Tag Archive: St Vincent and the Grenadines


2017-02-14

First international flight lands at the Argyle International Airport (courtesy Elroy Martin’s facebook)

The Argyle International Airport opens in St Vincent and the Grenadines today, February 14, 2017, ushering in a totally new era in the socioeconomic journey of this small multi-island state. At $729, 000, 000, it is by far the largest capital project in our country’s thirty seven years’ history as an independent nation. The international airport was an accomplishment which many believed could not be successfully done, but one politician’s ambitious goal became the nation’s golden egg. As the saying goes, even a blind man can see that the realization of an international airport for St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) is bigger than any one man, any one government, any one political party.

A new future is now possible. Tomorrow’s history has been changed infinitely.

Vincentians can now feel as citizens of this modern globalized world. Without a doubt, this was a dream for many generations of past Vincentians; to many, it was the kind of dream that you thought was silly because it was practically far-fetched, or was useless to pursue as it was not going to happen in your life time.

Now much has been said about the almost unlimited challenges and delays associated with the building of the Argyle International Airport. But it is the future challenges which this airport brings to our Vincentian citizens that I wish to speak to in this post.

I felt a sense of the political maturing of our island’s politics when the new leader of the oppositions commented in parliament that the international airport is too big a project to fail. He stressed the need for all Vincentians to work together in order to guarantee the success of the Argyle International Airport (AIA). I commend his wisdom. Effective leadership will periodically require a leader to bow graciously to the achievement and success of opponents. We should never allow the trees of our selfish wants to block our view of the forest of our country’s progress and well-being.

Vincentians of all walks of life are converging at Argyle today to witness the many historic landings and take-offs by regional and more so, international carriers. Some three international flights will touch down at the airport today.

But these flights have been chartered. Come tomorrow, the airport will be empty as all the supporters and party enthusiasts return to their various places of residence or occupational localities. I would hope that the relevant arms of government would have been in deep negotiations with business and tourism markets to foster a desire for people to want to travel to SVG.

However, that is one side of the coin.

The other side is that we need to begin changing the expectations and attitudes of our people here in St Vincent and the Grenadines. Having an international airport must not be allowed to be only thought of as a one day public holiday event to go watch inaugural flights, drink and be merry, and then return from whence we came.

Now is the critical time that a new educational thrust be initialized in schools, villages, liming places, community centers, places of work, social media, electronic and print media–all with the purpose of helping locals to understand and feel the new possibilities that an international airport brings. This is a life-changing development for all our people.

Beginning today, simple, varied, but new linkage industries must start to blossom on mainland St Vincent and in the 32 Grenadines islands. We must begin to cultivate and show forth opportunities, attractions and localized experiences that will make visitors, investors and people from various parts around the world want to come to SVG.

We cannot just sit back and wonder where are all the international flights. We must not allow ourselves to have to indefinitely continue to travel to  regional hubs for our connecting flights to other parts of the world.The government, in particularly the prime minister, has given us all this new international airport. Now we must give sustainable life to the airport. It’s a time when all the creative, critical thinking and entrepreneurial skills of Vincentians must be set ablaze.

This is a national day of thanksgiving to the Lord. Long live the Argyle International Airport.

 

 

 

The twenty-first century has seen a disturbingly regrettable trend of more and more parents of academically average children playing less and less active role in their children’s education during the school year here in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG). Every year, even before students can get into their summer flow, the back-to-school hype literally invades their minds via radio, television, and now the internet and telephone advertising. Parents are enthusiastically busy getting their children registered into new schools, buying books, uniforms and paying other preparatory expenses. But where do these parents disappear to after day one of the new school year?

A successful education system, such as we allege to have in SVG depends on the collaboration of the student, teacher, school, home and community. Learning is indeed a partnership. But partners in this education process are becoming woefully negligent and even uncaring. Years ago, it was the norm to find that parents would make it their business to know their children’s teachers, to keep in continuous contact with the school and to reinforce education policies and school decisions at home.

But today, the environment and world of learning that schools offer students in the classroom is tantamount to a fleeting fairy-tale feeling of bliss while at the movies, because after the school bell rings, many children are returning to homes and communities with very contrasting views on schooling and life values.

It is a reality we cannot afford to ignore much longer.

Generally speaking, the education policies, from the Ministry of Education to the individual school regulations, have been doing their fair share of keeping students on task and actively involved in their learning. But there is very little structure and support for the students outside their classrooms. As it is now, far too many children, some as young as those in primary schools, are being just left on their own to literally become young independents. They are home alone after school, they have no set bed time hour, they go wherever they want, they do whatever they want, and on mornings they are told by their parents who go to work and leave them at home, to get themselves ready for school ad go to school.

Of course, many of them don’t habitually go to school, or they go to school regularly late.

So the question is: Why is this generation of parents neglecting their most vital parenting responsibilities as regards their children’s education during the school year? Well, perhaps the following real-life incident might shed light on the causes.

When summer was ending in 2014 I was making my way through the market when some parents began talking about the reopening of school. “Let school hurry up open,” the first parent said. “Yes,” was the quick reply of a second parent. “I can’t keep any food in the fridge for this whole month of August.” A third parent then said, “My electricity bill went sky high because the children home watching TV every day.” Then a fourth parent said: “The other day I go home and meet the water hose turned on. The water run whole day because the child at home and been playing with the hose.”

