Prime Minister Mia Mottley has challenged a group of businessmen, professionals and representatives of the Catholic Church to start a “mentorship brigade” for at-risk young people as part of their contribution to nation-building.
“Pick four or five each of you, pick four or five… And what they need is not just money or food support but they need somebody to guide them and talk with them,” she urged participants at a November 17 forum organized by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgetown. The forum which included representatives of the diplomatic corps, was part of the Diocese’s activities to mark the second World Day of the Poor (Nov 18), established by Pope Francis, and the gathering spent the morning session exchanging ideas for a collective response to the poor.
The Prime Minister commended Archbishop Charles Jason Gordon, also Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Bridgetown, for his commitment to Barbados even though he is no longer resident here (having been installed Archbishop of Port of Spain one year ago).
Prime Minister Mottley reflected that in the past, captains of industry and middle managers belonged to cricket and football clubs in which they were able to mentor children who did not have a father in the home. “In the absence of people to mentor and intervene, we end up with what we have,” she commented.
The Prime Minister said a National First Jobs Initiative was in the making which would help stabilise some 16-18-year-olds by giving them access to training and jobs. She asked the forum participants and the wider business community to meet the Government half-way by offering some level of employment to the youth, especially the troubled ones.
“If we want to build a nation, we’re not going to build it unless we raise a people, and the only way to raise a people is to raise them child by child by child by child, family by family by family,” Prime Minister Mottley stated. She said the Government would play ‘first hop’ at welfare, but needed allies like the Church, schools and the business community to serve as backstops. “That’s where you all come in, and that’s where you all can marshal because if each of you can carry four or five [young persons], imagine the reach – and it has to be about time as much as money.”
Prime Minister Mottley told the gathering that the young people would likely shock them initially, deliberately so, in particular by their vocabulary. “They will test you because many have come, and many have left,” she said, adding that the youth were afraid of being disappointed again. She advised the group to “dig down deep” and do the thing the young people least expected and let it simmer.
“More than anything else, I have not met a human being who doesn’t want to be loved and that’s why I believe the work of the Pope [Francis] is so appropriate to the world at this stage because his message is not one that seeks to divide but it is one that seeks to unite through love…,” she stated.
Prime Minister Mottley commented: “I do believe the task at hand is not economic; the task at hand is nation building. And, in order for us to stabilize this nation and to move it to the next level, all hands are needed on board.”
The Prime Minister had earlier identified Barbados’ greatest asset as its political, economic and social stability and declared that maintaining stability was the Government’s priority. She said all must share the $1 billion burden of adjustment over the next four years and that without the social partnership, the Government would not have already been seeing “green shoots” – which needed time, sustenance and nurturing to become branches.
“We’re not blinking, we’re just staying the course. We’re not blinking because we can’t blink. It’s as simple as that. And if I have to be a living sacrifice for the cause then so be it, but we cannot blink,” she remarked.
Referring to the 1,500 persons to be laid off in the public sector, the Prime Minister said: “The rest of us who are watching while others go on the front line to help save our quality of life have a duty to reach out to them… Now, in reaching out to them, can we meet their wants? Maybe, maybe not. But shall we meet their needs? Yes we will. And, it has to be that social compact which is the same approach that has informed the Government’s approach to the burden that has to be shared…”
Prime Minister Mottley noted that in tandem with the economic recovery programme, the Government was also implementing programmes for national transformation and growth. She said over the next four years, the Government planned to retrain every single person across every discipline – car washers, doctors, lawyers, jet skiers, machine operators, manicurists, etc. This was the hardest but most essential task of transformation, she added.
“We’re not talking only about the skills in the task, we’re talking about attitudes and we’re talking about approach to life, which is where the Church comes in, in terms of the moral compass and the centering,” the Prime Minister explained.
She spoke too of the need to raise children well. “If we don’t start infusing our children with a sense of responsibility and a moral compass, we will not save the battle no matter how much I save the dollar.”
At the beginning of the forum, a first for the Diocese, Archbishop Gordon shared information about the reality of poverty, globally and locally. While Goal #1 of the Agenda for Sustainable Development is to end poverty in all its forms by 2030, the Archbishop presented these sobering statistics:
· one per cent of the world’s richest persons controls more wealth than the other 99 per cent of the planet.
· The top one per cent of the world earned 82 per cent of the wealth generated in 2017.
· Billionaire wealth has risen by an annual average of 13 per cent.
· 116 countries worldwide have their debts beyond critical thresholds and rising.
In addition, Archbishop Gordon revealed that based on the survey for Barbados conducted by the Inter-American Development Bank and Barbados’ Statistical Service department between February 2016 and January 2017 (the most current poverty statistics available to the public), poverty increased from 15.1 per cent in 2010 to 17.5 per cent in 2017. The data shows that 49,000 persons live in poverty, 6,720 are “new poor” and most “poor” households are headed by females.
Also addressing the forum was Dr Justin Ram, Economics Director of the Caribbean Development Bank, who outlined a Blueprint for a Resilient Barbados with a macro-social overview, a summary of the Government of Barbados’ economic reform programme (BERT), and suggestions for economic success. He highlighted concerns such as the high debt to GDP ratio > 175 per cent at December 2017; low productivity – Barbados ranking 129th out of 190 economies in “ease of doing business” (2019 World Bank report); and high unemployment, especially with respect to women and youth.
Participants had fruitful discussions at their tables regarding how the Diocese should revisit or enhance existing initiatives to help the poor have a sustainable livelihood, in light of the information shared at the forum. Catholics were reminded that they must be their brother’s and sister’s keeper at home, in the community and in the boardroom. After a 40-minute discussion, each group provided feedback, with the consensus being that each individual, the Church, private sector and State must work together, unceasingly, to address the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable.
Submitted by the Communications Office of the RC Diocese of Bridgetown.