Monday, May 2, 2016

Who knows better should do better

Observer column for MON 25 April 2016  by Jean Lowrie-Chin

So here we were coming off the high of a fabulous Jamaica EXPO, and the unveiling at King’s House of seven new National Bakery Bold Ones of Manufacturing, when we see this foolish news item on Friday night’s TVJ news.  It appears that MP Juliet Holness had arrived for a meeting at a community building in the East Rural St. Andrew constituency she represents when she was confronted with heavily chained and padlocked grille doors at the entrance.  An activist declared to the reporter that this was a PNP area, implying that Mrs Holness had no business being there. Excuse me? Could we have heard correctly?

This dialogue on Twitter followed right after:
Former PNP MP Damion Crawford (@damioncrawford): “Dear East Rural if u block ppl from going to everything I built then they would go nowhere #FreeUpEducationCentre”.  This was accompanied by ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos.   
Leslie Crawford (@f2139b82669f41b: “Whatever u built Damion was not with ur money u should tell them that”.
Damion: “nvr use to see nothing done so maybe thats they think is my money (sic) + i raise private money too. Building there since 1983”.

Maybe so Damion, but unfortunately, some politicians brainwash followers that what they do with taxpayers’ money while they are in power, belongs to them, and not the people of Jamaica, hence the position of the man from East Rural St Andrew who quite sincerely believed that MP Juliet Holness had no business calling a meeting in ‘PNP area’. 

This fanaticism exists in both parties, as witnessed at the opening of Parliament when a JLP supporter offered to sell everything she had, including “my children and myself”, to help PM Andrew Holness make good on his promise of the $1.5 million tax-free PAYE threshold.

Now, PNP and JLP representatives, clearly you all know better, and you all can look back on the 54 years since Independence and know that you have sown disunity and distrust among the Jamaican people whom you swore to serve, “So help me God”.  God must be weeping – weeping  at the energy being devoted to this continued strife.  PNP and JLP alike should know that those among them who contribute to disunity and the preservation of garrisons are being keenly watched.  

Our young people are watching. Students of tertiary institutions are volunteering their own time and resources to build their communities and are puzzled at where the billions announced in budgets go.  Business leaders are watching, because no economy can be protected without an environment of meaningful collaboration.  Some of those investors we see in the business news came from very humble beginnings and they are not going to allow careless politicians to fritter away their children's birthright.

So JLP and PNP, you have some very intelligent, well-meaning folks in your midst.  Clearly you know better.  Now, we expect you to do better, so that the misguided mindset of that man from East Rural St. Andrew and that woman at the opening of Parliament, can be redirected towards the harmonious and dignified engagement of all parties in our national development.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Champion Household workers welcomed at King's House

GraceKennedy 2015 Household Workers of the Year arrive at King's House with Shirley Pryce (2nd left), President of the  Jamaica Household Workers Union
The 2015 GraceKennedy Champion Household Worker Rosetta Steer and runners-up Jasmin Miller, Donna Elizabeth Smith, and Jamaica Household Workers Union (JHWU) President Shirley Pryce were warmly received at King’s House last Friday by Governor General Sir Patrick Allen.  The company’s Communications Director Simone Clarke-Cooper and Executive Chef Mazie Miller accompanied the second set of winners, who demonstrated not only good housekeeping skills, but care and concern for their communities. 
GG Most Hon Sir Patrick Allen greets Donna Elizabeth Smith, 2nd Runner-Up while Rosetta Steer, GK Household Worker of the Year (in yellow) and 1st Runner-Up Jasmin Miller look on
The GG observed that household workers were invaluable to our productivity.  He said that the busiest of persons, including those in leadership positions, look forward to returning to their homes at the end of the day, and remarked that it was because of dedicated household workers that many of us could enjoy an orderly home. I mentioned that the sacrifices made by Fanny Ricketts, our family’s household worker of blessed memory, inspired me to propose this award, which was readily embraced by GraceKennedy

Nominated by the two diplomats for whom she does housekeeping, the dignified Rosetta Steer used some of her $350,000 prize money to complete her course in practical nursing. “It is hard to work and study,” she said, “but with prayer I am getting there.” Jasmin Miller is winding up her City & Guilds course in housekeeping, while mentoring children in her Spanish Town community. Donna Elizabeth Smith was nominated by media maven Fae Ellington, her next door neighbour, who noted her devotion as caregiver to a 103-year-old lady.  

