Our teachers are dying.

This past school year has recorded an unprecedented number of deaths among teachers in the teaching fraternity here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. It is quite shocking and frightening actually when I think of this unusually historic occurrence as regards the deaths of so many of my colleagues, some of whom I knew personally, all within the space of several short months. I pray that this trend ends with the ending of the school year.

When I awoke this morning in the lazy comfort of the summer holidays, I checked my phone and saw yet another obituary notification from the St Vincent & the Grenadines Teachers Union that another teacher had died. I quickly looked at the picture and was immediately stunned. The latest deceased teacher was Ray LaBorde. I thought it sadly ironic that news of Ray LaBorde’s death broke on the very morning the annual two weeks summer Teachers Workshop was starting. Ray had helped organize many of these very same workshops in the past.

I knew Ray LaBorde not just as a professional but foremost as a local young man who grew up in the same community I did and who actually taught at the primary school I went to. He didn’t teach me when I was a pupil at the Evesham Methodist School but I believe he was assigned to the teaching staff just about the time I left after passing the Common Entrance examination in the late 1980s.

Ray was more than a teacher of academics and classroom lessons. He was even more a teacher of life’s integral lessons in his home village of Evesham. In fact, one of my last recollections of Ray LaBorde’s activism was a short time before his sudden illness last year when he was a leading organizer in a march and rally designed to help residents take a stand against the deadly gun violence and gang activities which had shown its ugly head in Evesham. The very last time I would see Ray LaBorde alive was at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital earlier this year.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord.

Another teacher who died this past school year–a couple weeks ago in fact–was Dorette John, a teacher of the Belair Government school, a primary school in the same village where she lived. Fundraising activities were still being planned and executed to assist Dorette John when she died. No doubt, she left us all in shock as was evident from the turnout at her funeral several weeks ago now.

For years Eustace “Slums” Maloney taught children to acquire and appreciate their musical talent in addition to their traditional academic skills. Hailing from the Marriaqua constituency, Eustace “Slums” Maloney taught at schools such as Evesham Methodist School, where undoubtedly he and Ray LaBorde would have worked together over the years.

The sudden deaths of our Vincentian teachers within the past school year has also been particularly unsettling because we got news of the deaths of active school principals as well.

The most recent principal who died was principal of the Dorsetshire Hill Government School, Olive Allen. Now anyone who knows the Dosetshire Hill Government School knows it is a close knit school community. Although its population has been relatively small over the years, families in the Dorsetshire Hill community have persevered, supported and loved Ms Allen and her staff as their own. According to a well placed source close to the school family, even when the Ministry of Education had covertly tried to close or relocate the school population to join another primary school, the parents quickly got wind of this and made it clear to the officials that they would have none of it and so the officials were forced to perish that thought.

The Dorsetshire Hill Government School has also found a place in the heart of Vincentians because it had been adopted by the sole local TV station and so received tangible help and national publicity to assist in its operations. The school is located just adjacent from the SVG TV studios. Even when some teenagers had carried out a bold daylight robbery, depriving a teacher of the school of her vehicle and monies, the TV station made no delay in carrying the incident in its prime time news cast that very night.

The robbers were caught not too long after that.

Ms. Natana McLean is another Vincentian teacher we lost this school year. This young lady taught at the JP Eustace Memorial Secondary School, locally known as the Emmanuel High School in Kingstown. She really died in the prime of her life, possibly carrying many unfulfilled dreams and aspirations with her to eternity.

The teacher I am about to reflect on now was someone I knew very well. Rodney Moore AKA Rodney Sayers. Rodney Sayers began his teaching career at the Petersville Primary School in Kingstown Park. Later he taught at the Stubbs Government School and the Fair Hall Government School. He went to the same secondary school as I did. Even as teenagers I could tell Rodney Sayers was someone who would never allow boredom to invade any social gathering. Rodney Sayers kept us laughing. But he also had a great academic mind, especially in the area of mathematics and numeracy.

I got to know Rodney Sayers even better when both of us attended the St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers College back in 2001. We were in the same group and shared many wonderful occasions learning pedagogical, social, spiritual and psychological matters pertaining to life and to our profession. I remember returning to the college after a holiday weekend and it was Rodney Sayers who turned to me and said, “Ashford you know Nicholas Pompey drowned yesterday?”

Nicholas Pompey had also attended secondary school with Rodney Sayers and myself. Nicholas Pompey had led his church’s youth group to the Rawacou picnic site the holiday Monday where he and several other young people drowned. Today, I still think of Rawacou as the drowning capital of St Vincent.

My final reflection on Rodney Sayers happened several months after we had left college. After work one evening Rodney Sayers came by as lively as ever. “Ashford, you know Teachers College results come out!” I knew he had meant well but given the nature of the news, I wished he had called me aside and whispered it to me; nonetheless, all my colleagues had heard and were now eagerly demanding that I go and collect my results immediately. Rodney Sayers and I were successful at the teachers college. I last saw Rodney Sayers at one of our local supermarkets about a month before he died. We were both shopping and chatted briefly. Never in the world did I realize that that was the last time we were talking on this side of life.

Another teacher who died this past school year was a principal from one of the schools on the leeward side of mainland St Vincent. Grocina Walters-Richards was the person in charge of the Troumaca Government School. I never knew her in person but her biological brother and I are good friends and we were actually teaching at the same school when his sister died.

The final teacher being mentioned is Ezekiel “Scatter” Butcher. “Scatter” was really a living legend. He actually taught Rodney Sayers and myself when we were in secondary school. Interestingly, “Scatter” and Rodney had very similar jovial temperaments and, coincidentally enough, they both died exactly one month apart from each other.

Read an earlier post where I paid sterling tribute to Ezekiel “Scatter” Butcher.

I believe this post is warranted. However, there are still quite a few Vincentian teachers alive today who are confirmed seriously ill. They are suffering in particular  with cancer and kidney disease. Given the number of teacher deaths this past school year, it is probably a good idea for a national analysis of teacher lifestyles as far as they relate to healthy living or the lack thereof. Could it also be that our Vincentian teachers are unknowingly exposed to some hazardously life-threatening environmental conditions in their respective workplace? Each of us as teachers as  well must begin to value our health, learn how to manage stress factors and to eat natural foods. Let’s support, pray, empathize and help our teachers avoid another deadly school year for Vincentian teachers.