The above comments suggest to me that the primary function of school for the average parent is to give them a relief from the “burden” of looking after their own children on a daily basis. Something is causing a paradigm shift in local parenting. This is evident from incidents when a parent is highly upset that she has to report to her child’s school because he or she was suspended. Long ago the anger would have been focused on the reason the child was suspended in the first place. Now it is aimed at the school for disrupting the parent’s “vacation” from life without the child around.

This parenting shift is also real when a parent can also declare in front of their child that they don’t love or care about that child; that their money, attention and love is going to the brother or sister at another school. That’s an actual development.

The time has come for parental courses, tutorials, help-a-thons or the like, to be made available for many parents. Many of them are proving unable–or unwilling–to cope with their basic responsibilities of parenting their school-going children.

No child asked to be born, so when that child is born it is the duty of the parent to start living a sacrificial life for the child; however, what is happening is that many parents wish to continue living as though they have no children. That is a recipe for the failure of the child.

Yes, parents may have to work, but they should not just accept that they leave home before the child wake up, or that they come home late at nights hours after the child reached home from school. Parents, you have an equal responsibility to make sure some mature adult is there before and after school.

Children are also  leaving home and returning from school with no adult to inspect or monitor the contents of their bags or pockets. The moral straying in this area is infinite. From not taking books to school to bringing back books, cell phone, drugs or money that does not belong to them, are all possible results because children are unsupervised at home or left unchecked.

When a child can buy their own uniform, stitch in the pants, or wear multiple pieces to school–something is wrong with the way parenting is done. When a child’s report from December is still uncollected in June–something is wrong with the way parenting is done.

Has the time come for parents of school-going children to sign a legal parenting contract which spells out specific things that they must do after registering their child, or getting the new bag, books and uniform for September?

Could it be that the twenty-first century parents are having children as a consequence of sexual activity, rather than having intercourse because they genuinely want to have children?

The answers to  those questions are critically important if schooling has to once again become the noble and proven way of giving indigent children an escape from poverty.

In too many instances, school is being reduced to a mere baby-sitting hub where children only give priority to the after-school lime with their fellow students from across the island when they gather in the capital city and stand at the bus stop for hours each and every evening.

Education is still a valuable asset, and schooling is still a fundamental necessity but we are fooling ourselves if we only make back-to-school an emotional hype of making a social statement and then abandon the children to sink in the academic seas of actual reading, studying and doing home-work. We should really not celebrate back to school without prioritizing going back to parenting.

 

 

 

 

The vast majority of Vincentians alive today remember the events leading up to the Grand Beach Accord that paved the way for general elections in 2001, ending an historic reign as government for the New Democratic Party (N.D.P.) which began in 1984.

Whether or not you are a person intrigued by politics, or you are an independent observer you have to give Jack his jacket and admit that the NDP’s seventeen year run as a governing party ushered in a new era in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG).

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Newly sworn in Prime Minister James Mitchell in 1984

It was during this time in our history that the transition occurred which brought our country in step with the majority of other developing nations in the region and around the globe.

Led by its founder, James Mitchell, the NDP took the office of government a mere five years after we achieved political independence from Britain. In fact, it was the St Vincent Labour Party (SVLP) led by incumbent Prime Minister Robert Milton Cato, that the New Democratic Party overwhelmingly deprived of another term in office.

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From Prime Minister to Opposition Leader: Milton Cato makes his way to Parliament after his defeat in the 1984 elections

It stands to reason, therefore, that the then Milton Cato government must have been deficient in the provision of certain key political and economic indicators for the citizens of SVG. James Mitchell, back then a relatively youthful man with a vision for national development, courageously took the oath of Prime Minister for this young multi-island state.

The NDP’s tenure will certainly be remembered for the many widespread capital projects and infrastructural changes which they pioneered. Every nook and cranny on the mainland and in the Grenadines benefited from one of the many hundreds of rural concrete roads which they cut and/or paved.

In 1984 the NDP won 9 of the 13 parliamentary seats up for grabs. When the electorate went back to the polls in 1989, Vincentians gave the James Mitchell government an overall grade of A+. All  fifteen constituencies went to the New Democratic Party. The NDP had split two constituencies on the grounds that the geographical area was too wide for the respective individual representatives to adequately represent in parliament and for timely executed projects.

Take a look at the candidates who contested the July 25, 1984, general elections on the NDP ticket, as they appeared back in 1984.

 

IMG_20140804_133115    IMG_20140804_133121   IMG_20140804_133130

IMG_20140804_133154      IMG_20140804_133252   IMG_20140804_133327

IMG_20140804_133346         IMG_20140804_133402     IMG_20140804_133434

IMG_20140804_133444           IMG_20140804_133501       IMG_20140804_135557

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Images courtesy the Vincentian newspaper at SVG National Archives

Not too long ago Vincentian politics was a harmless process filled with virtuously fun- filled activities for the whole family, but today it is literally lynching or killing the very humanity that it seeks to govern.

A decade or so ago we used to have some pleasant motorcades. Both parties used to tour our small island in peace. Until one incident when a lady got hit in her eye from a stone thrown by a supporter of the other party.

Two things happened on that day. The lady never saw from that eye again, and St Vincent never had another political motorcade.

We probably need another political party in the mix here in St Vincent and the Grenadines because it seems this two-party system is driving a clear line of malice, hatred and damning injury left, right and centre.

