Monday, December 31, 2012

Jasmine Thomas-Girvan's Art – The Photos

Her work is exceptional. But you don't need me to tell you that. Let the photos speak for themselves ...

from Jasmine Thomas-Girvan's Resonance collection

from Jasmine Thomas-Girvan's Resonance collection
The piece of string hanging down from the hand bears the message,
'Open your eyes and look within'.

from Jasmine Thomas-Girvan's Resonance collection:
The long tongue says 'I do not recall'.
Most Jamaicans will immediately catch the
ironic symbolism of this.

from Jasmine Thomas-Girvan's Resonance collection

from Jasmine Thomas-Girvan's Resonance collection
In the pocket is a measuring stick that says, 'Truth and ile nebba drown',
translated, "truth and oil never drown" - another witty piece of symbolism
that most Jamaicans would pick up on.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Jasmine Thomas-Girvan's Art Resonates

Published in The Sunday Gleaner,  December 23, 2012

Her art is as unique, graceful and petite as she is. And it speaks. Yes, it speaks. Jasmine Thomas-Girvan's pieces, which use a unique combination of materials such as bronze, wood, brass, aluminium, pearl, silver, and even silk, are truly works of art which carry messages taken from a variety of Caribbean situations.

Her most recent exhibit, Resonance, featured at the Hi-Qo Art & Framing Gallery on Waterloo Road, does just that. With a keen focus on faces and hands, which she describes as "the most expressive parts of the human body", this master artist cunningly intertwines language and human form to create symbolic and illustrative pieces that carry weight in literal presence as well as figurative meaning.

Pieces such as 'What We Have Done And What We Have Left Undone' - a specimen featuring a wooden man with tongue extended, on which is inscribed 'I do not recall' - serve as cutting-edge social commentary that also elicit humour. The man holds a machete in his hand and is about to cut out his own tongue. In his pocket is a measuring stick, on which is inscribed, 'Truth and lie nebba drown'. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, this was the first piece from the Resonance collection to be sold.

Art lovers will also appreciate Thomas-Girvan's precision and attention to detail. The time and thought invested in each piece is obvious from the miniscule inscriptions on pieces such as 'The Message', which itself carries a compelling message about where truth and light can be found ('Open your eyes and look within'); or 'The Upper Room'; or 'Mariposa Negra', a bronze and wood offering which features a woman with hands folded, completely covered in butterflies.

A somewhat sad, yet powerful, section of the exhibit is 'Give Us Vision'. Here, Thomas-Girvan bestows medals of honour upon three of her heroes - Jamaica's John Maxwell, Trinidad and Tobago's Angela Cropper, and Cuba's Operation Milagro, with a notation stating, 'For valour beyond the call'.

Outstanding exemplars
Explaining the importance and necessity of this gesture, Thomas-Girvan speaks passionately about John Maxwell's phenomenal contribution to Jamaican journalism, and says she thinks it is appropriate to recognise this in Jamaica's 50th year of Independence.

She speaks of Angela Cropper's "dedication to causes that protect the environment", and describes the quiet strength of a woman who endured many hardships but refused to be broken. (Cropper died on November 12 of this year).

Then, she explains the awe-inspiring beauty of Operation Milagro, a medical programme initiated by Cuba and Venezuela which restores sight to persons suffering from visual disabilities. She expresses admiration for the Cuban people who "have a vision about social responsibility like no other group".
It is obvious that Thomas-Girvan, who was born in Jamaica, is a holistically Caribbean artist. Jamaica features prominently in her pieces - from the Anansi jewellery series to the frequent use of the calabash in her artistry. "It is very important to reinforce our Caribbean and Jamaican identity," she says, explaining that the Anansi series celebrates the "beauty and intelligence" of one of Jamaica's most wily folklore heroes.

But she does not leave her new home, Trinidad, behind. Her frequent use of birds, she explains, is mainly due to the fact that these creatures are now a big part of her daily life. She also loves the imagery of birds: "Soaring to realms that humans only dream about, birds symbolise flight, defying gravity, and are incredibly beautiful." So into her art they go.

As Maria Casserly explains, Thomas-Girvan's work is influenced by the moments the artist encounters everyday. And since this is the case, we can only wonder where next these moments will lead her, or what her next body of artwork will be. One thing is for sure, with art lovers everywhere, this jeweller-cum-sculptor's work will resonate.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

TEDxJamaica - Totally Worth It!!

Yesterday I got up, got dressed, and went to fulfil a dream. Without a ticket or any certainty that I'd get in at all, I went to conquer a mountain. And I DID!

TEDxJamaica #accomplishwhatyouwill was phenomenal. I was grinning all day. And every couple of seconds, I looked around me, took a deep breath, and thought, 'Look at me. I'm here!' Then I gave out an inner squeal. The girl in me was giggling and skipping and dancing all over that place, even if the more mature character had to settle for bright smiles and lots of interesting, animated conversations.

I saw people there who I'd known from before. People who I'd already earmarked as movers and shakers. And I shook hands with dignitaries and people of like passion. What drew us to that place? A common understanding that greatness must be fed, nurtured and fostered if it is to last. So we all sat, and fed our greatness. And in between, we fed our faces.

