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

The perennial water crunch continues to grip communities across the island with our most vulnerable facing untold hardship. - Observer photo 
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.
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.
 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.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Oh Island in the Sun

Jean Lowrie-Chin | Jamaica Observer column | 30 June 2014
Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Portia Simpson Miller, with two delighted students, Glenoiya Jones (left), of St. Paul's Primary School and Deneisha Thomas of Grange Hill Primary School, both in Westmoreland.  Occasion was the official handing over ceremony for 45 new houses in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries' Sugar Transformation Unit Barracks Relocation Project, at Shrewsbury, in Westmoreland on June 26.
Photo by: JIS Photographer Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Portia Simpson Miller, with two delighted students, Glenoiya Jones (left), of St. Paul's Primary School and Deneisha Thomas of Grange Hill Primary School, both in Westmoreland. Occasion was the official handing over ceremony for 45 new houses in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries' Sugar Transformation Unit Barracks Relocation Project, at Shrewsbury, in Westmoreland on June 26.
 As I looked at the humble folk sitting expectantly under that tent in Shrewsbury, Westmoreland last Thursday, the words of Harry Belafonte rang in my head: “This is my island in the sun/ Where my people have toiled since time began.” They were the parish’s 84 beneficiaries of the islandwide Sugar Barracks Relocation Programme, brainchild of that dedicated Jamaican, Ambassador Derrick Heaven, and funded by the European Union. This relocation resulted from the divestment of Government sugar holdings in recent years.
The first recipient was the wheelchair-bound 58-year-old Ercelyn Black, a former field supervisor at the Frome Estate.  Her new home in Barham is modified for easy access.  “What I am experiencing now is a wonderful thing,” she told a reporter.  “I can move around comfortably … Hurricane a come, I don’t have to worry.”
The audience broke into applause when old men in humble garb put on a special swagger as they went forward to accept their certificates for housing. We looked out at rows of beautifully painted homes, complete with modern amenities provided at no cost to the workers.
"We believe the transformation of the sugar sector would have failed if there was no focus on addressing the needs of the people affected by the restructuring of the industry and showing gratitude to those whose work have over the years allowed the sugar industry to thrive.” said Charge d'Affaires of the European Union in Jamaica, Jesús Orús Báguena.  His organisation has disbursed close to J$14 billion to fund not only housing, but also economic diversification and environmental sustainability in sugar dependent areas. 
The event was put in historical context by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller: “Our ancestors … the workers at Frome Sugar Estate played a significant role in our freedom,” she said as she harked back to the sugar workers’ strike of 1938 which heralded the rise of trade unionism and the birth of our modern political movement.  She was frank in admitting that the issue of housing had still not been fully addressed by her government. 
Some years ago, the Economist magazine carried a cover feature on home ownership, and the positive impact it had on a country’s economy.  The report showed that homeowners continue to spend to maintain and improve their properties, boosting economies.  I remember handling the groundbreaking ceremony for those Portmore quads which were described as ‘matchboxes’ - now many of them are unrecognizable, having been transformed by ambitious, house proud Jamaicans.
This column has spoken of the terrible conditions under which our poor are living, including some hotel workers who have migrated to the fringes of resort areas to find employment.  There are so many strong leaders in the field of housing and tourism – could we hear their ideas on rolling out a cohesive housing plan? 
Clearly there are many compelling reasons why our politicians of both parties should be coming together to address housing - not just new building starts, but also the preservation of homes for the elderly whose spending power is shrinking.  In the meanwhile, kudos to the EU, JSIF, the Ministry of Housing PATH housing programme and Food for the Poor – may the joy we see in the new homeowners motivate our political representatives to do more to take their constituents out of their hovels, not just to vote on Election Day, but for good.
International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde is greeted on her arrival in Jamaica on July 27 by Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips. (from Jamaica Observer)
Ms Largarde’s respectful presentation
We appreciate the respectful and teacherly presentation made by IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde last Friday at the UWI.  Clearly this is a different IMF than the one I heard Harry Belafonte describe as ‘Mephistopheles’ during a concert held at Aboukir in St Ann in the eighties.
We reveled in her description of Jamaica: “a country whose culture has truly captivated the globe … It is so rare to find so much talent packed into such a small space. Jamaica is home to the world’s fastest sprinters—Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce. It is home to some of the world’s most soulful musicians—the birthplace of reggae and Bob Marley, as well as Tessanne, the new singing sensation. It is home to some of the world’s most gifted writers—think of the lyricism of Claude McKay and Louise Bennett.”
In spite of the richness of our sports and culture, Ms Lagarde stated, “In Jamaica, the poverty rate doubled to 17½ percent.”  We see the result of this on television news every night – the collapsing house on Pink Lane in downtown Kingston, the jagged zinc fences around inner city communities who network of roads will dumbfound the most intelligence-drive crime fighter.
“With the doors of opportunity barred for so many, the result is disengagement and disenchantment,” warned the IMF head. “Exclusion creates an inflammatory cocktail of crime and insecurity, and a steady deterioration in the quality of life.”
However, she referred to the “global new normal” that we believe offers Jamaica a cornucopia of opportunities.  As I mentioned in a recent column, there is only one Jamaica – a rich combo of location, language, racial harmony and a strong democratic system. We sit at the crossroads of the Americas, and thousands of expatriates have come here and decided to make Jamaica their home, bringing their entrepreneurial spirit with them.  We got a great taste of that ‘global new normal’ when our own Club Kingston VIP Lounge at the Norman Manley International Airport was voted World Number One by thousands of well-travelled Priority Pass Customers.  
If we had more leaders like our Finance Minister Peter Phillips who do their work in the best interest of their country, and do not allow themselves to be distracted by political temptations, we could make significant strides. This ‘orange or green Kool-Aid’ that the tribalists drink is poisoning their perspective.  Leaders must temper their political rhetoric so it doesn’t turn their followers into depraved desperadoes – instead they should be empowering their constituents to take charge of their lives instead of being so persistently dependent on the sops they throw at them. 
Ms Lagarde expressed strong support for poverty reduction programmes, and we are hoping that the Economic Oversight Committee – EPOC - led by Richard Byles, will lead to some epic changes in how those ‘scarce benefits and spoils’ are distributed. With the media they should keep a keen eye on who are putting politics ahead of people.