Ladies and gentlemen good afternoon.
On March 4, 2009, just six days after my inauguration as Governor-General, I accepted an invitation from the Lions Club of Kingston to launch White Cane Month. I had not yet settled into office and to borrow a cricketing idiom, ‘the shine was still on the ball.’ This was one of my first appointments and installations into a service club. As part of my initiation rite, I was shown how to walk with a white cane and also how to roar like a lion. These rites I happily performed so that I might be considered a part of an active, altruistic and accountable organization. I am impressed by the work you do and the difference that it makes in the lives of others. So today, Lady Allen and I are pleased to be with you for another launch of White Cane Month.
The gospels tell of an encounter our Lord had on the outskirts of Jericho with a man who was visually impaired. Our Lord was walking in a crowd of people when He heard a man yelling “Son of David have mercy on me”. The people tried to quiet him but he shouted louder (you know when you have babies in a function and they are crying…)” Son of David, have mercy on me,” he continued to shout.
The Lord stopped, had him brought closer and asked him, “What do you want me to do?” Without hesitation he replied, “I want to see!” and as the account goes, the miracle happened resulting in two things.
1. He could see
2. He became a member of the organization and followed Jesus
It was not unusual in those times to see poor and blind persons begging and hoping that someone would pity them and give them some food or money. People of goodwill were not organized into service clubs and social services were non-existent to care for poor or disabled persons. So a miracle was all that persons in these circumstances could hope for.
I believe the history of the Lions Club in Jamaica chronicles events of people helping people to see. It is a story of compassion. Compassion is more than being sympathetic or conscious of the distress of others and having a desire to alleviate it, but actually getting involved and addressing a problem brought on by the varying circumstances of life,…(as with the blind man near Jericho.)
I know that you are not the panacea for the ills of human existence, but the admirable thing about your organization is that you identify your focus area, concentrate avidly on it until you have become recognized for delivery of service in that focus area.
With compassionate and caring hearts and approximately 1200 members in 24 adult and 21 Leo Clubs, the Lions in Jamaica have, since 1965, been credited with establishing several basic schools, health centres and the creation of the Heart Foundation of Jamaica. However, it is the prevention of blindness by the early detection of eye diseases and services to the blind that the Club holds as its signature activity. It is this act of compassion for the visually disabled that sets you apart from the rest, and for which you are well known.
The Jamaica Society for the Blind estimates that there are approximately 26,000 blind or visually impaired persons living in Jamaica, many of whom live in rural communities which make access to adequate services and treatment difficult. The Society does not have field officers and sees an average of five clients per week.
Your efforts have allowed many visually impaired persons to obtain some measure of support by way of optical screening at highly subsidized costs, using the mobile clinic that visits schools, churches, businesses and other organizations. I want to encourage you and strengthen your hand as you serve in Jamaica with compassion, selflessness, and the commitment to help others.
There are many things with which we are blessed, some of which we take for granted. But we must never forget that each one of us is placed here by our Creator to enhance the quality of life of those around us. For the most part this is done through voluntary services born of a heart of compassion and/or impressed on us by the traditions which have been passed down from previous generations.
Despite our setbacks and our hardships, this country is still known for its care, concern and kindness towards others, especially those who are affected by adverse circumstances. The occasions when good hearted people have responded to appeals for assistance are too numerous to mention, especially when it is for a child. This sense of goodness must never wane, but should happen with more frequency and in ways that make assistance known and available to those who need it.
Jamaicans must ever remain in a state of alertness, willingness and readiness to engage in activities that will benefit individuals who are disabled in any way. This is the core of our humanity and the ultimate test that we all must pass is – how well did we serve those who need our help? That is what I would refer to as a duty of care that all of us must have to each other. In Scotland, years ago, the manufacturer of a soda company was fined in Court for negligence because a snail was found in a bottle of the soda his company manufactured and over which he might not have had personal control. But it was ruled that he had a duty of care.
We also have a duty of care and in exercising our duty of care I think particular attention should be given to the needs of children. We have a sacred responsibility to our children that sometimes our society passes up too lightly. We must be careful not to offend them, by placing or not removing impediments to their growth and development or by neglecting them. The result of neglect is far too much for any society to bear. Its consequences will linger for generations.
There are many persons, especially children, who just want to be able ‘to see’ and follow based upon what they have seen. If they cannot see with their eyes, they must see with their fingers, their ears and their minds. We owe them the opportunity to see in us the values that they should inculcate, live by and pass on to the next generation, and one of those values is service to others. Our children should have the benefit of adequate evaluation. Oftentimes it is not until an assessment is done on these children that you realise that they have a visual or hearing disability. Once the defect is identified and corrected they usually show an improvement in their academic performance. Sadly for some the diagnosis comes too late and they do not get to realise their potential.
CONCLUSION AND ENCOURAGEMENT
I wish you success in your tag drive which will raise funds for your club activities, and I trust there will also be an increased awareness and appreciation for the work you do. With these sentiments I now declare White Cane Month, 2011, launched.