Forty years have passed since Vincentians sang the National Anthem and raised the National Flag for the first time.
Forty years have passed since the instruments of leadership were handed over by the former colonial masters to this former British Colony.
Forty years of National Independence have passed since Vincentians embraced with joy and pride the moment of freedom and nationhood which came with taking charge of our own destiny and which several of our sister Caribbean islands were already experiencing – these islands in the sun — these islands of the blue Caribbean sea.
It is 40 years since this nation was born and it’s time to pause and address questions that are pertinent to our development just as any other people.
The passing of these 40 years also gives us an opportune time — a kairos— a moment to remember and to celebrate. Celebration is in order. We must celebrate! However, before we err on making the momentjust another fete, another carnival, let us take time to reflect on some of the issues which challenge our Vincentian Civilisationand pray that at the end of the process there will be a well lit pathinto the future.For our reflection therefore are the following:
What are some of the recognisable signs of progress over these 40 years?
What are some signs of degeneracy which litter the Vincentian landscape?
What are some of the new challenges to nation building today?
What are some signs of hope?
By way of digression, let us take a brief look at the number 40, its significance in its biblical context and some interpretations for Vincentians.
Both in Judaism and in Christianity, 40 represents a significant time period – among others, a metaphor for time of preparation. Given this sense, the rains and waters of the flood over 40 days may be considered as a period of purging for the earth (cf. Gen 7:17) – preparation for a new beginning for the earth, for animals, for humans, and for all living things. Forty years of desert wandering by the Israelites may be seen as a time of testing and preparation, a period of formation for the generation which would take possession of and live in the land of promise (cf. Ps 95:10). The three periods of 40 days and 40 nights on Mt Sinai prepared Moses to receive the Torah, the Law of God (cf. Deut 9:11, 25; 10:10). Elijah’s journey of 40 days and 40 nights to Horeb, the mountain of the Lord (cf. 1 Kgs 19:8), prepared the prophet for the encounter with God who affirmed him in his mission as God’s prophet (cf. 1 Kgs 19:9-18). Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert where he fasted for a period of 40 days and 40 nights before he began his mission of salvation (cf. Mk 1:12; Matt 4:1-2; Lk 4:2). So prepared, at the end of this period, he was put to the test by the devil whose plot to derail his mission he foiled.
In these references to 40, one may conclude that the period attests to a time of preparation, viz., of a person or persons, a community or people, for a divine task or mission, or for a new phase of life. In the light of this then, the question of what is its significance for us – for Vincentians – is apt. Let us ponder for a while the following:
Over these 40 years, have the practices of prayer, fasting/sacrifice, and works of charity become integral to the spiritual development of corporate St. Vincent and the Grenadines and of our mission of bringing good news to the materially and otherwise deprived (cf. Lk 4:16-18)?The prophets Daniel (9:3-10) and Baruch (1:15-22) both attest to the corporate nature of Israel’s sin. Consequently, just as the nation’s transgressions implicated the individual, so also one man’s sin indicted the nation (cf. 2 Sam 24). In the book of the prophet Jonah (3:1-10), the Ninevites demonstrated their willingness to comply with the prophetic word by undertaking a fast, humans and beasts alike. If religion, and in particular Christianity, is to continue to play a pivotal role in the transformation of Vincentians, then it must progressively challenge the tendency to blame the other and exonerate “myself”. Corporate guilt and corporate responsibility are to be integral to our nation’s development. An absence of a spirituality of the body corporate (we or us!)/or solidarity (we are all responsible for all!) could only result in anarchy – everyone doing what is right in his/her own eyes and in the relegation of Christianity, and religion, to the social peripheries – thus settling for the individual pursuit of salvation and sanctity whilethe devil take the hindmost. Ultimately, our profession of faith in Christ Jesus must bear fruit by lives of charity. By their fruits you shall know them (cf. Matt 7:20). And if in our homeland our aim is zero hunger, then this would be realised not only when Christians share their bread with the hungry, but when this Christian service is no longer needed. Let us turn now to our points for reflection
What are some of the signs of progress?
In 1980, Austin “King Austin” Lewis, then calypso king of Trinidad and Tobago, sang “Progress” making the statement that “no one can deny that the price of progress is high”. Was he just expressing a truism or a de factoreality? What are some of our signs of progress and what costs have we had to pay?
If we believe that a nation which educates its young citizens perpetuates itself, then the “education revolution” and the quest for universal access to education is one of the major steps in our nation’s development over the past 40 years. Accordingly, there are more scholarships available to students today for tertiary education (48 this year!) than in former times. Of course, the reality is that we do not have the market to consume much of our ‘home grown’ product which makes for a significant challenge as investment in studies do not always result in jobs. Consequently, this leads to a certain amount of frustration among our youth. Yet it is a path we must continue to explore. The price of progress is high.
“Entrepreneurship development” is another trajectory of the past 40 years. More persons are involved in improving their skills and knowledge base. In particular, this is seen in the field of Information Technology. The result of this is greater exposure to business ideas and opportunities, an increase in employment capacity, and a greater contribution to community and national development. Our recently hosted nationalexpoat Arnos Vale showcased our creative potential. Indeed it can be done in SVG!
