Monday, July 28, 2014

Jamaica’s Federation of courageous women

Jean Lowrie-Chin | Jamaica Observer column – MON 28 July 2014

JFW President Gloria Millwood
It is a myth that Jamaican women do not support each other - Jamaica is blessed in her brave and compassionate sisters who have empowered not only women but all members of their national family.  The Jamaica Federation of Women (JFW) emerged out of a history of strong leaders like National Heroine Nanny of the Maroons, Mary Seacole, who was an angel of mercy to soldiers in the Crimean War of the mid-19th century, and Jessie Ripoll, founder of Alpha in 1880. 

What a charge it gave us to share a morning with the JFW membership from all walks of life as they announced their 70th Anniversary celebrations earlier this month. Did you know it was the JFW that hired a bright young Jamaican to promote our cultural heritage islandwide, more than half century ago? They later obtained a scholarship for her to study speech and drama in England.  That young woman was none other than the Hon. Louise Bennett-Coverley! 

President Gloria Millwood declared to her JFW members, “Ladies, we are determined to recapture the glory days. Through the determination and hard work of persons like Mrs Cecile Jarrett, Mrs Dotsie Gordon, Mrs Elaine Dreyer, Mrs Grace McKoy and many more, the Federation is being revitalized.” The President grieved over “the dastardly acts inflicted on our children” and pleaded: “We must return to the nurturing of our precious ones – it is up to us to know what is happening to them at all times.” 

Gloria Millwood is an active member of the Jamaica Manufacturers and Lay Magistrates Associations.  She runs Leon’s Beauty Products and Leon’s Beauty School founded in 1944 by her legendary mother, Madame Rose Leon.  The school has produced thousands of graduates, builders of the multi-billion beauty industry in Jamaica.

JFW Chair Cecile Jarrett
Cecile Jarrett, JFW Chair, is Principal of the St John the Baptist School, and a published poet who runs a Foundation with her husband Norman to promote literacy in primary schools in Downtown Kingston.  Mrs. Dotsie Gordon, Vice-Chair is founder of the decades-old DOT Personnel Limited. She was recently appointed Area President of their regional partner, Associated Country Women of the World for the Caribbean, Central and South America.  This organization represents nine million women through its 450 Member Societies in over 70 countries and has consultative status at the United Nations. 

They are walking in the footsteps of such JFW trailblazers as Amy Bailey, May Farquharson and Aggie Bernard. These elder sisters of the Jamaica Federation of Women have been the backbone of our country.  Take for example, Mrs Josephine Lowe now 94 years old, former head of the Pembroke Hall Branch.  She ran numerous fundraisers which saw the community gathering at her home for evenings of food, love and laughter.  To this day, if you want the latest cricket scores, you can count on her for them!  (Her best friend, my dear mother Maisie Lowrie, ensured we took multiple tickets - Mom entered JFW competitions and accumulated many prizes for her cakes.)

The JFW has made their mark on Jamaica’s development, recognizing the importance of early childhood education and creating infant schools through partnerships with various churches in the 1960s. Declaring that a strong family unit was essential for a successful society, they sought to create stability in family life by hosting mass weddings, happily embraced by couples who had been living in common-law unions for years. They started housecraft training centres and encouraged the development of the National Consumers’ League, now headed by one of their ardent leaders, the indefatigable Joyce Campbell.

To promote employment, currently the JFW is training women in personal development, and the packaging and marketing of products.  They have been conducting ‘Darkness to Light’ courses, which help women to understand and prevent child abuse.  They are also partnering with NEPA for an ‘Impact of Climate Change on Families’ programme to address environmental concerns.

Like the women it serves, the Federation is rising above myriad challenges, re-opening branches in St. Elizabeth in 2012 and in St. Mary earlier this year.  While offering a GSAT scholarship for the child of a branch member with the highest average, the JFW has created the Rural Woman of the Year Award and the Volunteer of the Year Award for Executive Members and continues to be a signatory to the Heritage Clubs of Jamaica.

