EMBASSY OF ST. VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES TO THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

November 11, 2010 by  
Filed under News & Events

Independence message by Her Excellency La Celia A. Prince Ambassador of St. Vincent & the Grenadines to the U.S.A

– President and Executive Members of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Association of Montreal;
– Officials of the Canadian Government;
– My Fellow Vincentians, friends of Vincentians and well-wishers;
– Ladies and Gentlemen:

Good evening! Bon soir a tous!

J’aimerai vous remercier de votre acceuil tres chaleureux ici!  I begin with words of thanks to the President and Executive Members of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Association of Montreal for the invitation to deliver the keynote address at your Association’s Annual Independence banquet. I am especially honoured by your invitation given that I am not accredited to serve in Canada and that my duty station is way down below the 49th parallel!

So another year has rolled around, and just as we add another year to our age and get older, our homeland St. Vincent and the Grenadines is one year older, celebrating her 31st birthday. Some people do not celebrate birthdays and in fact some of us prefer to altogether forget that a new year has come and that we have gotten older. We  sometimes focus on the negative aspects of ageing: like grey hair, wrinkles appearing, packing on the pounds and not being able to fit into the skinny jeans anymore. My uncle—a somewhat vain uncle who now shaves his head clean in order to escape the sight of bald patches and grey hair—recently said to me: “there is nothing great about ageing….. It is horrible!”
As I pondered long and hard on what to talk to you about this evening, and as I reflected on what the year 2010 has brought for St. Vincent and the Grenadines and our Caribbean region generally, I was tempted to say “It is horrible!”: Annus horribilus, as Queen Elizabeth II famously declared as 1992 drew to a close and she reflected on the many tribulations that she and her family had gone through that year.

Our year 2010 started off with the hang-over trials and tribulations of the troubled CL Financial holdings and the British America Insurance companies, a saga which began in 2009. These companies have for years, operated as the bedrock upon which many investments in our country and region were made, and upon which our economies were highly dependent. Although the nucleus of CL Financial’s operations is in Trinidad and Tobago, as you all know, our Caribbean is so inter-dependent that any major financial threat in our region is sure to threaten the financial health of us all.

2010 also saw the ultimate unravelling of the Allen Stanford debacle which began in 2009. The consequences of the ponzi scheme which Stanford ran out of Antigua and Barbuda, its impact on the economy of Antigua and Barbuda and the knock-on effects on the rest of the Eastern Caribbean States came perilously close to destabilizing the economies of these countries.  Can you imagine the blow that this would have dealt to our economies in the already stifling environment of the global financial crisis, if the Eastern Caribbean dollar had to be devalued? Thanks to the good governance which the East Caribbean Central Bank has maintained within the East Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU) and the leadership of the Central Bank’s Governor, Vincentian Sir Dwight Venner, our currency which has been pegged for the last 34 years to the U.S. dollar at a rate of EC $2.70 to US $1, has maintained the status quo on firm footing despite the financial meltdown.

While St. Vincent and the Grenadines has been spared being directly impacted by some of the worst challenges that our region faces in decades, it does not mean that we are in no way affected. I am fond of illustrating the point of our inter-connectedness by quoting the 16th century English poet, John Donne, who said that “All mankind is of one author…..no man is an island, entire of itself…… any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.”

Friends, I,  and I am sure you—felt greatly diminished by the unprecedented loss of life and human tragedy following the 12th January earthquakes in Haiti. Haiti is our Caribbean neighbour and Haitians are our brothers and sisters. The helplessness, the hopelessness and the despair which came out of Haiti hit home very hard in my mind: “what if this happened in our beloved St. Vincent and the Grenadines?” , I asked myself.