I read somewhere that in order to function optimally, the brain needs plenty of psychological sunshine. Conferences like TED facilitate an inner and outer glow. It did more for us than give us a few sweet words. It lit a fire on our backsides and challenged us to, as Garth Fagan so aptly said, "D-O or G-O." It reminded us that there is no can't in try.

And, for me, it was a timely reminder that mountains can move, yes, they can walk. I've loved TED for years. Ask my friends and coworkers. I keep them up-to-date (sometimes against their will) on every new, interesting TED Talk that comes out, and I'm constantly inserting anecdotes and quotes and info from talks I've watched into every conversation. I've wanted to attend a TED Talk for, like, forever!! That was (one of) my mountain(s).

But I didn't go to this one. It literally came to me! TED came to Jamaica. And my only regret is that I missed the first two years.

So, this time around, I paid out of pocket. I missed another appointment I'd had. I went; I saw, heard, tasted and smelled; then I let that ambience swallow me up and transport me to worlds of exciting possibilities. I loved every minute of it.

TEDxJamaica was brilliantly organised and executed. My wish now is to see this information simplified and taken into schools so that our kids will have this kind of psychological sunshine as a regular part of their education curriculum. Can you imagine what a nation of TEDx'd kids could do?? They would really accomplish ANYTHING!

And then, as Donna Duncan-Scott boasted, we'd be "the best little island in the world!"

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Heroes All Around Us

Yesterday was celebrated as Heroes Day in Jamaica. Our Government took the time to bestow national honours on those who have gone above and beyond the call of service in various fields at what was dubbed the 'Ceremony of Investiture and Presentation of National Honours and Awards' (so long and fancy-sounding) at King's House.

The Gleaner's lead story today, titled 'Bound By Bravery', tells the story of one of the awardees. It tells of young soldier, Ferdinand Trench, who risked his life to save Stephen Gabbadon, a policeman who had fallen over a dangerous precipice while directing traffic around a precarious junction corner. (See the full story here.) Trench received the Badge of Honour For Gallantry.

I find his story heartwarming and instructive. In Trench, we see a person doing something that is absolutely fantastically, inspiringly extraordinary. I love to read stories like these. I love to hear and see the moments when people seize opportunities to be and do something significant, invaluable, selfless ... I love when the better qualities of the human heart triumphs. Trench proves that bravery, 'gallantry' and heroism are traits that we all may possess.

But how and when and where are heroes born? I think the fact that we cannot put a place, date or time on this metamorphosis tells us – tells me – to be careful about how we treat each person we encounter everyday. It is a fitting reminder of the fact that regular people have seeds of greatness within them, and that the common men we pass daily on our streets could all be heroes waiting to be discovered.

So, as Miss Lou would say, 'walk good'. And never miss an opportunity to discover the hero in others, and the hero in you. Have a happy belated Heroes Day.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Donald Sangster, Jamaica’s most unappreciated PM

Published in The Sunday Gleaner on September 23:

Forgotten and unrewarded

Call the names of Alexander Bustamante, Michael Manley, P.J. Patterson, or Edward Seaga, and Jamaicans immediately know to whom you are referring. Say the name ‘Donald Sangster’, and they may tell you about an airport, a bookstore – or, perhaps, a rum cream. Not many may be readily aware that Sir Donald Sangster was a prime minister of Jamaica.
Hartley Neita, former press secretary for the prime minister, decided to fill the gap of missing information about Sangster with his recently published biography, Jamaica’s Forgotten Prime Minister – Donald Sangster.

The book’s title alone is a rebuke to the nation for failing to better honour the legacy of one of its premier leaders; on Tuesday, September 18, no punches were pulled as panellists Ken Chaplin, Michelle Neita and Patrick Bryan discussed the topic ‘Preserving the Memory of Our Prime Ministers’ at the Bookophilia bookstore and cafĂ© in Liguanea, Kingston.

Chaired by University of the West Indies Professor Rupert Lewis, the evening was characterised by a continuous flow of animated debate punctuated by healthy doses of laughter from the audience, which included communications specialist and media veteran Marcia Forbes; Donna Parchment Brown, CEO of Dispute Resolution Foundation; Prime Minister Sangster’s son, Bindley Sangster; author and educator, Dr Alfred Sangster; educator and theatre personality, Jean Small; former high commissioner to the United Kingdom, Ambassador Anthony Johnson; and former Security Minister Dwight Nelson.

“If we feel that the history of our country is sacrosanct, then we need to preserve it,”noted Michelle Neita, daughter of Hartley Neita and editor of the biography. She argued that with only nine post-Independence prime ministers, it was tragic that Sangster’s name and legacy were so obscure, and suggested the establishment of an organisation to record their tenures of different prime ministers – something like a mini-museum.

Ken Chaplin, former national press secretary, asked how the memories of prime ministers could be preserved when the country’s record of development had been far from impressive. Crafting a compelling vision of the dismal state of the nation’s education and economy, and referring to the link between crime and politics, Chaplin decried the non-performance of Jamaican prime ministers over the years, and asked if this below-average record was worthy of memory at all.

He ended on a positive note, however, suggesting that, in spite of all their shortcomings, prime ministers’ memories could be preserved and emphasised the need for “consistent and extensive national action”.

