Jamaica needs long arms to embrace all the goodwill extended to her. Last week, we attended the announcement of Jamaica's celebration of Nelson Mandela Day, to be observed this Wednesday, July 18, his birthday. The indefatigable High Commissioner for South Africa Mathu Joyini has brought corporate Jamaica on board as she encouraged us to devote at least 67 minutes that day to Jamaica's children.
Following a debate in November 2009 in the UN General Assembly on "the importance of dialogue and tolerance to enriching cultures and promoting understanding among faiths", a UN report states, "Recognising the long-standing dedication of former South African President and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nelson Mandela to humanity - particularly in the areas of conflict resolution, race relations, human rights promotion, reconciliation and gender equality - the Assembly adopted a text declaring July 18, his birthday, as an International Day, to be observed annually starting in 2010."
Prime Minister Simpson Miller, patron of Mandela Day in Jamaica, reminded us of our long-standing record in the fight against apartheid and for human rights. She said that as far back as 1957, Jamaica had imposed a trade embargo on South Africa as we took a stand against that unjust system of government.
Well do I remember that heady day in Jamaica's National Stadium in 1991, the year after his release from prison, when as a guest of the Michael Manley government, Nelson Mandela declared, "This is the happiest day of my life!"
High Commissioner Joyini asked Jamaicans to "take the love we have for Nelson Mandela and turn it inwards to the children of Jamaica". What a simple but profound charge. Placing our focus on the welfare of our children, giving them an experience which reminds them how precious they are, can cause a sea change. If you hark back to your childhood, you will recall those moving gestures of care which made you believe that you were a worthy human being and built the self-esteem which propelled you forward.
That generous Jamaican couple Sonia and Teddy McCook used to invite aspiring young athletes from humble homes to have Christmas dinner with them. When they were presented with gifts, one teenager broke down in tears. When asked why, he explained that it was the first time in his life that anyone had ever given him a gift. The things we take for granted are precious for some of our children. This Mandela Day, what will you do to make a child feel special? That one gesture could give a child the strength to stand up to the threatening influences around him or her.
Nelson Mandela once said, "There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children." This Wednesday, let our children feel this Jubilee of hope from the collective soul of a caring people. Step up, Jamaica!
The Mahatma stands at UWI
From Wednesday's launch of Mandela Day, we made an interesting segue to UWI on Thursday to the unveiling of a statue of Mahatma Gandhi, whose peaceful activism against injustice began in the very homeland of Nelson Mandela - South Africa, as mentioned by Foreign Affairs Minister Senator Clive Nicholson. Twenty-four-year-old Gandhi arrived in South Africa in 1893, 25 years before the birth of Nelson Mandela, to do legal work for Indian Muslim traders. It is said that the prejudice he and fellow Indians faced in South Africa resulted in his lifelong struggle for justice.
His tenacious activism angered white South Africans, a group of whom tried to lynch him and later had him imprisoned. His method was known as Satyagraha, meaning "devotion to the truth". He returned to India in 1915 and used this method to mobilise millions of his countrymen, leading to his country's eventual independence in 1947.
It was personally moving to see the statue kindly donated by the Government of India through their High Commissioner Mohinder Singh Grover, in the quadrangle of the UWI Humanities and Education Faculty. There I had spent many years studying literatures in English, Spanish and French where each novel, essay or poem was judged by that yardstick of truth. The best works confirmed that the human spirit can soar beyond the ugly barriers that lesser humans build to cheat others of their rights.
And so the Mahatma stands proudly in an Inspiration Garden, an idea born of
a discussion involving three distinguished UWI professors of blessed memory: Ajai Mansingh, Rex Nettleford and Barry Chevannes. There are also plans to erect statues of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, Marcus Garvey and Nelson Mandela.
Mr Grover pointed out that the statue, created in India, is an exact replica of that placed in the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, where Dr Martin Luther King Jr was the pastor. It was MLK who said of his struggle, "Christ furnished the spirit and Gandhi furnished the method."
Gandhi and MLK were martyrs for their cause, their immortal spirits keeping us strong in defiance of their ugly assassins. My friend Arun Sethi explained that after India gained Independence, the Mahatma (which means "great soul") continued to fight against the caste system, India's own sad culture of apartheid. It is said that Gandhi was murdered by those who wanted to protect this backward system.
Jamaicans, we have friends and role models at every turn - let's promise ourselves to embrace the goodwill, learn from these inspiring individuals and take Jamaica on a mission of truth, justice and peace.
Yaneek Page's advice for employability
Women Business Owners President Yaneek Page addressed a group of guidance counsellors at a recent UWI workshop sponsored by Executive Motors to help young Jamaicans increase their employability quotient. Yaneek gave these five important points to get and keep that job: good work ethic, strong IT skills, soft skills (for example courtesy, social responsibility), problem solving and critical thinking, creativity and innovation. There are lots of free courses on the internet - we should be helping our job seekers to sharpen their skills.