So much hope pinned on our Diaspora

Sunday, June 16, 2019

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The 8th Biennial Jamaica Diaspora Conference will be launched this evening by Prime Minister Andrew Holness, and will take place from June 16 to 20 at Jamaica Conference Centre, downtown Kingston.

The theme for this latest iteration of the conference 'Jamaica and the Diaspora: Building Pathways for Sustainable Development' yet again provides the Government with a meaningful opportunity to show to the Jamaican Diaspora that they are valued by the land they love.

It is important to recognise the multiple contributions of the Diaspora which have been sustained in good and troubled times. Their invaluable remittances are the second largest source of foreign exchange after tourism.

These resources go into investment, especially housing construction, supporting families, assisting schools, churches, and charities of all types. In addition to investment, the Diaspora is a major export market for favourite Jamaican products and a source of tourism even when they stay with family.

Under-appreciated is the fact that as returning residents they build homes and their pensions provide employment in all parts of Jamaica. They bring their work skills and experience, and they are the bearers of values and a work ethic that have been eroded in modern Jamaica.

Unfortunately, they are a favourite target of criminals, yet they keep coming. Here the Government is challenged to unify and lead the nation to wage war against the criminals and parasites who want to reap where they did not sow.

If there is any doubt that Jamaica and the Diaspora are complementary, then recall that the success of the Reggae Boyz and the Reggae Girlz are the product of one nation without boundaries combining the talents of all who claim their Jamaican heritage.

The fact that so few of the Reggae Girlz play their football in Jamaica is a reminder that often Jamaicans have to go abroad for employment and professional advancement.

We must avoid the feeling that those living and working outside of Jamaica have abandoned their country and are unpatriotic and that when they return they are taking opportunities away from those who remained in Jamaica.

Jamaicans abroad have proven over and over again that they are not “fair weather” people who, in many instances, are only living overseas because their homeland did not or could not provide the opportunities they needed.

The conference menu is refreshed each time it is held in an attempt to meet the changing demands of an evolving Diaspora no longer comprised, old people looking to retire in Jamaica but younger people with dual identities looking for employment and investment opportunities.

Despite creative efforts to keep the conference interesting, critics have called it a “talk shop”, prompting Mrs Kamina Johnson Smith, whose Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade is the organising secretariat, to opine that her expectation is that the conference will “generate tangible outcomes that are implementable”.

It should be realised that talk is a prerequisite to making friendships, forging partnerships, negotiating business deals, and networking for information exchange. Talk is only a waste of time if we don't act on the issues discussed.

We join in welcoming the Jamaicans of the Diaspora, and wish for a highly successful conference that redounds to the benefit of all Jamaicans.


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