BEHIND THE HEADLINES: Grappling with fallout
A brief but stark economic picture painted recently in New York by an enterprising and articulate young Bajan woman is becoming increasingly familiar these days.
It’s a story about navigating the turbulent financial waters swirling around Barbados and how young people are coping with it in order to achieve their educational and professional goals. At 20 years of age, Shemille Waterman is one such person with big but realistic dreams.
“My goal is to become an international business manager,” she explained to more than 200 well-dressed and successful people from the Caribbean and United States attending the annual fund-raising gala of the American Foundation for the University of the West Indies (UWI).
“I am determined to play a leadership role in helping more businesses in Barbados internationalise through innovative ideas, effective and efficient modes of entry, and international marketing techniques which will help to stabilize the Barbados economy.”
Actually, the student at the UWI’s Cave Hill campus is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in international business management but is encountering the kind of financial headaches other students from around the region have grappled with for decades.
The challenge can be traced to two forks in the road. The first is Barbados’ deeply rooted economic nightmare which is forcing the Government and private firms to lay off thousands of workers, many of them parents with children at the University.
Secondly, the planned imposition of fees on Barbadian students at the UWI for the first time is digging holes in the pocketbooks of families and is throwing up roadblocks in the paths of young people that a mere 18 months ago they never expected. We will be hearing more of the fallout from economic nightmare.
“Barbados is going through many difficult economic challenges, including widespread layoffs and high unemployment,” said Waterman.
“These changes had a major effect on my household, leaving only one parent employed as my father was laid off from his job. Tuition for the University of the West Indies has more than doubled and I was extremely worried and concerned about how I was going to finish my studies in light of the increased fees, when I was already struggling to meet the cost of previous tuition.”
Why did she speak in New York City about the situation she is facing? The youth wanted to say thanks publicly to the American Foundation in general and to Kaye Foster-Cheek, a Barbadian in California and patron of the dinner, for a scholarship that is enabling Waterman to remain in the UWI classroom.
Because of that helping hand from Foster-Cheek, the student said, “I am able to continue my studies and not drop out. You are allowing me to fulfil my dreams.”
Professor Nigel Harris, UWI vice-chancellor, met Waterman and two other UWI students who were flown to the city from Barbados and Jamaica to address the gala about the difference the Foundation’s scholarships were making to their lives. He described the youths’ testimonies as solid evidence of the value of corporate and individual philanthropy.
“The scholarships and grants to the university and student are helping to fill a void,” he said.
Realistically, more scholarships are going to be needed in the months and years ahead in Barbados as joblessness increases. Waterman’s experience is duplicated across the land. But assistance to students will only be part of the solution.
Bajans in New York are expected to hear more about what needs to be done when St Leonard’s Church, an independent religious institution in the heart of central Brooklyn, and the Resurrection Anglican Congregation headed by Canon Llewellyn Armstrong, an Anglican priest in New York, sponsor a symposium on March 1 that aims to focus on solutions to the island’s crisis.
“If there is a problem, we must find a solution – and that’s the goal of the symposium,” said Canon Llewellyn Armstrong, the symposium’s moderator.
Harold Hoyte, the NATION newspaper’s Editor Emeritus, is scheduled to deliver the feature address. Panellists will be Adrian Mapp, a Barbadian and mayor of Plainfield, New Jersey; Reverend Laurel Scott, pastor of the United Methodist Church of Port Washington on Long Island; H. Elizabeth Thompson, a former Barbados Cabinet minister who is now a senior United Nations adviser in New York Oswald Lewis, a former director of management and budget of Norwalk, a major city in Connecticut. Lewis belongs to the Friends of Barbados (DLP) Association, a branch of the ruling Democratic Labour Party in Barbados.
The symposium’s theme is Pride Of Nationhood; Dispel The Darkness; Light A Candle.