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Jamaica's Federation of courageous women

Jean LOWRIE-CHIN

Monday, July 28, 2014    

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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 Honourable 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 revitalised." 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.

Cecile Jarrett, JFW chair, is principal of the St John the Baptist Preparatory 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 organisation 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 JFW 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 fund-raisers 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. 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 its mark on Jamaica's development, recognising 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 National Environment and Planning Agency for an 'Impact of Climate Change on Families' programme to address environmental concerns.

Like the women it serves, the JFW is rising above myriad challenges, reopening 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 other 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.

Jamaica's excellent Erasmus Mundus Scholars

European Union Ambassador Paola Amadei hosted a warm farewell event last week for the Jamaicans who were awarded the EU-sponsored Erasmus Mundus scholarships to various universities in their member states. She stressed that there were 'no limits' to the number of scholarships being offered and urged more Jamaicans to apply. Off to Europe are: Terica Racquel Sinclair, doctorate in membrane engineering, Universidad de Zaragoza, Spain; Renee English, Master in membrane engineering, Université Montpellier 2 Sciences et Techniques, France; Anthony Hugh Jaganaught, master of science in international cooperation and urban development, Technische Universität Darmstadt, Germany; Kenique Ivery, master in finance at Universidade do Porto, Portugal. Javion Hall was selected to undertake an administrative staff mobility one-month exchange in the academic services of the Università degli studi di Cagliari.

Education Minister Ronald Thwaites noted that his Government "is expecting that these scholars will return and contribute their knowledge to the development of their homeland". Ambassador Burchell Whiteman, now acting president of UTech, was pleased that three of the recipients were from that university and hailed the programme for its wide opportunities.

Renee English, who gave a stirring reply on behalf of her colleagues, described the awards as "a culmination of our dreams, diligence and perseverance." We wish these brilliant and hard-working young Jamaicans much success.

Farewell, Leleka Champagnie

My best memory of Leleka Champagnie was her inviting me to the car park after an event three years ago, 'so you can see what I am driving now'. The then 90-year-old past president of the Nurses Association of Jamaica, with that endearing twinkle in her eyes, pointed to a spanking new sedan, complete with spoiler. That was the ever youthful Leleka, a founding member and spirited participant in our CCRP (Caribbean Community of Retired Persons) activities. After a short illness, Leleka passed away earlier this month. Her rich life was celebrated at a moving thanksgiving service at the Church of the Open Bible, last Thursday. Our condolence to her family - Rest in peace, dear Leleka.

lowriechin@aim.com

www.lowrie-chin@procomm.com.jm

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