Vasciannie lauds Kiwanians, encourages volunteerism

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As Jamaica approaches its 57th anniversary of independence, law professor and University of Technology (UTech), Jamaica President Stephen Vasciannie is invoking the spirit of volunteerism and calling on civil society to help spur national development by filling the void created by stark social and economic challenges.

“At the national level, our needs are sharp and painfully ever present. Some obvious progress has been made in Jamaica’s development, but the challenges are deep and enduring. The media provide daily evidence of the great needs of society in areas such as health, education, security, in the fulfilment of individual potential and simply in survival needs for persons,” Vasciannie said at the Kiwanis Club of west St Andrew’s 40th anniversary celebration held last Wednesday at Medallion Hall Hotel in St Andrew.

Addressing the impact of volunteerism on national development, Vasciannie, while noting that there have been signs of economic improvement in Jamaica, questioned the stark inequality still rampant in the society.

“How is it that we seem to be having more needs in Jamaica at a time when the economy is improving?” he asked. “We see signs of an improving economy. Jamaica’s debt-to-GDP ratio has moved from a crisis point of 147 per cent in 2012 to less than 100 per cent currently. This is wonderful news, but it causes us to [wonder] why needs are increasing among the poorest in society. I don’t have the answer to that question, but it gives us cause to pause and collectively search for solutions to our national challenges.”

Addressing education, health, and crime, the Rhodes Scholar highlighted statistics over the last 50 years of Jamaica, saying: “In education 50 years ago, there were only two public tertiary institutions, the UWI (University of the West Indies) and CAST (College of Arts, Science and Technology, now UTech). In 1969, both of these institutions had students in the range of 100s. Today, UTech’s student population is about 11,500, and UWI Mona has a student population of well over 18,000,” he said.

“Fifty years ago, the economy was described as strong. Thanks to a booming bauxite industry, Jamaica’s per capita income, according to the World Bank 50 years ago, was US$644. Today, Jamaica’s per capita income is estimated at US$5,114.”

In health, Vasciannie noted that 50 years ago Jamaica’s infant mortality rate was 46.75 per 1,000 live births. In 2015, the infant mortality rate in Jamaica was 14.07 deaths per 1,000 live births.

“The life expectancy rate in 1969 was 68 years. The figure at the last available data in 2016 was 75.97,” he said further.

In crime however, Professor Vasciannie noted the upward trajectory of blood-letting in Jamaica compared to the rest of the world.

“In 1962, when Jamaica gained independence, the murder rate was 3.9 per 100,000 inhabitants, one of the lowest in the world. In 2005, Jamaica had 1,674 murders, a murder rate of 58 per 100,000 people. That year Jamaica had the highest murder rate in the world. In 2018, our 1,615 was 59 per 100,000. The global average is six per 100,000. So we kill each other 10 times as often as the rest of the world,” said Vasciannie.

“The current situation underscores that there is a continuous need for volunteerism in society and for the valuable contribution played by organisations such as the Kiwanis Club in support of nation- building,” said Vasciannie.

He commended the service organisation for its years of nation-building and contributions to alleviating the social ills faced by the most vulnerable in society.

“It is quite heart-warming to see that the spirit of volunteerism is still alive and well in Jamaica, notwithstanding prevailing economic challenges now confronting society. I commend the Kiwanis Club of West St Andrew on its unwavering commitment to providing humanitarian service to the less fortunate in our society, in spite of the many challenges. I note that the club had been focusing on diverse projects targeting youth needs, particularly in at-risk communities,” he said.

Some of the club’s notable achievements include feeding programmes in at least three schools; the construction of classrooms at Red Hills Basic School; monthly mentorship and birthday celebration with children of the Salvation Army; and the construction and maintenance of bus shelters at the well known ‘look out point’ in Red Hills.

“Organisations like this help to present balance in society; help to keep us firmly moored so that while there are challenges in society, you help to keep us together through your commitment to the less fortunate, to the children and, persons in need,” Vasciannie said.

“We can say with confidence that this progress had been due in no small part to the volunteerism of service, such as the work by Kiwanians. I leave you with the exhortation for us to redouble our efforts to bring about a stronger, healthier, and more vibrant society.

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