We are a great people — Sir Howard Cooke

We are a great people — Sir Howard Cooke

Jean Lowrie-Chin

Monday, July 29, 2013

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WHEN the last surviving founding member of modern Jamaican politics speaks, all Jamaica should take heed. We spent a precious hour last Friday with Sir Howard Cooke, transfixed by his unshakeable faith in Jamaica.

Strong and lucid in his 98th year, Sir Howard took us back to those days of vision as he sat with National Heroes Norman Washington Manley and Sir Alexander Bustamante to build the PNP (yes, Sir Alexander was a founding member of that party). "The party was designed to ensure the upward mobility of the people," he remarked. "I was there when we were building community centres, teaching people to create situations for themselves so they could live better lives."

The retired governor general says we should be proud of the strides we have made since those days, "when there was only one university graduate teaching in the elementary school system". He says Jamaica is "intellectually able", citing the achievements of fine scientists like Dr Henry Lowe and numerous innovators and leaders on the world scene who hail from Jamaica.

Sir Howard wants our MPs to step up: "In Parliament, Jamaica has some of the finest material on both sides. However, they are not using their creative genius to work together for the good of the country. Instead, they spend their time denigrating one another, trying to find faults, not using their creative energy to build the country.

"We are a great people, and we need to stop giving the impression that we are worthless," he says. "Look at the number of institutions we have helped to develop, the number of missionaries Jamaica has sent to minister in African countries and other parts of the world. Yet we tend to focus only on the sordid side of life."

Sir Howard said he was happy to be part of the CCRP Jamaica 50 Legacy Awards ceremony last year and requested that we bring together the nation builders honoured to have dialogue with their fellow Jamaicans. "I don't mean an event where we stand up and give a speech," explained Sir Howard. "I want us to engage each other in conversation. We have contributed, so we need to speak up."

On the advancement of women, Sir Howard asked if we knew that Jamaican women had the right to vote before their counterparts in England. He said when one could vote in Jamaica based on property ownership, women were included -- long before this was so in our then mother country.

A group of us from Food for the Poor Jamaica (FFPJ) - Chair Andrew Mahfood, Director Emeritus Pokar Chandiram, and executives Jackie Johnson and Baldwin Powell gathered at the legend's home to present a citation honouring our patron, Sir Howard, for his active support of the organisation. Over the past 30 years, Sir Howard has participated in prison releases, the development of housing, fishing villages and addressed numerous audiences on Food for the Poor.

The citation noted Sir Howard's uplifting counsel: "One year in particular, he reminded the nation's poor that they are a people of power, promise and potential." It further mentioned that FFPJ's distinguished patron used "every possible platform to encourage Jamaicans to support the ministry of FFP as we work in the most depressed areas and seek to improve the social, economic and spiritual lives of people we serve". We expressed our appreciation for the support of Lady Cooke, his beloved wife of 74 years.

"Food for the Poor is one of the greatest organisations in the world," replied Sir Howard. "You must spend more time telling people about the great work you are doing. We need good stories about Jamaica and Jamaicans to be told."

Sir Howard is a proud Miconian who was "Teacher Cooke" to many. He reflected on the contribution that Jamaican teachers have been making over the years to social development. "In every village, a teacher was either chairman or secretary of citizens' organisations," he said.

The United Church stalwart was also the convener of the Jamaica multi-faith movement and hosted monthly prayer meetings at King's House when he was governor general, occasions fondly recalled by the late Professor Ajai Mansingh and Dr Martin Schade. He remarked that he was happy that the Roman Catholic Church now has active deacons, and that former members of Parliament Francis Tulloch and Terry Gillette were doing great work in western and eastern parishes.

Sir Howard confirms the recommendation of experts on ageing that it is important to stay active and connected spiritually and socially. He says that his greatest wish is to see our experienced, intelligent leaders in the 45-55-year age group, step up and carry on the legacy of their founding fathers.

Let us open our hearts to embrace and activate this precious call for unity of purpose from our Jamaican colossus of education, politics, and philanthropy, Sir Howard Felix Hanlan Cooke.

Ban on smoking in public spaces

The past two weeks have proved to Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson that, as the saying goes, "No good deed goes unpunished." The general consensus among Jamaicans is that there should indeed be a ban on smoking in public spaces, as decreed by the minister, using his power under the Public Health Act to introduce the new legislation.

However, as colleague columnist Mark Wignall pointed out, there is a serious dilemma to be considered -- the interest of micro and small businesses which depend on cigarette sales, and especially the bars where many folks consider a drink and a cigarette to be the perfect pairing. The tourism industry is also facing challenges from the ban. Changing such habits will take time and creative alternatives. Minister Ferguson needs his fellow Cabinet members and other party colleagues on board to help him turn this into a positive for Jamaica.

The minister should take heart from the Irish initiative to expand their 1988 sanctions into a country-wide workplace smoking ban in 2004. Time magazine reported last month that in one year, "researchers recorded a 17 per cent drop in respiratory issues, and 88 per cent said it kept them smoke-free.

"New research on the effect of the 2004 legislation found that double-digit drops in heart disease and strokes and that cleaner air had prevented 3,700 deaths [in a population of 6.4 million]," the article stated.

Therefore, let us work with Minister Ferguson to encourage behaviour change, use creative ways to make bars still attractive to preserve employment, assist small vendors with viable alternatives and use our health facilities for those illnesses which we can do little to prevent. The pleasure of tobacco use is far outweighed by the pain it will cause, not only to the smoker, but also to those inhaling second-hand smoke and to our already overburdened health system.



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