every time. So it guh.
Meanwhile, we are currently hosting an illustrious visitor – Dr. Julius Garvey. Dr. Garvey is the son of Jamaica’s first National Hero Marcus Garvey, to whom much lip service is paid. And I am pleased to say that the Mayor of Kingston has declared August 17 (his birthday) Marcus Garvey Day. Friday was a special day — Marcus Garvey’s 125th birthday. Please note the background color of my blog – the flag of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) which the revered civil rights activist founded.
As Dr. Garvey marched along Duke Street – heading to or from Liberty Hall, I am not sure – with flag-waving Garveyites in tow, he walked straight into a chaotic scene. Close to sixty squatters had been evicted from a property that many of them had occupied for decades. The media focused on a forty-year-old woman, who has eight children and expecting another. The woman, looking many years older than forty, exclaimed, “We are treated like animals…On the street with a million kids!” The property is privately owned, and with the (albeit slow) development of downtown Kingston the owner probably wants to do something with it. The bailiff, and others officials, say that they had been negotiating with the squatters for some time to get them out, but all deadlines had expired. Meanwhile, their Member of Parliament and former mayor Desmond McKenzie has promised to help.
The reaction of many Jamaicans online has been unsympathetic, rather harsh, even sarcastic. Where are the fathers, they ask? These children are all going to grow up to be gunmen. Why don’t these women get their tubes tied? And so on.
Well, guess what, Dr. Garvey. This is the face of poverty - the issue that, by Dr. Phillips’ own admission, we have not got a handle on yet, after fifty years.
But this is terrible, said Dr. Garvey. Why weren’t arrangements made for the squatters to be relocated, how could they be sitting on the street? Speaking on Television Jamaica, Dr. Garvey pointed out, in a polite and low-key way, that Jamaica must stop blaming others for these problems. He said, in some many words, that we have too much “baggage.” A sensible and thoughtful man. When asked what the solution was for Jamaica, he simply said, “Education, education, education.”
Congratulations are in order..
To the business community of St. Elizabeth, a parish where much activity takes place, especially in the field of agriculture. It has re-established the long-dormant St. Elizabeth Chamber of Commerce, now headed by Mr. Howard Hendricks. We look forward to hearing more about their activities.
To the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) which held an open day in Mandeville on Friday to highlight and educate the public about its work. INDECOM investigates all types of abuses by the security forces. I am glad also that Minister of National Security Peter Bunting (who is Member of Parliament for the area) spoke at the event and expressed his support for INDECOM, which has replaced the former Police Public Complaints Authority. The police have not exactly welcomed the government agency with open arms. And Minister Bunting did appear to have a little dig at INDECOM when he said it was important to remain “unbiased” – its head Terrence Williams had participated in a press conference held by human rights lobby group Jamaicans for Justice some time ago (but aren’t both organizations upholders of human rights?). I am not sure if Minister Bunting’s comment was really necessary, even though it was a sort of aside.
To the Mayor of Kingston, Angela Brown Burke, for declaring August 17 Marcus Garvey Day. This is overdue. OK, I know a day is just a day. But special days are symbolic, and they are reminders. The importance of Mr. Garvey’s legacy cannot be overlooked or denied. I am happy that his teachings are to be incorporated into the school curriculum, but wonder whether the teachers themselves can understand or interpret it.
To the Attorney General’s Department for its outreach to the Best Care Children’s Home. They didn’t just hand out sweeties and pat the kids on the head. I was quite moved by the report on their visit; they had sourced gifts that had been personally requested by the residents.
USAID for its annual Camp Summer Plus. The “plus” is that this is not your average summer camp. According to USAID’s press release, the camp’s “two main aims are to provide focused, intensive, data-driven academic programmes through technology and the arts in the critical areas of reading and mathematics; and to provide nutritional, psychological, social and other support which are known to impact student performance.” Serious and well-conceived.
