$50; 50 years of Independence and Mr Michael Ammar Sr

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

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In the year in which Jamaica culminates year-long celebrations of 50 years of Independence comes a heart-rending story and exposure of what true poverty is.

A long winding line of elderly Jamaicans is pictured in yesterday's edition of the Jamaica Observer, as they make their way to receive the princely sum of $50 from a big-hearted businessman who has been carrying on a tradition started by his father for over 50 years.

Mr Michael Ammar Sr knows that $50 is not much in our crunchingly tight economy. He is not pretending that it can sustain the desperate senior citizens who make the trek to his King Street store every Friday. But he knows that it is better than nothing. For that we salute him and his father before him.

This is a picture that is worth more than a thousand words. Its symbolism is agonisingly palpable. Who could miss the clear lesson that, with all the stupendous progress that we have made since hoisting the black, green and gold in 1962, grinding poverty remains the lot of far too many Jamaicans?

Perhaps the emergence of the story could not have been better timed as we gear up to celebrate our Emancipation and our 51st year of Independence as a nation. While we celebrate the great moments -- in culture, sports, music, and academia -- we must not forget the urgency of improving the conditions in which a sizeable segment of our population lives and breathes and have their being.

It is easy to lose sight of the desperate poverty of many Jamaicans in face of the numerous sport utility vehicles (SUVs) in the bumper-to-bumper traffic at peak hour on the streets across the island, where there are 188 vehicles to every 1,000 Jamaicans; the palatial homes in urban Jamaica, the penchant for dressing well; the emerging highways and toll roads; the abundance of foreign food on supermarket shelves; and the preponderance of cable television.

Of a truth, Jamaicans who are doing well for themselves, often against great odds, ought not be despised and rather to be praised. There are among our people those who virtually make blood out of stone and who have just added up their one-one coco until their basket is full.

But we forget the other side of the reality at our peril. Let us be reminded that the National Minimum Wage is a paltry J$5,000 or US$50 per week and that in a population of 2.8 million people, the per capita income is US$5,202, small, but yet deceptively large given the wide income disparities in Jamaica. Let us not forget that a world-class athlete like Miss Olivia McKoy can end up homeless and living on the streets in Jamaica.

But if we needed a reminder, we need not look any further than yesterday's Observer article on page six, titled "$50 per week --Homeless line up for coins from Kgn businessman". We might yet as a nation owe a debt of gratitude to two enterprising reporters, Messrs Kimmo Matthews and Aldane Walters for this timely wake-up call.




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