This Anglican priest today became one of the newest members of Barbados’ diplomatic corps. Rev. Guy Hewitt, an educator and former chairman and director of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), today took up the post of High Commissioner to London.
Barbados TODAY’S Carol Williams spoke with the cleric on his appointment, the state of education and health in the island, and the troubling incidence of crime and violence.
You’re a priest and now a diplomat. How do you merge the priesthood with this diplomatic posting?
Hewitt: I am going there as a representative of Barbados, and I’ve said to people in Barbados the church is disestablished. We have formally separated the church from the state, and, as a representative of the state, I am focused on that. Notwithstanding that, we say during ordination, “Once a priest, always a priest”. So even if I don’t carry the title or the functions while I’m in the UK, my heart and my spirit will be guided by my vows taken in ordination and my continued support for the prayers for people and of my faith.
You’re not new to the diplomat circles though; you once worked with the Commonwealth Secretariat.
Hewitt: Yes, I started training for the priesthood while at the Commonwealth Secretariat in the UK, but was ordained in Barbados when I relocated here to take up an assignment with the CXC.
Did you ever see yourself in such a role?
Hewitt: No. If I had the opportunity to script my life, I would never have had the arrogance to presume that I would ever be in a position like this; but I’m tremendously honoured by the confidence that the Government has placed in me, and also by Barbadians, whether it be in the supermarket or in my church, friends and family and persons through Facebook saying “we are supporting you”, and I think that has been as reassuring as the vote of confidence that the Government has placed in me.
What are your expectations as you take up this appointment?
Hewitt: There are a lot of opportunities to move forward Barbados’ strategic agenda. My expectation is to lead the team and work with colleagues in the mission to advance Barbados’ image, Barbados’ interest, Barbados’ position in the United Kingdom. There will be focus on tourism. I want to maintain Barbados premier position in that market to ensure that our products, goods and services are able to successfully enter the UK market.
Let’s look at the area of tourism. Far fewer people are travelling due to the state of the world economy. The UK, which is one of Barbados’ main source markets, is included in that. How do you propose to bring more tourists from the UK to Barbados?
Hewitt: The UK economy has come out of the recession it was in. We have seen numbers increasing from the UK to Barbados, and we are very optimistic that positive trend will continue, and we’ll be able to see ourselves getting more visitors from that market.
One of the things I think we have to look at is moving beyond England to incorporate Scotland, Wales and Ireland and finding the linkages, whether it be with charter companies or connections through London, to bring tourists from those destinations to Barbados. The Barbados brand is very strong in the United Kingdom, and now we have the benefit of the tourism infrastructure being divided into marketing and product development. I look to the future and say we will be able to respond more effectively to what our visitors or potential visitors are interested in and to give them the experience that should bring them back, and encourage them to tell their friends to come to Barbados.
And as it relates to trade, how do you intend to push Barbadian products in the UK?
Hewitt: I’ve had considerable meetings with a lot of our business leaders, also with the president and executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, with the president of the Barbados Hotel & Tourism Association, and I’m hoping to meet with other key stakeholders, if not before I go, then [via] conference call so that they are very aware that the High Commission is open for business for them.
Let’s look at the situation in Barbados as it relates to crime and violence. You must be concerned about it, particularly as a priest.
Hewitt: Yes, people are not as connected, as close as before, despite technological advances. One of the things the church is challenged by is how to remain relevant, beyond Sunday worship . . . . We have to work with young people to reinforce their sense of value, their beliefs that continue to shape them into the kind of people we want to lead Barbados in the future.
Is the church responding enough to the societal challenges?
Hewitt: The church continues to have a significant role. That role has changed in a sense because people have changed, and so the challenge to the church, whether is be Anglican or otherwise, is finding new ways of communicating with young people; new ways of organizing and accessing them.
For instance, a lot of my communication with people, spiritually is through Facebook. I use social media to send out thoughts, to send out reflections, and that has a way of reaching people, not just in Barbados . . . but also Barbadians and friends who are living in other parts of the world. We have started to embrace social media.
The St Thomas Parish Church streams its services on Sundays so that people who can’t make worship, or persons who are resident abroad can enjoy what is very good Anglican worship through the Internet. So there are initiatives taking place in Barbados. We just need to encourage those who may not necessarily have been thinking of new and creative ways of opening up ministry to others, or communicating with persons to follow what is good practice that is already taking place.
Let’s zero in on the crime and violence. What are your views on what is happening in the country?