The last two or three general elections have been splitting our usually friendly and happy citizens further and further apart. Put simply, our two-parrty politics is teaching Vincentians to see only colours; we are technically colour blind now.

I have had the actual experience of driving a red vehicle and slowly becoming conscious that people at the side of the road are actually “throwing words” (cursing) at me because they automatically think I am a supporter of the Unity Labour Party which is the governing party at this time.

On the other hand, during a general elections in recent history a gentleman was driving his yellow passenger van and attempted to drive through an intersection where the Unity Labour Party was having a street meeting. According to the driver, a supporter from the Unity Labour Party threw a stone and smashed his front windscreen to pieces.

For those of you who don’t know, yellow is the colour of the New Democratic Party which is currently the Opposition in parliament.

The most serious charge against our modern Vincentian politics happened last Saturday at the funeral of a political activist within the New Democratic Party, but who was a one-time political colleague of the Prime Minister, Ralph Gonsalves.

Elwardo “EG” Lynch was a member of the Ralph Gonsalves Movement for National Unity (MNU) before he crossed the political divide and took up arms with the New Democratic Party (NDP). He was the Opposition’s voice in that he was moderator of the NDP’s daily radio call-in programme.

According to the Prime Minister, he was invited by the family of the deceased to not only attend but to make some remarks in so far as paying a tribute to his long time friend and colleague in politics.

No sooner had the Prime Minister been invited to the podium than there was immediate heckling—long, loud and livid. One woman, who must have been a magician,  seemed to have pulled out of nowhere a yellow bell. She rang it for all its worth.

To “ring the bell” is a political jargon which means that the Prime Minister announces the date for the next general elections. So these “mourners” were challenging the democratically elected leader to call elections. What a way to respect the dead and the bereaved family—not to mention the presence of God.

bell

And as if that was not enough, she passed it on to another who continued in the fiasco. The daughter of the deceased tried to no avail to put out the fiery political fire.

A funeral was transformed into a political town hall meeting for the Opposition.

A sacred place of worship was dishonored in a most unapologetic manner.

Everyone has been airing their views on the matter. Like with other national issues involving politics, those on the opposition support the action while those supporting the governing party has condemned the assault on our leader and on a holy institution.

And I think this is the problem slowly eating out the inner societal organs of our political and human identity. As soon as a Vincentian has formed a political opinion and supports a particular party it seems to be a vote of no return. Apparently our politics has no escape clause. No one is allowed to retain an independent mind and vote for a different party than the one they supported in the last elections.

As a people we are learning to hate and destroy our own family, neighbours, friends, colleagues and associates. It is no secret that the fierce campaigns we witness in these times drive an intolerantly cruel rift between persons who at other times were getting along as the best of friends.

Members of the same household stop sharing rooms or amenities; patrons stop riding with certain vans or stop buying at certain shops; worshipers stop sitting next to other “brothers and sisters” in the House of the Lord because of a difference in opinion on politics.

So critical has become the Vincentian political warfare of the twenty first century that I am pretty sure if the volcano were to erupt during the next political campaign, many Vincentians would prefer to stay in their homes and die than to go to a shelter and share residence with people who support “the other political party”.

Even without the fuel of politics the Vincentian society is falling headlong into a new abyss of moral and social decay. There is a very visible increase in gun violence and homicides by gun; some bold and daring robberies and drive-by shootings are becoming the order of the day.

Just a fortnight ago a prominent businessman was held at gun point, forced into the trunk of his own vehicle, driven to a remote location, beaten, stripped naked, robbed and tied up. He was left for dead. Police later found his vehicle with some damage.

Fortunately, that businessman lived to tell the tales.

It is clear to me that St Vincent and the Grenadines has a disaster in the making which is far more destructive and costly than the flash floods of Christmas 2013, than a hurricane, earthquake or volcanic eruption. With the steady rise of the temperature in our political thermostat, we will soon be our own worst enemy and reason for extinction as a civilization worthy to inhabit this part of the peaceful world.

Will Vincentians ever rise to the political independence and maturity to stop politics from lynching our identity and the little dignity we have left?

 

 

(picture courtesy Searchlight newspaper)

St Martin's Secondary School

St Martin’s Secondary School

With the death and burial recently of one of my high school teachers, Ezekiel “Scatter” Butcher, I started to purposefully reflect on my times at St Martin’s Secondary School in Kingstown, St Vincent and the Grenadines. It was the best a boy could get in terms of a quality education at a conducive and learner friendly environment.

I entered St Martin’s in September 1987 and I can honestly say that the next five years were among the very best years of my entire life. They were really golden years. This is a sentiment being echoed by many of my classmates and schoolmates who were privileged to be enrolled at the institution in that golden era.  Prior to 1987 I had never known or heard about St Martin’s; however, it was after I was only one of two boys from Evesham Methodist School lucky enough to pass the 1987 Common Entrance exam that my teachers told me about St Martin’s.

I was immediately excited and thrilled about the prospects of attending a “town school” because it would mean that I would be riding vans every day. Vehicles and rides were scarce luxuries in the Evesham of 1987. I can still vividly remember jumping up and down when I got the confirmation slip from the Ministry of Education that said I would be going to St Martin’s Secondary School.