Let me take us back a bit to the earlier part of my discourse regarding the ageing process and birthdays. I don’t want to sound like the person who fears the  seeming challenges that maturing and ageing bring by bemoaning  the grey hair, the baldness and wrinkles which a new year and a birthday have brought. I want to sound like the wise person who understands that change is inevitable and  that one should at least be  grateful for life and good health. So when I permitted myself to re-orient my thinking on what 31 years of independence has brought to St. Vincent and the Grenadines and what the year 2010 means to us, I started seeing my  glass as half full, rather than half-empty.  So like the person who serenely embraces ageing by acknowledging its virtues such as increased wisdom and experience, in counting our blessings, I’ve been able to look at the tools we have employed and will continue to employ in buttressing ourselves against the onslaught of challenges present and future.

In so far as the financial challenges we faced due to the collapse of the CL financial group and the Standford debacle are concerned, we must be proud that as miniscule in size as we are, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the OECS countries have for years practised a clear and collective decision-making process that have underpinned the strength of our economies. And the Eight Point Stabilization and Growth Plan which has been elaborated by the East Caribbean Central Bank and implemented in our respective countries is what has kept our currency robust in the face of the global financial meltdown. We may be small in size, but we know the value of working collectively to achieve results which redound to the benefit of our people.

Friends, my resolve to look at the positive aspects of what 2010 has brought St. Vincent and the Grenadines leads me to look no further than you, our Diaspora.  The Vincentian-Canadians have blazed the trail in rallying our people to come out each year and celebrate their Vincentianness.  Your Vincentian neighbours in the United States come over to Canada in their numbers to join you. The SVG-Unity picnic is to date, the largest gathering of Vincentians outside of St. Vincent and the Grenadines at any one time. Someone had a vision of what real Vincentian unity should be, and this gave birth to the

SVG-Unity picnic, which is now an annual must-do event for thousands of Vincentians. The symbolism of the SVG-Unity picnic is powerful—especially at a time when at home in SVG, we are unfortunately becoming a deeply divided nation. The lessons of unity and oneness that you teach is important. Moreover, at a time when it is becoming more and more obvious that the Diaspora is key to the development of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, you have provided a framework on which to build Vincentian unity and common purpose for our blessed nation. I congratulate you for this.

The Vincentian Diaspora in the United States is similarly very engaged in the pooling their collective resources to the benefit and honour of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. As a direct result of the  pro-active stance taken by our government to engage the Diaspora, last year’s planning of the Vincy Homecoming laid a foundation for a more active Diaspora voice in our nation-building. A Diaspora Committee, comprised of both government and opposition supporters meets regularly in New York to advance the stated goals of the Diaspora in making its mark in SVG. Thus far, they have made a significant contribution to drafting the Diaspora Policy Framework for Action, which will be adopted by the Government, and they are soon to embark on creating a database of skilled labour to be found within the Vincentian Diaspora overseas. This database will cover a wide cross-section of sectors and skill-sets and is intended to promote the economic, social and governance needs of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Amid the tragedy of the Haiti earthquake, as dismal as it has been, I have found the inspiration to boldly launch into new territory with our Vincentian Diaspora in the USA. I recall very vividly that during the aftermath of the quake, so many Vincentians– from Members of various Associations, to individuals without any kind of Association– all sprung into immediate action to do something to help Haiti. When our Embassy called around to find out what each of the various Associations was doing, it became painfully obvious that there was no coordination between the various Associations and neither knew what the other was doing. It resulted in a duplication of efforts; in items being collected which were  in fact not needed in Haiti; barrels of items which could not be shipped because the requisite shipping procedures were not followed; and many other equally frustrating incidents.  And I could not help but think: what if this had happened in SVG? What if we were struck by a major disaster, how could or should the Diaspora respond? It frightened me to think that in spite of the best efforts which we would be putting forward, that lack of preparation would result in chaos….. chaos would result in us not meeting the objective of adequately responding to the needs of our beloved SVG in

a timely manner. Thus it was, ladies and gentlemen, that the Embassy of St. Vincent and the Grenadines decided to launch into an elaborate programme to create the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Diaspora Emergency Response Mechanism.

