Before the murder of ten-year-old Tecia Henry, the highlight
of my week was the sight of dozens of girls, no more than 11 and 12,
carefully walking in their first silver high heels and swathed in organza
during their SEA graduation at Montrose Vedic School at the Divali Nagar.
Bright-eyed, they were excited, self-consciously looking at their pretty
bows, adjusting tiaras; so innocent, they were barely aware of their beauty,
strength and potential. The SEA exam taught them dedication and discipline,
but they were still just children, delicate butterflies. I asked them to
sing for me the chorus of the Miley Cyrus song they’d chosen as their theme.
In strong sweet voices, they sang:
“There’s always gonna be another mountain;
I’m always gonna wanna make it move;
Always gonna be an uphill battle.
Sometimes I’m gonna have to lose;
ain’t about how fast I get there;
“Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other
side, It’s the climb.
“The struggles I’m facing, The chances
I’m taking sometimes might knock me down,
But no, I’m not breaking, I may not know it.
Just gotta keep going,
And I, I got to be strong.
Just keep pushing on.”
On Wednesday, came news of the death of ten-year-old Tecia
in Laventille. The girl who went to the parlour for her mom was found dead,
buried in a shallow grave. She was a crushed butterfly. On Tuesday, when I
spoke to the SEA graduating class, I wanted to protect 10-, 11- and
12-year-olds from harsh truths. I talked to them about disappointment. The
real lesson as you climb up that mountain is you can’t always get what you
want. You get what you need. The real prize is not a prestige school,
because once you get in where you want, that lesson is over. The real prize
for doing all this hard work is being able to bounce back from every
disappointment in life. Ultimately, you will be judged, not by your
successes, but about the way you got back up when you fell while climbing
I told the 11-plus children that only great people take
responsibility for their actions. It takes true courage to say, yes, I was
wrong, I did something I shouldn’t have done. I stumbled. It was a mistake.
It takes a great person to say ‘I’m sorry.’ Little people with low
self-esteem find it impossible to say those words. They think it brings them
down. But it actually lifts them high. I told them of the sacrifices their
grandparents made as former slaves and indentured workers. I talked to them
of an alchemy of values, how hard work turns mud huts into lovely homes; how
education picks up people from the dirt and turns them into professionals. I
told them a self-indulgent life, too much food, too much alcohol, too much
pleasure without work, without service, leads to mental and physical
illness. Finally, I told them that they were much smarter than us, their
parents.We depend on them to keep pace with technology. We depend on them to
use our cellphones and computers.
If I had given the talk on Thursday, I would have told the
children this: “Graduating SEA girls and boys, what we adults have been
hiding from you is that we can’t really pass on any values to you, because
we have very few ourselves. “Our grandparents’ generation worked hard, but
our generation was mollycoddled, and never taught right from wrong.
“Lacking an ancient civilisation, we quickly forgot our Indian, African,
Chinese, and European values. We got very greedy. Those who made money in
business, professions, and politics mostly practised without integrity. Our
utmost thought was that of our bank accounts, ‘popularity’ and being seen at
the right places. “Our ‘culture’ is base: chutney and soca, where you see
adults practically have sex on the streets. And mindless ‘comedy’ that lacks
“The leaders of your country spent money on corrupt projects
they felt were extensions of themselves, buildings, stadiums, events—self-aggrandisement.
“In the meantime, your leaders were deliberately breeding the kind of man
who brutally killed a schoolgirl who was just a year younger than you. “They
did this with an education system that firstly ejected people out of the
school system at your age, and secondly by letting their teachers push
illiterate people through and out the system, as illiterate as they were
when they started. “The adults around you failed you because they failed to
teach their children right from wrong.
“Children were abused and mothers did nothing. Women were
hit and killed, and instead of getting justice, these women were shunned.
“Wealthy parents created a sense of entitlement for their children, bought
their children’s love, instead of teaching them values.
“Governments created three generations of entitlement for their voters.
Everyone was crippled. “So you are now graduating in an amoral country,
where the voiceless minority know right from wrong, where we spend less on
health and education than a small tourist island like Barbados. “You are at
sea. I pray you find some twig, some raft, and save yourselves, and then
begin to protect your generation from us. “I apologise to all for the death
of your schoolmate.
“There are no monsters ‘out there.’ The monsters are all
around you, in your home, in your Parliament, in the doctors, lawyers and
professionals you meet. “I’m so sorry. In Tecia’s name, continue to climb
that mountain without us. “Don’t look back to us for guidance (we have
none), and when you get to the top, if you can, forgive us; save us.”