One of the first challenges was having to be in “town” on my own. So far, the only place I went to on my own was the village next door. So my brother and mother accompanied me to the school on registration day. That event happened in the library. It was my first time meeting the Christian Brothers—Br. Alfred Marshall was the principal and conducted the exercise himself. Up to that point I had only seen “white people” on TV and so it dawned on me that my world was really expanding.

That summer we were invited to attend Math classes being taught by Mr Bradley Brooker. I shall always remember walking out the gate after the first session and realizing I was lost because I had not memorized the immediate street. Panic gripped me but then a voice said to me just follow the other students and see where they go. That idea got me back on the right track.

I would never lose my way again.

The rest of the summer was a new adventure everyday. As I began meeting the other boys I realized that I was meeting children from all over St Vincent and the Grenadines. We shared our respective memories of our various primary schools at every chance we got.

Then the 1987 school year began. During the summer there was just a handful of us new students—about twenty or so—but on the first day of school I felt totally lost at the awesome sight of literally hundreds of boys in blue and white. It was like I walked into an ants nest of blue and white. I had no idea what to do, where to go, who to talk to. So guess what I did?

I followed the students who were in front of me when I entered the gate. So I stayed in that bright blue and white traffic. I kept climbing the steps. On the second flight of stairs, a friend I made at the summer lessons, Clinty Joseph, was on his way down. He said to me, “Is you I coming to look for you know. Come see where our class is.”

If there ever was a Godsend, that was Clinty right there!

He told me to check on the door to see which of the two form ones I was in. Back then the class lists were placed on the doors. I scanned the first list and found my name. Clinty could not be happier because he, too, was on that list.

Even though I had been at summer school, the classrooms looked quite different. They were cleaner and shone just as brightly as the uniforms and book bags of the new students occupying them. As the years went by I would later learn and see that it was Mr Butcher who used his summer to lead a school painting taskforce every year.

One of the first things that struck me about my new class was that it was so roomy and clean. It had louvers on both sides and so very well ventilated. I smiled to myself. I already loved my new school. When I later heard a man speaking over a speaker I was astonished. The school had a PA system. I automatically gave the school two thumbs up and all five stars!

St Martin’s Secondary School (SMSS) was a family. I saw that in operation every day. There was a real sense of caring and sharing. Looking back, nobody seemed vexed with you or having “bad mind” as the youths say of themselves these days. There were 38 students in my Form 1 Set 2 and I honestly can say there were no “haters” in that large group.

St Martin’s taught me a lot about friendships from day 1. I had met Marlon Roberts who lived in Questelles and had attended the Petersville Primary School. I tried sneaking up behind him one break time to cover his eyes with my hands. It was a game we played. But somehow Marlon must have known I was there because he turned around just as I was about to clamp my hands over his eyes.

What happened next I would never forget. The plan backfired in that my finger got in his eye and he was immediately upset. He said: “Alyo man always a do stupidness you know!”

I felt so guilty and embarrassed that I ran away and tried my best to avoid him from then on. Then a day or two afterwards it was Marlon who sneaked up on me and actually apologized to me. That showed me who a real friend was. It was the first time in my life another person was apologizing to me.

Marlon did one other thing that year to make me understand friends are really people who care about your best interests. It happened when our Algebra teacher, Mr Best, had given us the option of attending either algebra or camera lessons after school. I went in the camera group, which had upper form students.

After a while Marlon came over to me and he said, “Ashford, you can always learn to use a camera you know, but you can’t always learn how to do algebra.”

That struck me to the core.

Never before had anyone analysed my actions and given me advice for my benefit. Additionally, because it came from somebody my own age, I was totally impressed and realized I had a real friend. Without saying a word, I left the camera group and joined my friend in the algebra lessons.

In those days we used to have what we call a “Special Schedule” on Fridays. Classes lasted only 35 minutes. There was no break; however, lunch was from 10:40 to 11:15. School used to over at 1:25 PM every Friday.

Our Form Master, Mr Kelly, used to stay back with us and do fun activities. Often, we would join with the students from Form 1 Set 1 and their Form Master. That is how I learned to make and fly a kite.

Other notable experiences that first year included getting licks for doing home work in class. Mr Sarkar was the Dean of discipline. Homework was to be done at home. The first time Mr Sarkar came to teach us Geography, he wrote four Ss on the board. The first S meant “stand up”. The second S meant “shut up”; the third S meant “Sarkar”,  and the fourth S was for “Sir”.

It was not that he just wrote and told us about these Ss. He bellowed them to us new terrified students. I could have sworn I was in the military! I won’t be surprised if some boys with bladder problems did wet their pants that morning.

But Mr Sarkar also wrote four other letters on the board. H.A.R.P. That would prove to be his motto for teaching. The letters stood for Honesty, Ambition, Respect and Pride.

We enjoyed Geography class after that unforgettable introduction.

St Martin’s Secondary School gave us local boys a chance to meet people from around the world. Mr Kelly, for example, was a young American who was volunteering a year teaching us English. There were different volunteers each year. We also met other boys who were in St Vincent but citizens from overseas—from Caribbean islands to America and Canada.

As we did our work we soon realized that our teachers wanted us to also have fun. There were times when all we did was just tell jokes and old talk.

And we did not just learn about the academic syllabus. I remember the first time I experienced a sex education lesson was from Mr Butcher in his form four Social Studies class. Up until then I didn’t think teachers ever talked about sex or relationships in class with students. But it helped us. It was a real life lesson.

