Noble Causes

Image of Nobel Literature Laureate Derek Walcott

FOR the 26th time, Saint Lucia is again paying deserving tribute to its two greatest minds known to the world, Sirs Arthur Lewis and Derek Walcott, the two Nobel Prize winners who carved their names in Gold at the Swedish Academy of the Nobel Foundation.

Thanks to these two sons of our soil, Saint Lucia boasts today the highest number of Nobel Laureates per head of population in the Caribbean — no small feat for a very small country. Like the majestic Pitons, their performances and achievements on the world stage were sky-high. They made us proud – and will do forever.

But where are we 40 years after Sir Arthur brought the first Nobel crown to our table? Or, 26 years after Sir Derek doubled our share of these particular global crown jewels?

Some uncomfortable related truths beg acknowledgement:

It took us 13 years to decide that having a Nobel Laureate is something worth celebrating as a nation. Two sons of this soil won the right to wear Nobel laurels, but only one is officially registered in Saint Lucia’s name. Sir Arthur jointly won and shared his 1979 prize with another equally-deserving economist from somewhere else, but very few Saint Lucians know his name. Their busts adorn the Derek Walcott Square, our highest college is named after Sir Arthur, their portraits are everywhere — and Sir Arthur’s face still adorns the EC $100 note, the highest of all. But what more are we doing to do more than just commemorate their noble achievements annually?

The negative list can be stretched, but the point is made that though we have raised aloft the flags of excellence our two Nobel Laureates brought home, there is still much more that’s yet to be done, 40 years later, to get Saint Lucians – at home and abroad — to fully understand and appreciate the value of their achievements; and to put their ideas and visions to work for us.

Why, for example, haven’t the works of Arthur Lewis found their way into the school curriculum in Saint Lucia and the Caribbean? Why haven’t the words of Derek Walcott found themselves on the pages and screens of students of literature classes? If the works of these two men of letters, icons of figures and words, have been so acknowledged as having touched and encompassed the entire Caribbean, why aren’t their writings required reading at school – at least at home?

There was a regrettable national uproar when students in 1979 showed less- than- expected enthusiasm about Sir Arthur having won the Nobel Prize for Economics. But both knights lived and died not seeing that day when their achievements were roundly rewarded through national initiations giving life at home to the thoughts and ideas they gave Saint Lucia and the world.

Nothing here is meant to lessen or dwarf the annual efforts and achievements of the Nobel Laureates Week Planning Committee, which has for over two-and-a-half decades been labouring to keep our laureates alive, at least in our minds. The committee’s efforts do deserve recognition and acknowledgement, if not an award.

But perhaps the time has come – and 40 years later is not too soon – for us to shift gear in the way in which we celebrate and honour the achievements of our two most noble men of letters.

We need to do more than just (appear to) bask in the sunshine of their achievements by taking those next necessary steps to get present and succeeding generations, in this age of Information Technology and Artificial Intelligence, to know why they should start thinking of exploring the depths of their Nobel minds to come up with noble scientific and technological applications to suitably realise the dreams and visions that gave life to their works.

Sadly, we tend to treat our Nobel Laureates like our bananas. We plant the tree and produce the healthy fruit that’s become an essential and required part of the nutritional diet of Olympic athletes. But we’ve never thought of making at least one banana a day available to every Saint Lucian student and child – which, like realising the noble dreams of our Nobel Laureates, is very possible.

These are noble causes of excellence worthy of pursuit!

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