Letters & Opinion

Putting People First: A Way of Life

Sylvestre Phillip M.B.E
By Sylvestre Phillip M.B.E

I listened attentively to Prime Minister Philip J. Pierre as he delivered his message to the nation to commemorate the 43rd Anniversary of St. Lucia’s Independence, when he stated clearly that putting people first is a way of life.

Clearly, he has begun to bring out the truth about that statement.  In recent days, business organisations have come forward to donate towards social programmes which would benefit the people of St. Lucia directly.

In this regard, I want to recognise and congratulate The St. Lucia Electricity Services, LUCELEC, for coming forward and pledging $450,000 and members of the Chamber of Commerce who have donated in cash, specifically towards the School Feeding Programme of the Ministry of Education.

For me, both gestures were very heart-warming. In fact, it sounded like ‘sweet music’ to my ears.

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The managing Director of LUCELEC, during the cheque presentation, indicated that part of the funds should go toward young men who are ‘at risk’.

Indeed, most of the money would go towards the government social assistance programme to assist the needy people of St. Lucia. And that number is very large.

Some of the gender challenges in many of our Caribbean neighbours, and, indeed, St. Lucia are access to educational opportunities by men, particularly higher education. Other gender challenges are depression and suicide, health concerns, maintaining relationships, lack of employment opportunities, among others.

I have said it repeatedly, that our young men need to be engaged much longer in school and gaining access to higher education so that they would be trained and certified in areas of their competence.

Now I recall my attendance at the St. Lucia Teachers’ Training College, as it was called then, in the mid-seventies, when the Morne Technical College existed and many boys could be seen rushing to board the busses to the Morne.

And many boys were trained in technical areas. A few even went on to teach at their alma mater. At that time, only a small registration fee was required to register to attend the College.

The situation is a lot different now. Boys and young men now must pay a registration fee for attendance at the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College, which is by far prohibitive. More than that, they are required to produce CXC entry requirements which many do not have. Now we all know what’s happening to these boys and young men. They’re on the ‘block’, they are in prison or involved in criminal activities.

As I write, I could hear the Minister for Education, Shawn Edward, indicating in the news that his Ministry intends to provide access to education opportunities for boys and men. This is ‘sweet music’ to my ears!

As an adult educator I couldn’t ask for any better for our young boys and men. When I pursued training in Youth Leadership and Community Development several years ago, I recall some very heated classroom discussion on the alienation of men in our Caribbean Communities. And the students on the course included students who came from many of the Caribbean islands. And we were articulating similar problems.

And so, part of the money donated by LUCELEC could be used to support young men to enter institutions of higher learning.

And it is also good to know that plans are afoot to transform the Sir Arthur Lewis community college to a full fledge University. I have been hearing that for almost three decades now, and I hope it is closer to reality than not.

It was also heart-warming to hear that LUCELEC had donated a stove and fridge to schools which could be used to store and cook food for the many children participating in the School Feeding    Programme. Praises are also in order for members of the Chamber of Commerce who donated some $7,000 towards the Ministry of Education School Feeding Programme. I am hoping that others would join.

My dear reader, I need to say to you that the donation by the members of the Chamber of Commerce to feed the many children attending schools in St. Lucia is immaculate.

I was Principal of a school for 18 years. And I discovered scores of children, students or learners who attended school had nothing to eat. Now it was good that they were still coming!

Indeed, I rallied my staff, and the current Chief Education Officer, who was a member of that staff at the time. I can attest to what I am now going to say.

We tactfully identified those students who were coming to school without breakfast and started a School Breakfast Programme for those children to ensure there was food in their system to start the school day.

Let me take the opportunity to thank the St. Lucia Distillers and Peter & Company Cul de Sac branch, which supported the programme. Peter and Company supported with donations of groceries, and St. Lucia Distillers supported with cash to buy the cooking gas and other items which we needed for the programme. It is not too late to raise my hat to these business places, even though I have done it several times before.

So, ongoing were the School Breakfast Programme, and the School Lunch Programme supported by the Ministry of Education.

Now, I didn’t leave it at that! I, together with my staff, continued to monitor the performance of those children. Testing, Measurement and Evaluation was a “big thing’ at the Roseau Combined School. At the end of each term and the end of each year we made it a point to track the results of those students systematically,

We discovered that the students who participated in the breakfast programme performed very well. It was no surprise to us because the literature on education is replete with information which indicates that children who were well fed, particular with the first meal to start the school day, will make steady progress in their school work.

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