UWI historian Patrick Bryan, who delved into the heart of Neita’s book. “On the surface,” Bryan said, “the PM has not been forgotten, so why is he called forgotten?” He went on to explain this was because of the shortness of Sangsters’ term in office and the very limited knowledge of his personal contributions to nation-building.

The veracity of this point was later proven when Ambassador Johnson noted areas in which Donald Sangster was critical to Jamaica’s nation-building:
- making Jamaica the ‘tomato capital’ of the region. He noted that if Sangster had stayed alive, we would still have a vibrant vegetable industry in St Elizabeth;
- being an avid supporter of CARIFTA, to the point where he was given the moniker ‘Mr Commonwealth’;
- supporting the building of the Donald Sangster International Airport at a time when others would perhaps not have seen fit to do so. This facility was later named in his honour and is now the largest airport in Jamaica; and
- procuring a contract for Jamaica to export oranges to New Zealand

Summing up, Dr Alfred Sangster said the PM was “forgotten and unrewarded”. He noted that the importance of Neita’s book lay precisely in the fact that it shed light on a man who had worked hard for the benefit of his nation, and would dispel some of the myths and mystery surrounding his tenure. 

“He represented perhaps one of the last prime ministers who could walk in any crowd and be comfortable,” Sangster said. “We, as a family, are proud of him.”

Sunday, September 23, 2012

News Feature: Striking the Right Chord

Published in The Sunday Gleaner on September 23:

"Music and children are my passion," says Andrea Curtis, a visionary whose dream is to operate an early-childhood institution where children learn about music. While that dream is yet to be realised, Curtis set wheels in motion with the establishment in 2003 of Pianoprep.

Curtis said, "The reason Pianoprep was birthed was so that talented children from all echelons of society could be given exposure to playing an instrument, voice training, understanding the art of music and where it is coming from." She believes that the empowerment children get from Pianoprep enables them to have "big power" to be the change they want to see, and even help with the realisation of Jamaica's Vision 2030.


"At heart, I'm a Jamaican girl," quips Curtis with a smile. "And I believe that every child is a musician, especially in Jamaica. We are naturally rhythmical - look at even the way we sing the multiplication tables. Music is just part of us."

Through Pianoprep, she teaches children how to play the piano, preparing them for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) examinations and, in the process, instilling within them a deep love and passion for music, country and self.

As a requirement of the programme, every child must learn to play the Jamaican anthem.

And, putting a little fun in the mix, she has developed a "last lick" culture, where children had better learn to outrun her before she plants one of her famous last licks on them when they are leaving her home, which also doubles as her teaching studio.

Her reason for doing this, Curtis says, is to help with the continuation of some time-honoured Jamaican traditions. She says many of the children she has tutored over her years were unaware of what a "last lick" was before they met her.

And does it make a difference?

"We still do the last lick," says Kevah Lyn, a Trinidadian-Canadian mother of two who now resides in Jamaica. Both her children attended Pianoprep: Victoria began when she was six years old and Nicholas at five. "Andrea does more than music, she also feeds the soul. She brings herself down to the kids' level and is playful ... it's real good."

Gregory Gordon, whose two children - Aimi (five) and Zuri (six) - attended this year's Pianoprep Summer Camp, agrees. "I thought it was a well-run camp. I like the idea of instruments that they used with their hands, the creativity, the 'oboephone' - the combination of the saxophone and the oboe. I like that they used boxes to think outside the box, the rewards system, the 'last lick' culture. It was quite fun, full, substantial."

He mentioned that Zuri cried after her first day of camp, when she had a difficult time learning to play the guitar, but "she went back and she got it. She played and sang at the closing recital. That was a proud daddy moment for me".

Josiah Rainford, one of Curtis' first students, had this to say to his 'Auntie Andrea': "You made me like piano, leading to guitar and drums. Thanks to you, I now play piano in church." He also did the ABRSM Grade One exam and passed with a merit.

An important aspect of Curtis' programme is self-development. Some of the highlights of her Pianoprep journey this year include: a two-year-old who still sings the Japanese song taught at camp, watching one of her youth helpers transform from being stern and lackadaisical to industrious, helpful and playful.

Curtis has her own share of challenges - financial support for her summer camps being the major obstacle.

But this is not going to stop her. "Not possible," the god-fearing Christian replies. "Pianoprep will be able to go through and grow through with a perpetual relevance despite the inevitable changes, while solidly holding to its core values, which makes it Pianoprep."

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

To Hell With The Future?

The Bible says, “Man shall not live by bread alone … .” Perhaps the members of Damian Crawford’s East Rural St Andrew constituency have never heard that saying before, or, if they have, maybe they don’t believe it and think that “daily bread” from the hands of an MP will be enough to sustain them and their children for many generations to come.

While Crawford’s decision to use a significant portion of his Constituency Development Fund allocation – J$5,439,200 to be exact – on education is welcome by some as a step in the right direction, his constituents – the very parents of the children he proposes to help – are livid. They’re on TV every night threatening to significantly damage Crawford’s young career.

