|Pastor Eddie Victor speaks to the Rotary Club of Lucaya on 'The Challenges Facing Grand Bahama'|
|Thursday, 10 May 2012 11:09|
Rotary Club of Lucaya – May 8, 2012
Although a new government will be formed in the Bahamas, we realize that the challenges that face the Bahamas and in particular Grand Bahama, are still prominent. On this island we have an economic and social crisis that is escalating. It is important to note that this crisis may not be to the extreme levels that we see in other nations, and we are considered nominal in comparison to the population of most of our neighboring Caribbean nations. Therefore, the unification of citizens within this country is conceivable in an effort to eliminate the economic and social ills of Grand Bahama.
I need to commend Rotary as leaders in community service. Their efforts continue to demonstrate concern for the quality of life for residents on this island. Last year my wife and I spearheaded the Celebrate Freeport events. These events included a forum on the Hawksbill Creek agreement, a Celebration church service, a Family Festival and culminated with a Celebration Awards Luncheon. The purpose was to mark the many significant achievements in our city by the Grand Bahama Port Authority, and their licensees including businesses, churches and service clubs. The Rotary Club of Freeport was recognized during the Celebrate Freeport Awards Luncheon for contributing almost 50 years to the growth of Freeport.
During the planning of Celebrate Freeport in 2011, a resident published a letter in the Freeport News, criticizing our committee’s reasons for a “celebration” in Freeport. The writer opposed recognition of past achievements particularly because of the overwhelming current social ills on Grand Bahama. This view appears to be popular, however it brings to light that we urgently need to see an economic and social transformation on Grand Bahama Island.
To fully understand this crisis on Grand Bahama we must reflect on the basic needs of all human beings. According to studies done by Abraham Maslow and Manfred Max-Neef the basic needs of people are food, water, clothing and shelter. The basic needs approach is used by many countries and agencies to help define absolute poverty. Poverty is not just a category of persons who has nothing at all, but includes working people who earn only enough to meet basic needs (food, water clothing and shelter).
In Grand Bahama, people are in crisis struggling for basic needs. A tourist who visited Grand Bahama wrote in a travel forum on the internet, that she and her husband loved their visit to Freeport, but was amazed how there could exist poverty in paradise. According to an international report, the average income in the Bahamas is pegged at $15,000 per annum. The minimum wage is at $10,920 based on the salary paid through the employment program. A recent report released in the news spoke to the fact that many people in the Bahamas have experienced a decrease in income to $6,000 per year. Using the highest figure of $15,000, the average cost per year for basic expenses (grocery, water, rent or mortgage, power, utilities, clothing and car expenses) is barely enough.
Here are some the other challenges facing Grand Bahama to consider:
1. The official unemployment rate in October 2011 was 21.2 percent. It is believed that 25 percent is more realistic and it may be as high as 30 percent.
2. Many employees are working fewer days a week including the industrial sector. In the hotel industry some work 1-3 days a week. Treasure Bay Casino has a work schedule of 2-3 days per week.
3. There is a mortgage foreclosure crisis. The Mortgage Delinquency is at approximately 20 percent. Appearing regularly in the Freeport News is a 28 page supplement produced by a bank. This supplement contains hundreds of properties being foreclosed and advertised for sale.
4. Homelessness. There are reports of people in Freeport sleeping on the beaches, in their cars and in abandon buildings.
5. Thousands of Bahamians in Freeport are now dependent on the Department of Social Services to survive. According to the Department, many of them receive rent and utility assistance. Distribution of food vouchers are also increasing. It is known that crime is escalating.
6. Beggars are populating public venues and street corners.
7. Many school children go without lunch. The government lunch program is unable to feed all who apply for assistance.
8. Significant number of business and hotel closures on the island has had a tremendous effect on the lives of people on the island.
9. There is a declining tourist economy, including stop over visitors causing low hotel occupancy.
10. Gas prices and prices on consumer goods are increasing, yet salaries and wages are not increasing.
11. People across this city are living without light and water.
Here are a few projects that our ministry is presently pursuing to help citizens in Freeport
a) Establishing a half-way facility that would provide shelter for people in a crisis. This would mean also providing programs to help people who are going through a transition. WE also seek to provide a job placement and a job training program.
b) We are in the planning stage of establishing a state of the art learning center to improve the grades of school age children. This Center will have a completely outfitted computer lab comprising of no less than 20 computer stations. Students will be tutored by qualified teachers along with online tutors. The curriculum that we will be using is a proven one for improving the academic grades of student. Also, this center will provide entrepreneurial and agricultural training for young people. Young people must catch a vision for their lives and for Grand Bahama.It is important in this season of our country’s history that we be initiators of economic and social transformation. Here are a few things that we can immediately do:
a) Adopt a family
b) Mentor young people
c) Meet the basic needs of others
d) Provide jobs
e) Help and assist the elderly
In conclusion, we are facing mountains of economic and social issues in Grand Bahama. What is needed is the formation of an unparalleled partnership between organizations to face the challenges on Grand Bahama. Imagine if service clubs like Rotary partner with churches, businesses, the government, G.B. Port Authority, The Chamber of Commerce, unions, schools and others. This kind of collaboration could eradicate poverty on Grand Bahama. The Bible says ‘if we have faith the size of a mustard seed we can say to the mountain be removed and cast into the sea’. Together by faith we have the power to move these mountains of economic and social ills on our beloved Island. With God all things are possible. God Bless you today.
Photo: Pastor Eddie Victor addresses the meeting of the Rotary Club of Lucaya on Tuesday, May 8th, at the Ruby Swiss restaurant.
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