I have started an ambitious project, meeting with Vincentian Associations throughout the United States– east-coast to west coast– to set up a national Committee that will be responsible for coordinating the response of the Vincentian Diaspora in the USA should a major disaster ever hit our country. The recent flooding in Pakistan is instructive: Pakistan suffered floods which were hitherto unprecedented. In spite of the scale of the human and material disaster, the International Community was not very responsive, not even to the United Nations’ plea for donations. The Haiti situation tells the story even more:  in March this year, fifty-odd countries met in New York and pledged a total of US $8.75 billion to the reconstruction of Haiti. The United States alone pledged US $1.5 billion. Of the total amount of what was pledged, only US $686 million has reached Haiti so far. The United States has not yet disbursed a single penny of what they pledged! At this point, only 2% of the rubble has been cleared in Haiti– people still live in dangerous, make-shift tent homes and the slow response for recovery has led to the situation being exacerbated by the recent outbreak of cholera .

This dismal response to both Pakistan and Haiti can be summed up in two words: donor-fatigue. If a natural disaster of immense proportions were to hit St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the international community could come to our aid. But when donor fatigue sets in and the international community are only to be seen somewhere in the distance, it is the Vincentian Diaspora who will always be there, who will always be engaged in rebuilding the nation, using their own resources, as well as making the vital links to institutions in their communities who  could be of assistance.  It is true that the Diasporic community will never be able to match the pockets and the wherewithal of the international community, but any measure of sustained contributions will be vital to help our country rebuild in such a critical situation. The  Vincentian Diaspora outnumbers the population of residents actually living in St. Vincent and the Grenadines by as much as 3:1 or 4:1, so any contribution that you can make will be far more than just a drop in the ocean.

We know that our Hairouna is the “Home of the blessed”, but we also know that our future is perhaps strewn with potential disaster such as earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanic eruption. To be forewarned is to be forearmed: the best weapon we can arm
ourselves with against Mother Nature is to anticipate her and therefore lessen her impact by having a plan to respond to her ravages.  Remember: you hold significant power.

With this vision in mind, I am putting every effort into creating the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Diaspora Emergency Response Mechanism, which will have established protocols in place for a collective, coordinated and efficient response, in the event of a natural disaster hitting SVG. I am also bringing onboard experts to advise us on the best protocols that our Diaspora Response Committee should adhere to, so I have already sought the input of our National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO) in SVG; the Caribbean Disaster Management Agency (CDEMA), and in the United States, the National Centre for Disaster Preparedness and the Centre for Disease Control.

I encourage you to create a similar mechanism for the Vincentian Diaspora in Canada. You have a rich canvass from which to start, having already laid the foundation  for nation-wide Vincy collaboration through the SVG Unity picnic.

I am very excited about the prospect of creating this instrument which can be of great use to our country. I truly hope that no event ever occurs which would give rise to the Mechanism being put into action, but I am seeing my glass half-full in knowing that if the eventuality ever occurs, we have a Diaspora that cares deeply about the well-being of our country and will help see SVG through the difficult time.  The fact that you have formed yourselves into Associations and celebrate our nation’s independence year after year already tells me that you carry St. Vincent and the Grenadines deep in your hearts and that you will continue to honour her however you can.

When I consider the commendable things that have been taking place in our homeland, my glass is really beginning to look more on the full, rather than on empty side. Our Government’s thrust in the education domain has endowed Vincentians with unprecedented access to education as a means of self-empowerment. The Education Revolution continues to expand access to Early Childhood Education, reaching the minds of our children at that most vital stage of learning; making affordable, professionally certified childcare and early childhood education available in both rural and urban communities alike.  The growth in the number of Primary and Secondary schools increases the sheer number of available spaces in schools and therefore the number of opportunities and possibilities for our nation’s youth to contribute positively to nation-building.