To Jamaica’s female cricketers! They defeated Trinidad & Tobago yesterday in the T-20 finals, and now dominate the English-speaking Caribbean. Kudos to the ladies!
Finally, a big “Get Well Soon” to former Prime Minister Bruce Golding, who is recuperating in Miami from a very serious infection in his back. The infection started after surgery in Jamaica and was not corrected by second surgery, so he went overseas. It seems that the Jackson Memorial Hospital came to his rescue. His recovery is likely to take months. I wish him a full recovery and send best wishes to his loving wife and family.
And last but by no means least, I send my deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of the following Jamaicans, who were murdered over the past week. Our land is stained with their blood.
Killed by the police:
Oteno Chambers, 22, St. John’s Road, St. Catherine
Damion Saunders, Fitzgerald Avenue, Kingston 13
Romaine Ferron, Fitzgerald Avenue, Kingston 13
Errol Cohen, 48, Spaldings, Clarendon
Unidentified man, Orange Street, Kingston
Kevorn Thompson, 17, Greater Portmore, St. Catherine
Christopher Walters, 44, Dyke Road, Portmore, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Old Harbour Villa, St. Catherine
Demus Williams, Westchester, St. Catherine
Bentley Parker, Westchester, St. Catherine
Kevin Butler, 32, Annotto Bay, St. Mary
Linton Banton-Dean, 24, Annotto Bay, St. Mary
Unidentified man, Allman Hill, St. Andrew
Unidentified man, Steer Town, St. Ann
Unidentified man, Roaring River, Westmoreland
Shernette Parker, 32, Knoxwood, St. Elizabeth
Peter Cunningham, 34, Retirement, St. James
Keith Maxwell, 65, Granville, St. James
Ramesh Sutherland, 25, Granville, St. James
Simon Munroe, 26, Flanker, St. James
Chase Facey, 24, Westmeade, St. Catherine
Clover Graham, 56, Caymanas, St. Catherine
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Attorney-found-dead (Attorney found dead – Jamaica Observer)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/news/local/three-killed-shootings-rock-granville-st-james (Three killed as shootings rock Granville, St. James – Radio Jamaica)
http://newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com/2012/08/19/losing-that-loving-feeling-jamaica-50/#comment-958 (Losing that loving feeling – Dionne Jackson Miller’s blog)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Unqualified-teachers—Minister-says-only-16–qualified-to-teach-Math_12308827 (Minister says only 16 per cent qualified to teach Math – Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/CXC-furious–Wants-Jamaican-critics-to-stop-the-blame-game_12307764 (CXC furious, wants Jamaican critics to stop the blame game – Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120818/cleisure/cleisure1.html (Assessing CSEC exam results – Gleaner editorial)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/business/After-Jamaica-50–Olympics-comes-economic-reality_12306785 (After Jamaica 50, Olympics comes economic reality – Dennis Chung/Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/editorial/Our-region-is-feting-when-we-should-be-fretting_12312137 (Our region is fêting when we should be fretting – Sunday Observer editorial)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120819/cleisure/cleisure3.html (Why is Marcus Garvey a National Hero? – Carolyn Copper/Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/EVICTED–Pregnant-woman-with-eight-children-among-60-thrown-off-Duke-Street-property (Pregnant woman with eight children among 60 thrown off Duke Street property)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120819/news/news1.html (A cycle of poverty – Sunday Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120819/lead/lead92.html (UHWI operating with only one ambulance – Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Taking-best-care_12276664 (Taking best care – Attorney General’s Department – Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=39238 (Bruce Golding’s recovery to take months)
Jamaica 50 Special: Monday, August 6, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
Sunday Strides: August 12, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
Marcus Garvey in Jamaican schools (caribbean360.com)
Yes, we are striding into the next fifty years full of confidence and braggadocio (what a great word that is!) after our command performance at the London Olympics. (I am planning a couple more posts on that topic, so will not get side-tracked here). Many Jamaicans believe that this euphoric wave (which might last for another week or two) will somehow carry the island forward in a spirit of love and unity. Others believe that our twelve medals will somehow boost Jamaica’s economic recovery. Our Prime Minister is still on a high, and milking both the Jamaica 50 celebrations and the Olympic achievements for all they are worth.
