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Looking back

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This week has been something of a strange one for me. For a large part of my life, the demands of work had created a particular routine. Everything else had to fit into the space that would not normally be taken up with work. Of course, in recent times, with the technology being what it is, work was virtually wherever you were. Since I hung up my formal working boots last week, I have begun to reflect on my working years.{{more}} I have been fortunate to have always been involved in work that I liked. I know that this is not so for the majority of people. Many have had to put up with work situations undertaken primarily because of the pay involved. It is not always the case that you get to do the things you like. Moreover, many persons have found themselves trapped in particular jobs because there is little else available. Again I had been spared that.

I started in the world of work soon after the completion of my A’Level Examinations. Those were the days when most people who were qualified could be guaranteed a scholarship. In my day, the Canadian Government provided CIDA scholarships for study in Canada. So when I took up my first appointment teaching English and History at the Grammar School, I knew that it was going to be only for a short period of time. That period turned out to be longer than I anticipated. It was just under two years when I was given two options, a scholarship at the recently opened campus of the University of the West Indies at Cave Hill or a CIDA scholarship at the University of Western Ontario in Canada. At that time, I had no difficulty making my choice. One matter that caused me a lot of pain had to do with the strong possibility that if I had remained, I would have been selected on the national cricket team, cricket then being one of my passions. My mind was made up, and it was off to London, Canada. Incidentally, it was the first time I knew that there was a London in Canada. I later found out that there was more to the name for there was a Thames river, and most of the streets were named after streets in Britain. There was even a London Cricket club owned largely by persons from England. Near to London was a Stratford on Avon, where you could go and look at Shakespearean plays.

After four years, I returned in the middle of the term and was placed at the Girls’ High School, one of the few men then to have taught at that girls’ school. This, needless to say, was quite an experience. The next term, it was over to the Boys Grammar School, where I was really slated to be. Challenges arose almost immediately. The political directorate was not happy with my wearing sandals to school. They objected to my occasional letters and articles to the newspapers. Then in 1975, I was one of two teachers who joined the Teachers’ Strike, spending the first day picketing my school, and then later on given the responsibility of visiting the country schools to monitor what was happening. For that, they conspired to ensure that while the others who participated in the Strike were paid, I was deprived of my salary for that Christmas period when the Strike ended. But life went on!

Shortly after I was invited to be the Coordinator of a rural development project in Barrouallie. With support from and maybe even some pressure from the Caribbean Conference of Churches, the Anglican Church in Barrouallie through the Christian Council had pledged to turn over its glebe lands to persons who over the years had been renting these lands. I was to coordinate the survey of the lands, put in roads, assist persons with building and repairing their homes and helping the farmers and fisher folks to develop their industry, organise the youths and identify training and income generating projects. Two issues arose. First, some persons cautioned me about giving up a pensionable job and moving into a situation where whatever I was doing had a terminal point. This is what I call the Civil Service mentality that is still around. More seriously was the situation where a number of persons in the then Labour Party Government, and including some members of the Christian Council, felt that I had accepted the position because my intention was to get into politics. Despite the frustrations involved in the manner in which the project was organised and was to be delivered, I enjoyed working with the community in the Glebe at Barrouallie.

When my contract came to an end, I decided not to renew it but to go back to study. I made the decision very late and so was virtually forced to go back to my old University since they had all my records already in place. So it was off to Canada for another stint. I continued my cricket there, helped to form a Caribbean Students Association and an Afro-Caribbean Forum. I was Vice President of the first and President of the latter. After completing my Ph.D, the question was what next, what was I going to do with a Ph.D in History in St.Vincent. I had been in touch with and was part of a group that emerged during the period that followed the volcanic eruption in 1979, which with the assistance of CUSO forged the creation of an organisation called CARIPEDA, the Caribbean People’s Development Agency. By the time I had completed my studies, CARIPEDA needed a Coordinator. After an interview in Trinidad, I was offered the job and so returned home to take it up. CARIPEDA was a regional NGO working with community groups and local NGOs. I did this for a while and thoroughly enjoyed it, but the regular travel to the member countries of CARIPEDA (Belize, Jamaica, Dominica, St.Lucia, St.Vincent, Grenada and later Guyana and Haiti) was getting too much for me, so when the job of Resident Tutor was available, I applied and here am I twenty years later. The last two jobs were not your typical 8 to 4 job, but they were appealing to me. With CARIPEDA, activities often went into the nights. With UWI, in any of its manifestations in the Eastern Caribbean, the work was with you even when you were on vacation. So you should understand the nature of my reflections. It must also be pointed out that work did not limit itself to the demands of the particular organisations, but to a wide network of which these organisations were a part. Additionally, the persons among whom you were working also created their particular demands. If you were working with farmers, then work had to start after they completed their day on their farms, and so it went on. This period of my life gives me the luxury now of looking back and reflecting on what work and life meant to me. It was really in a sense a total commitment to whatever I was doing.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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