As Vincentians in New York on Sunday began celebrating their 36th anniversary of political independence, United Nations Ambassador I. Rhonda King says the nation’s record amid debilitating economic forces has been “solid.”
In her address, at an Ecumenical Service of Thanksgiving on Sunday, at St. Paul’s Episcopal (Anglican) Church in Flatbush, King referred to Pope Francis’ recent speech before members of the United States Congress.
“A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability,” said King at the service organized collaboratively by the Brooklyn-based umbrella group, Council of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Organizations, U.S.A., Inc.(COSAGO), and the New York Consulate General.
“As a self-governing state, as a political society, we must measure our success by these aims,” she added. “So how have we done? The answer is simple. Our record, against the backdrop of Pope Francis’s understanding of the aims of an enduring society is solid.
“In spite of the fact that we are beset by crippling circumstances that originate beyond our shores, such as the consequences of climate change and the financial crises in the developed world, we have endured and are making sound progress,” the envoy continued.
Over the past 15 years, she said extreme poverty has been reduced from roughly 26 percent of the population to a mere 2.9 percent.
In addition, she said the nation has “far exceeded the goal of universal primary education” and that universal secondary education has been achieved – improving access from 39 percent to 100 percent in just five years.
In 2015, King said St. Vincent and the Grenadines “can be proud of the fact that it has achieved universal access to early childhood, primary and secondary education.”
She said the nation is also “proud to be among the early adopters, if not forerunners, of gender sensitive development strategies.”
King said under-five child mortality has been reduced by half; the spread of HIV has stabilized; increased access to pipe-borne water has significantly increased from 70 percent to over 98 percent “through prudent infrastructural investments; “and this government’s record in ‘no and low income housing’ is exemplary.”
But she said there is still more work to be done, stating that “poverty, more broadly defined, remains a stubborn and vexing challenge in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“Still, it is important to count the progress made and note that, over the last 15 years, non-indigent poverty was reduced by 20 percent,” she said.
The ambassador said, while governments have a great responsibility to their people, the people, at the same time, have “equal responsibility to our brethren”.
She alluded to a popular quote of slain United States President John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
King noted — as enunciated in the sermon by Pastor Nelverne Samuel, of the denominational Love Tabernacle Fellowship International in the Brownville section of Brooklyn — that Vincentians are “God-fearing people.”
She said this means that “we do know it is by our individual fruits that each of us shall be known; and it is by those fruits we shall enter or be barred from entry into the kingdom of Heaven.
“We are called to be a righteous people; for it is by our righteousness that we will be exalted,” King said.
Pastor Samuel, son of the Rev. Nelson Samuel, who has just retired as the Senior Pastor of Love Tabernacle Fellowship International and has returned home to spend his golden years said, in his sermon, that “righteousness exalted a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.”
“You need to remember to keep God first,” he preached, receiving a standing ovation at the end. “You can’t seek God and not seek His righteousness. God is looking for a righteous people.”
Many New York-based Vincentian clergy also officiated at the Ecumenical Service of Thanksgiving, reading the scriptures and offering prayers for their adopted homeland, the United States; the government and people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines; the youth; peace; and thanksgiving.
New York Counsel General Selmon Walters said “it’s always good to praise God,” thanking members of the Diaspora whom he said have been working diligently in the interest of nation-building.
Laverne McDowald-Thompson, the president of COSAGO, expressed gratitude for the support members of the Diaspora have been giving to the umbrella organization, adding that “it is imperative that we work together as patriotic Vincentians.
“I encourage you not to make our differences get between us,” she urged. “We must believe in our ability to achieve. Together, we can; together, we can.”
McDowald-Thompson also appealed for support for the national football (soccer) team, known as Vincy Heat, as it prepares to battle the United States on Nov. 13 in St. Louis, Missouri.
She said monies given in the church service’s second collection will go towards helping Vincy Heat. Independence celebrations in New York continue on Friday night with a COSAGO-organized cultural evening, at the Friends of Crown Heights Educational Center in Brooklyn; and a calypso competition, at Café Omar, in Brooklyn, organized by the Dynamite Calypso Tent.
On Sunday, COSAGO and the Consulate General, hold a gala Independence Luncheon at Grand Prospect Hall in Brooklyn. COSAGO public relations officer Earl Horne and community advocate Pastor Robert McBarnett, of the Bronx-based St. Matthias Charities, Inc., will be honored.