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NEW YORK NEW YORK – Unwanted scholarships

Tony Best

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WHEN hundreds of Bajans from across North America, Britain and elsewhere begin their deliberations in earnest in Barbados today, they will discuss how they can contribute even more to the “rock”, as they often call their birthplace.Everything from investing in commercial ventures at home, the resolution of legal issues in Barbados courts, promoting Barbados as a tourist destination, and making their homeland a beneficiary of philanthropic impulses will be on the agenda. In addition, other issues such as returning home to live, either after retirement or to give the country the benefit of their vast experience are down for discussion at the first ever diaspora conference by the government. It’s an idea first articulated by David Thompson, the Prime Minister.A subject that may find its way into the deliberations is how to encourage Bajan students in New York, Toronto, Miami, Orlando, Houston, Boston, Montreal and elsewhere in North America to apply for thousands of dollars worth of scholarships offered by Barbadian organisations in the United States and Canada to help young people further their higher education.Valuable scholarships“It’s a problem with which we are trying to grapple,” Leroy McClean, Barbados’ Consul-General in Toronto, said sometime ago. “The organisations in Canada are offering valuable scholarships, but the Barbadian students are not applying for them. We don’t understand why this is happening. We are trying to come up with some solutions.”Like McClean, Lennox Price, Consul-General in New York, is worried about the scholarships that are not being sought by Bajans in and out of the United States and Barbados.“It’s puzzling,” said Price who is attending today’s meeting. “Several organisations in New York for instance are offering the scholarships, but the applicants either don’t come forward or are few and far between. “Thousands of dollars are at stake and I am sure the young people can use the funds to further their education.”Marston Gibson, president of the Council of Barbadian Organisations in New York, an umbrella body to which several Bajan groups belong, finds the lack of interest perplexing.“I don’t think there are any easy answers,” he said. “We have experienced this problem in the Foundation Alumni Association and we have discussed it ad nauseam. We have blamed ourselves because we have said that maybe we haven’t publicised it enough and that the diminished response is a direct response to our failure to publish information about the scholarships.“But we have done our best to get the word out there. We are not alone in attracting applications from eligible students. We can’t blame the Consulate-General because it has done its part in disseminating the information and it has done it well. Perhaps we need to use the internet even more.”New criteriaBut the internet didn’t provide the answer for the Young Barbadian Professional Society (YBPS), a thriving group of accountants, attorneys, physicians, teachers and others in New York. This year it is offering three scholarships and its criteria are broad enough to stimulate considerable interest. To be eligible, applicants must be of Barbadian heritage, a parent or grandparent, for instance, or be a national of a Caricom country. In addition, qualified applicants must be students at a college, university or polytechnic in Barbados or the United States and high on the list of schools are the University of the West Indies and the Barbados Community College. Still, officials of the YBPS said that the interest in the scholarships was disappointing.The Combermere Alumni Association, one of the oldest Barbadian organisations in North America, has been seeking applicants for its annual US$2 500 Edsil Watson Memorial Scholarship for the past three years, but a lack of sufficiently qualified candidates stymied those efforts. However, for the first time this year it has been able to select a scholarship winner.“We created the scholarship in honour of Edsil Watson who died three years ago and was committed to education,” said Ian Watson, the Alumni Association’s president. “But in those three years we have received only four applications but only one was eligible. “That’s how we are in a position to choose someone in 2010. We have done quite a lot to get the word out, but the response hasn’t been gratifying. But the scholarship isn’t the only way we are reaching out to help. “We offer financial help to former Combermerians who are furthering their education but need financial help. But the Edsil Watson scholarship is open to any Barbadian who is going to college or university in New York. We are seeking corporate support so we can increase the scholarship award to US$5 000 annually and we are hoping that the response would be better.”The Combermere Alumni Asociation and the Barbados Ex-Police Association are two of the organisations which conduct tutoring programmes for elementary and high school students so they can improve classroom performance. The classes are conducted on week-ends.