As St. Vincent and the Grenadines celebrates its 38th year of political independence, its Ambassador to the United States, Lou-Anne Gilchrist, said the Ralph Gonsalves’ administration in Kingstown was committed to “overcoming and neutralizing the threats to our social and economic survival.”
In addressing a gala luncheon Sunday, Oct. at Grand Prospect Hall in Brooklyn, organized by the Brooklyn-based Vincentian umbrella group in the United States, Council of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Organizations, U.S.A., Inc. (COSAGO), Gilchrist said the government is, however, “ever mindful of the myriad challenges which confront us and which, in this 21st Century, require solutions which can often be costly, depend on the formation of elusive strategic alliances and which require trust, commitment, harmony and creativity.
“One major challenge is posed by the impact of global warming and the attendant scourge of climate change,” said Gilchrist, who is also Ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS). “We, in the Caribbean Basin and as Small Island Developing States, are especially vulnerable and susceptible to the impact of climate change.
“It is a risk to life and limb and to livelihoods,” she added. “It places us all at risk for loss of property, it is a threat to our personal and national security, to our prosperity and to our economic survival. Alas, we are vulnerable and are victims of extremely adverse climatic conditions, to the cause of which our region contributes very little.
“For this, and for our economic and social survival, our nation assiduously adheres to the principles and pathways laid out in the 2030 [United Nations] Sustainable Development Goals,” she continued. “Worthy of note is the work being done to build our resilience to storms, such as the construction of river defenses, the strengthening and lifting of the Education Revolution, the provision of paid internships and job placements to graduates of the SVGCC [St. Vincent and the Grenadines Community College] and institutions of higher education, the improvements in equity and equality of access to education by the provision of free early childhood education services in 10 government operated centers in previously underserved communities and the strengthening of the skills sector, with the award of regional vocational qualifications which enable our nationals to be certified, so enhancing their economic mobility and independence.”
In the health sector, Gilchrist, a former chief education officer before dispatched to Washington, D.C. as a diplomat, said the government continues to train nurses for employment at home and possibly for employment farther afield, free of charge, while paying them a monthly stipend of $1,000.00 during their three-year course of study.
In addition, she said there is training for first responders, with special focus on the Argyle International airport, adding that the oncology unit is nearing completion and the Health and Wellness Commission will soon be launched.
With regard to enhancing the delivery of patient care, the envoy said the patient’s charter will be released shortly.
She noted that there is also a modern medical complex and smart hospital, with another to be established in Chateaubelair in the northwestern quadrant of the country.
Through bilateral partnerships, the envoy said medical professionals have been deployed in the country to provide expertise in “some critical areas, as the thrust of the government is to provide affordable, available comprehensive health care.”
With regard to boosting the economy, she said the inauguration of the Argyle International Airport in February is “certainly a boon.”
“Its further development is a process in which the government is fully engaged to enhance trade and the tourism product,” Gilchrist said. “To complement this, we have the development of our infrastructure, as well as incentives for investing in the service sector.”
She said significant strides are being made in agriculture to advance trade, support livelihoods and to increase food security.
Gilchrist said the Diaspora plays a “very important role” in the development of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, quoting from the 2016 Independence Speech by Prime Minister Gonsalves.
“‘Our nation’s progress, enhanced prosperity, peace and sociopolitical stability have been achieved largely through our own efforts at home, in concert with the considerable assistance of our Diaspora, friendly nations abroad, and supportive institutions and peoples regionally and globally, and through the abiding grace and beneficence of a loving God. This combination of a many-sided human effort and divine inspiration ensures our continued upliftment today and beyond,’” she said.
Gilchrist said those words still “remain true,” adding that, “each year, as we celebrate independence, we must renew our engagement with, and our commitment to, building our nation so that the quality of life of each Vincentian at home and abroad will be improved and his/her life chances enhanced considerably.
“Surely, this is a goal which we must collectively aspire to accomplish,” she urged.
She acknowledged, “with profound gratitude the work and selfless service of the various Vincentian associations and organizations in North America, including COSAGO and its constituent organizations.”
Gilchrist said the Diaspora has a role to play in strengthening the private sector and in establishing public/private partnerships for investments, stating that “economic and business opportunities exist and need to be further explored by Vincentians at home and also by you, esteemed members of our Diaspora.”
She said the advances being made in St. Vincent and the Grenadines belie the nation’s 48th year of independence.
“Life for us as an independent nation has already brought us to a level of maturity of which proof is provided by the foregoing and by other initiatives in our blessed homeland,” Gilchrist said.
She said while there remain obstacles to development, such as “an atypically high incidence of crime, I am pleased to report that there are multi-pronged initiatives in place to deal with the causes and the effects of crime.”
With specific focus on our youth, Gilchrist pointed to the juvenile justice reform program, which she said is aimed at diverting youth from crime and the criminal court system.
“All sectors of the population, from the unborn to the ill, to the elderly are receiving due focus and attention, for St. Vincent and the Grenadines is the ‘Land of the Blessed.’ It is Hairouna (Carib). It is Yuremei. The spirit of resilience and resistance which typified the children of Chatoyer, our Paramount Carib Chief and national hero, is the same spirit which imbues us today and which will ensure our survival,” she said. “We are the children of Chatoyer.
“Fellow Vincentians, as we celebrate the 38th anniversary of our independence, let us embrace our heritage, let us embrace our diversity and our unity,” she urged. “Let us come together as one nation under God, praise Him and give Him thanks for his grace and mercy towards us. Let us pray for our leaders and our people, so that our country can be forever a haven calm, serene.”