The 70 years of existence of the Jamaica Federation of Women is testimony of their courage and amazing generosity – they are all volunteers. As organisations like the Jamaica Women’s Political Caucus, WMW Jamaica, Women’s Leadership Initiative and Women Business Owners, celebrate our success in politics, business and the professions, we acknowledge with gratitude the foundation built for us by the JFW.  Our women’s organisations should find ways of honouring them in this their 70th year – on their shoulders we stand.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Free from ordeal in Sudan, woman condemned for apostasy meets Pope

Pope Francis blesses Mariam Ibrahim of Sudan during a private meeting Thursday at the Vatican. (CNS/Reuters/L'Osservatore Romano)

Vatican City

Meeting a Sudanese woman who risked execution for not renouncing her Catholic faith, Pope Francis thanked Meriam Ibrahim for her steadfast witness to Christ.
The pope spent 30 minutes with Ibrahim, her husband and two small children Thursday, just hours after she had arrived safely in Italy following a brutal ordeal of imprisonment and a death sentence for apostasy in Sudan.
Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told journalists that the encounter in the pope's residence was marked by "affection" and "great serenity and joy."
They had "a beautiful conversation," during which the pope thanked Ibrahim for "her steadfast witness of faith," the priest said.
Ibrahim thanked the pope for the church's prayers and support during her plight, Lombardi said.
The Vatican spokesman said the meeting was a sign of the pope's "closeness, solidarity and presence with all those who suffer for their faith," adding that Ibrahim's ordeal has come to represent the serious challenges many people face in living out their faith.
The informal conversation also touched upon the family's plans now that Ibrahim is free, he said. The pope gave the family a few small gifts, including papal rosaries.
Ibrahim, a 26-year-old Catholic woman originally sentenced to death for marrying a Christian, had been released from prison in Sudan June 23 after intense international pressure. But she was apprehended again the next day at the Khartoum airport with her husband, who is a U.S. citizen, and their nearly 2-year-old son and 2-month-old daughter, who was born in prison just after Ibrahim's death sentence.
Charged with possessing fake travel documents, Ibrahim was not allowed to leave Sudan, but she was released into the custody of the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, where she then spent the following month.
Italy's foreign ministry led negotiations with Khartoum for her to be allowed to leave Sudan for Italy.
She arrived in Rome on Thursday aboard an Italian government plane accompanied by her family and Italy's vice foreign minister, Lapo Pistelli, who led the talks that ended in her being allowed to leave Sudan.
Pistelli told reporters at Rome's Ciampino airport that they had left Khartoum at 3:30 a.m. and spent most of the flight sleeping. However, he said, when awake, Martin, the 2-year-old, "practically dismantled the plane."
The president of the group Italians for Darfur, Antonella Napoli, helped organize Ibrahim's visit with the pope.
"Meriam will achieve her dream and see the pope. I had promised her that when we met," Napoli tweeted before Ibrahim's encounter with the pontiff.
Ibrahim joined the Catholic church shortly before she married Daniel Bicensio Wani in 2011.
She was later convicted of apostasy and sentenced to death by hanging. Sudan's penal code criminalizes the conversion of Muslims to other religions, which is punishable by death.
The Khartoum archdiocese, which followed her case, had said Ibrahim had never been a Muslim because her Sudanese Muslim father abandoned the family when she was 5, and she was raised according to her mother's faith, Orthodox Christian.
Despite pressure to renounce Christianity in order to be freed, Ibrahim refused. The church in Sudan said the charges against Ibrahim were false and appealed to the Sudanese government to free her from prison.
Ibrahim was scheduled to be in Rome for a few days before heading to New York with her family.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Dynamic Spanish Ambassador Celsa Nuño leaves great memories

Ambassador Celsa Nuño and her supportive husband Alex Crowther - Gleaner photo

Spanish Teachers receive $1M in scholarships from Ambassador Nuño - JIS photo
Ambassador Nuño with David Gomez
The numerous colleagues and friends who gathered last Wednesday to say farewell to Hon Celsa Nuño, Spanish Ambassador to Jamaica were of one voice as they spoke of this dynamic and distinguished lady. Hubie and I have special memories of her tour of duty. There was the wonderful concert featuring Spanish classical pianist David Gomez, the Immaculate Conception Orchestra and the Kingston College Choir, to support the renovation of the Holy Trinity Cathedral.  She established the Spanish-Jamaica Foundation as she advocated that Jamaican children should have Spanish as their second language, and offered awards to top Spanish teachers islandwide.  The Foundation recently furnished several classrooms in the Food for the Poor school furniture drive, and have provided thousands of books for schools. 

In spite of her demanding schedule, Ambassador Nuño made the time to connect with Jamaicans of all walks of life – you can imagine our delight when she showed up as a member of our local ‘Twitter family’ for a casual mingle at Devon House.  She spent a morning at the Edith Dalton James High School in Duhaney Park which had received the school furniture, urging the children to make the best of their opportunities and praising the work of Principal Ray Howell, his staff and students.

Digicel Foundation and Spanish-Jamaican Foundation sign MOU for literacy
Ambassador Nuño as she teamed up with Digicel Foundation to sponsor Education Enrichment carts
Then an unusual thing happened – she caught sight of my reserved husband Hubie at the back of the room (I was sitting at the head table as a Food for the Poor director) and lauded him for being so supportive, telling us how much she also appreciated the support of her husband Alex Crowther as they balanced official and family responsibilities.  Hubie so appreciated the unexpected kudos! 

