Vincentians in the Diaspora should work together to build national pride and should use their voice to be advocates for change.
So said Camillo Gonsalves, St. Vincent and the Grenadines’s Minister of Economic Planning, Sustainability Development, Industry, Trade, Information and Labour at a gala in Toronto on Saturday to celebrate the country’s 37th anniversary of independence.
Gonsalves thanked Vincentians in Toronto for their contributions to their homeland, especially in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew which caused extensive damage in several islands in the Caribbean, including St. Vincent.
And he appealed to them to continue sending their remittances.
But according to the Minister, more than cash was needed.
He also called on fellow nationals ” to remit your knowledge, experience, time to St. Vincent and the Grenadines as one community.”
“You are not like the Diaspora in the early days. Some of you are CEOs, professionals…You have clout. A voice. Use it here in Canada. Be advocates for change. Make your voices heard,” he told them.
Gonsalves who was the first government minister from St. Vincent and the Grenadines to visit Toronto in the last four years, explained that he and his government colleagues stayed away from Canada in protest to visa restrictions on St. Vincent and the Grenadines introduced by the former Stephen Harper government.
Nationals from St. Vincent and the Grenadines, who want to travel to Canada now have to apply for visitor visas and meet the requirements to receive the mandatory travel documents.
“They are required to submit their applications by mail or in person to the Canadian visa office in Trinidad,” Gonsalves said, noting the expenses incurred in visa fees and trips to Trinidad.
He said St. Vincent and the Grenadines is now looking forward to working with the new Canadian government and there are plans in the works for Vincentians to obtain employment “out West” in jobs other than those in the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program..
After speaking about the struggles for political independence in St. Vincent and the Grenadines , Gonsalves said ” today, it’s a new form of struggle.”
Discussing climate change, he said it was deadly.
He noted that the physical landscape and socio-economic circumstances of St. Vincent and the Grenadines make it extremely vulnerable to climate- related natural disasters.
“ Global warming, sea level rising, affecting agriculture, destroying forestry, flash flooding, the destruction of crops, including bananas, and now those engaged in the fishing business have to go into deeper waters,” he told the gathering at the Woodbine banquet centre.
Gonsalves said constant destruction to infrastructure, including bridges, affects the economy as well as the “tourism brand ”
Three prominent members of the Vincentian Diaspora received awards at the gala for their contributions in various fields. They were:
Dr. Robert Sutton -Business- He was the first Black Doctor hired at the Hospital for Sick Children, and had since retired from private practice after 45 years.
Eldine Barnwell – Community Development- She has been president of the Union Island Cultural Association for 19 years. She was described as “a dedicated leader with strength in group dynamics.”
Julian McIntosh – Culture and Arts- A saxophone virtuoso well known for his performances with the his band , “Thunderbolts.”
Scholarships were awarded to the following:
Princess Wyllie- A first year student at York University in the health studies programme
Reyanne Telfer- A third year student at Trent University pursuing social work