Well, that’s what politicians do. Cynics like me have strong doubts about it all.
So let us look at other matters. Among those issues pushed on one side for discussion later, there is that little matter of education. The results of the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations were released by the Caribbean Examinations Council on Friday. Our eloquent Education Minister Ronald Thwaites declared himself “very disappointed.” I think “horrified,” or perhaps to use an awful English expression “gobsmacked” might have been a better word. But then Minister Thwaites, having reflected further, described the results later as “a very disastrous lurch downwards.” That’s more like it.
Of the so-called “cohort” of students who are actually allowed to sit the exams (which is only a fraction of the school population) only 31.7 per cent passed the Mathematics paper. Fewer passed than in 2011 (a mere 33.2 per cent), which was lower than 201o (a less than impressive 39.5 per cent). Passes in English Language showed a dramatic drop from 64.9 per cent (2010) and 63.9 per cent (2012) to 46.2 per cent. Again, this was only the results for those entered for the exam; many others – I will have to check the percentage – will have left secondary school with neither English nor Mathematics passes, one presumes. Plus, of course, well over half the students who did prepare for the exams – a two-year syllabus. What is to happen to these thousands of young people?
How can we talk about striding into the next fifty years, when our young people are so poorly educated/uneducated/hardly literate/innumerate/untrained? Is this our work force of the future? One hopes for proper analysis, discussion – and solutions – to this crisis in the next few weeks. Yes, I do believe this is a crisis. If this isn’t a crisis, then what is? Will we finally panic when we get down to 20 per cent passes?
Meanwhile, Minister Thwaites has suggested cutting teachers’ vacation leave in order to deal with the issue of teachers’ unemployment. Yes, hundreds of teachers qualify every year and many cannot find work. Even those who have been urged to go into early childhood education – supposedly the government’s priority – are finding no jobs after they have graduated from teachers’ college. And what is being taught at those colleges? Are our teachers really equipped to go into a class of forty or so students and teach properly?
OK. SMH as they say in social media. Meanwhile Minister Thwaites has other issues to deal with. For a start, around 200 Jamaican schools still use pit latrines – in other words, the children use a dark, evil-smelling hole in the ground as a toilet. One such rural school made the front page of the Gleaner this week. The Minister took pity on the school and has issued an edict for real toilets to be installed by the beginning of the school year. When will the other 199 or so schools get their toilets, I wonder? (Having personally seen the condition of some school toilets that are not pit latrines, I can say that sanitary conditions in many schools are pretty disgusting).
Another burning issue for Minister Thwaites: the bookmarks. Bookmarks, you may ask, what bookmarks? Well, a great deal of hot air is being blown about over the printing of 100,000 bookmarks as gifts to the students of secondary schools. Minister Thwaites had asked for as many schools as possible to recognize Independence Day (August 6). The bookmarks were to be distributed as souvenirs. Anyway, these bookmarks bore the smiling face of the Minister superimposed on the Jamaican flag. Opposition Leader (and former Education Minister) Andrew Holness was furious. (There seem to be so many “flag issues” don’t there?) He has called in the intrepid Contractor General, Greg Christie, to investigate procurement and other concerns. I understand that the offending bookmarks, which are now useless, cost J$1.7 million. This would be enough to fund a non-governmental organization serving Jamaican children for at least six months.
We will no doubt never get to the “truth” on this matter, but meanwhile – I wonder who authorized this? Did they really think this was OK, protocol-wise?
While we were all celebrating, Western Union shut down the operations of fourteen overseas branches in and around Montego Bay. We didn’t really see this one coming, and anyway we were in the clutches of full-fledged “Olympicitis” by then. The only conversations were about finals and semi-finals on the track.
