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Who are my national heroes? – Part 2

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Fri, May 23, 2014

by Oswald Fereira

Continued from Midweek Searchlight – May 20, 2014.

My next hero is Daniel Dandrade, or “Dada” Dandrade, as he was affectionately known in Park Hill and surrounding areas. Dada Dandrade operated the arrowroot mill in Park Hill. At that time, before banana was king, the arrowroot mills in our area – Colonarie, Union, Gorse, Belle Vue – were estate mills and processed arrowroot from their estates.{{more}} The operation of the Park Hill mill by Dada Dandrade provided an opportunity for peasant farmers in the area to grow arrowroot and have their crop processed into starch. Single-handedly, Dada Dandrade operated the mill and maintained a canal that ran from the Colonarie River in South Rivers back to the Colonarie River at the Belle Vue Estate. Every year he would get a gang of men to get the mill ready and repair landslides and get the canal operational so that he could power up the mill, usually in November. The mill provided employment for a crew, usually the same people year after year. It allowed for the growing of arrowroot that provided employment for workers in the field. It had a food component, in that farmers often planted bobas yams in the arrowroot fields as an incentive for workers to want to dig the arrowroot and often farmers planted pigeon peas on the side of the arrowroot field and the workers would often get a share of the peas. The workers and other villagers also got a share of the madungo. So, with Christmas coming, there was money for the workers in the field and at the mill, money for the peasant farmers, and bobas yam, pigeon peas and madungo for all. There was the “bitty,” which was food for livestock and the raw material for wattle-and-daub homes and kitchens. The canal also has social benefits for the village. It was a place where we had a bath, washed our clothes, watered our livestock, and fetched water when the standpipe was dry. Dada Dandrade had a huge impact on the local economy, he was a hero in my estimation.

My next heroes were the long suffering headteachers who over decades impacted several generations of Vincentians. They learnt their trade on the job as it was a time when our teachers were untrained, no university degrees or certificates. I recall Teacher James in South Rivers, George Stephens in Colonarie, Hugh Daisley in Stubbs, Teacher Ballah in Biabou and several others around the island. They were often on the job for several years in the same place, often teaching multiple generations in the same family. Their methods may have been crude and tedious, but their dedication was above question and they helped to shape the minds and morals of many Vincentians – true heroes all. And to this list we must add Dr Eustace and Timmy Richards. These two men laboured to provide an alternate secondary education opportunity to the many who did not quite succeed to the limited opportunities at the Boys’ Grammar School and Girls’ High School. When the government did not do it, these two men filled a much needed gap in our education system. Cramped though the quarters may have been, they played a yeoman’s role.

How about Lewis Punnett? In the 1950’s his generous donation of his property at Glen allowed for the development of a facility to house the poor and the destitute, the neglected people in our society, so that they could have a place to live out their final years in dignity.

My next hero was a simple elderly lady in South Rivers. Park Hill had no school, as we seemed never to support the governing political party, so I started my primary school sojourn at the South Rivers Methodist School under Teacher Edwards. At about the age of six, I encountered this elderly lady when I overheard other children shouting at her the slogan “what a time” and for a while, in my naivety, I thought her name was “what a time.” Anyway she would reply “happy time” and as we shouted again “what a time,” she would reply “peaceful time” – and so it went back and forth until she called it a day. Sometimes I did not want to go to school, but I looked forward to my daily encounter with this gentle soul and I often called and called until she would appear at the roadside and exchange pleasantries with me, then I would be off to school, sometimes late, but contented except for some disappointment if she did not show up. It was not until my teenage years that I discovered that her name was Mrs Cecilia Cuffy. I am sure that many a village has an equivalent of my Mrs Cecilia Cuffy. If these pleasant exchanges could linger with me for well over fifty years, it is obvious that she had a great impact on my persona; she is a hero in my eyes.

Another category of heroes includes the many mothers who toiled so hard and lovingly raised large broods of children, sometimes sixteen or more kids in a two- roomed house with no electricity and no running water. They survived off the land, had no fine clothes or fancy furniture. They often walked several miles over many days to get to Kingstown when they had to, cared for sick children without benefit of a doctor and they sought no recognition other than the love of their family – heroes all!

What a time? To all the Mikey Findlays, Daniel Dandrade, Teacher Stephens et al, Dr Eustace and Timmy Richards, Lewis Punnett, Mrs Cecilia Cuffy, and all the mothers who laboured in great hardship – Peaceful Time. And to those of you who had heroes like these in your lives, please share your memories with us.

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