A time to celebrate... and a time to cry


Monday, July 30, 2018

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The week started on a high note with a Jamaica House reception to launch a week of activities in celebration of the 70th anniversary of The University of the West Indies (UWI). It is remarkable, as noted in a documentary by Vice Chancellor Sir Hilary Beckles, that there are 15 current heads of government in the Caribbean who are graduates of The UWI. This list includes Jamaica's Prime Minister Andrew Holness. Leader of the Opposition Dr Peter Phillips is also a graduate.

As for those of my generation, we were able to pay low university fees in the 70s, and I believe that we continue to feel a sense of responsibility to our country because of this precious gift. The citations for the seven recipients of The UWI's Pelican Awards, one for each decade, reflected this gratitude — a passion to give back — and so their distinguished careers have been marked by not only professional excellence, but also by their volunteerism and philanthropy.

The recipients, starting with the first decade, were: Dr Lloyd Stanford, Jamaica; Dr Karl Massiah, Barbados; Professor Merle Collins, Grenada; Justice Dr Irving W Andre, Dominica; Ambassador Dr June Soomer, St Lucia; Dr Andre Haughton, Jamaica; Dr Nicole Nation, Jamaica.

Phase Three Chairman Dr Marcia Forbes has sponsored the recording of interviews with the Pelican honorees and related their emotional moments as they recalled their years at The UWI. At the event it was special to see two of my own amazing professors: Maureen Warner-Lewis and Edward Baugh. How blessed we were to be guided though the literary works of centuries and continents by these masters.

Congratulations to The UWI Alumni President Jacqueline Sharp, Director of Alumni Relations Celia Davidson Francis, and The UWI Alumni Past President Cecile Clayton for pulling together such a meaningful week of activities for us proud Pelicans.


Celebrating Carmen Rives Ruiz-Tapiador

She came to Jamaica as a fledgling diplomat in 2015, but little did Carmen Rives know that she would be placed in the role of chargé d'affaires after the sad passing of Ambassador Aníbal Jiménez y Abascal. She tackled her role wholeheartedly, welcoming Spanish investors large and small, embracing Jamaica's culture, and promoting Spanish education and culture through the Spanish-Jamaican Foundation. She wowed the audience of the Powerful Women and Men Perform For Charity concert by rendering poems by Gloria Fuertes in Jamaican patois.

Carmen was particularly impressed with the Alpha Institute and the rich history of its predecessor, Alpha Boys' School, the cradle of Jamaican music. She saw the uplifting work being done at the institute by Sister Susan Frazer, Margaret Little-Wilson, Dr Joshua Chamberlain, and the dedicated teachers, and supported them, helping to find jobs for graduates and holding a sizeable fund-raiser with big-name artistes.

“Meeting Carmen in 2015 was serendipitous,” notes Dr Chamberlain. “It was a time when Alpha needed lots of help creating a foundation for the Alpha Institute. Carmen's tireless support and special ability to bring the community together from business and foundations to the diplomatic community has helped to create opportunities for current and future students. Carmen also shares our big vision…We look forward to maintaining our friendship and know she will do great things long into the future.”

Ever for unity, Carmen held a Rae Town Tribute to celebrate Jamaica's Independence and Emancipation in 2016. Downtown came uptown with a pulsating dance party inviting the mellow Classique sound system and Sister Norma to delight guests of various walks of life. No wonder, then, that at a farewell dance organised by friends, last Thursday, the legendary Ken Boothe created special lyrics for Carmen, most appropriately to his song, Lady with the starlight. Long may Carmen's light shine, as she heads for her next tour of duty in Mozambique.


Practical preparedness from Craig Fugate

Former Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate, hosted by the US Embassy in Jamaica, gave one of the most practical presentations I have ever heard on the subject of disaster preparedness. He shared with us 'The Seven Deadly Sins of Emergency Management':

1. We plan for what we are capable to respond to. Instead, he said, we should be planning for the 'maximum of maximums'.

2. We plan for our communities by placing the 'hard to do' in an annex, eg, small children, elderly, pets. Instead, 'plan for real, not easy'.

3. We exercise to success – unaware that the very responders, equipment that we are depending on, may be unavailable.

4. We think our emergency response system can scale up to manage disasters.

5. We build our emergency management team around government, leaving out voluntary organisations, the private sector and the public.

6. We treat the public as a liability. He noted that the fastest response you can expect will be from a neighbour. In the Haiti earthquakes, the neighbours did the majority of rescues.

7. We price risk too low to change behaviour. As a result, we continue to grow it.


Fugate warned against building in high-risk areas. He said that Moody's has warned that climate change will affect us, so we must build resiliency into our projects. He advised that we must refrain from calling survivors 'victims' as this kind of language is condescending, not empowering — emergency management should be 'survivor-centric'.

“The public is a resource,” he declared, noting that while they were shipping in all kinds of equipment to do rescues in Haiti, the Haitians were doing a great job on their own, and it would have been more effective to engage them and spend funds on the resources being offered locally.

“Government can't do everything,” said Fugate. “Be prepared; remember that earthquakes do not have a season.”


The extraordinary Pascale James

I met Pascale James née Malebranche, wife of MVP President Bruce James, only a few times. But having learned more about this unique lady at the thanksgiving service for her life held on Friday I wish I had known her better.

A former executive with Citibank and Sagicor, Pascale was later a much-admired teacher of languages, fluent in several, including the creole of her Haitian roots.

The moving tributes, which left us in tears, spoke of a woman who gave her all to her beloved husband; their two lovely daughters, Lia and Savana; her parents and siblings; friends, students and her church community. Suffragan Bishop of Kingston Robert Thompson reminded us that this is the life we, as Christians, are called to live — one for others.

Rest in peace, beautiful, generous Pascale Malebranche James.

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