The closure was, of course, connected to the heinous lottery scam. This remittance service has become a conduit for the activities of our Jamaican-based criminals, and I am, like the Gleaner, somewhat surprised that this did not happen sooner. The closure is expected to last for two weeks – possibly more – and it will not be business as usual when they reopen (or at any other branch in Jamaica either, one hopes).
Meanwhile those poor and needy people who depend on remittances from Jamaican family members living overseas were thrown into panic at the closure. I was amazed – and depressed – to see the crowds of Jamaicans, young and old, thronging the Western Union offices. Some did not even have the money to travel down the road to Hanover to collect their money. Women said they depended on the money to send their children to school. Little old ladies and frail old gentlemen were thrown into despair. Somehow, it frightened me to see such dependency. Although I should not have been surprised.
The Gleaner served up a number of punchy editorials this week, as if determined not to be distracted by the dancing in Half Way Tree, joyful as it may be. One suggested, “There is a sense that ministers are off on independent programs, seeking to outdo each other, rather than being part of a coherent whole.“ Is this fair, one wonders? And if so, what is Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke doing about the growing food crisis? Ah – that might be a topic for another blog post; because this issue is not going to go away any time soon. Even the Observer got tetchy on the subject this week, with an editorial that pointed out rising grain prices in the United States, our huge food import bill, and the lack of a clear strategy to deal with food security. With another quick left hook, the Gleaner - while congratulating Minister Clarke on his national honor, a Commander of the Order of Distinction – reprimanded him for his lack of vision on the matter.
Vision. There’s a big word. It’s something we seem to be searching for, sadly and with increasing weariness. Like Growth. And Leadership! And Investment. And, oh yes, Unity!
And here are a couple of things I was less than excited about last week:
Winston Hubert McIntosh (better known as Peter Tosh) received a posthumous Order of Merit (O.M.) in the Independence National Honors. The weed-smoking, profane, rebellious, unicycling Tosh, a former member of the Wailers, was murdered in 1987. He still has a website, liberally sprinkled with ganja leaves. I remember he was well-known for his obscene language on stage (but of course, that is quite accepted these days) – part of his rebelliousness, one supposes – and he played a guitar shaped like an M-16 on stage, too. Yes, a great role model.
Having said all that, I love Mr. McIntosh’s music and always have done. And yes, he spoke out against apartheid (so did almost every other singer at that time) and “Equal Rights and Justice” is a brilliant song. But I don’t think that is enough to get the third highest honor in Jamaica. Plus, I don’t really believe in the posthumous thing. If they didn’t deserve one when they were alive then why give people an award when they are six feet under, many years later? I’m sure Tosh wouldn’t care and might well refuse it, as John Lennon refused a National Honor. I also know that, although our current Transport Minister reveres the reggae musician, if the anti-establishment Tosh were alive today he would not be so popular with politicians. Didn’t he invent the word “politricks” ? He would be giving them hell.
An article, headlined “500 new houses for Coral Springs,” puzzled me this week. The article declared that the said homes would be built “in the dry limestone forests surrounding an already existing housing estate in Coral Springs.“ This is in Trelawny, western Jamaica. Presumably that existing housing estate was also built on previously existing dry limestone forest. Forgive me for enquiring, but isn’t dry limestone forest a special ecosystem, an environment that is becoming very scarce indeed in Jamaica and that is home to the endangered iguana and other creatures? Am I missing something here? Someone explain please?
Finally, is this the only way that Red Stripe beer can think of to advertise its product? How sad. And how unoriginal. Like those endless dancehall videos. Bottoms…protruding everywhere.
And much more inspiring…
Congrats to the Braco Village Hotel, which won a TripAdvisor Award after only being open for a couple of months. I swear by TripAdvisor and am one of its “senior reviewers.” I make hotel and other choices based on its reviews. So this means something to me.
As a passionate Arsenal Football Club fan, what’s not to love about the Observer Lifestyle Team’s great feature on the club’s haute cuisine a few days ago. Yes, chef Collin Brown can whip up a wicked jerk chicken roulade. Go Gunners! The new season awaits!
