By RON FANFAIR
Vincentians in Canada and the rest of the Diaspora are being encouraged to return to their homeland this year to celebrate the country’s 30th independence anniversary.
St. Vincent & the Grenadines achieved independence on October 27, 1979.
To mark the milestone, nationals are being invited to the country of their birth to participate in year-long activities – Vincy Homecoming 2009 – that include a three-day national homecoming conference, Oktoberfest Creole, a secondary school heritage pageant and a national calypso competition in October.
“We have a population of about 110,000 in St. Vincent & the Grenadines, but we believe that our nationals in the Diaspora are more than the amount of people residing in our islands,” said Ellsworth John, director of the Regional Integration and Diaspora Unit, while in Toronto last weekend for the Vincy Homecoming Diaspora (Canada) conference.
“Nationals have made an invaluable contribution to our society and we feel that our independence celebration would not be complete unless it involves all nationals who consider St. Vincent & the Grenadines their home.”
John, the St. Vincent & the Grenadines first ambassador to CARICOM, said nationals should be proud of the island nation’s achievements in the past three decades.
The banana crop still account for almost a third of export earnings despite efforts to reduce the reliance on the crop exports after the European Union phased out preferential treatment to producers from former colonies, and the tourism sector is poised to take off as the islands become popular destinations for leisure sailors. A new international airport, scheduled to open in 2011, is expected to boost tourism and the 32-island chain as an emerging investment market.
“We have a tendency to underestimate what we have accomplished as a people,” said John, a former permanent representative to the Organization of American States. “We sometimes label our country as backward and see everything else as better. The reality is that given what we have achieved over the years with our limited resources, we have to be proud of our success.”
Vincentian-born Organization of Eastern Caribbean States High Commissioner to Canada, Brendon Browne, agreed.
“As a nation, we have fared very well,” he said. “We are not perfect, but we have made the best of what we have. Our national report card, when examined over a period of 30 years, will show a good grade. We have many reasons to be proud. You don’t have to be big to be great. We are a nation of talented and intelligent people.”
Several Vincentians, including soca artist Kevin Lyttle, National Basketball Association player, Adonal Foyle and Yale graduate, Roy Austin, who served as the United States ambassador to Trinidad & Tobago up until last January, have made their mark on the international stage.
Browne also suggested that every Vincentian political leader has contributed to the country’s progress.
“George McIntosh’s vision was to educate and organize the working people; Ebenezer Joshua’s mission centred around workers rights; Milton Cato laid the foundation for a sophisticated democratic and independent nation; Sir James Mitchell built on Cato’s effort and set the framework in place for the economic take-off and Ralph Gonsalves aims to complete the task of earlier generations and to construct a modern, diversified and prosperous economy and lead the frontal assault on poverty,” he said.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines Consul General, Steve Phillips and honorary consul, Jose Bonadie, attended the conference.