Hewitt: Violence should never be used as a means to resolve conflict. What we need to recognize, however, is that in Barbados, the level of violence is not as significant when compared to other places in the Caribbean. A lot of it surrounds things like drugs . . . other illegal activities, the proliferation of arms, which the police are very concerned about.
What we have to do, as well, is make sure that there are community mechanisms that could help young people deal with their frustrations. We don’t have the benefit of extended families to give them advice. Young people are counselled by their peers. Many of them may not have the wisdom or understanding of the situation.
We have a solid education curriculum that provides the academic and vocational opportunities for people to be certified and skilled, but we probably need to pay attention to getting young people More involved in extracurriculum activities that will teach them discipline, and how to work with others.
The Ministry of Education has been working on a plan that factors in how to introduce a community service component in the education system.
On that issue of education, first of all, why did you leave your post of director of CXC?
Hewitt: In all parts of our career, you come to a point where its seems to be an untenable situation –– and there was a parting. That is part of the past. I’ve gone on from there and had a wonderful opportunity working with another educational organization at the regional level. And now that I’m moving from education into the diplomatic service, I really say the past is the past.
In all of the jobs that I’ve had in the public sector, whether it has been at the University of the West Indies, CXC, working at the Commonwealth Secretariat, all of them have been positive learning opportunities; so I look at them in totality and I’m thankful for them because in each of them, for better or for worse, they have helped me to be the kind of professional that I am.
What are your thoughts about the state of the education sector though?
Hewitt: Barbados has one of the best education systems [in the world]. There’s universal free access at the primary and secondary levels and, to a certain extent, to the post-secondary level. It puts us ahead of most countries, and we have to work more at labour market surveys, something already being worked on by the Ministry of Education and [of] Labour to ensure that what we provide in terms of education and certification matches what the employers want.
What are the technical and professional skills that are required out there? How do we ensure that that is part of the curricula, for instance? Also, to find out whether we are graduating from our secondary and post-secondary, persons with the characteristics that make them good employees and, in terms of entrepreneurship and innovation, good employers and businesspeople for the future. We have to look at skills such as customer service, professionalism, generally speaking.
There is the challenge now of Barbadian students having to pay tuition at UWI, Cave Hill, and the public’s reaction to this. How do we move past this issue?
Hewitt: When you talk to people in other parts of the world: other Caribbean countries, in places like the USA, even in the UK where we got our model from, students have to pay, because governments are no longer in a position to make the kind of investments in people’s education as they did a generation ago. I think that is where partnerships with the private sector could be beneficial.
Can a final year student identify a prospective employer who may be willing to pay part of his tuition in exchange for his or her working for that company on graduation? It can become a win-win situation.
I know people have a notion that they have been provided for, whether it be by the state or a corporate sponsor, but I think we need to become more creative now and look at how an individual find a way of negotiating with someone in terms of giving their services in the future for someone to give them a scholarship or support to meet their tuition needs in the present.
I suspect we are now past that point where anyone is able to say tertiary education will be free to the user for their entire undergraduate and possibly post-graduate careers. As has happened in the UK and elsewhere, the change has come and I think it’s here to stay. We will all have to contribute towards our education.
We also need to embrace the idea of life-long training that will build competencies you need to do a job, as a part-time student through continuous assessments.
Let’s look now at the state of health in Barbados, given that you were chairman of the QEH for some time. How would you rank the state of health care in Barbados?
Hewitt: I would say in general that our health care is good. Again we go back to the issue of universal access to primary, secondary and tertiary level care which is just not available for many countries. We know that the Government’s ability to do as much as it would like to is constrained, so the question is: how can we find partnerships, strategic opportunities to move the agenda forward?
While I was at the QEH, and I know it continues, we worked with philanthropists or the private sector to bring resources to the QEH that are not there, and to try to get support from other countries through aid. One of the things that I would like to see is more opportunities for technical sharing –– because part of our health model evolved from the National Health Service in the UK; so I would ascertain what are their best practices, share or update them with the Ministry of Health to make sure they have the information at their disposal, so that they can make the hard choices about what we need to invest in.
In recent times, we’ve been hearing about health care reforms. How do you think we should handle this issue.
Hewitt: I would leave that to the minister to speak to, but I would say that people are aware the change has to come. I know the Ministry of Health is working to learn from best practices in other places, and I have confidence they will be able to find the right mix of initiatives to ensure that Barbados continues to enjoy access to health care –– high quality care at a cost affordable and at a sustainable price.