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Collaborative effort needed to protect medical students

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Fri Apr 12, 2013

Editor: Legendary baseball coach Yogi Berra is famed for his many aphorisms or “Yogiisms” as they are satirically dubbed. Among the most famous: “It’s déjà vu all over again”. When I picked up my copy of the SEARCHLIGHT last Friday, I had mixed emotions at the first glance of the front cover. Simultaneously repulsed by the Bequia story and alternately buoyed by the Nubian beauty of Mayreau resident Justlyn Ollivierre, as she struck a statuesque pose and an infectious smile, having been crowned Miss Easterval. {{more}}
 
It was reminiscent of her big sister, the supremely confident and effervescent Casynella, whom I predicted would “do the double” in 2005 and she did not disappoint. Justlyn has expressed her desire to follow in her elder sibling’s footsteps in pursuing the Miss SVG Crown and no doubt the Miss Carival. If genetics has anything to do with it, expect another “knock your socks off” performance from the Mayreau beauty.

Then I turned to the back cover of the paper and struggled to keep my composure. I just could not believe what I was reading. Was this “Déjà vu all over again”? It brought back memories of 2006-2007 when I was at Kingstown Medical College and the horrors of the last year. There were many variables to the closure of the college, but the one most cited was the crime situation that plagued the student population who resided in private residences and apartments off-campus.

At a time when St Vincent and the Grenadines has been receiving numerous awards and positive write-ups internationally as a prime tourism destination – now this!! We cannot waste any time in getting this situation under control. The comments of these students are almost identical to the comments made by the students at Kingstown medical college six or seven years ago. We must all take a stake in this situation because know it or not we will all be negatively affected by further bad publicity or worse yet closure of the institution. Also, no doubt, the two other medical colleges are taking note and may decide whether or not expanding their programs is feasible.
 
We can ill-afford this situation to continue. With the departure of Kingstown Medical College, went an approximate thirty million dollars annually from the economy. As someone who was integrally involved with the Kingstown Medical College I can share a few experiences and thoughts in the following areas. I deliberately omit the criminals and scum-bags, because what I will have to say about them cannot be published.

The Police: As a former police officer who still and will always think like one, I share these thoughts. As pointed out in the SEARCHLIGHT’s editorial, quote: “Perhaps in cases such as these, the police need to go the extra mile to keep in touch with the victims, to let them know the status of their cases and to reassure them that patrols in the area have been stepped up.” Very important and frankly a repeat of the complaints of six or seven years ago. Yes, the police may be “working behind the scenes,” but the students need to be kept abreast of developments, even when there is no real progress to report. After all, we only recently went through an uproar when a civilian was hired at the rank of Inspector and assigned to the Police’s Public Relations Department.
 
There are now two “decorated” senior officers in that department. As so aptly pointed out by the editor, in cases where guest, to our country are involved, the police must make a concerted effort to step up their game. This is also a perennial complaint of locals: that the police “keep them in the dark”. I recall the embarrassment of the general student body being addressed at a meeting in the lecture hall, where the police personnel were shouted down. It became so belligerent that the University Provost, who had come in from Grenada, had to politely ask the police to leave. Again, the main grievance of the student body – lack of communication. The public relations aspect cannot be left solely to the precinct or police station handling the investigations. The official Public Relations Department must be front and centre. If at least half the enthusiasm and effort given to Carnival and Nine Mornings festivities is given to this situation, that will be a big plus.

The Landlords/Homeowners: I will be the first to tell you that there were some who did the right thing and co-operated fully with the college in meeting the requirements and recommendations with regards to Safety & Security. Unfortunately, there were others who resisted and gave a lot of push-back when approached to make upgrades. Such was the case when a student had been burglarized. Upon close inspection of the premises, it was discovered that there was no dead-bolt lock.
 
The homeowner was adamant that one was not necessary and when a demonstration was done to show her that it only took ten seconds to defeat the existing lock, her instant reaction upon seeing the need was: “Well I am going to have to raise the rent.” Raise the rent to do something she should have done in the first place. So, if she raised the rent by let’s say 20 (U.S. dollars) per month. It would now cost the tenant an extra E.C. $53 per month, for something that should have been done in the first place. Another problem was that the homeowners did not form an association until the proverbial chicken had already flown the coop.
 
The “penny wise, pound foolish” approach of some homeowners who bluntly refused to hire security and when some of them did, they picked up some shoddy looking character whom they can pay a pittance. As a student said to me once. “The way he looked, I was trying to figure out if he was here to protect me or to rob me.” I once showed up at a residence at night, to find a disheveled, quote unquote, “security guard” passed out/fast asleep with the remnants of his stash, paraphernalia, and a flare, strewn about him. The homeowners would have to get their act together.

The Students: Granted, most of the problems transpired at the residences of the students where have every right to be left alone and have a right to privacy and peace of mind; however, they also need to be aware of the fact that crimes of opportunity exist in every country and that every effort should be made to properly secure themselves and their property. They ought to be mindful whom they befriend and associate with and of the places they go.
 
I recall that we always had orientations for every new batch of students and apprized them of the Safety & Security issues and of the places they should avoid etc. On one occasion, one day after the orientation, a red alert went out, an attempted sexual assault on a female student, who found herself all alone at about 1 p.m. jogging along Breakers Bay at Ratho Mill. Another one, a male student, robbed one night about 8 p.m.; he found himself in Paul’s Lot at that time of night. They must avoid tempting fate. The first responsibility for personal safety is that of the person whose safety is at stake, be it a local or visitor to any country.

The Institution: At the campus of Kingstown Medical College, there was not a problem with burglaries or assaults. The occasional inside petty theft occurred. I know and understand that one of the considerations of the government in permitting medical schools to operate here is the variable of the multiplier effect or trickle-down theory; i.e. that local homeowners and apartment owners and other businesses get a piece of the pie; that students be allowed to have open choice to make their own residence decisions and be free to rent from whom they wish. This, on the face, sounds very logical and democratic; however, this very freedom is precisely a major factor with regards to Safety & Security.
 
It is the potential achilles heel, the straw that may break the camel’s back. Some students deliberately, for whatever reason, did not want college administration to know where they resided. The disadvantage is that this does not allow the College’s Department of Safety to inspect the premises and make recommendations as to upgrades or whether or not such premises are fit for student accommodation. A burglary occurs and the Safety Officer shows up, only to find a student or students in some sub-standard accommodation owned by an absentee landlord, whose only interest seemed to be collecting the $450 – $500. U.S. per student, at the end of each month.
 
It is not cost effective for homeowners who have accommodation for only two or three students to hire security personnel, at least at night. The time may come, as is already pursued by another institution, to change the model. This model, not advantageous to owners of private residences and small apartment buildings, involves the premises being leased or rented by the college. The college, in turn, upon completion of a forensic site survey or Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) Analysis, enhances the Safety & Security environment and uses premises as off-campus dormitories for the students, with round-the-clock security.

We all have a stake in looking out for all visitors to our shores, especially these students who come here to pursue a career in medicine. They have enough stress in dealing with the rigours of their academic pursuit. This foolishness, brought about because of the selfishness and greed of a few dysfunctional misfits, is the last thing they need.

Benson Feddows

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