Jennifer returns home
Jennifer Coleen Speid grew up on Pink Lane in the volatile west Kingston community of Denham Town before migrating, with her family, to the United Kingdom in the 1960s at the age of nine.
Despite the initial culture shock and the racial tension, Speid quickly obtained a degree in commerce and finance before embarking on a lengthy career with one of the top banks in the world, all while finding her husband and raising a son.
Now, after years of travelling between the UK and Jamaica, she has finally fulfilled her dream of returning to her homeland to try to give back.
"I've been trying for some time [to return home] because I came back in 2013 and spent six weeks. I said then that I would do it, but I procrastinated for some time," Speid explained.
At the end of the six weeks, she returned to the UK, but the death of a close friend last June strengthened her resolve to return home.
"It [returning to Jamaica] never left my mind, it was more a matter of when ... . But that [her friend's death] sort of galvanised me. I said I must do what I need to do now," she told The Gleaner yesterday of the moment she knew she would be returning to Jamaica.
"I don't want to sit at home and do nothing. I came back with the idea that I would like to do some social enterprises and open a very quintessential tea shop," she continued.
Speid arrived in Montego Bay, St James, last Wednesday and used the rest of the week as a "kind of vacation" before travelling to Kingston on the weekend to begin the process of resettling.
Yesterday, she attended the relaunch of the Jamaica Association for the Resettlement of Returning Residents' (JARRR) website at the Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown Kingston and used the opportunity to drive through her old west Kingston neighbourhood.
"The person who drove me, he took me through downtown, near the Coronation Market, and I said gosh, I didn't recognise anything," she laughed.
Speid is among what JARRR President Percival LaTouche called the dwindling number of Jamaicans living overseas who are choosing to return to their homeland.
LaTouche charged that the continued exploitation of uninformed returning residents was a major reason for the declining numbers.
"As a result of this situation, we have watched the returning residents population dwindle down to almost a trickle," he observed.
"In the event that this is allowed to continue, it could spell trouble for Jamaica due to the tremendous value and viability of the returning resident sector and its contribution to the Jamaican economy and social development," LaTouche warned.
Speid revealed that she had done her research on happenings in Jamaica and said while she has the requisite tools to navigate the economic challenges, she was worried about the crime rate.
"I've got the skills and I've got the experience to navigate my way through," she said of her strong business background, particularly in the area of insolvency law.
Speid pointed to the stabbing death of 79-year-old retired nurse Hyacinth Hayden in Trelawny two weeks ago as she indicated that the country's crime problem was her biggest concern.
She said Hayden's death was widely publicised via the Internet and Facebook and this triggered several warnings from friends who were nervous about her decision to relocate to Jamaica.
"But I told them, 'Look, this happens in all walks of life, and I am not going to let a small minority keep me from my country of birth,'" she insisted.
She acknowledged that the 16 per cent reduction in murders last year provided some level of comfort and suggested that the Government needed to do "a little bit more" to ensure the safety of not just returning residents but all Jamaicans.
Speid plans to reside in Kingston, but said already she is encountering some challenges with simple things like opening a bank account.
"I don't have one now. Mr LaTouche took me to a bank when I was here in 2013, but I didn't have the necessary documents on me. Now I am hoping that it's not going to be such a drama to open an account," she chuckled.