And kudos to the Observer reader, who gave Independence Day gifts to students from the difficult Mountain View Avenue area of Kingston. There was a touching article about this by the Observer’s Kimmo Matthews, which unfortunately I am unable to locate – but it really was quite moving. I will try to find the link. Such gestures of human kindness are what the “spirit of Independence” is about, no? P.S. For more reflections on Jamaica 5o and Independence, I would like to refer you to fellow blogger Annie Paul’s blog and 2009 article, “Do you remember the days of slav’ry?” The link is below.
As always, I extend my deepest sympathies to the families and friends, brothers and sisters, girlfriends, husbands and wives of the following persons who died violently this week:
Ms. Natasha Dixon, 29, Mandeville, Manchester
Oneil Livingston, 26, Mark Lane, Kingston
Unidentified man, Grier Park, St. Ann
Unidentified man, Lawrence Tavern, St. Andrew
Paul Cooper, 44, Savanna-la-Mar, Westmoreland
Unidentified man, King Street, Kingston
Unidentified man, Charles Street, Kingston 13
Cecil Elson, 45, Spanish Town, St. Catherine
Related websites and articles:
http://www.cxc.org (Caribbean Examinations Council website)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120811/news/news6.html (Shocking CSEC results)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120810/lead/lead92.html (Cut vacation leave, employ more teachers)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120808/lead/lead8.html (Mt. Rosser Primary pleads for proper sanitary facilities)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Thwaites-says-he-s-ready-for-probe-on-bookmarks (Thwaites says he’s ready for probe on bookmarks)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Spanish-Town-hospital-patients-transferred-to-Linstead (Spanish Town Hospital patients transferred to Linstead)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120809/cleisure/cleisure1.html (Warning from Western Union – Gleaner editorial)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120808/lead/lead2.html (Western Union operators pushing to implement new security measures)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120812/cleisure/cleisure1.html (Food crisis and a disjointed Government – Sunday Gleaner editorial)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120810/cleisure/cleisure1.html (Incoherent Government – Gleaner editorial)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120808/cleisure/cleisure1.html (Beyond Roger Clarke’s C.D. – Gleaner editorial)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/editorial/Seizing-the-moment-in-a-time-of-crisis_12216161 (Seizing the moment in a time of crisis – Observer editorial)
http://petertosh.com (Peter Tosh website)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120808/cleisure/cleisure3.html (O.M. for Peter Tosh? No way!)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/business/Five-hundred-new-houses-for-Coral-Springs_12224190 (500 new houses for Coral Springs)
http://www.bracobeachresort.com (Braco Village Hotel & Spa website)
http://anniepaul.net/2012/08/01/do-you-remember-the-days-of-slavry/ and http://anniepaulose.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/the-days-of-slavry1.pdf (Do you remember the days of slav’ry? Annie Paul blog and 2009 article)
I am waiting for the daily thunderstorm, that has generally announced its arrival with much rumbling every lunchtime.
The week’s news has been a little stormy indeed in Jamaica – although some of the storms were certainly of the kind that you serve tea in. Like the weather, there has been a lot of ominous rumbling, and very little to refresh the soul at the end of it all.
The rumblings continue – especially in the Sunday newspapers and one or two letters and opinion columns – on issues related to sexual abuse and sexual health. Today’s front pages reflect this – the Sunday Observer trumpets “Perverts Stalk Schools,” while the Sunday Gleaner, not to be undone, shrieks “Abortion for Sale!” What concerns me somewhat is that both newspapers give such stories the sensational tabloid treatment. One should skip over the lurid graphics and headlines and try to get to the meat of the issues; but both reports are a little short on facts. One learns from the Sunday front pages that 1) reports of teachers – and maybe other school staff – sexually abusing high school students are on the increase; and that 2) some health workers are illegally selling an ulcer treatment drug as an abortion pill (abortion is still illegal in Jamaica, for some reason). A television station reported the second story earlier in the week, even visiting an establishment where this practice was allegedly taking place. What is to be done about these matters – or rather, what will be done? That remains to be seen.
