What a mess!
The past few weeks have been nothing short of a nightmare for a group of 90 Nigerian students who have travelled some 7,431 kilometres, or over 4,000 miles, away from their homeland to study here in Barbados.
Like the thousands of visitors who grace these shores each year, they would have no doubt dreamt, before they came, of a life in our tropical “paradise”, aquamarine waters, white sands and all. And who could blame them, having been promised that their home away from home would be nothing short of “infinity on the beach”?
However, when they got here, it was another story completely. Far from a lively South Coast existence, they ended up in Oldbury, St Philip, of all places, where their temporary home has proven to be anything but a “casa grande”.
Ironically, the African students came here as part of the Delta State Youth Empowerment Programme; but, from all that they have reported, it would seem that the reception they got was by no means inspiring –– cold and unfriendly, perhaps –– and not at all empowering.
Worse yet, from a group of people who are said to be among the friendliest and most welcoming in the world? Or is that only for European and North American tourists?
So it would seem as these students, who are not your typical brochure tourists, but international visitors nonetheless, have had cause to complain to the authorities about ill treatment, unfair handling and feeling insulted since their arrival last December –– and from what we can glean, due to no fault of their own.
So who is to blame?
If the resident African professor Dr Babalola Ogunkola is to be believed, then the programme’s facilitator Donna St Hill and its former administrator Sharon Brathwaite have quite a bit of explaining to do in light of this fiasco that has not only left a lot of egg on their faces, but on all of ours too –– not least of all our Government’s.
Ironically, when many of us think of Africa, we do so from a warped Western perspective that leads us to believe we in Barbados are all much better off than our sisters and brothers on the second largest continent there is –– whom we should pity and scorn, or view with unbridled suspicion. How wrong we are!
And how embarrassing for our perceived “lowly Third World brothers and sisters with no air conditioning units, pot-bellied youths [with] no backyard plumbing” to come here and have to be complaining about a more substandard way of living than the one they presumably left back home!
More lamentable is it still for them to wind up in accommodation where there isn’t even enough water for them to have a daily bath or to brush their teeth! Even more embarrassing are the newspaper photographs that have now gone far and wide of their dipping water from a swimming pool in order to satisfy the very basic human needs.
Jamaican Shanique Myrie must be throwing her hands in the air saying: “I told you so!”
But just as painful as it was for us to swallow her criticisms of the Barbados we love so dear, so too shall be the lesson of this horrible African movie, which would be comical to view if it wasn’t set in a 2015 Barbadian reality.
The fact that African students, with whom we share a common ancestry, have been made to feel “isolated” here in Barbados is cause for shame, especially knowing the lengths that we usually go to make others feel welcome when they come here, with dancing Green Monkeys and prancing Shaggy Bears and Ilaro Court-styled celebration.
While the hour may now have passed for such, we believe it is not too late to roll out the Barbadian hospitality red carpet to our international student visitors and have them experience our special and real warmth.
After all, we are not that far away from the Africans in terms of how we are viewed internationally.
And that our own students now travel all across the globe in pursuit of educational opportunities, they could just as easily find themselves miles away from home, alone and feeling equally quite isolated.