Back in 1995, I was privileged to be awarded a St. Vincent and the Grenadines island-scholarship, having placed third overall in the Cambridge A-levels exam. Back then, the top three students received island scholarships, but in that year, the number was increased to four in order to accommodate a science student who had performed commendably. Even though I was thrilled with my unexpected endowment, I kept thinking of those of my classmates who I knew were brilliant students who worked very hard, but did not get scholarships and whose parents, like mine, could not have afforded to send them to university. And this thought always stayed on my mind—what happens to a bright young person who did not make the top 3 or 4 cut? Many years later when I met one of those same brilliant classmates who  did not get a scholarship. Instead, she had to work for many years first before getting a loan to go off to study. Thanks to my Island scholarship, I had completed 6 years of study and was already working, but she was just getting ready to start higher level education. I always deeply regretted that my friend never had the opportunity which I did and was getting her start later on in life. I know that she was a dedicated and brilliant girl who simply did not get the opportunity of 1 out of 4 scholarships.

Today, the consolidation of universal secondary education and an increase in the number of scholarships has led to an astronomic rise in the number  of  Vincentians benefitting from a university education. The government alone is responsible for funding approximately 33 State scholarships each year and through partnership of foreign governments, we have  been able to secure scores of other scholarships for Vincentians to study in Cuba, Venezuela, Mexico and Taiwan. And with this exposure, our students are now returning to St. Vincent and the Grenadines speaking Spanish and Chinese! In my time at the University of the West Indies in Barbados, the largest contingent of foreign students were Jamaicans and Trinidadians. Today in 2010, the largest foreign contingent of students from the Caribbean at the University of the West Indies in Barbados are Vincentians!

Ladies and gentlemen, I am a product of opportunity and I am delighted to know that there are many young Vincentians who are being given the opportunity to be educated at the higher level and develop their own potential. As beneficiaries of an excellent legacy, this  new generation of young, educated Vincentians has already produced results in the field of Education that give me the hope that we will see Nobel Laureates in the Arts and Sciences as a real prospect in our nation’s future.

Our nation is not only equipping itself to meet the challenges of the world head-on by generating a pool of highly educated young people, but we  are also modernizing our country to capitalize on the opportunities of the 21st Century by focusing on infrastructural development.

With the coming of an international airport, access to SVG will be easier, less cumbersome and this will undoubtedly be a catalyst for increased tourist arrivals and investment opportunities.

I always tell my friends that it took my travelling around the world and living in other parts of the Caribbean, Europe and the United States, before I really came to appreciate and realize what a gem St. Vincent and the Grenadines really is in terms of its stunning, natural beauty. Earlier this year, I visited another Caribbean country—which shall remain unnamed—and was struck by the very ordinary nature of that country. I did not encounter anything special about the place: no natural beauty and I did not discern any distinct personality or characteristic about the place. Yet, that country’s tourism revenue is to be envied. Tourists flock to their shores. Why? The access to the country, and the developed infrastructure which  come along with having an international airport. They have modernized into the 21st century. Our country, SVG, is on a similar march into the 21st century and soon we will be able to truly say that St. Vincent and the Grenadines is open for business!

One of the songs I enjoy listening to at this time of year is sung by Kenneth “Vibrating Scakes” Alleyne. In the introduction to his song “Our Nation is Born”, he says:
“We are all moving on together
So we must plan collectively for a brighter day
No one knows what’s in store for our future
True dedication can get us there”

Ladies and gentlemen, I think that we can all agree that we are collectively doing a great deal of work to build a foundation that is strong enough to support all that the future has in store. The tremendous advances which our nation has made in spite of enormous challenges suggest that our perseverance brings the assurance of success.  For the present challenges that we face: these too shall pass.  But for the present blessings which we have and for the opportunities of the future that wait for us to seize upon them,

instead of me being tempted to say “ Annus horribilis” we will all  surely be declaring “Annus miribalis!”—[a ] year of wonders for St. Vincent and the Grenadines! Raise your glasses with me and let us raise a toast for the prosperity of our nation.

Once again, I wish you all a very happy 31st Anniversary of Independence and all of God’s richest blessings as we advance throughout the coming years.

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