Mon | Jan 24, 2022

Letter of the Day | Volunteering in a thankless nation

Published:Friday | March 1, 2019 | 12:00 AM


The current discussion about school boards and voluntary activity in Jamaica reminds me of the song Why Do Fools Fall in Love?. As chair (of a board), I do not get money for gas; I do not get paid for the many hours of work we spend helping to keep schools afloat. We do it for the love of schools and country, and what do we get in return? Opprobrium, media diatribe, threats, and curses.

Have you ever heard of a school board being thanked for raising millions of dollars; for saving a school’s reputation; for developing interventions for wayward students? Unheard of! Instead, we are driving fear into the hearts of the fools who might want to serve. Imagine people of good will who contribute their skills to the development of this largely thankless nation.

Volunteers, by definition, do not have to do any of these things. There are many other pleasurable things that we could be doing, and our skills and service may well be welcomed and respected outside of Jamaica. This is a different group from those who are placed on boards by way of patronage to collect hefty fees.

Thank God that if I find the atmosphere becoming too hostile in Jamaica, I can resign as a justice of the peace and chair of the school board. My parents, before me, and many of my family members, have been civic-minded citizens, but we are moving into an age in which people have to be paid for everything. Patriotism is increasingly a partisan concept for those who live in this rough little nation, according to the song.

Fool’s Errand?

It has become increasingly difficult to encourage my young charges at The UWI and elsewhere to serve because they see little virtue in using their time, talent, and treasure to contribute in so many thankless ways.

National honours, honourable mentions, and rewards now enter the hands of the few who are mainly self-serving or who show little respect for the sacrifices of others. Members of previous generations must be turning in their graves as they listen to the edicts and the dismissive tone of the current opinion leaders. I wonder, who will be on the school boards of 2030?

Who will be doing the dirty work in many of the trenches in Jamaica? Well, we shall see who the patriots are. Fortunately for me, I have known of the work of hundreds of Jamaicans who have helped to build this country at home and abroad. Those who curse and threaten the volunteers will find themselves alone. As another song says, ‘We are riding for a fall’.

Hilary Robertson-Hickling

UWI, Mona