Jamaica owes much to its people abroad
Jamaican immigrants arrive in England on the Empire Windrush in June 1948. (Photo: Daily Herald Archive)

The long lines at money transfer outlets don’t lie. Many Jamaicans are heavily dependent on relatives and friends overseas for economic support.

In fact, Jamaicans have been travelling abroad to support themselves and their families for well in excess of 100 years.

They and other Caribbean people went to Panama in the late 19th and early 20th century for what was a monumental project — the building of the Panama Canal.

Back then, Jamaicans also travelled in large numbers to Cuba, Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Colombia to work on large agricultural estates.

To this day, there are descendants in those countries who take great pride in their heritage, including fluency in Jamaican Patois.

The trek to North America began in the early 20th century, and accelerated thereafter; and post-World War Two tens of thousands of Jamaicans and other West Indians flocked to Britain to rebuild that country following the devastation of war. They became known as the Windrush generation — a reference to the ship, MV Empire Windrush, which docked at Tilbury, England, on June 22, 1948 with 442 people from Jamaica and the wider Caribbean aboard.

In the 1950s and ’60s especially, hundreds of thousands of people from across the rapidly declining British Empire flocked to the ‘mother country’ seeking jobs.

Older Jamaicans recall daily trips to post offices and postal agencies and the feeling of relief and joy when the postal agent handed over a blue slip of paper. That usually meant formally registered mail had arrived from Britain or North America, with money enclosed.

World Bank figures show that in 2021 — even as the novel coronavirus took a terrible toll on all economies — Jamaica received US$3.6 billion in remittances, representing 24 per cent of Gross Domestic Product.

In addition to direct support for people and institutions, much of that money goes to the construction of houses and businesses as ‘diasporans’ prepare for their return home.

Also, yesterday’s Sunday Observer reminds us that support from the Diaspora hasn’t only come in monetary form.

For decades, Jamaican professionals abroad have been providing vital services, especially in education and medicine, to their ancestral land.

Just recently, we are told, the 35 year-old United States-based charity, Jamaica Awareness Association of California (JAAC) donated medical equipment to Annotto Bay Hospital and volunteer medics provided staff training and conducted surgeries.

Another team visited schools across the island handing out supplies, including tablets.

JAAC’s executive, retired nurse Ms Claudette Coleman told the Sunday Observer that prior to the onset of COVID-19, more than $500 million had been spent by the organisation on activities in this country. Much more is planned, we are told.

Dr Donald Phillibert, Jr, who left these shores for New York at age seven was socialised and conditioned from early to always give to his native country.

And Dr George Savage, who grew up in Trench Town/Denham Town and witnessed gunmen trading bullets in the politically tribalised community wars of decades ago, currently spends US$10,000 annually to support tuition and books for children from those areas.

The work of Jamaicans abroad in support of this country and its people can’t be measured. We must never forget.

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