These memorable moments can be created only by genuinely good people. We wish Ambassador Nuño and her family that age-old Jamaican salutation - “Walk good and come back soon!”  

Thursday, July 17, 2014

PROComm hosts Pre-Mandela Day Lunch for Scholars

Four young team members of PROComm hosted a Pre-Mandela Day Lunch for five of the company's scholars from the Grant's Pen Community.  The event was held at the What's On Café on Barbican Road, and was also attended by Omar Frith, General Manager of the Stella Maris Foundation which administers the PROComm Scholarship Fund. 

PROComm's Anita Chin, Noel Chin, Tashna-Toya Edwards and Vanassa Metzger distributed information on Nelson Mandela to the children, and discussed such topics as forgiveness and cooperation, watchwords of the great man. This is the third year that the PROComm Team has celebrated Mandela Day by treating and mentoring our scholars.

The PROComm Scholarship Fund was launched in 1999 on the 21st Anniversary of the company and has supported its first scholar through to the completion of tertiary education.  There are seven scholars who benefit from the programme.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

“In an abundance of water …”

by Jean Lowrie-Chin | Observer column for MON 14 July 2014

Donovan Williams displays some of his freshly reaped carrots, most of which were left diminutive by the drought. (then) Malvern farmer Everett Rogers said the drought is the worst he has seen in his 10 years farming.
As we recall the lines from Bob Marley “in an abundance of water the fool is thirsty”, we reflect on a documentary that Elizabeth Phillips, the then executive director of the Oracabessa Foundation, showed us many years ago. Funded by the Foundation’s patron Chris Blackwell, and titled “Death of a River”, it showed the Jacks River dwindling from a healthy flow to a sad trickle, as the land around it was ravaged. The film was made as a wake-up call to Jamaica, our beautiful land of wood and water.  Unfortunately, we have been too sound asleep and now as we waken to the wages of environmental neglect, many more rivers are running dry.
 The news last Thursday showed farmers in Cheapside, St. Elizabeth, surveying acres of burnt out farmland, just a few days after a massive fire at Malvern in the same parish.  One elderly resident said it was the first time in his life that he had seen the Salt Pond without water – it was described by the reporter as “a dust bowl”. We saw a goat tied out in a charred pasture, a haunting image of the threat of hunger to those who live from the land.
Professor the Hon. Anthony Chen, OM
Prof Anthony Chen
Ambassador Anthony Hill
Two of Jamaica’s most brilliant sons, Professor Anthony Chen and Ambassador Anthony Hill had warned about this calamity in their “Copenhagen Letter” published in the Jamaica Observer in December 2009 and blogged here: They had just attended a conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, where world leaders had agreed on targets to curb greenhouse gas emissions; financial support for mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change in developing countries; and a carbon-trading scheme aimed at ending the destruction of the world's forests (a sink for CO2) by 2030.

Their letter to Jamaican authorities called for “an all-encompassing set of programmes, which lay the bases for individual, community and national activities.” As Jamaica lurches from administration to administration, each one re-inventing the renewable energy wheel, working to score political points on attempts to find cheaper energy sources, our most vulnerable are now facing untold hardship as drought conditions take hold of our country. 

About three years ago, that drought saw folks at our office pursuing and kowtowing to water-truck operators desperately seeking water to fill the tank at our place of business.  Now we are hearing that the price has doubled – no wonder there have been media reports of water theft in several rural communities. 

Clearly, climate change is an area where our politicians should be collaborating, whatever stripe they may wear.  Please dear MPs and councillors this is the future of your own children! This crisis also calls for cooperation between environment NGOs and government agencies to take our country out of its misery.  

“Consider a Jamaica in 2050,” urge Prof Chen and Ambassador Hill, “without the results of fundamental changes to present governance institutions, principles, policies, programmes and lifestyles: less arable land with eroded coastal zones and denuded hillsides, less clean air with more pollution, less potable water with more floods and waste, a less healthy population, less to share but more, many more people angling to get their share. Jimmy Cliff 's ‘The Harder they come, the Harder they Fall’ will be ringing in our ears.”

We have wasted too much time – waste any more and the people of this country will neither forgive nor forget the emptiness of those ages-old campaign promises.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Wedding bells for Shaggy and Rebecca

Reports are that Orville 'Shaggy' Burrell and Rebecca Packer will tie the knot today.  They are a generous couple - raising millions for the Bustamante Hospital for Children.  We wish them God's continued Blessings for a long and happy marriage.