As with any news story, I do not know ALL the details, and I’m sure that there are more and deeper issues than we are being told. However, arguing from the assumption that what I’ve heard and the impression I’ve received is accurate, I have to ask: why is it that, when faced with a choice between a sacrificial, long-term investment in our children’s future and an immediate bellyful, we seem prone to choose the latter?  It bothers me that we make decisions about our children’s futures the same way we make decisions about the nation’s political future: who can full my belly fastest? This coarse, gravalicious mentality has been, for a very long time, the undoing of this nation.

When parents live for today only, they sacrifice tomorrow. These parents want their bread NOW, and what their attitude says to me, and to all well-thinking young persons in this nation is, “To hell with you; to hell with the future; to HELL with our children!”

Forgive me. Had to rant today.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Book Review: Leonie: Her Autobiography

Published in The Sunday Gleaner on September 16, 2012:

Title: Leonie: Her Autobiography
Author: Leonie Forbes, as told to Mervyn Morris
Publisher: LMH Publishing Limited

"When you suffer emotional trauma you take the energy from the pain and the loss and the confusion or whatever it is, and turn it right around."

For Leonie Forbes, this maxim applies not just to her performances on stage, but also to the way she lives each day. Interesting, fascinating, riveting doesn't even begin to describe the account of her life. Steeped in humour and poignant anecdotes, this book exudes a myriad of emotions – it will have you smiling, laughing, and, very frequently, stopping to sit and ponder.

It is always a pleasure to see veterans in any field take the time to share from their vast reserve of knowledge and experience for the benefit of their peers and upcoming generations. For the world of Jamaican and Caribbean theatre, Leonie has bequeathed, through her autobiography, wisdom for posterity and a unique voice that gives life and colour to an important period in Jamaican drama.


Fittingly released in the year of Jamaica's 50th anniversary of Independence, the book provides invaluable historical insight into Jamaica's rich theatrical heritage from the first-person perspective of one of the nation's most beloved personalities. Leonie: Her autobiography is an exceptional literary treasure which will captivate the hearts and imaginations of its readers.

Dedicated to Alma Mock Yen, Muriel Amiel and Leonie's children, the autobiography is written in refreshingly honest and vividly straightforward prose. Interestingly, the English is sometimes broken into what can be termed a 'mild dialect'. However, the transition is so smooth that it creates a conversational feel. You can almost hear Leonie speaking directly to you in that rich, reflective tone that carries wonderfully throughout the book.

She tells of living on Princess Street  with 'Aunt G' (her mother's sister), who played the role of guardian not only to Leonie, but also to many unfortunate children roundabout her. She speaks about early indicators of her theatrical ability – a very entertaining and ironic twist to an attempt at mimicry, and her enjoyment whenever she watched the performing arts – and of a passionate crush on a Senior School teacher.

From its genesis, her worklife has been intricately interwoven with some of the most well-known moments and personalities in Jamaican media and theatre. She was typist for Philip Sherlock, and throughout the expanse of her career, had encounters with the likes of Louise Bennett, Trevor Rhone, Charles Hyatt, Ranny Williams, and Easton Lee. Readers will appreciate Leonie's chronicling of her time at the Radio Education Unit and Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation as instructive and informative, especially since these chapters are seasoned with humorous anecdotes and, in many places, the nostalgia is palpable.

Leonie's experience with and opinion on theatre training will also prove valuable for anyone who has worked in or desires to work in that field. She gives a first-hand account of the thrills and challenges of the profession, detailing her exposure to a variety of roles.

"I think my most successful roles have been Miss Aggy in Old Story Time, Mother of Judas in Easton Lee's The Rope and The Cross and Ojuola in Rotimi's The Gods Are Not To Blame," Leonie says. She devotes an entire chapter to a detailed description of the effort that went into her work as Miss Aggy, and her near-total immersion into the part. As she states in a later chapter, "A  lot of times my skill was not in making the moment believable but in not getting carried away by it I mean, being able to stop, cut it off."

And this 'stopping' and 'cutting off' of the character when the play is done is an important element of acting. Leonie makes it clear that there are roles which an actor can so strongly internalise that he/she never emerges from the stage as his/her own self. She shares some of the moments when she wasn't sure she could make it through a character representation, along with some of her lighter, not-so-pleasant moments in theatre. For example, the time when "Mas Ran as Petruchio got carried away and gave me the box of my life – I thought my jaw was dislocated. But the show went well".

Leonie gives readers insight into another side of her – encounters with what she terms "the paranormal". She touches on her strong intuition, which she has had from an early age, and how this has helped her over the years. She tells of her love life – the three marriages she has been through, and her relationship with her children, her biological mother, religion, and good friends. She pauses to express gratitude to the many persons who have invested in her over the years, including those she met in her travels to different countries, from England to Australia, Ireland, Germany, India and Trinidad.

There are pictures of Leonie at different stages of her life interspersed throughout the book, giving a strong visual representation of the different periods and plays she describes. Her passion for her family and work can be strongly heard and felt as well, and the wisdom she has gained over the years is undeniable. After imparting to the reader these gems from her life, she ends:

"God is good. I give thanks for family and friends, and the many people with whom I have collaborated in theatre, broadcasting and other endeavours. I am glad to have been allowed a rewarding range of roles. I have learnt from every aspect of my life."