And then, last Monday, a nasty little squall skipped over the waters of the warm Caribbean Sea. It was up at the illustrious University of the West Indies (where, I hear, there have been several violent incidents among students over the past year, which have not been reported by the local media). A group of students protested violently at being banned from sitting examinations because they had not paid their fees to the university where they had been attending classes. Note that it is now the end of the academic year, and they still owe money. So, the students descended on the hall where hundreds of students had just begun writing their examinations, pencils sharpened, trying to settle their nerves. The aggressors banged on desks, kicked over the desks of some of the students sitting examinations and shouted about how “unfair” it all was, forcing the invigilators to cancel the examinations. What’s more, the university has to re-set the examination papers and reschedule the tests. As is so often said in our island – “the good (those who actually paid their fees, or whose parents struggled and saved to pay them) had to suffer for the bad (those wanting something for nothing).” As Professor Carolyn Cooper notes in her weekly Sunday Gleaner column, the offending students (some of whom masked their faces) were suffering from a delusional and selfish sense of “entitlement.” They don’t pay their fees, and yet somehow feel that the world owes them an education.
According to another video posted on a local blog, this is all evidence of the class/race war on campus. One of the examinees regrettably referred to the protesters as “uneducated ghetto people,” prompting the video’s rant about – yes, race and class, which has no relevance to this particular issue, in my view. There were no doubt “ghetto people” who had struggled to pay the fees sitting those examinations on Monday – and the disrupters included several “brown” middle-class students, for sure. To me, the issue is education, and the funding of it: As Martin Henry comments in his excellent op-ed on the topic today (Sunday Gleaner) it is successive political administrations that are to blame, not the mean old university that is just trying to make ends meet. Oh yes, poor people must have access to education, all Jamaicans must, the politicians say; but hey, we, the government, are not going to fund it. The new Education Minister, as I pointed out in an earlier post, makes wonderful and fine-sounding speeches; but in recent weeks he has been telling struggling independent schools on the verge of closure and other despairing educators that there will be no additional funds for education in the much-delayed Budget, so they will have to make do with what they have got. So there. (In his Education Week message, Minister Thwaites says Jamaica has “achieved the Millennium Goals set for education.” Could he elaborate on what these are? Somehow I wasn’t aware of this).
A few bolts of lightning this week too, amid the storm clouds glowering over our educational landscape: A Dean of Discipline at a rural high school was stabbed twice and had his leg broken by a group of students who had been told to stay home for a few days because of their disruptive behavior. Five students have been charged with the attack on Mr. Gavin Myers, who, lying in his hospital bed, said he hoped for “redemption” for the students. One suspects that karma may be more likely to kick in. By the way, there were two other stabbings at high schools reported late in the week. It goes on. May I ask whether the JCF School Resource Officers program is still functioning, and has it made an impact? It seemed like a good idea when it was launched some ten years ago. And can each student/visitor be searched on entering school compounds? It sounds drastic, but what do you think, dear readers? “Bring back flogging,” commented one member of the public. But violence begets violence.
Concerns: Things are not looking so good on the crime front. Although major crimes have declined, murder has slightly increased in the first quarter of this year, compared to last year. The Minister of National Security, accompanied by a gaggle of police officers, is on television almost every night in his baseball cap, bravely tramping through the byways of various depressed communities, occasionally comforting a grieving woman, trying to understand the complexities of each little neighborhood where gunfire rings out. This week, gunmen fired on a group of domino players outside a little shop in a place called Rejoin, Hanover, killing a father, son and two others. The smallest parish in Jamaica has experienced a startling increase in homicides this year. There were other depressing little stories: a fruit vendor’s body was found in downtown Kingston, by the Jamaica Stock Exchange. A woman was found in the sewage pit at the elaborate home of her “baby-father.” And the residents of a rural community knew exactly where to find the body of a taxi driver and policeman’s son, trooping down to the deep, swirling river ironically called Sweet River – where bodies are often dumped, they said. And there was the usual television footage of women – mothers, babymothers, sisters, aunts – collapsing at the roadside, or sitting on their cramped verandahs, numb with grief. I don’t know what I am going to do, they say.
I was not impressed, either, by circular conversations in the print and broadcast media about the “impasse” between the Transport Minister and Contractor General over the former’s plan to apparently override the CG’s surveillance of three big investment projects. Comments made by the Opposition, including Senator Christopher Tufton on “All Angles” this week, suggest that the Jamaica Labour Party is also being “mealy-mouthed” on this issue. And can we hear a bit more from civil society on this? It reminds me of a former People’s National Party slogan: “Don’t Stop the Progress!” This one is going to rumble around in the background for some time yet, one feels. And once again, as Mr. Henry noted on the issue of education funding, the Government is attempting to ride two horses running in opposite directions: Yes, we must “strengthen” the office of the Contractor General and it is very important; but No, we are not going to let him stand in our way when it suits us. Meanwhile, the Jamaican people have made it pretty clear in all the vox pops - they trust Mr. Greg Christie more than the Honorable Minister and his comrades. Sorry.
When are we going to hear any details at all about the Finance Minister’s visit to Washington? Or is he still there with his “technical team”?
And why bother? Crime, corruption and the economy are all burning issues for the Jamaica public. Don’t we know that? Then why, oh why, are we still regaled with bickerings and pettiness from both the Lower and Upper Houses? This past week, the Senate erupted in one of those storms in a teacup I mentioned earlier. An Opposition Senator and spokesman for foreign affairs raised the issue of the appointment of diplomats when there is a change of administration. Hardly a burning issue. It is quite normal for both political parties to recall key diplomats when they come to power, so that their envoy will be more in tune with the government of the day’s priorities and policies. Jamaica has had some excellent representation, and some fairly mediocre, overseas. But Senator Tufton, the fact that the previous administration you were a part of kept on one Ambassador appointed by the previous regime is neither here nor there. One swallow does not a summer make. I would like to know, however, who will be Jamaica’s next Ambassador to the United States? Has the media enquired into this?
Why did the Jamaica 50 logo need to be re-designed (and at what cost)? And by the way, do we have any details of what the Jamaica 50 celebrations will consist of? There have been many media announcements, but I for one am still not clear…
Congratulations and warm fuzzy feelings are also accorded this week, to the following:
Mr. Brandon Allwood and his young team of volunteers and supporters, who successfully staged a hot and noisy march and rally last Tuesday on behalf of “Help JA Children,” a movement to try and shake things up on the issue of child abuse. May is Child Month in Jamaica. I have posted several comments and blogged on this before, but yes – I was one of the few people over the age of thirty who participated. UNICEF was there; Susan Goffe and Carolyn Gomes of Jamaicans for Justice were there; and a group of non-governmental organizations that work with women and children – the indomitable ladies of Eve for Life, the Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre among them. More projects are planned for the month – I will keep you up to date. Meanwhile, please visit the Help JA Children Facebook page, and you can find them on Twitter, too. An excellent turnout and good media coverage, too. Keep up the pressure!
For the second consecutive week, I wish to congratulate Technology Minister Phillip Paulwell, who on Tuesday was responsible for some amendments of the eleven-year-old Telecoms Act that will not only make a monopoly in the market much less possible, but will also mean a reduction in local and international telephone rates. Once again, a big clap on the back for Minister Paulwell – one of the few who is properly focused on his portfolio, not distracted by photo-ops or sideshows. The gentleman is working – and the Jamaican consumer will benefit!
