Last Sunday, I joined other faith leaders and representatives at the National Service of Thanksgiving for Barbados’ 53rd Anniversary of Independence.
The theme this year, One Nation, One Love, One Light, resonated well with those in attendance, including the Governor General, Prime Minister and other dignitaries. The lighting of the official candle by two centenarians and the passing of candles lit from the official candle to the younger generation, who in turn passed them on to the Governor General, Prime Minister, Chief Justice and a representative of civil society, was a symbolic gesture of lighting everyone’s world with one’s own light. It is expected that the official candle will traverse Barbados in 2020 during the ‘We Gathering’ events.
‘Light’ was the underlying theme for the entire service. Many scriptural references were made to light and the importance of sharing one’s light with others. Sharing your light with another does not diminish in any way your own light; instead it creates more illumination and a better world for all.
The highlight of the evening was the turning off of the Gymnasium’s lights to expose the glow of the hundreds of battery-operated candles that were provided to all who attended. It was a very moving experience and the excitement and enthusiasm expressed by the students of several primary and secondary schools who energetically participated were even more impactful.
Bishop Gerry Seale spoke passionately in his sermon to the theme, reminding us that even though a perception exists that there are differences in Barbados based on class, race, social standing and wealth, Barbados was, in essence, one nation. We all must strive to uplift our nation. From the text of the scriptures he explained that each verse must be seen in its context and we all should try to live our lives obeying God’s commands.
The annual thanksgiving service gives Barbadians the opportunity to pause and give thanks to the Almighty and pray for those who face hardships in whatever form they come. The light ignited at this year’s service should serve as a reminder to all of us to ignite our own light and help others light theirs.
We should never forget the heights we have reached as a nation and the sacrifices that were made to bring us here. And, most importantly, what will it require to continue the journey ahead as a nation.
I was invited to write my reflections in another section of the media for Independence this year and I share some of those in my column today.
I have come to fully appreciate that where Barbados is today is the result of many years of struggle and sacrifice by our fore parents and previous generations who made it their lifelong goal to ensure Barbados was a strong, vibrant, independent country rightly having the acclaim given to it as capable of “punching above its weight.
The struggle for most Barbadians prior to 1966, was for political independence, economic and social betterment, access to education for all, availability of proper health facilities and treatment options, and a greater standard of living that allowed for many more, and not just a few, to benefit from income generation.
By and large, earlier Barbadians struggled and achieved much towards those goals. Today, we benefit from access to free education of a high standard right up to university, we have a healthcare system that allows access to all, and we have a much better infrastructure than what existed prior to 1966. But we can’t fool ourselves – all of those achievements come with a cost and that cost increases significantly as our demands increase.
Today, after 50-plus years of Independence, Barbados can be considered a matured democracy, and I believe we are a cross-roads. Where do we go at this time? Do we continue utilizing the same methods and programmes that got us to this junction? Or do we reassess, refocus and understand that the world has changed? In fact, the world is changing at a faster pace today than at any other time in its entire history. We either keep up or we drop to the wayside.
I endorse the narrative and cry that it can’t be business as usual for Barbados and for Barbadians. We must now look to new methodologies for our continued development and even for our survival. As a small-island developing country in a world beset with so many shocks and impacts, from economic to environment we must indeed punch above our weight. To do otherwise is to be floored by the cruel hand of fate.
Barbados is in need of critical thinkers, persons who will think outside the box and go against the grain. Our education system, long lauded for its high standards, must regain its position of graduating young men and women who are favoured for their ability to critically analyze, come up with solutions, and go where no others have gone before. We can no longer afford persons who merely regurgitate what they are taught. In other words, we want shepherds.
Why critical thinkers? If we want to maintain the grand infrastructure that we have grown accustomed to and what we find ourselves bemoaning every day in recent years as slipping away – from garbage collection, to healthcare, to education – then undoubtedly we have to recognize that all of these standards come with a high cost. Finding the balance between affording and maintaining these standards is ideally where we are at, at this crossroad in our history.
It is at this crossroad that we must draw upon two strengths and tools which carried us as nation throughout our history, faith and character. Our faith in the Supreme Being which resonates in our National Anthem – “the Lord has been the people’s guide for past 300 years and with Him still on the people’s side we have no doubts or fears” – is critical as we move forward through economical and socially troubling waters. And our character, which we should constantly seek to better, will be our life jacket in those turbulent waters.
It is said that a man’s character is his fate. Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States of America, said: “Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.”
Faith and strength of character are two important lights that we can ignite in ourselves and share abundantly with others.
Happy Independence Barbados!
Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace; Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association; Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI and a Childhood Obesity Prevention Champion. Email: [email protected]