I don’t think that there is a soul, living or dead that has not faced difficulty or opposition in some form or another. A common view on the subject is that trials have an unmatched ability to develop and reveal character and to put life into perspective. I concur.
We’ve taken to the media so that we can have a platform to shed some much needed light on some pertinent issues surrounding our situation. We have received such an overwhelming show of sympathy from the public and now we want to appeal, not just to the emotional aspects of our ordeal but more essentially to what has happened since we’ve returned home and what happens next.
After having been brought back to St.Lucia two days before the country’s general elections, we were invited to a meeting with the current Minister of Education and other prominent members of her ministry. At that meeting, our notes record that our ministers publicly pledged their full intervention and support in finding viable alternatives for the 22.
A balm in Gilead! We had been so used to being fed decorated courses of untruths that the piece of bread offered to us by the hands of a new government that promised change had the distinct aroma of manna sent straight from heaven. But as with the Biblical account of that particular story, time was all it took for the bread to become rancid and useless.
They asked us to set up a committee with whom they could communicate, on behalf of the group and we did that. They asked us to be patient, no problem. They asked us to ready ourselves in the event that a scholarship did present itself and we’d have to leave on short notice. We complied because of course, the trick to getting what you need from the government is good behaviour and a pliant attitude.
And what did that get us? It got us seats at the best tables where they could feed us any amount of well-seasoned nonsense as long as the live band up front kept us swaying and smiling to their tune. I cannot even explain how jubilant we were to find out the cabinet had voted our issue in the House of Assembly! Boy, how they kept us tantalized and propped up on their fishing lines while they blamed this body and that body and every body they could find.
Our ministry officials wielded anything they could over our begging heads to manipulate us into some twisted belief that somehow, they were not to blame for our situation.
Your honour, I beg to admit into evidence the video clips in which 6 prominent government officials from the previous administration claimed to have verified the authenticity of our programme abroad. Ministers of not one, but TWO ministries, ambassadors and other technical personnel flew out like Noah’s doves and returned with the biggest olive branch I have ever seen. “Met international standards,” they said.
But that’s for another, perhaps televised show. Since the government decided to bring us back to these happy shores, we have been volleyed amongst 2 ambassadors, 1 attaché, 2 deputy permanent secretaries at the ministry of education, and 1 permanent secretary (and what a traumatic nightmare THAT was). Added to that elite group, we have spoken to our parliamentary representatives (of course, to no avail), walked to the Cuban embassy (to no avail), and ambushed the Taiwanese ambassador at a lecture he was attending, all for nothing.
So at this point, we have heard the “Be Ye Patient” chorus sang in virtually every key, and the song has grown stale. Our patience and silence have cost us dearly. It has cost us our time and more importantly, our dignity. While we have been patient, other students have been granted scholarships to study in Cuba and Taiwan. While we have been silent, our story has been swept disgracefully under the mat. We have cooperated by writing dozens of letters and cooing helplessly at our leaders only to be scorned and treated with disdain.
This is more than the case of 22 students clambering for scholarships. This is us standing up against a bizarre culture of political mutism on the issues that matter. Issues of education, health care and basic service of the public. We want to give a voice to any person who has ever been sidelined, tossed aside or has been left unheard because they were labelled, “not good enough”. We call on our leaders to embark on a “Project Restore Confidence” in their lofty designations and what they represent and we would be honoured if restitution began with us.
We want to serve our country and we want to do it well. I am willing to bet that the 22 of us will produce some of the best engineers, technicians, doctors and other health care professionals that this 238 square miles has ever seen, not only in expertise but also in character. Because God knows, we have been through the fire.
for the 22