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Jamaica, rich in excellence

Observer Column excerpts - published MON 18 Apr 2016
by Jean Lowrie-Chin

While there was much pomp and ceremony at the opening of Parliament, there were other rich happenings last week, as we learned more about autism, discovered the wonderful Alston High School in Clarendon, and accompanied Champion Household Workers to King’s House.
On Wednesday, at the ‘Light it up Blue – Autism Awareness at UWI’, we saw the power of parental love, youth and experience, private and public sector collaboration.  Education Minister Senator Ruel Reid praised the parents who have had to bear virtually all the responsibility for their children’s challenges. 
Honoured to receive appreciation award on behalf of Digicel Foundation at UWI Autism Awareness event ... and be congratulated by Senator Ruel Reid, Minister of Education 

“As a society, we have not properly understood and treated with the condition of autism,” the Minister noted. “The time has come for inclusivity.”  He commended the work of the Jamaica Autism Support Association (JASA) who have been advocating for early testing of children so they can receive the appropriate guidance.
Professor Maureen Samms-Vaughan, Jamaica’s internationally respected Developmental and Behavioural paediatrician, walked us through the numbers that revealed autism as being more common than we realise. Using recent US statistics, she said that one in every 42 boys, and one in every 189 girls are affected by autism.  She said this means it could be one boy in every primary school class and one girl in every school year.
How does autism present?  She explained that signs include difficulty in communicating, not looking persons in the eye and repetitive behaviour. Children with autism may be hyper-sensitive to sound, touch, taste smell.  She noted that this was a spectrum disorder as there are autistic savants, for example the wealthy artist with Jamaican roots, Stephen Wiltshire MBE.  
Toni-Ann Tucker, Exceptional Needs Coordinator at Liberty Academy (at the former Priory High School location) told us, “The most interesting people I have met have autism.”  She describes her approach as “operating in autism time – twice as much time, half as much done”, because her focus is on the child.  She says despite her training, she has to keep learning as “special education is dynamic”.  It is important, she notes to “manage the behaviour, not blame the behaviour.”  Thank goodness for teachers like Ms Tucker.
We then heard from the parent of a child with autism, Dr Gale Ford.  Her son was diagnosed early, and she told us, “I held my baby and promised him to do my best to make him a functional member of society.”  She was blessed with a loving caregiver who actually offered to accompany the child to pre-school.  After an attempt at home-schooling, her son was diagnosed with ADHD, and with treatment was able to attend a regular school.  He is now 13 years old, and will next year be at a new stage in his life, when skills training will be a consideration.
The students of Chancellor Hall, Block X and the UWI Chorale have been reaching out generously to JASA, raising considerable sums to help promote awareness.  It did our hearts proud to see the interest of these bright young students. Kudos to JASA co-founder Kathy Chang, who honoured Ms Lome Hvass of UNICEF, the Digicel Foundation, Wisynco and the UWI students for their unstinting support. 
Alston High’s Greenhouse
Students of Alston High treat us to a witty rap on the benefits of their new greenhouse.
The two-hour trip to Alston, Clarendon just beyond Spaldings, took us to the beautiful Alston High School where they showed us their flourishing new greenhouse.  The students were impeccably uniformed and welcoming, the speeches by Chairman Eric Green and Principal Headley Cross inspiring and to the point.  The best part of being chairman of the Digicel Foundation, which has been sponsoring several of these greenhouses, is that I am constantly reminded of the resourcefulness of fellow Jamaicans who just need that extra boost to create something wonderful. 
Despite challenges with water supply, the school has answered with what they describe as their ‘climate change initiative’, harvesting rain water and using drip irrigation and precisely applied nutrients to their first set of seedlings which arrived last November.  In the few short months since then, they have reaped 995 pounds of tomatoes and 559 pounds of sweet peppers from their greenhouse. 

