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Category: Trinidad Society 20 Aug 06


If the purpose of journalism is to provide a looking glass to our society and reflect through photos, words, video and film our country; then that’s what we’ve been doing.


We’ve trained our cameras on gang boys shooting one another over drug territory; on the garbage carelessly thrown by us citizens without pride on our streets and rivers; on the poor rural families steeped in alcohol, incest and illiteracy and on the disintegrating infrastructure of roads, drains and utilities.


We’ve been side-tracked from the real issues of literacy, health, poverty, housing, overspending and under producing. Diversions such as soap operas about disgraced former ministers of government, querulous picking over the name of a national award, an openly squabbling power hungry Opposition, the Chief Justice imbroglio, allegations of government funds being used to buy votes in advance in the form of housing and make-work programmes.


We’ve reflected alarm at our rising obesity; at our lifestyle related diseases; and at our propensity to consume fat, salt, bread and meat in quantities that has given us the dubious honour of having the highest incidence of diabetes and heart disease in the hemisphere.


But lest we be called killjoys, we have also splashed our covers and screens with our beautiful women preening in plumed costumes, an early reminder of the longest, biggest, party on earth, the Carnival.


With the oil flowing at the price that it is, we are not doing too badly. Never mind the rising prices of food, the shrivelling stock market, the low production and our absolute failure to launch into any kind of real free trade mode.


I know of two definitions of development. One is philosophical, it maintains that a truly civilised society is measured by the way it treats its most vulnerable: children, the elderly, the ill, the dispossessed and the poor.


Bright minds

Another, not entirely dissimilar one, is measurable in global terms. That’s the United Nations (UN) development index. When last I checked we had slipped.


We were, to our shock, among the lowest ranking developing countries in the world, 13 countries below Barbados—and all Barbados has is beaches. The UN measures development over the percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) that a country spends on its health and education. We were spending far less than countries that are far poorer than ours in natural resources.


Our HIV/Aids incidence and deaths were rising even as Barbados’ were falling. And we sent the smallest per cent of our youth to tertiary education despite the fact that we have a major campus of the University of the West Indies in our country and compulsory primary and secondary education.


But we must carve out a chunk of space in the looking glass for that glittering precious bauble our citizens have been handed in the past year or so—free tertiary education. Applause Applause. Even if this Government does nothing for its people for the rest of its term, I will continue to applaud that move. I have come across literally dozens of bright young people over the years that had the ability and the desire to become doctors, lawyers, engineers, bio-chemists, geologists and every other profession under the sun, but lacked the means. So these bright minds have floated around and faded into nothing.


I don’t know if we have the administration or the standards policing put into place to sift out the young people who genuinely want to learn and who have the staying power to complete their studies from the floaters who are wasting public funds.


However, I do know that with an educated populace contributing their skills to this country we can pick up the garbage, lower the incidence of HIV/Aids and save the boys from getting bullets to their brains. See the bauble in the corner of our looking glass. See it flood us with light.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur