'Next year in Jamaica'

Lance
Neita

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

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The 2018 ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys' and Girls' Athletics Championships have ended and probably gone into the history books as one of the best ever. Champs has been described as the largest school sports festival in the world — and certainly one of the most exciting.

I was in Kingston that week and enjoyed the lull in westbound traffic out of the city, as all other roads were headed to the National Stadium. It was Champs fever not only in Kingston but all over the island as the games drew focused attention from Negril to Morant Point. Overseas as well, the Diaspora and international sports media swarmed the hotels and guest houses and literally occupied Kingston. I had some fun passing by the Jamaica Pegasus hotel, which seemed to be overrun with Jamaicans coming from abroad to cheer on their old schools. Green was the predominant colour in the hotel lobby, and every so often I would tease with a “Calabar not saying nutten this year” only to have the supporters descend on me with a good natured, “Gweh, bwoy, a country school yuh come from!” The banter continued into the parking lot as they loaded into cars and buses for the Stadium, green and purple mouthing each other and harking back to old-time encounters.

Fun in the sun and celebratory moments are ahead for our Diaspora as they added to the sparkle and colour and good times had recently at Champs. The invasion of the Diaspora is significant, not simply for the excitement and reunions and the bonding of the old school ties, but for the reminder that Jamaicans abroad love their Jamaica and enjoy the opportunities to come home and involve themselves in anything intrinsic to our traditions, celebrations, great moments, and potential for development.

While in the city I was privileged to attend a book launch by a member of the Diaspora, Jermel Shim, who is an old friend of mine from the same Four Paths village of many years ago. Jermel enjoyed his fair share of rural Jamaica before taking up residence in Kingston and broadening his education at Kingston Technical and then migrating to Canada and the USA. His father, Oscar Shim, who was the owner of Zanzibar Wholesale Liquor Store in Kingston and founder of the Lay Magistrates' Association of Jamaica, gave him a thorough grounding in politics. Jermel describes the shop in downtown Kingston as a regular meeting place for politicians, businessmen and journalists of the likes of Sir Alexander Bustamante, Evon Blake, Evorod Williams, Leslie Alexander, and many others with strong opinions who did not mince their words on the hot political topics of the day.

The book, The Long Road to Progress for Jamaica, was written as part of his contribution for what he hopes will be the realisation of the dream to find sustainable progress for Jamaica after 55 years of Independence. Guest speaker at the launch was Professor Neville Ying, pro chancellor for The Mico University College. Ying made no secrets about his joy over the writing of this book. “From the Diaspora,” he said, “Jermel Shim has aroused and excited our commitment to be an integral part of leading the success of our country, whether we are at home or scattered across various countries across the world.”

I will leave you to read the book yourself, adding my own comments in the foreword that it is a most incisive, penetrating and unapologetic critique of Jamaica written, I warned, not to gain friends, but to influence people and help chart Jamaica's path forward. Overall, the author spares no punches in his assessment of our political leadership, administrative choices, cultural behaviours, psyche, and what he describes as a failure to provide growth and development. It's a book that is intended to turn Jamaica on edge and force us to look deeply into our history, examine paths taken, decisions made, options chosen, and to argue about the critical shortcomings or benefits of the economic and social experiments undertaken by successive administrations.

No wonder that the professor looks at the book as a shining example of the human capital contribution from our Diaspora, and in particular its intellectual capital. As executive director of the Jamaica Diaspora Institute (JDI), Ying disclosed what, to me, were some amazing insights of the depth and untapped potential of the Diaspora's value to Jamaica. He shared from a study done by the JDI and the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI), which will be released later this year and which was discussed recently at The University of the West Indies, Mona, Research Day on February 9.

Sit back in your chairs and get this: Our Diaspora “makes the single largest contribution to the gross domestic product (GDP) of Jamaica”. Yes, siree, the contribution is estimated to be 28 per cent, with the potential to be about 38 per cent. One important component of this is remittances, which is currently 16 per cent of our GDP and amounts to some US$2.1 billion annually.

