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At last some good news!

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Over the past week we have been greeted with the pleasant news that all three valedictorians at the three established campuses of the University of the West Indies were Vincentians. I am not sure if this has happened before, that is, persons from the same country being valedictorians at all three campuses in the same year. The spread of these students from the areas of Old Montrose, Carapan and Union Island will, of course, tell its own story.{{more}}

But what stands out is the fact that they see themselves as examples to other students and young people and that there were challenges which at least two of them had to overcome, along with the sacrifices made by their parents that paved the way for them to attain the successes that they have achieved.

Keisean Stevenson of Old Montrose was born with an abnormal arm and as is so common in our society there were those children who mocked him because of that abnormality, but Keisean had learnt not to let it restrict him. Speaking to an Administrator from Mona recently, she seemed quite impressed with him and the challenges he had to overcome. His word to young people was not that they should not be afraid of failure, but instead that they must learn from it and grow in the process. Keisean received a First Class Honours Degree in Chemistry at the Mona Campus of UWI.

Kevin Charles of Union Island was the valedictorian at the St Augustine Campus, graduating with first class honours from the Faculty of Natural Sciences. He is a former teacher of the Union Island Secondary School and showed what an all-round person he is by being involved in recording and musical production, owning a studio in Union Island. His lesson to the youngsters: “Nothing is beyond your reach. It is imperative that you dream big and let no one tell you that you cannot accomplish whatever feat you set out to conquer. Set your goals, assess the difficulty, formulate your own plan and execute it with diligence.”

What was good about Keisean and Kevin, the two K’s, is that their area of speciality was Natural Sciences, an area that appeared to have been overshadowed over the years by the many students who were going into the Social Sciences. The third student who is a graduate of the Cave Hill campus in Barbados is from Carapan and his areas of study were Economics and Accounting. Terral sees himself as a leader and wants his success to be a lesson to other young men. His mother is a vendor at Little Tokyo. Again, this tells its own story and leads one to try to imagine the sacrifices she must have made. Terral told the reporter who interviewed him about the assistance given by his older sister who had dropped out of school to help his mother in taking care of him and another brother, who made his contribution by financing him. This is really a marvellous story and shows that all is not lost and that families could still get together to assist members, as they had done in the ‘good old days’. One other thing which stood out for me when I read about these three students was that they were all male. Many of us have, in recent times, being decrying the plight of the male student, some even referring to them as part of an endangered species. Terral, Keisean and Kevin bring back the hope that all is not really lost. The pieces heralding the successes of these students is really welcome news after the country had been beset in recent times with publicity that has been so negative.

The Plight of the Teachers’ Union

After welcoming the good news we have to move quickly back to square one. The SVG Union of Teachers, which had been so vibrant in the 70s, launching a strike that shook the nation and using the energy and vision from that period of struggle to establish a Credit Union that is among the biggest in the nation, is now in a state of disarray. To hear that there are only two of ten branches functioning and that, of the over eighty schools, there are only nine stewards is indeed sad and depressing news to teachers who had given their all to lift the status of all teachers, to fight for better working conditions and to provide the resources to allow teachers and their union to play a more meaningful role in the development of education generally.

There is no mystery why things have reached the stage they are at. High among these factors are the betrayal by some past presidents and members of the Executive who had placed their interests above those of the union generally and sold their members in the process. The Executive elected earlier this year have to bring together all their energies and whatever resources they command in an effort to rebuild the union. Teachers are so disenchanted and circumspect now that the leaders of the union will have to spend some time trying to rebuild that confidence and trust without which nothing will be done. Without their union, teachers will be on their own, and will never be able to win unless they set out to be the biggest boot lickers ever. It is a daunting task, but one that has to be undertaken. I suspect too, that a lot of the younger teachers are unaware of the benefits of a union. Additionally, many teachers today get into the profession not because they want to make teaching a career, but as a holding job, awaiting opportunities to move into some other area. Teachers and the general public have to try to support the new executive as strongly as possible and assist them in the hard task they have ahead with their negotiations for a new Collective Agreement and in their efforts to secure the salary increases that were promised them.

Finally I want to compliment Sharon Dalton for bringing back memories of the Barrouallie of old, paying tribute to those who laboured on the estates, highlighting the sense of community and reflecting on the old Jack o’ Lantern and Rounce stories that made moonlight nights so special, while at the same time driving fears into the hearts of the young ones. I look forward to the rest of the series.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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