In a Form 3 Religion class, Br Robert made us all sit up with mouths open and eyes popping out of our heads. He began his lesson: “What does somebody really mean when they say fuck you?”

No body slept in that class.

St Martin’s Secondary School made a name for itself in sports as well. Apart from the usual inter-House and Inter-School athletics events, we were a force to be reckoned with on the football and cricket field as well. In 1smss football news story990 the St Martin’s football team won the finals of the secondary schools football competition after beating the Bethel High School. I still can see students like Curtis Greaves (now principal of the Emmanuel High School in Mesopotamia) stamping the wooden stands at the Victoria Park so passionately that I really was expecting the stands to collapse.

In 1991, the St Martin’s football team was back in the finals of the secondary schools football tournament. We faced off against the Barrouallie Secondary School. The match went into overtime and the boys had to have penalty shootouts. Christmas came early at St Martin’s that year because we won the game and were football champions for two years in a row! We all left the Victoria Park pretty hoarse that day.

That same year, in 1991, Mr Brooker led the St Martin’s cricket team to the finals of the secondary schools cricket competition. NBC Radio, back then known as 705 Radio, broadcasted the match live. I remember clearly, sportscaster Mike Findlay asking student Grant Connell (yes, he is the lawyer of today) who he believes will win the match. And Grant simply told him that St Martin’s already has it wrapped up. Mike was just impressed by the smarts of the St Martin’s student.

St Martin’s secondary School did win the 1991 secondary schools cricket championship. So in that year we were both football and cricket champions of all the secondary schools in St Vincent and the Grenadines!

But it didn’t end there. In 1992, guess who was back in the finals of the secondary schools football competition? Yes, St Martin’s. And guess which school we came up against? None other than the St Vincent Boys Grammar School. Now this was poised to be an interesting and historic match indeed. You see, there was always this unspoken competition between the Grammar School and St Martin’s to see which of these two all-boys schools was really number one. Because the match was played at the end of the calendar year, my group had already graduated from St Martin’s. In fact we were now in 6th Form (what is now called Community College).

The sole Sixth Form on the island was attached to the Grammar School. Nonetheless my classmates, St Clair “Herbie” Stapleton, Ronnie Daniel, Harold Lewis, Sheldon Venner, and I, all came to support St Martin’s that afternoon. Now our Sixth Form teacher came and sat among us in the section with St Martin’s students. As if that was not odd enough, she had the Grammar School flag. I just felt she was “in enemy territory”. She made the mistake of waving the flag when Grammar School had made a goal and all I saw was the Grammar School flag flying in mid air to the ground at the front of the stand. Almost immediately someone ran and tossed it into a green garbage bin nearby.

The entire stand erupted in an uproar that would have drowned out any Carnival Monday jam.

By the end of the game St Martin’s Secondary School had created history by winning the secondary schools football championship for three years in a row! And we did it by beating the St Vincent Grammar School. Coach Gary Thomas had really worked very hard. Players such as Rohan Keizer, Dominique Stowe, Terry Anderson, Jimi Jack and Maxion Richardson, among others on the team, really were top football players in the country, even though they were teenagers.

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This is the football team that won the 3rd title

Now, just before we had graduated in June of 1992, our graduating class also did something that I don’t believe any other graduating class has done. We re-enacted the finals of the football championship between the the champs, St Martin’s, and the opponents in the finals, the Barrouallie Secondary School in a floodlight football match at Victoria Park. The moon was out in all its glory. We had students picking up ticket monies. We had students in charge of Bar be que. We had students manning the bar. It was an unforgettable night. Oh yes, I was responsible for getting the event advertised and so Chester Connell, a past student of St Martin’s who was a top radio announcer at 705 Radio at the time, did the ad for us.

There are so very many other precious memories from St Martin’s. It struck me during times when school was closed that other students who were not from my class would actually say hello to me whenever and wherever we met. That comforted me so much. I knew I was not just a student in a school. I was a brother in a large family.

Up to this day those of us who grew up at the school in that era, refer to each other as “Brother”.

And we saw it even as the news spread of the death of Mr Butcher. Old boys came to the funeral dressed in their St Martin’s uniform. I was one of them.  Seeing all the other people associated with the golden era of St Martin’s made tears come to my eyes.

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Mr Butcher’s body leaving the Anglican Church in Kingstown

We were mightily blessed to have been at St Martin’s in those times. A lot has changed over the years. The Christian Brothers are no longer in St Vincent. That wonderful cadre of men and women that comprised the teaching staff has long since disbanded to various other endeavours in life.

I know many of us past students wish that our St Martin’s was still engulfed in that magical atmosphere of love, hope and excellent academic pursuits and results.  We may not be able to wave a magic wand and reverse the hand of time but what we can do is let the spirit of SMSS live in all of us.

St Martin’s role was to prepare us for life. That is what Mr Butcher was eagerly doing over all those years of his life. So it is up to us to live out the life lessons we learned within it’s happy walls. It was encouraging this year that the child who came first in the CPEA—the exam that replaced the Common Entrance exam, is the son of a past student of St Martin’s Secondary School.

Let us all use whatever talents we have and make our mark. We can still change the world. I believe in doing so, the present crop of students and teachers at St Martin’s will see the rich legacy of the school powerfully at work and that will keep inspiring them to up their game as well.

