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Vincentians abroad: A valuable resource for national development

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Over the past week, teams representing the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC), have been visiting Vincentians abroad (the “diaspora” is the fancy name) in a second round of consultations on their views on reform of our country’s Constitution. Two-person groups from the CRC have been engaging Vincentians, migrants and students alike, in North America, the United Kingdom and the Caribbean. The first round of such consultations took place in August last year. {{more}}

The principle, and practice, of involving Vincentians abroad in discussions on such an important issue, speaks volumes for the democratic process. It is a most positive development that allows our citizens living or studying abroad to become an integral part of the constitutional reform process. It indicates to them that they are as much a part of the nation as their fellow nationals still physically in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

For too long there has tended to be an artificial separation between Vincentians at home and those abroad, on a collective level. At the individual and family level, we are still very much intertwined, as the vast amounts spent on phone calls, barrels and the unique Vincy packages from home (breadfruit, strong rum, tri-tri and all) would testify. But for some reason at a collective level, especially in regard to Vincentians living in the US and moreso Britain, there has grown this sense of “dem” and “we”. It has fed the spread of a number of myths and misconceptions. I have mentioned only the popular but ridiculously denigrating perception that UK-based Vincies are nearly all “crazy”.

While we wallow in such divisive myths, the irony is that as a nation, we draw very heavily on Vincentians living overseas for resources as all levels. Their remittances for instance, are not only a lifeline for thousands of local households, but also make a very significant contribution to the national economy. And what would Christmas be for many families without the “barrels” from abroad and the “boxes” from nearer home in the Caribbean? Our political parties and political leaders have certainly been quick to recognize what a valuable sense of resources, our nationals abroad represent. Long before each elections they put in place the machinery to raise funds from the migrant communities and even to get the Vincentians living abroad to use these largesse as a means of influencing the vote of those at home dependent on the remittances. At the extreme level they have never been hesitant to recruit candidates abroad. Even the radical UPM of 1979, resorted to this practice. Perhaps the worst example was in those same elections of 1979, when a US-based Vincy, after winning his seat only for his party to lose, returned to his foreign base without staying to represent those that voted for him.

It is time for us to take a much more mature and strategic approach to those valuable resources, human, and material, that we have abroad. In the first case we do not even know what we possess as a nation, on foreign soil, that is documenting the number of Vincentian citizens abroad, their respective fields of endeavour, etc. It is yet to be done.

In fact the current problems in securing jobs for Cuban-trained doctors, suggest that we are not even on top of those that our government itself has sent abroad to train.

With such an approach we are short-changing ourselves and restricting our own options for development. A tiny country like ours cannot afford such waste and neglect of precious resources. Each and every Vincentian abroad, trained nurse or engineer, computer expert or language expert, psychiatrist or dentist, financial wizard or marketing genius, is a potential source of value to be added to our economy and developmental process. We must tap them.

Moreso we must move aggressively to bridge the information divide on which these false differences feed. Too many Vincentians abroad are not always familiar with the challenges of development we face. Too many of them are not sufficiently participating in social and political life, either in their migrant communities or at home, to be able to exert their influence. Our government must lead the way in their empowerment of these Vincentians, encouraging them to organize in Vincentian and Caribbean Associations, to join community organizations to exert their collective influence on politicians and political processes where they live as well as here at home. We cannot afford the luxury of Vincentians just chilling out at 95th St. in Brooklyn or limping along in High Wycombe, UK, oblivious of the changing world around them.

In this, we at home need to work to change our own mindset and perceptions. On an individual level we all have a part to play. And as for our foreign ministry, it needs to be reorganized and revamped to reflect this priority, to be able to take a lead in this direction, to infuse our Foreign Missions with the enthusiasm and conviction to undertake this task. There is every bit to be gained and not a damn thing to lose. Let’s step on it!

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