Clearly Alston High has great leadership in Mr Cross and Vice Principal Mrs Latty-Johnson – the grounds are attractive and the students courteous. Mr Cross reminded us that agriculture “is a major platform for national growth”, and so his school is proud of the results gained by students of agricultural science.  Their greenhouse assists with their CSEC practicum, supplies their canteen and raises funds for the school through sales.  

Thursday, April 14, 2016

“Look at me – I am special!”

Observer column for MON 11 April 2016 by Jean Lowrie-Chin
Their Excellencies Most Hon Sir Patrick and Lady Allen (centre) with Good Shepherd Founder Archbishop Charles Dufour and Representative of Vitas Healthcare 
As I write, the voices of the special needs children of Orange Bay, Portland are echoing in my mind: “Look at me – I am special!” We took a long walk of compassion last week, beginning in Florida, where we celebrated the 20th Anniversary of Friends of Good Shepherd International, which supports various charities in Jamaica.  Governor General Sir Patrick Allen, who with Lady Allen were guests of honour at the event, reminded us of an interesting legal case of Donoghue vs Stevenson in the UK in1932 which resulted in a significant legal ruling, with the judge declaring that people owe each other “a duty of care”.  He said this had echoes of Matthew 25:40 which reminds us of our Christian responsibility to protect and nurture each other.

Sir Patrick urged us to show more care in order to “hold the moral fabric of a nation together.”  He reminded us that no one is beyond redemption and congratulated Archbishop Dufour for establishing the Good Shepherd Foundation, and his sister Marie Dufour-Buteau for creating the philanthropic organisation.  The large audience, including Consul General Franz Hall, applauded heartily as the Governor General reminded them that Jamaica is a country of great promise, where the positives still outweigh the negatives.
As then Bishop of Montego Bay, Most Rev Charles Dufour had seen the plight of sufferers of HIV-AIDS, and decided to establish a hospice in 1996 to ease their discomfort in their final days.  Since then, the work of the Good Shepherd Foundation has blossomed into health care services, with the building of the huge Hope Health Teaching Clinic on the grounds of the Blessed Sacrament complex.

Mustard Seed’s Jacob’s Ladder
Monsignor Gregory Ramkissoon, Founder of Mustard Seed Communities (right) and colleagues, shows Mrs Catherine O'Brien the projects at Jacob's Ladder in Moneague, St. Ann

One of the charities supported by the Good Shepherd Foundation is Mustard Seed Communities, so it was serendipitous that I had a visit scheduled last Wednesday to the Mustard Seed Jacob’s Ladder project in Moneague, St. Ann.  I was accompanying Mrs Catherine O’Brien, wife of Digicel founder and chairman Denis O’Brien, patron of the Digicel Foundation, one of the largest private sector philanthropic organisations in Jamaica. 

“A joyous experience” was how Mrs O’Brien described her tour of Jacob’s Ladder, where over 300 special needs adults have been given permanent residence.  The founder, Monsignor Gregory Ramkissoon explained that many came from Mustard Seed homes for children, which they had to leave at age18.  “They would not have been able to survive on their own,” said the visionary priest, “and so we established this home with a farm, so it can become sustainable.”

The beautiful Care Plus Centre of Excellence at Jacob’s Ladder, funded by the Digicel Foundation was abuzz with activity. Residents were creating jewelry, mats, and learning the basics of computing.  The cool hills are dotted with family-type residences, each with an adoration room, and we saw a group of US visitors hard at work building additional cottages. Board directors Thalia Lyn, David Silvera and Howard Mitchell, Mustard Seed Int’l Executive Director Father Garvin Augustine, administrator Denise Perkins, volunteers Mike Lyn and Linda Mitchell were also on hand to show us the farming activities: lush vegetables, goat, sheep and rabbit rearing.  They are on the verge of solving their water woes which will allow them to extend tree-planting and other projects.

