Stepping up for Jamaica's good

Jean Lowrie-Chin

Monday, December 17, 2018

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It is a time for giving, and this came in many forms over the past two weeks. First, there was the launch of the documentary Where is Melissa — The Conversation Continues from Kairos Productions led by young Rev Kevin “Nana Moses” Calvert aimed at raising awareness of human trafficking. Caribbean World Mission (CWM) and WMW Jamaica (formerly Women's Media Watch) stepped up to support the initiative, and a survivor, Delmarine Morris-Williams, shared her dangerous journey.

Human trafficking is modern-day slavery targeting poor individuals, in particular women. Delmarine explained that she responded to an advertisement for a bartender and was asked to meet her prospective employer in Half-Way-Tree. She and another young woman were taken to a house and ordered to take off their clothes. When she attempted to escape, the man pulled a gun on her.

The criminals portrayed in the production look like well-to-do, middle-class Jamaicans. In one scenario, a teenager was entrapped when a powdered drug was blown into her face.

Now that more of us know the dangers, let us keep a close watch not only on our own children, but on those in our communities, churches, and schools. We must not fail them.


Gender Equality in Jamaica

As we contemplated Delmarine's ordeal we realised the urgency of ensuring that our girls and women have access to the best possible education. Delmarine, a school dropout, was entrapped because she had responded to a job offer which required no qualifications.

Mary Alison McLean, representative of the UN Women Multi-Country Office in the Caribbean, has noted that, “According to the Global Gender Gap Report (2017) Jamaica, compared to its 2016 rank of 42 out of 144 countries, had slipped in 2017 to a rank of 51. Moreover, there was a decline in women's progress in labour force participation and wage equality for similar work.”

We gathered at the Pegasus last Monday for a UN Women discussion around the theme: Improving Profitability and Sustainability — Promoting Gender Equality in the Jamaican Private Sector. The new CEO of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), Makeba Bennett-Easy, delivered the great news that the PSOJ will be supporting the Women's Empowerment Principles (WEP).

Three of us who are signatories, Thalia Lyn, founder of Island Grill; Ethnie Miller Simpson, founder of Zinergy; and myself, founder of PROComm, shared our experiences. We were grateful for the mentorship and affirmation we had enjoyed and have worked to pay this forward.


Alpha Development Plan

Jamaican women can look to 19th century heroine Jessie Ripoll as a brilliant role model. It was Ripoll who, with two church sisters, bought the property on South Camp Road to create an orphanage. Thus, on May 1, 1880, Jessie Ripoll led the first little girl to Alpha Cottage.

In that post-Emancipation era there was much dislocation and suffering. And so, the Catholic Church to which Jessie belonged appealed to the Sisters of Mercy, founded in Ireland, to send a contingent of nuns to assist. The nuns arrived on December 12, 1890 from a Mercy Convent in Bermondsey, England.

Last Wednesday, exactly 128 years after their arrival, the Sisters of Mercy in Jamaica, led by Sister Susan Frazer, launched an extensive development plan, thanks to the Culture, Health, Arts, Sports and Education (CHASE) Fund and the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF). The music programme of the former Alpha Boys' School, the cradle of Jamaican music, will be expanded to offer an associate degree; a new Alpha Primary School building will be established at the site of the former Alpha Commercial College; a new tourist attraction, the Alpha Mercy Historical Centre will feature a state-of-the-art museum, a meditation garden, already established by Colleen Brown, Monica Schroeter and Marcia Thwaites, and Jessie's Café.

Deacon Ronald Thwaites gave an eloquent account of the contribution of the sisters, who defied the policy of the colonial masters to deny education to the descendants of former slaves: “The message of 'mercy' entered our land close to the time when the local elite had actually refused money which the colonial government wanted to contribute to the education of Negroes. Committed to the radical message of equality contained in the Christian gospel, Jessie Ripoll and her companions responded to bigotry with complete generosity of spirit, incarnating a fiery counter-culture of respect for all life, equal redemption, regardless of race or class. These local pioneers were joined and supported by those from abroad. These women were not ordinary! In a pre-feminist age, like Mary, who is full of grace, they stood up to bishop, Government, and sundry 'ginnigogs' for what they believed, for the good and true.”

He ended with a tribute to his beautiful wife Marcia, head of our Mercy Associates: “Over the years, some special beneficiaries have caught the 'mercy' spirit by osmosis — by drawing close to someone enfleshing that ethos. Fifty years ago a young man, much like the wandering Arameans, who Deuteronomy 14 records, came looking, searching, for Alpha's finest beauty — beauty spiritual, intellectual, and physical. I found her. I am grateful.”

Kingston Mayor Senator Delroy Williams applauded the project and offered his full support as he noted that this would advance his dream of “Kingston becoming the Pearl of the Caribbean”. We wondered how Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett, keynote speaker, would make an impact after these two fine presentations? The goodly minister, still youthful after nearly 40 years serving as Member of Parliament and in various ministerial portfolios, brought us to our feet! He announced that his ministry was committing a further $100 million to the Alpha Development Programme through the TEF. As the statesman we know him to be, he acknowledged the initiative of Ambassador Aloun Assamba, who created the TEF while minister of tourism.

Ambassador Assamba is a Merl Grove graduate who completed sixth form at Alpha. She chairs the Alpha Mercy Historical Centre Board and reminded us that her father was a graduate of Alpha Boys' School.


Port Antonio Hospital visit

It was a joy to join Governor General Sir Kenneth and Lady Allen, as well as Portland Custos Lincoln Thaxter for their tour of the Port Antonio Hospital last Thursday. Built in the 1940s, the hospital has many needs but boasts a professional team, reflected in the order and cleanliness of the facility. Kudos to its leaders, Chairman Hugh Perry, CEO Althea Gardner, medical officer of health Dr Sharon Lewis, Director of Nursing Matron Olson Patterson; hospital administrator Patrick Campbell; and Portland Health Manager Joan Robinson-McPherson. The governor general shared a message of hope with the staff and lauded them for their compassionate care.

I was pleased to announce, on behalf of the Digicel Foundation, the contribution of equipment to assist in patient and foetal monitoring, and the treatment of heart and bronchial emergencies.


This column takes a break and returns on January 7 in the new year. My wish is that you all have a safe and blessed Christmas and a fulfilling new year.

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