Monday, December 10, 2007

Ann-Marie Adams

Ann-Marie Adams, an award-winning journalist. She is writing a book on school segregation and its impact on Caribbean immigrants. Email: annwritestuff@msn.com

Few people know about efforts to mobilize the Jamaican Diaspora. Even fewer know what the Jamaican Diaspora Movement is. That’s because there is a serious disconnect between the people who are leading this movement and the people who make up the Diaspora. What gives?Much to the unbelievable chagrin of certain individuals, I sought answers from pivotal sources. That meeting spurred two columns. Here’s the first of two: educating the Diaspora.For the uninitiated or the unenlightened, the dictionary’s definition of the word Diaspora is: the dispersion of people from their homeland. Jamaicans living in the United States, Canada, England and other countries constitute the Jamaican Diaspora, which parallels the Jewish situation. For example, more Jews live outside Israel than in Israel.

Similarly, more Jamaicans live off the island than on it.Using the Jewish situation as a blueprint, a group of Jamaicans are engaged in an effort to galvanize the Jamaican Diaspora. This effort mirrors the Jewish push to use political power harnessed from Jews who vote, hold political office or have influence in government and private sectors outside of Israel. This “movement” officially kicked off last June in Jamaica at a conference: “Unleashing the Potential.” A group of government officials and Jamaicans at home and oversees met in Kingston to discuss ways to engage more of the Diaspora in the island’s development. Several resolutions emerged from that conference; and since then Jamaicans in the US, Canada, the United Kingdom and the Caribbean have been busy with projects to fulfill Jamaica’s ultimate goal: to compete in a global market. But some observers are skeptical and want to know how this “movement” is relevant to average Jamaicans, and why the government is now interested in reaching out to the Diaspora. And who can blame them? So I sought answers.

Janet Madden, community liaison at the Jamaican Embassy in D.C., says the government has realized the importance of the Diaspora and its role in the development of the island, especially after the country’s $1.6 billion remittances have been streamlined. “We realize these Jamaicans have been playing a significant role in developing the country and their families,” Madden says. “It’s time we recognize these Jamaicans and try to engage them in the developing of our country.” Madden says her role is to coordinate such efforts by Jamaicans in the US. She says she has been working with various groups to reach out to what the embassy estimates to be more than 800,000 Jamaicans living in about 19 states in the US.

The hope, she says, is that more people attend the next Diaspora conference in June 2006 to partake in this far-reaching effort to help build the nation. Moreover, O’Neil Hamilton, information attaché for the Jamaican Embassy in D.C., says the government will help facilitate efforts by Jamaicans looking to invest on a large scale. This speaks to the role and relevance of the government: to put a system in place to make the process simple. And the arm of the government to ensure this, Hamilton says, is Jamaica Promotions Limited (JAMPRO). “JAMPRO has the knowledge and the resource to help facilitate that,” he says. “What we are focused on is robust investments that can provide employment for Jamaicans.” But some people are skeptical about the government’s coordinated efforts. “It’s a big gab fest. I don’t see much going on,” says Patrick Beckford, chairman of Friends of Trelawny Association. Others fear this “movement” might eclipse other groups, like the National Association of Jamaican and Supportive Organizations.

NAJASO is an umbrella organization that is supposed to facilitate efforts like these but instead has been languishing. Hamilton says an eclipse of such nature should not be a concern because the government is trying to make other organizations and NAJASO stronger so that it, too, can play a role in rebuilding the country. One way to strengthen organizations, it seems, is to send other organizations or individuals to help revitalized anemic ones. Another way of helping Jamaicans abroad is to facilitate philanthropic efforts. For example, Dr. Trevor Sewell, a professor and former dean at Temple University’s School of Education, heads the northeast Diaspora movement’s education team. He and his group adopted a high school in Jamaica. The government’s role is to partner them with the principals and other entities that can help facilitate this project to transform a low-performing, non traditional high school in St. James, Jamaica, Madden says.

Additionally, the embassy coordinated a health summit in August with 15 Jamaican cardiologists from the Association of Black Cardiologists to meet with noted healthcare leaders in Jamaica, she says. They discussed the prospect of health care and health care tourism in Jamaica. Embassy officials expect this summit to be a launch pad in developing business and commerce and to facilitate growth in the healthcare sector. These are a few ways the Diaspora movement is at work, Hamilton says. And he adds emphatically: “There’s nothing to be feared; everything to be gained.” Well, here’s what I say: only time will tell.

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