Having heard Professor Ying's speech it made me look more closely on the members of the Diaspora who were having such a good time in Jamaica at Champs and, importantly, spending so much money around; not only in the hotels, but on transportation, vendors, ticket sales, school and athlete support and scholarship offers, restaurants, and trips back home to their communities. It was pointed out that tourism earned about the same amount as remittances, but at least 40 per cent of the tourism US dollar earnings goes out of the country, whereas 100 per cent of the remittances stay at home.

Boy, when I read this, I said I hope all of them win at Champs — even if their school doesn't come first. Can't afford to have any of them getting upset and not coming back next year — notwithstanding my little teasing; all in fun.

Another study, by E G Ramocan of the Bank of Jamaica makes the telling point that Jamaicans in communities across Jamaica depend on remittances for expenses such as electricity and water bills, school fees, and groceries. It's true, if you didn't know. Add funeral expenses, declares a friend of mine at our Thursday evening discussion sessions. The stand-up conclusion is that 'Foreign' is the lifeblood of a significant number of people in all communities across the Jamaica, which is why we must hold up their hands. The source of remittances is a matter of great pride as it is the result of hard work and dreams shared by the families at home and abroad.

Did you know that the size of our Diaspora in all countries worldwide is three million, with 1.7 million living in the USA; 800,000 in England; 300,000 in Canada; and 200,000 in the rest of the world?

I hope I am not giving Donald Trump any food for thought here, as the fact is that these Jamaicans are contributing not only to our homeland, but to the economic and social and even political structure of their host countries abroad in very significant ways. Take former US Secretary of State Colin Powell, for example. Which recent secretary of state (and there could be many under the Administration alone) can stand up to Colin Powell in terms of intellect, dignity, statesmanship, and diplomacy?

The professor rounded off the Diaspora section of his launch speech by reminding, as per Michael Lee-Chin's observations, that Diaspora members need to be kept informed so that they do not rely on rumours, but should be supplied with credible reports on the economy and other developments in the nation. They not only need it, but deserve such as a matter of respect.

Professor Ying spoke passionately about the need to engage our people in the Diaspora worldwide. He described the four critical components of that engagement as:

1. a compelling vision of the future to use as a call to action;

2. a constant search for and implementation of creative solutions;

3. leader inspiration and self-motivation towards sustained, positive and productive actions by all; and

4. deep and genuine mutual concerns as we move together to a future destination in our national development.

We can take a leaf out of the book of the Jewish nation who have never forgotten their homeland, wherever they may be. Diaspora Jews all over the world automatically recite the phrase “next year in Jerusalem”, at the end of their celebratory meal and telling of the Passover story. “Next year in Jerusalem” is said to encapsulate that continuing flicker of hope that has sustained Jews for centuries past in the midst of despair, and that Jerusalem will remain a potential haven for all Jews. The uttering of “next year in Jerusalem” is a way of expressing solidarity with Klal Yisrael, the entire Jewish community, past, present and future. That is the significance of “L'Shana Haba'ah B'Yerushalayim” (Next year in Jerusalem).

Let me run back to that interaction at the Pegasus.

I genuinely enjoyed the camaraderie, joshing and the immediate rapport developed with those Jamaicans who had come back for their brief interlude at home. You can always detect a longing to come back home, even when some of them tend to over criticise what's happening to Jamaica. Like me, you have probably got the calls, “Hey, what's happening down there?” And I usually answer, especially nowadays with all the unfortunate shootings, “Hey, what's happening up there?”

Many Jamaicans share the same hope that they can come home to their native land. It is a hope that inspires them through the cold of winter, the cultural and racial bigotry sometimes experienced, the long hours working three jobs a day, and the absence of family and loved ones. They hope that, one day, they will come home to a more peaceful country, to build, to retire, to enjoy Champs, and to be buried in the family plot. They whisper in their hearts, sometimes grudgingly, oftentimes joyfully, “Next year in Jamaica.”

Lance Neita is a public relations consultant and writer. Send comments to the Observer or lanceneita@hotmail.com.

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