ESP now in Portland
The Children at the Mickhail Betancourt Special Needs Centre of Excellence sing "Look at me - I am special!"

On Thursday, we journeyed to Orange Bay in Portland, where the Digicel Foundation opened the Mickhail Betancourt Centre of Excellence for Special Needs. It was an emotional event, as Denis O’Brien had requested that we name the Centre in honour of a young Digicel employee who had lost his life by drowning in Chepso, Portland last October. The opening was the primary reason that Catherine O’Brien was in Jamaica, as she wanted to pay tribute to this extraordinary young man, who at 23-years-old, had developed an IT programme to promote productivity at the company.

Mickhail’s father, Donovan Betancourt, a Digicel senior executive, fought back the tears as he spoke of his ‘hardworking, hard-playing’ son ‘who went that extra mile to care’. Donovan, wife Sheron and daughter Imani are an exemplary family, who have made a commitment to give long-term support to the Centre.

This is the second Early Stimulation Plus (ESP) Centre, a programme of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, led by the devoted Antonica Gunter Gayle, who has developed the East Kingston ESP Centre into a model.  Minister Shahine Robinson said her Government was committed to strengthening programmes for the disabled, and would make the Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities (JCPD) into a corporate body.  

The location for the centre was secured through the perseverance of Member of Parliament Daryl Vaz while he was in opposition; he lauded Elizabeth Stair of the National Land Agency for assisting with the process. This special needs centre of excellence is the seventh of ten such centres sponsored by the Digicel Foundation; all will be completed in the course of this year. 
The most heart-warming moment of the event came when the children sang, “Look at me – I am special!”  This is a profound call, as we tend to overlook our special needs citizens, causing families to feel embarrassment and keep such children home, instead of ensuring that they benefit from well-equipped facilities which are now available in most parishes. 

Autism Awareness Month
April is Autism Awareness Month, and the Jamaica Autism Support Association (JASA has planned several events. Please try to attend this Wednesday’s presentation on autism at the UWI Undercroft at 4pm. There are various types and levels of autism – the sooner this can be determined, the better for the child as there are now a wide range of programmes to guide parents so their children can enjoy fulfilling lives.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Sen. Don Wehby Receives The International Entrepreneur Of The Year Award

Message from Christopher Chaplin

Congratulations Don Wehby! Congratulations to my friend and fellow Georgian, Senator Don Wehby STGC Class 1980 on receiving The International Entrepreneur Of The Year Award in Philadelphia on April 5, 2016. 

It is a well earned and richly deserved honor and I was delighted to be on hand to celebrate. 

Also great to see fellow Georgian Ryan Mack.

Christopher Chaplin

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Resurrecting the right perspective

Jamaica Observer column for MON 28 March 2016
 by Jean Lowrie-Chin

This Easter Monday, we are called to think very carefully about our own path to “resurrection”, as we note the continuing unrest in certain inner city and rural areas in our country. It is puzzling that a country as small as Jamaica cannot get a handle on crime even with the unstinting support of many international agencies.  It will therefore fall to the media, and the National Integrity Alliance to turn up the searchlights. 

It is not fair for some so-called leaders to consort with negative elements and then expect the police force to clean up after them.  We have heard past stories of policemen being threatened if they do not cooperate – we hope the media will be able to ferret out any such actions before they become dangerous.

Social media posts indicate that some politicians feel that achievements during their term of office belong to party and not to country, despite the oath taken to serve, “so help me God”. This proprietary approach to our national assets by successive administrations breeds bitterness and disunity.  They forget that they are paid by hard-working taxpayers and that programmes and projects are implemented by a public service manned by over 100,000 Jamaicans. 

As I wrote in this column some years ago, “politicians are no Santa Claus” – they use our money, as well as borrowed funds which become the people’s debt.  They campaign hard to win our employment, with our expectation that they will work diligently and honestly to keep our country safe and viable.  As we observe our many social, economic and environmental shortcomings, it is clear that neither of the two major political parties have done enough towards these important objectives.

It is our hope that as they contemplate the true message of Easter, they will ‘resurrect’ their higher calling to service, and act accordingly.