Nationals and Non-nationals alike can say that the construction of the AIA (Argyle International Airport) has resulted in a certain ease in air travel. To be able to get to Miami, New York and Toronto directly, once per week with the hope that other international destinations would open up, is a mark of progress. AIA continues to cost us! Again, the challenge of “King Austin” lingers: The price of progress is high.
What are some signs of degeneracy?
Whether or not we are agreed on this, the persisting disunity fueled by partisan politics and its influence on Vincentian social life has worsened over these 40 years. The quality of discourse in the public domain, especially in an election year, is indeed degressive. Akin to this is a form of social intercourse based on a patron-client relationship (“You scratch my back, I will scratch yours.”) which is evidenced in several spheres of Vincentian life, including religion. The wisdom of Grantley “Ipa” Constance continues to be instructive: “Put your country before your party”; for indeed the task of nation-building demands a patriotism that sees beyond the myopia of the present vision.
Crime and violence has spiralled in the last twenty or more years. We experience the continuous slaughter of youths – young men – by young men. The blood of victims pollutes the land; tears are shed, and families lament – they cry out for justice. In April 2018, the SVG Christian Council hosted a conference on Crime and Violence. This exercise was a worthwhile undertaking – an attempt to address a growing social problem.
The consumption of prime agricultural lands for housing purposes is a primary threat to our sustainability. If we are to feed ourselves, to produce more food and to import less, then Vincentians would have to take greater responsibility of our patrimony. Random use of the land may be considered a squandering of our inheritance. Thus one may wonder whether or not such is not regressive rather than progressive. .
What are some of the new challenges to nation building?
The challenging of some laws in our statutes which are regarded as discriminatory and the contesting of human rights in the court is becoming more and more the trend internationally as minorities, with the assistance of the media and various international and regional groups and organisations, bring to public attention issues assailing our “noble civilisation”. The LGBT+ conversation is one of such currents with the two petitions presently before the court. Their declaration is that “Sections 146 and 148 of the Criminal Code 1990 Chapter 171 (the “Criminal Code”) are unconstitutional, illegal, null, void, invalid…” This, of course, brings to the fore the conversation on morality and law. In addition, and as part of this discourse, are the issues of sexual promiscuity, infidelity, rape, molestation and abuse of our children – boys and girls. All raise questions about our understanding of human sexuality and intimacy and reflect the brokenness of our society. As Church we will always advocate the vocation of righteousness while affirming – “in all things, Charity”.
Global warming and Climate Change and their attendant consequences are beginning to visit our shores. The annual hurricane season is registering fiercer and more devastating natural phenomena. It is no longer “September all over!” Dorian was a mystery hurricane. Was God in the Bahamian mix? Suffice it to say that our attitude towards the environment coupled with a disposable mentality sets up the conditions for sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind. Unless we each take greater responsibility for our common home, we shall all perish.
Refugees and Indigents are two categories of persons which have become more visible since Oct. 27, 1979. They are “in our faces” and demand our care. Peoples from the south, especially from Africa and South America, are journeying north seeking opportunity, and the Caribbean is the Trans-Atlantic corridor, which provides access to life’s quest. Opening the doors to the refugee, however, also means risking the making over of one’s society. The foreigner/the stranger/the refugee will change the landscape. Are we ready for this?
The poor you will have with you always (cf. Matt 26:11; Mk 14:7). Indigence is with us and we are to provide for these vulnerables their basic needs: food, shelter and clothing. While there have been some attempts by various churches to respond to the demands of Kingstown’s street people, much more is required of us. We are failing in charity. The poor is the nation’s responsibility.
What are some signs of hope?
Recognition of the rights of women and the protection of women and girls from domestic violence and sexual abuse are dimensions of Vincentian social realities which remain under international scrutiny and which are kept on the conscious agenda and front burner of local human rights watchers, advocacy groups and Churches.
The exploring of our geothermal potential is an attempt to use what is available in the land for the good and well-being of Vincentians. Perhaps on the onset this may have seem an ambitious project but what seemed a challenging undertaking now points in the direction of an alternative energy source for the future development of our nation.
If you ever picked up a copy of the Trinidad and Tobago Catholic News, on the front page, you will read: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity”. Over the past two decades or more, church leaders throughout the country have been making efforts to unite around common causes and endeavours of national significance. The result is a breaking down of some of the old walls of suspicion which for decades have kept us apart. As we continue to remove these artificial barriers, not only will we forge greater unity among ourselves but we will build a more tolerant, respectful and resilient St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
It is not an exaggeration to say that Vincentian parents are investing more money in their children today than 40 years ago. Every parent, rich or poor, is availing of early childhood education. Today, it is not strange to hear a responsible say: “my child has swimming, tennis, or soccer”, or “pan, athletics, or a science project”. During the festive times the children figure also, and no child will be left out without the deliberate intent of parents. We all look forward to good and abundant fruit from the sacrifice and efforts of parents. This is a sign of hope. A country can only benefit from investing in its youngest and most impressionable.
Finally, as we celebrate our 40th Anniversarywe continue to put our trust in a God who helped in ages past and who is our hope for years to come. He is our shelter; He is our guard; He is our eternal home.
Happy 40th Independence Anniversary!!!