And the reader can't help but feel a sense of gratitude, too, for her life, her story, her voice, and her legacy.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Book Review: The Penniless Millionaire

Published in The Sunday Gleaner on September 2, 2012

Title: The Penniless Millionaire
Author: Dorothy Martell
Publisher: Xlibris Corporation

Our life experiences are important in shaping our characters and creating our destinies. In her book, The Penniless Millionaire, Dorothy Martell shares the unique encounters of what she terms her “peculiar but beautiful life”, using her testimony as a platform to encourage readers to persevere despite their struggles, and to trust in God’s unending faithfulness.

From the book’s beginning, she introduces readers to the roller-coaster that is her life. She tells of the many different instances when God gave her, and persons close to her, visions and dreams about his purpose for her, explaining that while she is now able to make sense of her “exciting and sometimes inexplicable journey of God’s amazing grace”, it wasn’t always clear what He was up to.

Martell shares about being pregnant at 15, and struggling to avoid the chasm of shame and guilt that wanted to swallow her up. She talks about her experience with migration, and how God used her time abroad as a testing ground to build her trust in Him and mature her faith.

She also shares about a topic that many people today can relate to: money trouble. Again, it was her willingness to obey God, even when he told her to give away her most valuable material possessions, that enabled her to overcome and find resolution for her financial problems.

Martell introduces her readers to a life fraught with struggle. She has had to deal with a sister with an autistic child, the deaths of her elder brother and father in quick succession, attempted robberies, threats, persecution … she knows what it is like to grapple with failure, grief, disappointment and an unclear sense of purpose. Throughout the book, however, one point remains absolutely clear: Martell is firmly convinced that it was God who helped her to overcome.

The book is sprinkled with humorous anecdotes, which compensate for sometimes unengaging writing and an otherwise casual narrative. While the story is not told with a very structured timeline, Martell’s purpose for writing this book remains definite: to encourage readers to believe in the power of a God who has amazingly transformed her life and allowed her to become the ‘penniless millionaire’.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Go For Gold 4

Claim to fame:
World and Olympic women’s 400m hurdles gold medallist
Olympic women’s 400m hurdles record holder
Second fastest time in history in the women’s 400m hurdles

Jamaica's renown 400m hurdler, who has won Olympic gold in the event, is beloved and admired by many all over the world. Her event is one which teaches a phenomenal message of perseverance and literally jumping over obstacles – a message that sooner or later every winner becomes well acquainted with.

This means that you don’t quit, you don’t stop, you always keep moving ahead. You know what they say: winners never quit and quitters never win. Melaine’s event requires jumping over hurdles. This is a lesson in persistence. In life, you will face challenges - big, scary ones. The thing to do is to keep your composure (as Melaine does), and never give up. As you see difficulties come at you on your journey to success, remember Melaine, run to face that challenge, and then jump over it and move on to success!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Go For Gold 3

Claim to fame:
2007 Pan Am Games men’s decathlon gold medallist
2007 Osaka World Championships men’s decathlon silver medallist
First Jamaican to win a medal in the men’s decathlon at a world championship
Jamaica team captain - 2008 Beijing Olympics

Maybe not very many Jamaicans know about one of the nation's finest decathletes, but  Maurice Smith made history when he won the country’s first medal in the decathlon at a World Championship. He was also selected as captain of Jamaica's Olympic team at the 2008 meet. This means that he displays some key qualities that make him stand out to our athletics organisers.

It is always a plus if you display the ability to motivate, encourage, and inspire others to achieve and be their best. Maurice is very good at this, and that is why he is so often selected to be leader of the nation's athletics groups. Smith has not only stood out in his event at different international meets, but also takes the time to encourage others to pursue gold as well. This is one of the hallmarks of a winning attitude.

Working together with other people is another important quality that all successful athletes must possess. They meet a variety of people every day - trainers, coaches, journalists, sponsors - and they have to learn to work well with them all if they want to have exemplary careers. It is very true that no man is an island, and our athletes - and winners - understand that a good relationship with everyone is an essential part of success. Maurice Smith, as team captain, certainly displays that!

The decathlon comprises 10 different events: 100m, 400m, 100m hurdles, 1500m, long jump, discus throw, javelin throw, high jump and shot put. The athlete has to do well in all of these events to get enough points to place in the top three and win a medal. Maurice, therefore, cannot  just focus on one event and neglect the others, and then expect to win a medal. He has to try to be good at as many events out of the ten as possible to increase his winning chances.

Success in any field is no different. There are usually sub-parts that make up the area a person wants to do well in. Excellence in this area will only come after you work on being good in each sub-part. So, for example, if you want to be a good writer, you have to work on your grammar, punctuation, clarity in getting points across, and using different parts of speech in your story. When you master all of these, you will be an excellent writer.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Go For Gold 2

Claim to fame:
Second woman in history to win the Olympic women’s 200m gold back to back
Five-time Olympic medallist
Nine-time World Championship medallist
100 yard world record holder
First female athlete to be named UNESCO Champion for Sport goodwill ambassador

Veronica Campbell-Brown has been involved in athletics for a very long time, and has a reputation for always giving her best and creating history in almost every race she has participated in. We can look at her consistent performance as a result of much discipline and training.

