Christmas is a big deal in Jamaica. However humble we may be, we are “drawing” our sorrel, sprucing up our homes, and sending cards by mail or Internet to our loved ones. Church folks are now in the final week of Advent as we prepare for the celebration of the birth of Jesus and focus on the message of peace and goodwill that this historic event heralded.
However, for many Jamaican families, their joy has been extinguished by evil thugs who have been murdering, raping and robbing the innocent, with no regard for age or gender. In recent weeks, the scourge of domestic violence has become even more painful. Two organisations, WeChange and the 51% Coalition, with the support of UN Women and the USAID, organised an awareness walk two Sundays ago at Hope Gardens to discuss this dangerous trend. Some 50 women and men formed groups to discuss such issues as street harassment, financial harassment, and various other areas of concerns.
One gay young woman from an inner-city community said she was gang-raped and became pregnant. She went ahead and had the child, whom she loves dearly. She related to us that one of her attackers told her that she was lucky, “Because if di don never dead you would get shot long time.”
Those who created these monsters, who are now beyond their control, should be hanging their heads in shame. They must make amends: fund scholarships for social workers so we can have them on the ground in these communities, start volunteer groups of mediators to detect family issues before they escalate. At the Stella Maris Foundation (SMF), psychology majors were invited to man a counselling post at our headquarters, a mutually beneficial project as they could extract data and anecdotal evidence for use in their theses. We saw a marked decrease in domestic violence because of this, and we are happy that Omar Frith, once SMF CEO is now at the Social Development Commission, where he can introduce such a programme on a wider scale.
As churches celebrate the arrival of Christ, the life of Jesus is the template for their mission. Beyond the Christmas treats and gift-giving, we need to examine how we can make a lasting impact on our communities. While I appreciate the efforts of colleagues on the National Prayer Breakfast Committee, and we have continued to support their publicity efforts, let us hope that their next event will be held at Emancipation Park.
Giving rewarded by CVSS
The Council of Voluntary Social Services (CVSS) showed us the positive side of Jamaica when they recognised the heroic volunteerism of ordinary Jamaicans at their recent awards event with the theme ‘Volunteerism as a catalyst for national development’.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness was keynote speaker and we were reminded that his track record of community involvement was exemplary, starting with his post as executive director of the Voluntary Organisation for the Upliftment of Children (VOUCH). He explained the importance of the work contributed by stalwart Jamaicans from every walk of life, a key partnership with government authorities.
The top award went to the inspiring Orville “Shaggy” Burrell, inducted in the CVSS Hall of Fame for his contribution over many years to the Bustamante Hospital for Children. His wife, Rebecca Packer Burrell, accepting on his behalf, noted that it just takes one person to step up. When that person has the clout of her husband, it becomes a fired up fund-raising machine, resulting in $225 million in equipment used to treat over 70,000 children annually.
It was wonderful to hear the contribution of such humble folk as 24-year-old Portmore youth leader Neville Charlton, a young man with a big heart who works under sometimes dangerous conditions to help young people forge a way forward in life. Top cop Nadine Grant-Brown, founder of ‘Eve for Change’ has carved time out of her busy life to empower her fellow women. Alicia Peart, a justice of the peace and president of the Kiwanis Club of Junction, St Elizabeth, received the Marion Ballysingh Award for Outstanding Volunteerism.
The corporate awards went to the Wisynco Group and the Digicel Foundation was named top Non-Profit for 2017. Many can attest to the unremitting generosity of Chairman Andrew Mahfood and family members of the board, William and Jerry Mahfood – their volunteerism has resulted in the equipping of 18 fishing villages, the building of thousands of houses and scores of schools, a full-time clinic and major agricultural projects. In the coming week, they will surprise non-violent inmates with prison releases, an annual Christmas and Easter exercise.
In the case of the Digicel Foundation, I can say as Chairman, that this organisation has not only invested over $3 billion in projects for education, special needs and community development, but also, because of patron Denis O’Brien’s insistence on sustainability, our partners benefit from mentorship to be given every chance at success. The focus on special needs has seen a new awareness of and respect for this community.
Thank you, President Butch Hendrickson, Awards Chairman Lady Rheima Holding Hall, Chairman Saffrey Brown, CEO Winsome Wilkins, and the CVSS team for an unforgettable evening.
Genius Monty Alexander
What a feast of music we enjoyed from Jamaica’s own son Monty Alexander, last Sunday evening. The packed Pegasus ballroom reminded us that Jamaicans will step up for offerings of excellence, from folk to Sinatra, from pop to jazz and blues, Alexander and his brilliant band kept us tapping and clapping. Congratulations to Minna Israel and her UWI colleagues for a great show.
Alia’s star quality
Alia Atkinson, fresh from her gold medal at a championship in Canada, visited sponsors Rainforest Seafoods and National Baking last week, impressing with her upbeat spirit. She had her own treat at the Garland Hall Children’s Home in Anchovy, and in Kingston she visited and encouraged our PROComm scholars. Congratulations, Alia, we are proud of you!
Books for Christmas
I was dizzy with joy when, as an eight-year-old, I rode up the Times Store escalator with my Dad to the book section, and he allowed me to pick any book I wanted for Christmas. Now, we have a wide offering for children by Jamaican authors including Kellie Magnus and Jana Bent.
Other must-reads include the
Adventures of James Ferguson, autobiography of a retired RAF member, published by Valerie Facey’s The Mill Press. It was moving to learn of their racist experiences while serving during World War II. Another is Geoffrey Philps’s
Garvey’s Ghost. Geoffrey has been a passionate advocate for the exoneration of Marcus Garvey by the US Government, and we are hoping that this may still happen before President Obama demits office.
Christmas and New Year’s wishes
Have a peaceful and blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year, dear readers! This column will take a two-week break and return on January 9.