BAJAN TO DE BONE: Tireless fight on women’s behalf
MARVA ALLEYNE’S passion for Barbados is immeasurable.
Every time this Barbadian peers down from an aircraft making its final approach to the Grantley Adams International Airport and beholds the vista spread out below, excitement surges in her bosom while she is quietly saying a prayer: “Thank God I am home.”
Though she has given so much to this “little rock” where she was born, Alleyne is not seeking rewards. Now in her 70s and decades after making a sterling contribution, she is still giving to the island she loves.
Over the years she has worked in the areas of business and commerce, Welfare, Child Care, Youth and Community Development and Gender Affairs. She is currently serving as deputy chairperson of the National Committee on Ageing, directing her energies towards helping to formulate policies geared towards the island’s fast-growing elderly population.
Some people may say she has already paid her dues in the breadth of work she has done with youth and communities over several decades. But the alumnus of The St Michael’s Girls’ School will tell you that whatever she did, it was the kind of commitment she felt was needed at critical stages of Barbados’ pre and early post-independence development.
When Alleyne talks about her experiences in the Public Service, to which she was appointed in 1970, you appreciate that from early she understood how much needed to be done at the community level to move Barbados forward.
She said: “I worked with District “A” Magistrates’ Courts for a little while and I saw some awful things happening to children at the level of parenting and I could not believe it, growing up with the parents that I did, that parents would allow children to get into the kind of problems they were in.”
What she was seeing contrasted sharply with her own “fantastic” growing up experience as one of six children who enjoyed weekly outdoor family picnics on a hill near their Charnocks, Christ Church home with a menu of lemonade and goodies baked by their mother.
Alleyne said some of her childhood was spent living on site at the former Seawell Airport where her father Damian Alleyne, an employee of the then Ministry of Works, was seconded as a management supervisor with the building of the runway.
Alleyne said things she saw while working in the Magistrates’ Courts spurred her to request a transfer to the Welfare Department, where she really got a deeper insight into problems plaguing families.
“A lot of the welfare issues had to do with youth needing structure and organisation in their activities,” she explained. But more disturbing were the fathers she encountered who would openly declare their willingness to endure a jail term rather than give mothers the financial support necessary to raise their children.
“Those fathers never saw what was happening to their children when they were not contributing to the well-being of those children,” Alleyne said.
Back then the present legislation for maintenance of children had not been enacted, leaving women earning meagre wages with nowhere else to turn for assistance with their children, than to the state agency under whose ambit this area of responsibility fell.
Even today Alleyne is still incensed when she remembers the “undignified” treatment she saw being meted out to women who turned up at that state agency seeking help to support their children.
As a case worker she also saw parents desperately reaching out for assistance and guidance in raising rebellious children. This is one of the reasons she decided to serve as a pioneer of PAREDOS, giving her expertise in improving the parent/child relationship.
The mother of a grown-up daughter, she effectively used the Bachelor of Science (Honours) degree in social work she obtained from the University of the West Indies Mona Campus to assist the government of Barbados and the Caribbean as well as non-governmental organisations in piloting and conducting successful community development programmes.
She paints a picture of a Barbados of the 1960s and 1970s with many vibrant youth organisations that caused government to place emphasis on the kind of programmes that kept the Community Development Department busy and engaged. She sometimes acted as chief community development officer.
Many women of the day benefited from Community Development Department-organised classes designed to equip them with skills that would enable these mothers to support themselves and their children.
Government’s introduction of cottage industries and the kind of industrial development that provided an outlet for those job skills translated into economic liberation for many of those women. Alleyne is proud to have played a role in that process.
She subscribes to the mantra “strong families are the foundation of strong communities”. Little wonder she was appointed Barbados’ first director of Women’s Affairs and went on to serve as executive secretary to the National Commission on the Status of Women.
The section of Alleyne’s curriculum vitae detailing her work in women’s development is impressive – Advisor of Women and Youth for 19 English and Dutch-speaking countries of the Caribbean Sub Region of the International Labour Organisation; consultant to the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus in the design and establishment of the Women and Development Programme (WAND UNIT), the UWI Cave Hill Social Work programme and the Poverty Law programme in the Faculty of Law, where she served as a visiting lecturer for 12 years.
She has long retired as director of Women’s Affairs after more than 38 years in the Public Service. But the indefatigable septuagenarian is not slowing down.
Barbados means too much to her and with the extensive work she has already put in to build youth, she believes her twilight years should be devoted to the welfare and well-being of senior citizens like herself who toiled to build this country.
The source of her strength is her faith fortified by membership of the Moravian Church, in whose activities she continues to plays an active role.
Four years ago, Alleyne was awarded the Barbados Service Star for her outstanding contribution to the Public Service, in particular, social care – fitting recognition for the Barbadian who says: “I can’t think of anywhere else I would rather live.”