Saturday, March 1, 2008

Many Rivers to Cross

I love Jamaica deeply; it’s my second home and where I feel most at peace and one with God in this world. Admittedly, I only make it there for a couple of weeks each year to spend time with my extended family and friends, but needless to say that those couple of weeks are probably the best of the year. I smile from the inside out when I arrive and shed silent painful tears every time I leave. I truly am a soul divided. My love for Jamaica is undoubtedly deepened by the fact that I have family and friends there who mean the world to me, which is also why Jamaica and its struggles are never far from my heart and mind.

Jamaica is undeniably a beautiful island and a great tourist destination, but for those who live there life is not always such a pretty picture. Crime, poor health care, a lagging economy, and a crippled education system are just some of the issues that Jamaica is currently struggling to address. With the election of Bruce Golding last September, as the 8th Prime Minister of Jamaica, the country is looking towards leadership for swift but effective plans of action as well as a renewed since of hope.

Jamaica ranks among Columbia and South Africa as having one of the highest murder rates in the world, and more than 1500 people were killed in Jamaica last year alone. Drugs, deportees, lack of jobs, and political corruption are all contributing factors to this outstanding statistic. Many in Jamaica also lack access to adequate health care. While before her departure from office last year, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller did approve free healthcare for children 18 and under, there still remains a lack of facilities, affordable medicines and prescriptions, and trained staff. Furthermore, the free health care program still leaves the majority of Jamaicans (adults) without adequate healthcare.

Prime Minister Golding readily admits that the majority of Jamaica’s budget is used to pay debts, to the tune of $8.5 million dollars a day, and is seeking help from the World Bank and it’s others debtors to come up with solutions to satisfy these loans. Like many other Caribbean nations, much of Jamaica’s debt is a result of loans from The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The legal minimum wage in Jamaica is only around $30 a week and with the price of daily necessities such as sugar, flour, and milk reaching an all-time high, it goes without saying that wages of these amounts are a mere pittance.

While parents struggle to provide tuition fees and uniforms (basic education in Jamaica is not free, although Golding recently implemented free tuition for high school students), many children struggle to even find a way to school. Many families live in rural areas which lack road infrastructure and are not in close proximity to schools, and these students are forced to either walk treacherous distances and/or come up with the money to pay to take a taxi to the schools. Although regarded for producing top thinkers and scholars, Jamaican schools are at best in most areas, rudimentary in their architecture. Poor wages for educators, outdated textbooks, and an ever growing number of sexually active teens plague the education system as well.

In his first presidential address, Golding stated that various actions will be taken to address all of the aforementioned issues. In regards to the crime rate and corruption, Golding stated that various actions will be taken to investigate and convict corrupt government and police officials, and he readily admitted that police practices will have to be more scientific, efficient, and furthermore be totally restructured. $4 million dollars has been approved for police equipment, building repairs, and more effective mobility; all in an attempt to lower Jamaica’s soaring crime rate. His government has also dedicated $14 million dollars to repairing and building Jamaica’s infrastructure (mainly roadways) as well as additional monies for those who were affected by Hurricane Dean, which hit the island last year. Golding has also stated that Jamaica is actively seeking to produce more of its own energy which affects all aspects of the economy, currently 90% of Jamaica’s energy is provided from foreign oil. Foreign investors are also in talks with Jamaica’s government to help in the creation of more jobs and the growing tourist industry is also helping in this area as well.

I’m hopeful that drastic change is on the horizon for Jamaica, not just for my family and friends but for the country as a whole. There’s no place on earth like Jamaica and I want to see it thrive and prevail to become the best it’s ever been. In this country where tourism is the number one industry, I pray that now the citizens would become the number one priority, for they are the real Jamaica.

-Tremaya Reynolds

1 comment:

Esteban Agosto Reid said...

Undoubtedly,a very candid and poignant piece explicating the numerous social and economic problems affecting the island state of Jamaica.The writer's emotional tie and personal commitment to the island is also comprehended and greatly appreciated.RESPECT!!