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After the Day of Prayer, what?

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It is easy to get depressed when reflecting on the issues that dominate the news in our weekly newspapers. Really I am not about to shoot the messenger. Last weekend papers informed us about increased incidents of rape and sexual assault at Indian Bay Beach. The News newspaper claimed to have been reliably informed that there were about 20 cases of rape and sexual assault in the East and West St.George’s constituencies.{{more}} But the picture grows more alarming, for the report continued: “In some instances young girls were kidnapped from their homes and taken to the beach and were savagely raped.” The victims allegedly ranged from 8 to 18. An 8-year-old school girl was raped recently in broad daylight after the child was apparently taken from her school by a man who was said to be in his late 40’s or early 50’s. Three men are being arraigned in Court for incest. One of the fathers was accused of having sexual intercourse with his daughter over a period of four years. Then one of our Carnival Queen contestants identified sexual abuse as one of the problems facing young people. Most young girls, she suggested, were abused by their fathers. I am not sure how she came to that conclusion but one cannot take lightly such a statement made by a young girl. Whether or not her conclusions can be justified doesn’t really matter, for the fact that such a statement can be made or an opinion expressed on it, by itself says something. Then the Head of the Teachers’ Union, who is Principal of the Belair Government School, has expressed deep concern that “the girls come crying (saying) that the boys saying take off your panty, no more long talk” She was referring to the lyrics of one of the hot, maybe too hot calypsos of the carnival season that has taken hold even among primary school children. She was concerned about the kind of message that was being sent out in a context where “there are children who are already mannish.” No wonder the nation was summoned to a national day of prayer on Monday. The Chairman of the National Day of Prayer Committee, Mr. Kenyatta Lewis, indicated that the relevant bodies were coming together because of the need for a ‘spiritual intervention in the lives of our nation and people.’ We are a Christian community, although the lives of many of our people seem to contradict that. But prayer is an integral part of the lives of Christians and now in this period of serious challenges we are calling on our Maker’s intervention. But what happens after the Day of Prayer is the question. Is the call for the National Day of Prayer meant to be an excuse for us not to tackle the issues that have in the first place prompted that Call? Are we expected to simply sit back and await divine intervention?

Minister Beache recently referred to the Caribbean Tourism market as being ‘tired’. Interestingly, I hear the same criticism being levelled at St.Vincent and the Grenadines, not at its tourism market but at the country and its people. Visitors to the country, including Vincentians returning home on holidays have been complaining about how tired the country looks, about the general untidiness and the blank and tired expressions on our faces. I am sure that I am not the only one to have heard this reaction from visitors. Of course, when you are living in a situation you are not necessarily a keen observer of changes taking place. Then comes carnival! There are usually those, religiously motivated, who never tire of lambasting Carnival since they see only what is negative in it. The problem is certainly not Carnival, although admittedly Carnival provides the opportunity for us to bring out what is worst in us. The problem is We! The problem is with us. It is what we have become. The country has lost its soul. Is it that a once renowned hospitable and friendly people have become angry and jittery, living on tenterhooks? Really, you have to be careful what you say to anyone these days because the reactions and responses even to an innocent statement would certainly alarm you.

Having said all of this maybe it is really a gross exaggeration to say that this is what we have become because Vincentians are still by and large a friendly and hospitable people, but these other tendencies mentioned are developing and pushing our warmth and natural instincts into the background. The truth is that it cannot be business as usual. There are all sorts of challenges facing us. There are all kinds of forces impacting on our lives. We have to try harder and harder just to remain where we are. I am sure SVG is not unique with this. Similar developments are probably taking place in our sister islands. But we must never arrive at a position where we accept things because we feel that similar things are happening elsewhere. We have to do not what we have to do but what we need to do.

Is it that we are paying a price for development; for moving away from a simple agricultural society to a yet undefined one searching for a place in the global village? We once exported sugar, then cotton and arrowroot and still do so with bananas, although at a reduced rate. Now we are beginning to export people. Our nurses are advised/warned that employment is limited and that one of their options is to seek green pastures abroad. Where is all of this leading? How have we arrived at this point? Shouldn’t we seriously contemplate the kind of society we would want to have in, say, twenty years and the kind of needs that would accompany or be demanded by such a society? Should our education system not be guided by this? We are never going to employ all the persons we educate and some would naturally go elsewhere for different reasons. Let us systematically and scientifically determine what we need and put in place mechanisms to satisfy those needs. Our students still go into the very traditional fields and often do not look down the road to examine possible needs over time. They stick with what they know. We need to guide them by providing the necessary framework. Tourism and hospitality, for instance, are areas we are trying to highlight but how and to what extent is that signal sent out? Is this reflected in the curricula in our schools? I hear complaints regularly from managers of auto mechanic shops who have difficulty finding workers in that field. What are we doing about it?

Fridays fascinate me when I see the large number of people rushing to buy their newspapers as if it is the most natural thing for them to do. Friday is newspaper day. It is like eating your breakfast. It has become part of the routine. But what do our readers look for? How do newspapers see their role? Is the newspaper simply another product on the market to be produced and sold? Really why do we do what we do? Do we ever give thought to this? How do we see our roles? How do the Churches see their role? Is it only about organising national day of prayers? Or should they face problems ‘head on’ as Dr. Lennox Adams appears to be suggesting? But, interestingly, based on a piece in last week’s News, Dr Adams seemed also to be drawing a distinction between the Church and Society. It is as though they are made up of separate people living different lives. According to the news item, “Cases of divorce are on the increase in many societies today and Dr. Adams said that there is a likelihood that incidents of divorce are also on the increase in the church..” This of course complicates the picture and maybe demands a different kind of prayer next time around.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a historian and social commentator.

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