Sterling work of EOJ and ECJ

Jamaica is blessed with a dedicated, hardworking Electoral Office (EOJ) and Electoral Commission (ECJ). They put in long days, even nights, towards delivering free and fair elections.  Indeed, for over 30 years, representatives of the EOJ and ECJ (formerly EAC) are called upon by countries worldwide to assist in the running of their elections.

We were surprised therefore, to see recent criticisms of the performance of the Electoral Office of Jamaica and the Electoral Commission of Jamaica over the conduct of the recent General Elections.  A release alleged that there was not enough pre-election information and that there were delays and ‘high-handed’ utterances. I find this puzzling as, despite the limited time between the announcement and the date of the General Election, there was a steady stream of information on all media, traditional and social regarding voter identification, location of polling stations and voter instruction.  The Director of Elections made himself available for myriad interviews and, with the ECJ held press briefings.  How do I know this?  Our company has had the privilege of working along with both organisations for the past 20 years, and I am willing to share the schedule of the various advertisements and press activities with the critics.

The release also referred to low voter turnout, a concern for every well-thinking Jamaican. Once again, this column is appealing to Citizens Action for Free and Fair Elections (CAFFE), to step up their activities by creating a website where we can see more objective information on the candidates who offer themselves to serve in public office.  This will assist the many disillusioned electors in finding candidates worthy of their attention, and may also encourage more sterling Jamaicans to enter politics.   

Food for the Poor Easter Prison Release

Last week, Food for the Poor paid fines for the release of 256 non-violent inmates of prisons in Guyana, Haiti, Honduras and Jamaica.  In observation of the Year of Mercy, this was the largest number for a single prison release which Food for the Poor organises every Easter and Christmas.  Food for the Poor President/CEO Robin Mahfood has pointed to the dangerous environment created by overcrowding in many prisons in the region. He noted that the recent fires at the Camp Street Prison in Georgetown Guyana, in which 17 inmates perished, had been set by prisoners protesting the crowded and unsanitary conditions.

"I understand if a person commits a crime they must face the consequences of their actions,” noted Robin Mahfood, “but the majority of these first-time offenders are being locked up with hard-core criminals for weeks, months and even years at a time because they cannot afford to pay the minimal fines for their freedom.”

Cuba opens up

Well do we recall our visit to Cuba about 20 years ago, when we followed our travel agent’s instructions to say to the immigration officer, “Please don’t stamp my passport”. Such a stamp would have been frowned upon by US immigration. Now, the United States has re-opened its embassy in Cuba after fifty years, and President Obama and his family were welcomed by President Raul Castro and his people last week.  On Friday, the iconic Rolling Stones rock band performed in a free concert for the Cuban people, in celebration of this new era. 

There is no need to be nervous, Jamaica.  Instead, let us sharpen up on our Spanish and get ready to create a stronger alliance with a country which has reached out to us, especially in support of our health system.  We should also be practising our French to partner with Haiti, offering tourists a multi-lingual Jamaica-Cuba-Haiti trifecta!

PEPA 28 Years Strong
We headed to Portland last Sunday for the celebration of the 28th Anniversary of the Portland Environmental Protection Association (PEPA).  The evergreen media maven Marguerite Gauron organised an afternoon of great food and entertainment.  We enjoyed the graceful dances – tango, waltz and Charleston with Marguerite doing some daring dips and as well as the lively local band.  Artist Phillip Ambokele Henry was the engaging emcee and the silent auction had many takers for his excellent drawing and paintings by his talented wife Marcia.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Challenging times for Jamaica’s women leaders

Jamaica Observer column published 14 March 2016 by Jean Lowrie-Chin

PM Andrew Holness and his wife MP Juliet Holness arrive at Gordon House - Observer photo by Byan Cummings

