Neglect the west, neglect our history

BY Shane Reid

Thursday, June 07, 2018

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Western Jamaica has played its role for centuries in forcing this country to come to terms with the various social ills that haunt this land. On Christmas Day 1831, Samuel Sharpe and his band of revolutionaries sent a very clear message to the British Crown that the inhumane, cruel and degrading system of slavery could not continue; the status quo had to change.

St James was the epicentre for this uprising. This rebellion was a wake-up call and accelerated the process of emancipation. One hundred and seven years later, epicentre Frome Sugar Estate, Westmoreland — the west again — erupted along with the rest of the country and gave rise to the labour riots of 1938. These riots paved the way for the formation of trade unions and our two major political parties.

Fast-forward 79 years later, and western Jamaica is once again forcing this country to come to terms with social ills and failures that stalk our beautiful island. The debacle that is unfolding at Cornwall Regional Hospital (CRH) is a perfect example of how much we love and care for the poor, and a very good example of how we have neglected the west.

On Tuesday, February 28, 2017 the former chairman of the Western Regional Health Authority told his part of the story concerning CRH: “ 'When the hospital was built and opened in 1974 it was built to have a comprehensive ventilation system (central air-condition system), bringing in fresh air and taking out stale air,' said Brown. 'That system broke down between the late 70s to early 80s, but part of it operated until the 1990s when the entire system died.' Over the years successive governments and ministers of health have spoken of the need to resuscitate the system, but he said the required funding was never provided.” (Daily Gleaner, February 28, 2017)

CRH, the premier hospital for western Jamaica, located in Montego Bay, St James, the tourism capital of this country, was allowed to fall into disrepair. What would we do now if we should have an accident with massive casualties affecting both locals and visitors?

The problems that bedevil western Jamaica are many. In an article entitled 'More than 2,000 students drop out of school each year', then Minister of Education Rev Ronald Thwaites had this to say about western Jamaica: “Ministry of Education figures show that close to 2,160 students between grades eight and 10 drop out of high school each year. The figure, which represents 1.8 per cent of the grade cohort, is even higher in western Jamaica, where lotto scamming is rife. There, it is three per cent.” ( Jamaica Observer, Wednesday, September 16, 2015)

The parish of Hanover has been the focus of a few stories published in the media. The topics covered include infrastructure, unemployment, poverty, and tourism. There is no doubt that Hanover, and by extension western Jamaica, is hurting with many socio-economic issues plaguing the west while we wait on the wealth from the boom in tourism to trickle down.

I would like to think that we would want to avoid the second coming of a Christmas rebellion and the riots of the 1930s. Hence, I humbly suggest that we urgently tackle these issues. Is it possible to use some of the funds from the Tourism Enhancement Fund, the Culture, Health, Arts, Sports and Education (CHASE) Fund? and, oh, yes, the National Housing Trust could invest in poverty alleviation programmes, housing developments, constructing community centres that can be used for after-school and socialisation programmes through which appropriate values and attitudes may be taught. We may even work through sports to discover the next Alia Atkinson and Usain Bolt.

CRH must be given a makeover and not a patchwork job; we in the west deserve the best. We also need to have an honest discussion and assessment of no-user-fee policy to access health care. It is a commendable policy, but can we sustain it?

Western Jamaica must be supported as we would not want to see the death of the 'goose that lays the golden egg'. The time to act is now!

Junior Chamber International (Jamaica) members have started to address, in a serious way, some of the social ills affecting our beautiful island. Recently, a panel discussion was convened to address the topic, 'Peace is Possible: The Way Forward for Jamaica', and on July 28 and 29 members across Jamaica will be travelling to Ocho Rios, St Ann, for the mid-year meeting aimed at empowering citizens to strategically tackle the social issues which have been plaguing our nation for decades.

JCI Jamaica will continue to be the organisation that unites all sectors of society to create sustainable impact. Let's work together.

Shane Reid is vice-president, internal affairs, Junior Chamber International Jamaica (formerly Jaycees of Jamaica). Send comments to the Observer or

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