This means developing and sticking with habits that help you to achieve your goal, even when you don't feel like it and even when it gets hard. For Veronica, this means regular training and practice. She has to practice her race start, turning corners for the 200m, do various exercises, and eat healthy. I'm sure she doesn't always feel like eating vegetables instead of fast food, but discipline is about making the decisions that will benefit you in the long run, and sometimes that means refusing to do what will gratify you now.

If there's one thing you can say about VCB, she always looks calm before and after her races. In fact, you hardly see her getting agitated or displaying nervousness and fear. This is the result of confidence, which is that quality in winners that makes them sure that they have what it takes to win.

Usain is another example of confidence. He's so calm, he can even play around with the cameras before races. Confidence is the result of hard work and training. If you've practiced and properly prepared, you  can feel confident that you will give nothing less than your best on your big day.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Go for Gold

The Secret to Going for Gold

Athletics has always been one of Jamaica's favorite sports. We've all admired the strength and agility of the nation's top sprinters, who have earned the respect of the entire world, and have placed Jamaica's name more firmly on the map as a country of outstanding achievers.

But have you ever stopped to think about how our athletes manage to excel like that? What is it about them that makes them so very successful? Were they born more special than me and you? Is it, as some people say, the Trelawny yam that makes Usain Bolt and Veronica Campbell-Brown so fast?

Or could it be that they have learnt and applied fundamental principles to their lives that guarantee this success? And could it be that if you or I were also to learn and apply these principles to our own lives, we would be rewarded with equal success?

Let's take a look at the lives of some of these athletes and see what we can learn from them.

Claim to fame:
Three- time world and Olympic gold medalist
World and Olympic 100m record holder
World and Olympic 200m record holder
First athlete to hold both sprint world records at the same time

Far beyond his conquest on the field, it is important to look at how Usain prepares himself mentally for each challenge on the track.

Self- belief
This is a person's sense of confidence in their own ability to do what it takes to win. You have to believe you can achieve the goal you have set out to conquer, in order to do so. And I'm sure that Usain has made believers out of all of us. He has, through his remarkable athletic achievements, convinced the world of something that HE first believed - that he could break the world record in the men's 100 and 200m, and that he is one of, if not the best athlete the world has ever seen. The important point is this: Usain had to believe in himself before he could convince anybody else of his talent.

This is the quality in a person that allows them to push for the accomplishment of a goal, even when the odds are against them. Determination is often used with another word: drive, which describes an individual's deep desire to see something happen, and their constant pursuit of that goal. Usain is a clear picture of this. In his races, you always see, from his facial expression to the way he exerts his strength, that he is pushing for gold and nothing less, and it usually results in success.

Hard work is necessary for success, but so is a little rest and relaxation. Great athletes know that they have to balance work and play order to remain healthy. Relaxation helps to calm the nerves and release stress and tension. Usain  is a good example of this. He can be very playful and fun, even though, when it's time to perform on the track, he settles down, focuses and gets the job done. This is because Usain understands that ll work and no play will make Jack a very dull boy.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Who WIll Save Our Youth

A repost from my first blog:

My favourite spot on campus is a spreading tree somewhere near the center of the University's Chapel Gardens. The Chapel Gardens is an amazingly beautiful and serene respite from the hustle and bustle of general university life. Frankly, I've fallen in love with the place. I go there to relax, to read, to study, to practise speeches and presentations for classes, to sleep (yes, it is relatively safe there, and sleeping in the blazing sun gives me a good feeling, like I'm charged with Vitamin D!! lol), or just to sit and think.

Today I went there to sit and think, because I'd been running from one class to another, and I felt exhausted, and there were things weighing on my mind that needed to be properly thought out. Interestingly enough, I got a whole lot more to think about than I bargained for.

A young man stopped me. He looked around my age or maybe a little older (early 20s). He was wearing a faded t-shirt and jeans (the proverbial university attire) and he walked up to me with his long arms swinging listlessly at his side.

He told me that he was going to kill himself today. The rope was set and everything. He was going to kill himself, he said, because he was tired of "hard life." He said he had been living in a car for three weeks because his landlord had kicked him out of his house since he was unable to pay his rent. He told me how the rains (we have been getting a lot of rain lately) had soaked him and he couldn't sleep properly at nights. He was broke, busted and very disgusted with life. He wanted out.

I stood there wondering at first why he chose to tell me his very sad tale of woe and dejection. I wondered if he was trying to con me into giving him money. I stood there looking at him, and listening, and wondering if what he was saying was true, and if I should believe any of it at all. He assumed I was a Christian and asked me to pray for him. He told me again and again that I had no idea what it was like, that I had no idea what he was going through, that I didn't understand and that he was just really tired, and he didn't see any point in living anymore.

I stood there listening to his story for longer than I intended to. I think what got me was the way he just looked and sounded extremely sad. You know how sometimes you can look at people and see sadness in everything about them? In the downturned mouth corner; the chapped, dry lips; the dirty clothes and fingernails; the tattered shoes, and even the way they have a tendency to sling one elbow over the head and and use the other arm to hold it up, like the arms are supporting the head-weight while the head is supporting the arms? He looked like that. Everything about him just said sad. And his voice cracked while he spoke and there were tears in his eyes. I think I believed him.

I asked him his name. And he told me a name. I'm not sure if the name he gave me was his real name. Let's call him Phillip.

