Serving our people and our heritage


Serving our people and our heritage

Jean Lowrie-Chin

Monday, February 17, 2020

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Thousands of Jamaican women carry the name of Pamela McNeil in their hearts. This unsung heroine, who passed away on February 6, was the founder and first director of the Women's Centre of Jamaica Foundation (WCJF). In her 1998 report, 20 years after the founding of the WCJF, McNeil reported that the foundation had seven main centres and seven (at present eight) outreach stations islandwide.

She had matched her passion for the education of teenage mothers with solid research, which proved the social and financial worth of the programme. She wrote: “Dr Sanshu Handa of The University of the West Indies also did a cost-benefit analysis of WCJF's Programme for Adolescent Mothers, and… concludes that each Jamaican dollar invested in the WCJF Programme for Adolescent Mothers results in $6.70 worth of benefits to society. In fact, due to the savings to the Government, it now funds all salaries, wages and utility expenditures of the Women's Centre.”

McNeil shared some of the real achievements of the WCJF: “A decrease in the negative societal attitudes formally displayed towards the teen mother; the breakdown of the barriers within the Ministry of Education and the changes in the Education Code (a regulatory law) to allow teenage mothers to return to the school system; the thousands of young women who have been able to achieve academic successes and social advancement; the scholastic achievements of the children of teen mothers involved in our programme.”

Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia Grange, in her tribute to McNeil, noted that she was “a visionary who saw it as her purpose to take an active part in assisting teenage mothers to carry on with their education and realise their dreams”.

Some 50,000 graduates of the Women's Centre of Jamaica have achieved successful careers. I have heard some of their stories and seen their resolve and confidence.

We hold precious the memory of this good woman, Pamela McNeil, who helped us to judge less and love more.


Our world-class cathedral

Daily this student could be seen after school on her knees — a tiny figure in the imposing surroundings of the Holy Trinity Cathedral on North Street in Kingston. She had taken one look at the crowded bus stop by Emerald Road (now George Headley Drive) and escaped to the cathedral to pray until the crush subsided. That student was me, and I am forever grateful for the interludes of grace in that holy space.

Thank goodness that Thalia Lyn, on hearing that the cathedral was in a maintenance crisis, reached out to then Ambassador Jesus Silva for the assistance of the Government of Spain. The NCB Foundation, chaired by Lyn, joined forces with the Cathedral Restoration Committee, led by then Archbishop Lawrence Burke, May Lowe, resident architect Clifton Yap, Enith Williams, Errol Moo Young, and then Monsignor Kenneth Richards. The goodly Professor Antonio Sanchez Barriga visited the cathedral in 2006 and gave his services pro bono to 2010. Recruiting and training 34 young women and men from the surrounding communities, Professor Barriga was able to uncover the exquisite creations by the Jesuit priest Father Francis J Schroen in 1910 –1911 that had been coated with marine paint.

Ambassador Silva's successor, Ambassador Celsa Nuño continued this support, hosting concerts so the public could enjoy the refreshed environment. The baton was passed to the keen Spain Chargée d'Affaires Carmen Rives. Now Ambassador of Spain to Jamaica Josep Maria Bosch has once again welcomed Professor Barriga to Jamaica to update and complete several aspects of the restoration.

“Dear friends of the Holy Trinity Cathedral,” said Ambassador Bosch at a recent reception in Professor Barriga's honour, “to have on board on this project Professor Sanchez Barriga is a real privilege, as he is one of the leading world experts in conservation and restoration… He has been a restorer at the Museo Del Prado in the National Archaeological Museum of Madrid and he has established a restoration centre in Jerusalem and has been working in important archaeological sites in Egypt, Rome and London.”

No wonder, then, that the popular tour company Island Routes now includes a tour of the cathedral for international visitors, who have compared our cathedral with some of the finest in Europe.

Denis Lalor has blessed the project with his kind patronage and is inviting Jamaicans to support the continued maintenance of this exquisite national heritage site.


Greg Christie returns

We first met Greg Christie when he was legal counsel for Kaiser International and quickly realised that this was an outstanding professional of the highest integrity. During his seven years as contractor general of Jamaica Christie's tough approach to corruption was met with both plaudits and brickbats. Now, with Jamaica moving down a few notches on the corruption scale, we should welcome the news that this fearless Jamaican will return to head the Integrity Commission — a merger of the Office of the Contractor General, the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption, and the Integrity Commission under the Integrity Commission Act 2017.

According to a Jamaica Observer report, “The Integrity Commission was established in February 2018 with a mandate to promote and enhance standards of ethical conduct for parliamentarians, public officials, and other individuals. Under its mandate it is to consolidate the laws relating to the prevention of corruption and the awarding, monitoring, and investigating of the government contracts and prescribed licences. It is also mandated to strengthen the measures for prevention, detection, investigation, and prosecution of acts of corruption.”

Jamaicans should be heartened at this appointment, as the costs of corruption are too much for our country to bear.


Student loan pressure

A young professional shared with me a letter she received from the Students' Loan Bureau (SLB) requesting full payment of her loan balance of over $2 million by a certain date, and warning that if this is not forthcoming her photograph will be published in the press. She explained that most of the positions she had held before getting a full-time job last year were internships offering stipends. She paid a lump sum recently and was saving to pay more when the letter arrived.

I cannot understand why a student who is not trying to hide from the SLB and who has been communicating her employment challenges would receive such a threat. We hear of fraudulent activities in various government agencies, yet very rarely do we see photographs of the accused published. Yet these young graduates, at the threshold of their careers, are being subject to an action which can cause serious damage to their reputation. We would understand if the SLB were to get tough with borrowers who cannot be reached and make no effort to clear their debt, but to threaten someone who is not hiding and who is doing their best to honour their responsibility is unacceptable.

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