Speech

My fellow Jamaicans at home and in the diaspora, I warmly greet you.

Our celebration of National Heroes Day this year is unique. We continue to deal with the impact the global spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has had on our country.

  • So many of you are dealing with the illness or death of family and friends
  • Too many of our people have lost their lives
  • Many of you who have lost loved ones cannot even celebrate their lives as you want to as Covid-19 continues to ravage our country.

I extend condolences to every family which has lost loved ones. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.  For those of you recovering from this dreaded virus, whether at home or in hospital, I wish you a complete and speedy recovery. I urge every Jamaican to please do everything possible to protect yourself and your family. Wear your mask and social distance as much as possible.

COVID-19 is also wreaking havoc on our economy, social interactions, our households, our school system, and our communities. It has created a set of circumstances which we have never seen in our history.

Our survival and recovery will depend on our capacity to draw strength and courage from the lives of our National Heroes. Each faced formidable challenges but confronted each problem with resilience and a determination to overcome.

Heritage Week and National Heroes Day give us the opportunity to not only reflect on our history but to honour those who contribute to nation-building. Even as we pay tribute to those great Jamaicans who are being honoured today, let us take a moment to acknowledge and thank the many unsung heroes in our midst. They are the warriors on the front line, protecting our country and our people from the effects of this deadly virus every day. Let us never forget that they do so at great personal risk and sacrifice. They show us what service above self and beyond the call of duty really mean.

We can never thank enough:

  • our Health Workers, who continue to give service in the most challenging conditions in our hospitals and clinics.
  • members of our Security Forces who are on the front line as first responders in communities affected by the COVID-19 spread. Many have lost their lives confronting the criminals, who have killed close to 1,000 Jamaicans so far this year.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused devastation to the country’s economic life. It has created extreme hardships for workers in our main productive sectors, including tourism and entertainment. Pressure is building, particularly on our small business operators, and many will be forced to close. The great risk to the country is not only economic decline. The great concentration of wealth for a few will intensify while the poor and the middle class will continue to see their conditions worsen. Sadly, the gap that separates the haves from the have-nots will only get wider.

One of the greatest challenges created by COVID-19 is how to manage the education of our children.

The reopening of the school year has been delayed. All instructions in most of our schools are now being provided online. Sadly, this means that the digital divide which separates those children who have access to tablets, computers, and connectivity to the Internet and those who have little or no access is getting worse. This is perhaps the most urgent challenge we face as a country.  If we do not address it head-on, we run the risk of reversing the 60 years of progress that has been made in breaking down education inequality in Jamaica.

Children, especially when learning online, need to have the guidance of parents or other family members to help explain, guide and encourage. They also need to be monitored to ensure that learning is taking place.

Our special thanks to all teachers, parents, guardians, community members who are making every effort to support the students. You are, indeed, among the unsung heroes helping to keep this nation’s body and soul together.

If we are to face this challenge effectively, it will require the full engagement of everyone and a new wave of community activism. This includes neighbourhood watch groups, youth clubs, citizens associations, churches and other community groups. We need to combine all our energies and extend the necessary support to those school children who need assistance.

To those of you who have been bestowed with national honours today, you represent the finest traditions of patriotism and national service in our country.

My heartfelt congratulations to you all.

You are building on the example and inspiration of our national heroes who led the struggle for Jamaica’s freedom and independence.

Our national heroes demonstrated integrity and courage. They stood strong in the face of hardship and oppression. In today’s environment of rampant materialism and declining public morality, we need to recapture the courage and determination demonstrated by our national heroes.

We must demand from ourselves and our leaders a vision for the future, integrity, transparency and accountability.

We will not be able to build the kind of nation we want unless the foundations are undergirded by good governance and a commitment to doing the best for all our people not just the few well connected.

Our National Heroes created the blueprint for courage and resilience. If we follow their plan, we can summon the courage and the will to face the challenges of these hard times. Together, we can overcome and build a progressive Jamaica where everyone has an equal opportunity to excel, where justice is the birthright of all and where peace bathes the land from Maroon Town to Montego Bay, Spanish Town to Stony Gut and Morant Bay to Kingston.

My fellow Jamaicans, I pray that God will bless you, and Bless Jamaica Land We Love.

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