Phillip was unemployed. Both his parents were dead, he said, and he didn't get along very well with the other members of his family. He said he lived in one of the communities surrounding UWI, that he used to be a gun-slinger, one of the "bad men" in his area. He said he decided to give all of that up because he realised that it was wrong, but now, since things were so hard, he was thinking about going back... or just killing himself...

Maybe I'm just young and impressionable. Maybe I'm still a bit naive. But it bothers me. I can't shake this experience from my mind. What if it was true? What if he was really so disenchanted with life that he had decided to end it?

He said I didn't understand. And he was right. I don't understand. I don't understand what forces cause a society to become so despondent that people see no solution at all anywhere in sight and just decide to take someone else's life or give up their own?

Phillip's story reminded me of the man in Ayi Kwei Armah's The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born. I mean, people are only human. They do the best they can with what little they have and sometimes that just isn't enough. What then? "What do you do when you've done all you can and it seems like you can't make it through?" asked Donnie McClurkin. Phillip was asking the same thing. What was I supposed to tell him? I didn't know what he was going through. He was obviously frustrated, to the point where he preferred to die than live anymore. He wanted some money to pay his rent, and to live a fairly decent life, and really, is that too much for anyone to ask?

Jamaica is a beautiful country. There are so many things right with our country. And so many things wrong. Sometimes we get unfairly stereotyped by foreign media. They make it sound like just the thought of coming to Jamaica is dangerous, like as soon as you step off the plane and onto Jamaican soil, you will have bullets whizzing past your ears and have to pull a Hilary Clinton (run for cover).

Sunday, April 6
It's ironic that Amnesty International recently released thier International Report for 2007, and that, Jamaica, once again, is being chided for some downfall in its justice system. This time it's the violence that the Amnesty Report claims Jamaican Government allows to go unchecked. To quote one of their website's news reports, "Jamaican authorities are wilfully neglecting the poorest communities by failing to tackle the violence - and its causes - that is shattering inner cities."

Monday, April 28
The report says we have a public security crisis in Jamaica. I only just had a debate with a friend of mine over the use of this word crisis, and what she believes is an oversensationalised, hyped-up media that tends to be very "unbalanced and alarmist" (direct quote from her).

Now I won't even bother to get into that right now, but, I urge every Jamaican to get hold of a copy of that report, and read it for yourself. See what it says. And make a decision about it. There have been some articles in our newspapers over the title of the report alone. Because, in my, and their, humble opinion, it says a whole damn lot: "Let them kill each other: Public Security in Jamaica’s Inner Cities."

Let them kill each other? Now, in the case of the young man I mentioned earlier, that isn't even necessary, is it? The way things were going for him, he was willing to kill himself... It's something to think about, isn't it?

Friday, March 2, 2012

Inspiration from Pooh and Christopher Robin

"You're braver than you believe
Stronger than you seem
And smarter than you think."

I love this little video. 
It's so cute and inspiring!! 
May it minister to your spirit.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Jamaican Education Revolution

What is it about a kid without a sparkle in his/her eyes that grabs your heart and pulls at it it so strongly? What is it about children who’ve lost their laughs that makes us so incredibly sad? Do cynical, depressed, distressed and discouraged young people disturb you?

When you look back on your own childhood and school experience, do you ever get the feeling that even though it was not excessively negative or traumatic, it still could have been much better?

And don’t you think we owe it to the next generation to ensure that every minute spent in the classroom yields far greater results than passes in a few compulsory subjects? Don’t you think we ought to use the classroom to create a safe place for self-discovery and learning, coupled with enthusiasm and fun?

I believe that if our schools continue to educate our children along the lines that we’ve been for the last century, we will end up with a society of mostly uninnovative, monotonous conformists. I fear that we will end up with young ‘dicta-regurgitating ibots’ who resent the education process, and completely miss the value of the time they spend in the classroom.

The Statistical Institute of Jamaica reports that there are 769,239 children and youth between the ages of five to 19 in Jamaica. These are the ages between which most children start primary school and leave high school. Now if the average Jamaican child spends roughly seven hours per weekday for about 180 days each year in the classroom, that means that each child spends a total of 1,260 hours per year in the classroom. That’s a very long time – too long for us to take any chances, or get the education of the next generation wrong.

Each child brings a unique gift into the world, and the education system ought to be the place where that gift is found, exposed, developed and maximised. Instead, what we often see happening is an emphasis on memorising and regurgitating facts and figures, to the exclusion or marginalisation of other key elements of the learning process. There is also a heavy focus on academics, which often does not include theatre arts or other less conventional areas of study.

This month, for example, two of Jamaica’s most popular primary-school examinations became the subject of national debates. The Grade Four Literacy Test (GFLT) and the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) are two exams used to assess the literacy skills of our primary-school students, and their readiness to move on to secondary education.

Each year, as preparation for these exams takes place, many students find themselves pressured, burdened and agitated. Their only goal at those stages is to pass the exam; make their teachers, parents or guardians proud; and avert the shame and stigma that comes with failure, or even with near-but-not-total success.

I have seen so many young eyes filled with tears, heard shrieks of fear and disappointment and seen children literally fret themselves into sickness because they did not perform as well as they had hoped on one of these exams.