The women of Jamaica stood strong last week, as our largest numbers to date were sworn in as members of the Cabinet and the two houses of Parliament were sworn in, and there were several International Women’s Day celebrations.  The greeting exchanged by Leader of the Opposition Portia Simpson Miller and Prime Minister Andrew Holness set a great tone.  I am appalled by the disrespectful comments that have been posted on social media about our former Prime Minister – let us show respect, and thank Mrs Simpson Miller for stepping up to serve.  Politics is a tough career, especially for women.
Prosperity is the current buzzword, but when our shop was asked to come up with a slogan for the Productivity Council, we suggested “Productivity for Prosperity”.  Our women have helped their families to prosperity, as they understand that only hard work can take you there: they have used their sweat and ingenuity to stretch every dollar to its furthest limit.  Hopefully, they will be allowed to help our new government to do the same.
Mrs Rose Leon - First Chairman of the JLP, served in Cabinets of both the JLP and PNP
It was fortuitous that Professor Verene Shepherd had been confirmed many weeks before the General Election was called, to be the Guest Speaker at the annual Rose Leon Memorial Lecture last Monday evening. And so, we were able to remember the brave Rose Leon, who was a founding member of the Jamaica Labour Party in 1944 and was elected its first Chairman in 1948. She was appointed as Minister of Health and Housing in 1953, and worked ardently to combat the regional poliomyelitis epidemic. After her departure from the JLP in 1960, she was invited by PNP Leader Norman Manley to join his party in 1967, and having successfully campaigned in Local Government and later General Elections, was appointed to the Cabinet of the PNP Government in 1972, as Minister of Local Government.
Professor Verene Shepherd
Professor Verene Shepherd, UWI Director of the Institute for Gender & Development Studies and Professor of Social History at the Mona Campus, and recently appointed United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), made a special call to our newly elected and appointed women leaders, as she reminded her audience of the unspeakable horrors of the slave trade. She reminded her audience of a bi-partisan supported motion by Minister Mike Henry to claim reparation last year but commented, “Indeed, the bi-partisan decision in Parliament is perhaps one of the best kept secrets in Jamaica. It has created no buzz whatsoever in the media or among civil society and apart from Mike Henry, hardly any politician is talking about it.” 

Prof Shepherd said that Caricom member states should be educating their people about the 2013 “Ten Point Action Plan for Reparatory Justice”.  “But there is another reason why I am calling on women in Parliament to use their position and influence to lead this charge for reparatory justice,” she noted. “The reason is that the burden of enslavement fell on the backs of our female ancestors and we have a moral obligation to seek for the appeasement of their torture and the redemption of their souls. If you are in any doubt, just consult the works of Lucille Mathurin Mair, Linnette Vassell, Hilary Beckles, Barry Higman, Douglas Hall, Barbara Bush and others …. All show that field and domestic work fell disproportionately on the backs of women whether they were on sugar plantations or some other type of property. They were the majority in all field gangs and the brutality of their punishment would make you weep… Women, the backbone of the labour force were worked to death, whipped, raped, suffered the pain of seeing their children taken away from them, were hardly allowed the luxury of a family life, were imprisoned, placed in the stocks, hanged and subjected to any kind of pain of which your mind can conceive.” 

Prof Shepherd went to great lengths, calculating the amounts that would be allocated to the parishes in which the constituencies of our women representatives are located, and this came to a sum of £4,042,739 - which would be £3,210,000,000.00 or USD$4,568,953,500.00 using 2014 conversion rates.  That’s great seed money for prosperity! She reminded her audience that “46,000 British enslavers were awarded £20 million pounds by the British State as compensation for the loss of “property”, a figure representing a staggering 40 per cent of the British Treasury's annual spending budget and, in today's terms, calculated as wage values, equates to around £16.5 billion or US$23 billion.”

As I read Prof Shepherd’s speech, I remembered an interview I did with Madame Rose Leon, when she described her walks through Kingston, her queries about large unused spaces and being told that they belonged to “Missis Queen”.  She said she demanded that these lands be used to house her fellow Jamaicans and was able to create new, thriving communities. 
This is the trailblazing spirit which we are looking for in our promising women leaders. Prof. Shepherd has drawn up a proposed “Women’s Manifesto for Reparatory Justice for Historical Injustices”, which I am sure she would be happy to share with our representatives.