Mr. Butcher

Our teacher Ezekiel “Scatter” Butcher at school

I end this lengthy but necessary post with the very words Ezekiel “Scatter” Butcher wrote in my graduation souvenir book when I graduated in 1992:

“Go placidly amidst the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence. All the best. May your inspiration come from the Lord at all times.”

Christmas in St Vincent and the Grenadines over the years have been an idyllic symbol of life in paradise so having a Christmas Day with floods, death and mourning was unthinkable until today.Eight persons are confirmed dead so far; I am writing this blog at 6:45 PM on Christmas Day. Residents living between Layou and Prospect are to expect no running water in their homes before Saturday December 28, 2013. sixty two persons are homeless, five persons are still missing and there are about five other persons who have sustained injuries.

Vincy Christmas Day 2013

 

This all started with those iconic words “the night before Christmas”. It was at that time yesterday, Christmas Eve that rains started pouring. The villages to the north of the island seemed to have been most critically damaged or devastated.

The overflowing of the rivers became the driving force of the havoc and displacement that have been experienced. A river in Vermont overflowed its banks and flowed into the streets. It further invaded the homes of residents and swept away household items such as clothing, appliances and Christmas amenities.

The Buccament Beach Resort was damaged very badly. In fact, one of its female employees was washed away in the night and her body recovered early Christmas morning.

The capital city of Kingstown was not spared the raves of its rivers, with many streets and businesses being gutted by persistent waters. There was an early report of a vehicle being washed away along the North River Road in the vicinity of the Kingstown Catholic Church.

Elsewhere on the island other vehicles suffered a similar fate as vicious rivers overtook pathways and roads on their unstoppable journey to the Caribbean Sea or the Atlantic Ocean.

The main hospital, the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital was flooded as well and some information indicated that there were patients who had to be relocated from some wards.

The sole functioning airport, the ET Joshua airport in Arnos Vale had to be closed until mid day on Christmas Day because of the flooding of the compound as well.

One of the truly sad events was when a landslide came crashing down on a house in the leeward village of Rose Bank, killing all five family members inside. Never before had Vincentians have to deal with multiple deaths under such simple circumstances.

And to have it happen the night before Christmas made it even  more painfully unbearable.

There were major landslides in places such as Cumberland, Barrouallie, Park Hill, South Rivers and Georgetown. Many critical bridges on the Windward side were rendered impassable or structurally unsafe for heavy vehicles to use.

A male relative of Prime Minister Dr Hon. Ralph Gonsalves died when a stone rolled into his dwelling house in Park Hill. The Prime Minister happened to have been in London at the time but he rescheduled his return flight to come back home on Boxing Day.

Kingstown

 

This made Christmas a Christmas to remember. All day long Vincentians and relatives were calling in to the on-going interactive radio programmes to share and gather information.

The only other time that the country was traumatized so close to Christmas would have been twenty five years ago, when on December 21, 1988, Vincentian recording artiste Walter Porter died when Pan Am flight 103 blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 persons on board and 11 on the ground. That tragedy was the work of terrorists who placed a powerful bomb on the plane.

The Christmas carols and music virtually became non existent. What a Christmas Day 2013!

For generations in St Vincent and the Grenadines, the Common Entrance Examination was the sole determinant of which primary school children would get a secondary education. In its hay day, only the successful candidates who passed the Common Entrance Examination (CEE) were chosen to attend a secondary school. As there were very few secondary schools, competition was stiff and many primary school children were left without a place in the secondary school system when the new school year began.

The top students in the CEE were automatically selected for the top schools on the island. The top school for boys was the St Vincent and the Grenadines Boys Grammar School. It’s female equivalent was the St Vincent and the Grenadines Girls High School. Both of these schools were—and still are—located in the capital city and adjacent to each other.

The CEE was therefore a life changing event for many children, especially for those who lived in the country side. Once they passed well and were selected for a “town school”, it was a whole new life about to begin. For example, in my own case, my first trip into town on my own was only as a result of passing the CEE well enough to be placed at a secondary school in the town.

I can still vividly recall upon leaving the school premises after school one day during the first week of classes, feeling horrified because I wasn’t seeing the landmarks I had memorized. Luckily, panic gave way to calm as something inside told me to just follow the other students for a while. It turned out the landmarks which I had mentally encoded were on another street farther away from the school.

Forgive my enthusiastic running ahead of myself there. Let me resume the reflection on the topic at hand. Age played a significant role in deciding who would write the Common Entrance Examination. Most of my classmates in Junior 5 (Common Entrance Class, as we called it back then) had two and even three chances to write this exam. Me? I had only one.

So I told myself that I was going to either Form 1 or Senior 1. It was some kind of 1 for me. Now Senior 1 was the next primary school class after Junior 5, occupied by those who either failed the Common Entrance Exam or who were ineligible to write the Common Entrance Exam in the first place.

Besides one’s age, academic ability played a huge role in determining who would end up in the “Common Entrance Class”. As I was usually placing first in my primary school class (and I still have a report from my Junior 4 class to prove it) I was automatically selected to go to the Junior 5A which was the group who would be prepared to write the exam.

And even in this large Common Entrance Class (there were over twenty of us), the teacher split the class into a smaller group 1 and a comparatively larger group 2. Group one was seen as the group with the higher likelihood of passing the CEE.  Although students from both groups would eventually write the exam, only six of us in all passed: two boys and four girls.

