- She tells JIS News that she has always had a desire to help others, and at the tender age of 16, she decided to start a basic school at her home to improve literacy among the children.
Genuine care and concern for others are hallmarks of a life spent in voluntary service for Social Development Commission (SDC) Kingston and St. Andrew Leadership and Community Development Award recipient, Hazel Veronica Espeut.
Now 101 years old, Mrs. Espeut has dedicated her life to giving back to her community of McIntyre Land in Brown’s Town, Kingston, where she has lived all her life.
She tells JIS News that she has always had a desire to help others, and at the tender age of 16, she decided to start a basic school at her home to improve literacy among the children.
Around that time, she also became a member of St. John Ambulance, through which she delivered first aid at many public functions in Kingston and St. Andrew.
One of her most notable acts, to date, is in the area of advocacy on behalf of her fellow community members. In 1962, McIntyre Land was sold, and the residents who had leased the land would now be displaced.
Mrs. Espeut dove head first into ensuring that the residents of her community would not be without an abiding place.
“I was born in the community, and I lived in the community all my life. I moved for a few months and then I went back, and I am there until now, so all my interest is in the community. All my interest is right there,” she tells JIS News.
Along with four others, Mrs. Espeut rallied the McIntyre Land community to form the McIntyre Citizens’ Association, and the members met at her home to discuss the needs of the residents.
She led the association through years of negotiations with the developers to finally settle on the residents being provided with housing under McIntyre Villa Phase One.
She further went on to voice the housing concerns of the residents with the planners and architects and became instrumental in the planning and design process of the McIntyre Villa Phase Two.
Her involvement led to the design of the houses being changed to include a verandah and the conversion of the balcony into an additional bedroom, which suited the needs of the residents. The community later received the Governor-General’s Award for the best housing development.
In 1977, a year after the National Council for Senior Citizens (NCSC) was established, Mrs. Espeut, then 60 years old, co-founded the Radiant Senior Citizens’ Club in McIntyre Villa. The club is still in operation today as one of the longest operating senior citizens groups, with Mrs. Espeut as the current president.
Mrs. Espeut was also appointed the Chairperson of the Administration and Discipline Committee of the Greater Brown’s Town Development Benevolent Society in 2008.
She continues to give back to the community through the hosting of Christmas treats, community dinners and excursions for the young and the elderly, and outreach to the sick and shut-in.
“Her family members are very involved in her activities. Some of them help to fund the Christmas treats and dinners that she will have and some of them come and help with the service. But in terms of her sterling service, I don’t think any can measure to what she has done. She has very little feet but big shoes,” says Barbara Kamtha.
Kamtha was taken in by Mrs. Espeut after her mother died and became a mother figure and role model in her life.
The centenarian and community development stalwart lives by two main mantras in life: ‘Let go and let God’ and the scripture ‘whatever you have done for the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me’.
These words have propelled her to advocate for the welfare of the community.
In 1990, Mrs. Espeut received her first award, the Badge of Honour for Long and Faithful Service to the McIntyre Villa Community from the Government of Jamaica. Since then, she has received several others, including an award from the NCSC in 2009, for contribution to nation building.
Of her most recent award and recognition from the SDC, Mrs. Espeut says, “I feel blessed to be honoured while I am alive. Words cannot express my gratitude to all of you on this award. I am very grateful.”