The same thing applies for the CXC Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate exam in high schools. At this stage, the exam candidates may be older and more contained in their emotions and reactions, but there is similar trepidation and disappointment when things don’t turn out the way they had planned, or hoped.

And the results we obtain annually in these exams paint a dismal picture of the effectiveness of our teaching system. Statistics from the National Progress Report on Jamaica’s Social Policy Goals (Jamaica Social Policy Evaluation, 2008) reveal that at the primary level over the 2006-2007 period, only 65 per cent of students who sat the Grade Four Literacy Test were successful in accomplishing full mastery of all the measures used to assess functional literacy. Fourteen per cent failed to master these areas at all.

At the secondary level in the same period, only 56 per cent of students allowed to sit the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) English language exam passed. An even more dismal 36 per cent of those entered to sit mathematics achieved passes.

What these results tell me is that something is wrong with what takes place annually in the classroom - obviously, something needs fixing. Why are our children taken through this rigorous and stressful cycle annually, only to yield less-than-satisfactory results? We’ve already tried changing the exam. It did not work. It is time to change the ENTIRE system. An education overhaul is long overdue in Jamaica!

Look at today’s schools. Think of today’s children. Do you think any of them deserves to have their hopes and dreams squelched by a system that does not recognise or embrace their unique artistic gifts or talents – a system that many argue literally sets them up for failure? Why do we keep sending our children through an obviously botched system, especially when there are ways in which the education experience can be made to be much more meaningful and fulfilling for them?

It is in the classroom, I believe, that our teachers get the opportunity every day to impart a legacy far greater than knowledge to the next generation. And it hurts me to see that opportunity squandered every day.

We don't need another barely literate and depressed generation. We need an education revolution.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Keep Hope Alive

A Japanese proverb admonishes us to
fall seven times,
stand up eight. 
I love this photo, because it always reminds me that 
giving up is not an option. 
Never stop trying. 
Don't quit. 
Hang in there. 
You can do it!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Growing Up Jamaica(n) Pt 3

Time for Change
The operative word is CHANGE. And this is the word that is being heralded by many. It is time, the whole country seems to agree, for positive, decisive and permanent change. What better place to start than with the youth?

1. We have to change the education system to motivate youth. We have to teach leadership from an early age, make it part of the school curriculum, and learn to encourage individuality, as well as bring back civics, which teaches pride in one’s history and culture. I believe in career training from an early age. I believe in proper preparation for success. I believe in a system that trains leaders. Not just students. An education system that will not just shove knowledge down our childrens’  throats but will teach them how to think critically about the issues facing their nations, and emphasise individual thought, instead of conformity and repetition, solutions instead of problems.

It took me a while to realise what I really wanted to do, who I really wanted to be. And to realise that the error was not in me but in a system that taught me to think that the error was always in me.

2. We have to change the way we view the working world. It’s time to emphasise and teach entrepreneurship as a way of life and thinking, instead of as an abstract ideal for a select few. Creativity and innovation must become ingrained in our culture if we are to step up from being a developing nation and become developed.

3. We have to change how we engage our youth in dialog about their futures, and the future of this nation. Twenty-first century living requires 21st-century thinking, to which 21st-century technology is essential. Youth won’t be young forever. Essentially, it’s their world. We have to find better, more innovative ways to teach them how to grow into their roles and take charge of their lives, ensuring that they realise that everything they do affects the entire nation. We no longer have the luxury of living for just one.

4. We have to change the dependent culture that we have yet to dispel in 50 years! Instead of thinking in terms of what the ‘system’ can give to them, youth have to be taught to think in terms of what they can give to the system to help mold the nation’s future. Can we build/Are we building a new mindset, which is indispensable to building a better nation?

It’s a very complex problem, and Jamaica is not the only country facing it. Other Caribbean countries have similar issues, and indeed, countries all around the world are dealing with this sudden and tremendous need to rethink their national visions and chart new paths, and finding ways to link their past with their present, while charting new routes to a brighter future. The big question is: how do we go forward? How do we create a society that encourages excellence and self-actualisation without stamping out individuality?

Jamaica is at a time where the entire nation is looking back, and looking forward. We recently concluded our eighth general election, and appointed, for the second time, a female prime minister to govern the nation’s affairs. As a nation and generation, we stand at a crossroads. We have many tough decisions ahead of us.

As Jamaica reflects, I find it is a poignant time to do my own reflection on the progress my nation has made, and to personalise the experience. I have lived for a half  of this country’s independent life span. What does the nation’s 50th Independence really mean for its youth? And more specifically, what does it mean to me?

So, in this, our 50th year of adulthood, I’d like to teach Jamaica how to be a child again. I’d like to teach my country how not to be so hardened by the years of continuous struggle. And I’d like to remind our youth how to hope, and grow with outward grace and inward beauty. How to see the beauty and the blessing in our brilliant sunshine, and develop personalities that  rival its warmth and resilience.

I’d like us to look back and recapture the heart that beat in our ancestors: strength, determination, vision. And I’d love it if we finally got the inheritance that rightfully belongs to us. Not the repatriation money so many are clamouring for: but the lessons learnt through history. And the wisdom of not just half a century, but more than a thousand years.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.