Sat | Mar 25, 2023

Janice Allen | Rebuild Jamaica to restore hope for future

Published:Sunday | February 5, 2023 | 2:30 AM
Janice Allen
Janice Allen
An old house in Savanna-la-Mar. Senator Janice Allen writes: Jamaica has lost too many of its communities because we have not maintained them.
An old house in Savanna-la-Mar. Senator Janice Allen writes: Jamaica has lost too many of its communities because we have not maintained them.
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I can hardly believe that so many years have elapsed since my carefree days in high school with my friends planning our futures. Well, some had much clearer plans than I did. I have to admit I was never the one with the definitive plans about what I wanted to pursue as a career. Maybe because there were so many things of interest to me and I generally could have taken on any of them, so I ended up hardly choosing any. At one point I wanted to be a dentist, then an architect, then something else and something else. I ended up studying business by default and simply went along figuring that something would figure itself out.

Time flies! Before I knew it, I was out of high school, out of university in the United States but very certain I would be returning to Jamaica, my home. I have always known this is where I would live, maybe because my parents drilled that into my head that I had a responsibility to build Jamaica, to make it better.

I never grew up poor, but we certainly weren’t rich. I grew up playing sports because my mother insisted we needed to play a sport and she gave us two choices, golf or tennis. My sister chose tennis and I golf because it allowed me to hang out with my older cousins. Why golf, you ask? Well, because in Granville most young men growing up during my father’s time were exposed to golf because the nine-hole course was in neighbouring Fairfield. They knew how to play golf because they would watch the beautiful game through the fences. Some ended up as caddies and eventually even my uncle Jolly made it on to the Jamaica national team, and I later tried out but didn’t take it seriously enough even though I am really good at it! Fairfield was also home to the only grass tennis court this part of the hemisphere and people like the great Althea Gibson played there before going on to Wimbledon.

Jamaica was a big deal, Montego Bay a really big deal and Granville too, a big deal!

So what has happened since?

When I speak of Granville and boast of the fact that I grew up there and that both sides of my family are from there and most still live there, it is very natural. My father and his siblings owned and operated a factory in Granville which produced and exported wrought iron furniture and also supplied many hotels, villas and guest houses with pool and patio furnishings. To say we are embedded in and believe in Granville is an understatement. Some say my uncle Dave is such a lover of Granville that he might die with a broken heart if it doesn’t return to what he so truly believe it can and should become.

LOST MANY COMMUNITIES

Jamaica has lost too many of its communities because we have not maintained them. Instead we have allowed them in many respects to decay instead of flourish. Drive through any community in Bogue, Salt Spring, Albion, Irwin, Portobello or Reading and you see the abandoned homes on beautiful lots. You see the once beautiful homes now empty as family members migrated and now live outside of Montego Bay and many even outside of Jamaica. Instead of rebuilding and improving, we look to create new communities because for some reason Jamaicans don’t treasure the old. When we lose communities we lose a country, ourselves and we lose our future. I believe there has to be a deliberate drive and effort to restore and rebuild because the expansion of Montego Bay requires the careful and strategic planning of communities and we already have the backbone on which to develop. Irwin is a perfect example of this, especially with the expected expansion of the road network, this area is prime for expansion and development as what now exists is a shame and far cry from what is truly required.

Some say crime is the culprit but I wonder if the culprit isn’t migration? When I look around in Granville or among my high school friends I grew up with and made plans with for my future, so many of them aren’t here in Montego Bay, they aren’t even in Jamaica. Is it that Jamaica wasn’t able to hold them, retain them, or interest them? Is it that as a country we never instilled in the upcoming generations to hold the responsibility of being the ones to build and make it better? That without each and every one of us doing, sacrificing, giving, that we won’t be able to see a better Jamaica? Why is it so many of our 25-45-year-old Jamaicans are not seeing themselves being part of the solution to helping Jamaica improve? Why are so many seeking to leave our shores and still so few seeking to return? If we don’t have the best of the best here invested in, investing in and developing this Jamaica and rebuilding the middle class, we can only imagine what we will look like as a country 20 years from now. I shudder to think! We must have a serious plan of action how to engage the diaspora more than we have so far.

There is a saying “Society grows great when old men plant trees, the shade of which they know they will never sit in”. I came across this on Instagram recently and it dawned on me that too few of us recognise this. That too many of us are seeking to have the shade today and as such don’t even plant trees because we figure we won’t have the shade now so why even bother?

Ghana has been on a mission in the past three years, to cause its diaspora to return home to invest, live, build the country. This is a deliberate effort on the part of President Nana Akufo-Addo and it is a major focus of his administration. Many Ghanaians in the diaspora have returned and now the benefits are being seen. Greater investments, growth in the economy, rekindled connection to Ghana, major events being hosted there and Ghana is being seen differently by the rest of the world.

SOLID FOUNDATION

Jamaica already has a solid foundation on which its diaspora can help to build. It is my view that if Jamaica is to rebuild, to grow, to have a future beyond the next 20 years we have to start ‘planting trees’ as the saying goes. We have to cause our diaspora to actually return (even if not to live full time but to more deliberately be a part of the development of the country). Migration has caused us to lose our middle class, it has ruined our communities and it has stunted our growth. I would want to see at least 50 per cent of my friends who are overseas to return. I am being conservative when I say 50 per cent but I must start somewhere. I want us to see the opportunity in rebuilding communities. Inject capital, inject energy, inject presence of positive influences in our communities. We can’t continue to complain about crime and degradation of the society and keep focusing on what isn’t right. We have to take the chance and change what is most seen and heard and felt. We have to inject our communities with positive images of professionals, of improved housing stock, of order and decency. It is up to us! All of us.

Governments have the responsibility to inspire hope, cause the people to believe in something and lead the charge for development. If we were to mark our Government in this area the grade would be low. A future depends on hope and belief in something. The reason we see so many Jamaicans migrating is due to a lack of hope. The fact that the Government hasn’t succeeded in this area means that it is up to us, we the people. I want to encourage my Montegonians (to start with), my fellow high school counterparts, my friends I grew up with in Montego Bay, to look back at Montego Bay and help to rebuild it. Let us come together and restore the hope and create the future our grandparents expected and the future which we deserve. This our country. No matter how far we may go, there is only one place we can say is ours, and so let us invest in it and make it better.

- Janice Allen is a senator and opposition spokesperson on tourism and linkages. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com