My best friend and I were the two lucky boys that year. I can still remember that some days before the exam, he must have seen my worried looks, he said to me,”Ashford, don’t worry, If I pass you are going to pass, too.”

That really cheered me up because I knew he was just as bright as I was. (I was always fortunate in school to experience peer power rather than peer pressure).

In my time in primary school the Common Entrance Exam was sat on the first Friday in May. In my year the date was Friday May 1, 1987. As I lived in the rural Marriaqua valley and attended the Evesham Methodist School, I had to journey to the nearby village of Cane End to write the Common Entrance Exam.

And that was another life changer that the CEE facilitated. It was the first time in my life I would be sitting in a classroom with other students from other schools. You can imagine how utterly foreign I felt, never accustomed to being around strangers and suddenly having  to write the most important exam of my life in a room with strange classmates and equally strange teachers and invigilators.

I wonder if that made some students over the years freeze with fear and failed the exam?

Anyway, I left home bright and early that morning and walked with my older brother through the London short cut over to Carriere, a neighbouring village, through another shortcut called “Bottom Road” and then on to Cane End.

As early as I was, some of my classmates were already there, and that helped a great deal in calming my fears. That day proved to be a very fun day where socializing was concerned. Not that I made any new friends, but that day I discovered those long hot dog sausages that tasted like heaven to me. I remember buying at least three different ones.

That made me fall in love with that school (it was the Marriaqua Secondary School, now called  The St Joseph Convent Marriaqua). I told myself I did want to come to this school and eat hot dogs—if I passed the CEE.

My CEE number was 276. We had four exam papers that day. The first exam began at 9:00 AM and the final exam ended at 2:30 PM.

I think the exam papers were English, Maths, General Paper and Science.

One other thing I must mention about the actual exam day. I had developed the habit of bowing my head and praying before writing an exam (a practice I still follow today). At first, several of my foreign classmates joked and made fun of my silent prayer.

But after a moment I realized the room was very quiet. Thinking that maybe a teacher had entered the room, I opened my eyes, and found much to my surprise that many of the other children had their heads bowed in silent prayer as well.

For some reason that day, the girls from my primary school class ran on ahead of us when we were ready to go home. So I had only the company of my male classmates. It made me sad at first but then I forgot about it as we started to raid and pick mangoes like joke from the many mango trees that we met on our way home. We had taken a longer route home, going through Mesopotamia (also called Mespo), La Croix and then back to Evesham, passing our primary school on the way).

The 1987 Common Entrance Examination results were released on Friday June 19th. I know because up to this day I have a copy of the results which were printed in the sole local newspaper at the time.

I remember on that Friday morning while walking to school a female school mate of mine ran out of her home in a place we called “Tanchin” and said breathlessly to me: “Ashford, you pass! You pass Common Entrance!”

Well that took away all my nerves and fears. She also told me of two other persons from my school who had passed. I never found out how that girl knew I passed but I can only assume that there was an adult in her home who worked with the newspaper or with the ministry of education.

So by the time the teacher got to school with the results, I was no longer afraid about whether or not I had passed. However, that day proved the last day of my primary education because my mother decided it was not productive for me to go back to school after that.

But I can still see in my mind’s eye some of my classmates literally crying because they had failed the exam. I wept inside for them too, because to fail Common Entrance in those days was to fail at getting a secondary school education.

It has been many years since I wrote the Common Entrance Examination. Now this year, 2013, has been the last year the Common Entrance Examination was used. Since the year 2005 every primary school child who wrote the exam was being placed in a secondary school.

It made those of us who had to toil so strenuously feel a bit cheated; however, it is life and it seems many of the present day children do not appreciate this “free ride” to a secondary education. So many of them are unable to read well and still don’t care about how they perform, even though they know they come from poor families.

In our time, we tried hard to make something of ourselves in secondary school because it was clear to us that we had been given an opportunity which many others of our own age never got. But today’s crop of primary school leavers seems content with just  cursing F-words, playing with their electronically expensive gadgets and trying to find somebody to have sex with. My, how times and values have changed!

Finally, in June this year, I was saddened when Iheard the obituary of the man who was my head teacher at the Evesham Methodist School. His name was Bernard Williams. I still have his signature on my report card I mentioned earlier.

Last year he actually visited the church I attend (he was a Gideon and had come to promote the distribution of Bibles), and we had a very memorable talk—going back down memory lane. One of the last things he taught us was a simple poem. He just came into the class, wrote it on the blackboard and then left as suddenly and as quietly as he had entered.

The poem read:

“There are four things that come not back—a sped arrow, a spoken word, a past life and a neglected opportunity—H.E. Longfellow”.

I have never forgotten that poem.

But when I heard his obituary I was also pleasantly surprised that it also said “…better known as ‘Master Willie’ ”.

That was his nickname that we were all terrified to call him. But somehow I believed he smiled from heaven because he realized he was more than that nickname.

Interestingly, one of my primary school classmates who now lives in New York, came across my blog a few days after his death. I told my lost-and-found primary school buddy about our head teacher’s death and we quietly reflected on those good old days.

Oh yes, from next year the Common Entrance Examination is to be replaced by an examination called Caribbean Primary Exit Assessment, the CPEA.

