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A vision for social development
Foreword to the 2012 Caribbean Awards for Excellence Booklet by His Excellency Prof George Maxwell Richards TC, CMTT, PhD, President of the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago
As I understand it, at the heart of these awards is a vision for social development in the Caribbean, nurtured by a person who has walked, resolutely, a road toward social development, where many have faltered. It is a vision shared by many, not all of whom are, at the same time, both willing and able to add matter to it. It is to the credit of Anthony N Sabga that he has turned his personal journey and triumphs into beacons that may give light for the benefit of others.
Inaugurated in 2005, the Caribbean Awards for Excellence has already begun to carve a significant space in the Caribbean mind. It is a space that must be consolidated and advanced in such a way that it becomes a feature in the thinking even of children of school age, who will cherish gaining one of the awards as an important goal to be achieved, not as the culmination of their work, but as another step in their growth, in whatever field they have chosen to pursue.
The commitment to and quest for excellence must be grasped from a tender age, and therefore, parents, guardians and teachers are critical because of the influence they wield in this regard. Such commitment and quest begin in ordinary things. How many master potters, for example were stillborn because, as very small children, their experiments in mud were tossed aside or thrown away?
The panorama of excellence is vast and we must be careful not to place contrived limits upon it, limits that would even vaguely suggest that academic brilliance is the only route to good success. I am unshakably convinced that our region’s establishing, for all times, a place of preeminence among the world’s leading innovators, is through education—education that effectively takes account of the strengths and weaknesses in our human resource pool.
Move from attitude of welfare to that of development
Taking account must go well beyond platitudinous statements, without follow-through, uttered at convenient times, by those who are empowered to provide the opportunities for making our education systems truly relevant and up to the objective of nurturing people who see themselves as able and valuable and whose first validation comes from the very environment that has nurtured them. Self-knowledge and self-acceptance are critical if we are to embrace excellence.
This is not at all intended to suggest that external standards can be disregarded. If we are to be relevant, we must be able to hold our own in the international arena, in whatever field. The requirement is, however, that we bring our own ideas and inventions to the contest. But to achieve this, we must move, as entire nations, from the attitude of welfare to that of development.
That is the frontlet we must wear, throughout our years of formal and informal education, being properly and unremittingly prepared, at each stage, for the next level. Proper foundations must be laid, at the ground level, so that at the higher end, that is to say, at the tertiary level, momentum must not be lost and the requirements and expectations must not be stymied or compromised.
University education in the region must be allowed to bear the hallmark of excellence, in every point, if the human face of it is to have he international respect that is necessary, as one the significant elements in establishing our entitlement to a say in the rules of engagement at the international level. Such respect as has already been gained must not be diminished.
Lulled into culture of mediocrity
We are no less talented or gifted than people elsewhere, but we have been lulled into a culture of mediocrity, for the most part, because the demand for excellence is largely absent. Too few of us clamour for excellence in our own space. The vast majority of us depend on the few to insist.
We tend to put that extra effort into our tasks outside of our region, where we do not have the support system for basic living. It is not always a fact that in our region, there is a lack of the support for quality endeavour. And even if this were so, should we be daunted? The best motivation comes from within, but that, too, comes from the environment that compels it.
A nation cannot be built on excuses, particularly excuses for mediocrity and regrettably, we have accommodated and applauded mediocrity for far too long, in every conceivable sphere of our lives. I am not at all unmindful of the circumstances that are very real, at many levels in our social structure, which have placed many of us in survival mode.
We are we condemned to stasis, in that regard, so much so that we accept our responsibility to move the disadvantaged beyond their current status? On close examination, we may find that genuine compassion becomes the excuse for not being the best that we can be. We cheer wildly at one-off successes and inertia becomes characteristic.
Too many of us are yet to understand that silver and bronze are not gold. We are not sufficiently hungry for the excellence of gold or the gold of excellence. Excellence demands that our record of success is sustained, in whatever we do.
Excellence should be commonplace
We must face the reality that perhaps, because of social dislocation in families, children, particularly teenagers, in their desire for acceptance, are afraid to do well. We have a duty to deal with this serious impediment to personal and collective development and to let them know it is alright to be successful and excellent. They, who will replace us, must know that they have a responsibility to contribute to our making our mark, and that this can only be achieved through excellence.
Those among us who have earned the accolade of outstanding performers have got there by way of the road of excellence, which always takes the long view. Given the assets with which our region has been endowed, excellence should be commonplace. It should indeed be a habit.
Whatever we offer, including our crafts, should bear its stamp. In this regard, we need to challenge ourselves and bring others with us. Economic success is not achievable without the planks of success in science and technology, arts and letter, and a clear and correct understanding of civic responsibility.
We are no longer new to independence as nations, so we are without excuse, if we fail to rise above the mundane. We have been equipped, even by some of our hardships, to push harder against the circumstances that would stand in the way of being a people who are known for the quality of life that goes beyond the banal. Even ordinary people can do extraordinary things.
Therefore we all have a duty to change the environment of our region to one in which excellence becomes the norm, and we are not satisfied with just making a living, but are determined to create lives that bear testimony of our understanding of a more excellent way.
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