Tue | Jun 2, 2020

Carolyn Cooper | Schoolbags from JAH - Juliet A. Holness

Published:Friday | September 7, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Back-to-school is usually a time for generosity. Family and friends put together to make sure students are ready for the new year. One-one book full schoolbag! That’s how I ended up breaking my vow not to go back to Papine Market in its pop-down condition. Two Saturdays ago, I went to drop off books for a little girl who was going into grade three.

Not a scrap of work had been done to repair the huge hole in the roof of the market almost four months after it was damaged by fire. And the garbage in the dump was piled high as usual. Then I was told that the public toilets have not been working for several weeks. The only functional toilet is inside the market office. Things have gone from bad to worse.

Last month, I tried to get in touch with both the mayor and the town clerk to find out when work was going to start on repairing the damaged roof. With little success! I eventually managed to speak to the town clerk, Robert Hill, who confirmed that there was a big plan to upgrade the market, especially since it’s in a university town.

All very well and good for the long term!  But what about the immediate problem of the huge hole in the roof? Surely, that should have been dealt with by now. I suggested to the town clerk that if the market has to be closed for extensive renovations, an alternative location would have to be found. The market simply can’t be shut down indefinitely. Too many people depend on it to make an honest living.

The market is much more than a place to buy and sell. It’s a cultural institution. Some mornings, a noisy street preacher and his band of eager followers thunderously appeal to sinners to repent. Throw-words about the whole heap of noise inna people head don’t stop them at all. Putting up with rejection is all for a good cause: saving souls. These missionaries know they are doing God’s will.




Which brings me to those schoolbags designed for children in Juliet Holness’ constituency. Capitalised in bold print are the letters JAH. Beneath that, the meaning of the abbreviation is partially spelled out: ‘Juliet A Holness’.  The print is relatively small, but still quite visible. In addition to the JAH logo, there are stars on the schoolbags and words of encouragement: 'Learn right shine bright'.

I suppose Mrs. Holness believes she’s motivating children with the seemingly positive message on these bags.  And since her initials are JAH, she probably assumes it’s her divine mission to speak for Jehovah or Jah Rastafari. As a politician, she’s doing God’s will in the way she knows best.

But what, exactly, is the lesson that children in Mrs Holness’ constituency are supposed to learn from the words on the schoolbags? That access to education is all about partisan politics? That scarce benefits and spoils will be distributed only to those who are prepared to carry the party bag? I can just hear Motty Perkins’ duppy laughing raucously.

Of course, politicians are expected to do their part to help with back-to-school expenses. But branding schoolbags with the name of an MP is really quite vulgar. I know that PNP politicians have distributed orange schoolbags in their constituencies. That is equally disgusting. 

We take partisan politics for granted these days. We don’t seem to be able to stand up to politicians and let them know that certain rights, like the right to education, should be beyond the control of the commanders of the green and orange garrisons. 




Things dread fi true. In English, the adjective ‘dread’ is one of a string of bad words: terrifying, horrible, frightening, alarming, etc. In Jamaican, those negative meanings are frequently associated with Rastafari livity. For example, wearing dreadlocks!

The case of the little girl with locks whose mother had to fight to get her into school is a classic example of contempt for black identity. According to a report published in the STAR on July 11, the principal told the child’s mother that “‘locks with the heat will create a situation where lice and ‘junjo’ will come’”. In 2018!

I wonder if Mrs Holness fully understands the implications of assuming the name of JAH. If she was a real-real Rasta woman, she would use her ministerial powers to challenge Ruel Reid on the national policy guidelines on student dress and grooming for female students. Braids, twists or locks must be “evenly spaced, symmetric  . . . not exceeding 1cm in diameter”. So if your locks don’t fit the guidelines, you can’t attend school?

Furthermore, “Hair capable of being gathered into one shall not be worn loose.” What is the justification for this rule? Will loose hair make girls loose?  And some schools are now insisting that boys with locks must cover their hair.  Why? We need the intervention of Jah to ensure that sanity prevails in determining dress policies for students.  

- Carolyn Cooper, PhD, is a specialist on culture and development. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and karokupa@gmail.com.