I am also heartened to hear that by this September the topic of climate change should be on the primary school curriculum, as announced by our Minister for Climate Change (and other things) Robert Pickersgill. Meanwhile, I hope the Honorable Minister will address the “Disaster in Waiting” described by the Gleaner’s Erica Virtue on Tuesday, the possible re-ignition of a fire at the Riverton City dump – or is that the Local Government Minister’s purview? (And by the way, Minister Arscott, a smile would be nice occasionally…It goes a long way).
And a word of commendation for Corporal Karen Austin (I hope I spelt her name right) of the Santa Cruz Police. A series of TVJ reports this week focused on the plight of a woman with two children, who were found to be living in the most awful conditions. The police were inclined to take the children and put them into care, but the mother begged for them to stay with her. Kind-hearted citizens – thanks to them also – have since contributed food and clothing and it is hoped that a home will be provided (by Food for the Poor, perhaps?) It was Corporal Austin’s calm face and comforting demeanor that impressed me though. The footage of her carefully cleaning between one of the children’s toes was somehow so touching. Corporal Austin embodied real compassion – something that is so lacking in our society. Thank you, you made my week.
“Big ups” also to Yaneek Page, CEO of Future Services International, Ethnie Miller-Simpson of Brandz Avenue and Ingrid Riley, CEO of Connectimass, who helped launch – and will lead – the Women’s Entrepreneurship Network Caribbean. 22 Caribbean dynamos participated in a forum supported by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Global Women’s Issues Initiative. These three Jamaican women are working on building the network, along with fellow entrepreneurs from St. Lucia, Barbados and Trinidad. I wish you all much luck!
I am really sorry I missed it, but the three-day “Kingston Pon Di River” arts festival was a delight and a big success, I hear. Congratulations to the organizers – Janet Silvera, Dollis Campbell and Millicent Lynch. Wish I had made it for the drumming session, especially – and of course, Tomlin Ellis’ passionate poetry.
And to the Alpha Primary School, celebrating its 120th anniversary this year. It began when Miss Jessie Ripoll (later Sister Mary Claver) opened the Alpha Cottage to accommodate a little orphan girl on May 1, 1880. Let’s remember our history, and support education in whatever way we can.
Condolences to the afore-mentioned Mr. Greg Christie, Contractor General, who buried his father Rupert last week; and especially, to the widow and family of Mr. Lloyd Brevett, who died on Thursday morning. Mr. Brevett was the upright bass player with the Skatalites, the revered and wonderful ska band – of whom there is now only one surviving member. Although he had been ill for some time, the painful part is that Mr. Brevett took a turn for the worse after his son Okeene was murdered in February, just after collecting an award on behalf of his father from the band’s former manager and former Prime Minister PJ Patterson. So sad that a man who helped bring that driving, jumping beat that brought so much happiness and sheer enjoyment to the Jamaican and world music scene passed under such sad circumstances.
P.S. A definition of “mealy-mouthed” (one of my father’s favorite expressions): “Hesitant to state facts or opinions simply and directly because of timidity or hypocrisy.”
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120506/lead/lead2.html: Abortion For Sale
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120506/focus/focus1.html: Samfie Government – Broke Pockets and Broken Education (Martin Henry op-ed)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120506/cleisure/cleisure3.html#disqus_thread: Student Rights and Wrongs (Carolyn Cooper op-ed)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-1/30471: Education Week Message from Minister Ronald Thwaites
Op-Ed: Fighting Injustice in Jamaica (petchary.wordpress.com)
The Ghetto strikes back…and Satan Deconstructed… (anniepaul.net)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120502/lead/lead1.html: Call rates to drop
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120502/lead/lead2.html: Jamaica’s Children March for Help
http://184.108.40.206/news/list/30468: Jamaica 50 to Provide Opportunity for Small Producers
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120504/ent/ent3.html: Skatalites lose another member
Sunday Showers (petchary.wordpress.com)
Sunday Sparkle (petchary.wordpress.com)
Sunday Steam (petchary.wordpress.com)
New Book: Something to write home about (repeatingislands.com)