SVG Netball Champs 2012

St Vincent and the Grenadines defeated last year’s champions to become the 2012 Regional Netball Champions. The nail-biting finals happened in Grenada last Thursday.

Of course it is always an ecstatic feeling to hear of my country performing well in regional and international competitive events. There is still much work to do in promoting an awareness of the geographical location, cultural identity and economic potential of my small multi-island territory of St Vincent and the Grenadines nested in the Eastern Caribbean.

 

Watch this video to learn more about St Vincent and the Grenadines

 

So obviously I extend vociferous congratulations to this young squad of netballers who have etched another indelible mark into the history books. Over the years St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) has often produced exceptional ladies at the top of their netball performance.

The local netball association has to be commended as well. I would suggest a redoubling of efforts in teaching the young children this game which has traditionally brought recognition to us as Vincentians. I remember that netball was just as visible on the playing field as soccer or cricket when I was in primary school.

Such must be the continued thrust: the school curriculum, directly or indirectly, must expose with much excitement the rewards and pleasures of playing netball. Not only must netball be given priority at the primary level of schooling but probably even more importantly netball must be stridently pushed also at the secondary school level. Sports is a great open door for many at risk juveniles and otherwise under-performing youths.

This game has the potential to give many a Vincentian girl the motivation and self discipline they need to claim a purpose for their lives. By playing netball they can be influenced to set personal goals which would delay unplanned pregnancies and set a proper foundation for their future.

This 2012 regional victory by our young netball squad is a time for us in St Vincent and the Grenadines to reshape the national focus on the role of netball in the lives of our younger generation.

Outline map of St Vincent and the Grenadines

Of all the islands in the Caribbean, St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) ranks in the top for its marine and landscape beauty, the friendliness and peaceful stability of its villages and towns and its non polluted environment. But my country is also one of the least known islands on the international scene.

And maybe that has its advantages in that being less popular means that a pristine and naturally happy environment may be longer lasting; nonetheless, we all like to know that we can travel abroad and be comforted that others have heard about the country of our birth. That is why when a friend of mine notified me of a news story in the international media which was promoting St. Vincent and the Grenadines I quickly investigated for myself.

Chris Hall is the author of the travel article  and I commend him for his simplicity  and apt descriptors that makes it easy for the audience to have a striking image in their mind’s eye of SVG.

I end by quoting a part of Mr Hall’s article. I highly recommend that you follow the link at the bottom of this post to read the article in its entirety.

“…when I arrive on St Vincent, I realise I have tumbled into exactly the Caribbean I was expecting.This is the Caribbean of the imagination, an archipelago of 32 islands – St Vincent and the Grenadines, to give it its full, grand name – scattered luxuriously across the eastern edge of the Caribbean Sea. From St Vincent, the largest, in the north, they trail south, towards Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago, and eventually, South America – a ribbon of land in the blue of the ocean.”

via Caribbean holidays: St Vincent and the Grenadines are a slice of paradise | Mail Online.

Are Trinidad and Jamaica afraid that Redjet is too hot to handle?

Redjet is the newest air carrier to come on stream in the Caribbean. It is a business venture originating from the island of Barbados where its investors are attempting to provide comparatively low fares to the region’s air destinations. I used the word “attempt” just now because it seems that some Caribbean heads of government want Redjet to become an aerospace abortion.

Granted, while I think that Redjet counted its chickens before they were hatched by announcing scheduled start dates for commercial flights into Trinidad and Jamaica before apparently following protocol applications, the unflinchingly critical opposition that these two countries meted to the airline has not given a favourable impression of Caricom or Caribbean unity.

Even if there were issues that needed clarifying the parties involved could have settled their differences privately and discretely.

I am tired of the constant blockading of new airlines trying to get access to the Caribbean skies; especially so when the traveling public can get a much-needed rebate on ticket price. As it is now, especially for those of us who are hostages of LIAT, air fares really instil air fears into persons who have no choice but to fly.

However, I want to big up the Prime Minister of Barbados who put his two feet down on the matter a few weeks ago.

The Prime Minister said that he is basically hurt and feels betrayed by his Trinidad and Tobago’s equal because Barbados approved the licenses of the Trinidad and Tobago carrier, Caribbean Airlines without even thinking twice, but Trinidad has been like a nagging woman complaining about unmet safety issues.

The Barbados Head bluntly stated that he can play the same game that Trinidad is playing. And I was glad to hear this. I was looking forward to a subsequent announcement out of Barbados that Caribbean airlines’ license has been revoked.

I mean the issues that obstruct Caribbean unity are so infinitesimal and irrelevant that we must begin to call them for the bull s*** that they are!

And that’s exactly true you know. Not too long after Barbados said enough is enough, both Jamaica and Trinidad announced almost on cue that approval has been iven to Redjet to begin commercial flights into their respective countries.

Imagine! It takes threats to activate the mechanisms of progress in my Caribbean. I wonder if my Caribbean citizens are paying attention? Caribbean people, the Arab world has sent a message of the democratic reality: governments must do what the people want–not what they see as politically astute.

But the saga is not quit finished as yet because Redjet has no confirmation as to exactly when its low-cost wheels will be touching down in Jamaica or Trinidad.

You know, I can’t help but wonder how come the government of St Vincent and the Grenadines has not given a statement of its position on the Redject issue?

Like Redjet is burning them up?

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