Four years ago today on May 31st, 2016, the Government, through its Department of Social Services and Community Development, successfully organized the inaugural celebration of Centenarians’ Day under the auspices of the Governor General, His Excellency Sir S.W. Tapley Seaton.
It was felt that something ought to be done to record our profound gratitude and respect for those amazing citizens and residents who had reached and surpassed the age of 100. In 2016, St. Kitts and Nevis recorded the most ever (19) persons aged 100 or older who were still alive.
Today, it is my privilege as Prime Minister to wish a very happy Centenarians’ Day to our Federation’s five living Centenarians: Mrs. Una Duporte (104 yrs.), Mrs. Bridgette Brazier (102 yrs.) and Mr. Vernon Roy Connor (100 yrs.) who all reside in St. Kitts and Ms. Mary Browne (102 yrs.) and Ms. Eliza Liburd-Jeffers (100 yrs.) who both reside in Nevis.
This weekend, some members of my Administration, including the senior staff of the Department of Social Services, found great pleasure in presenting our Centenarians with gift baskets sponsored by His Excellency the Governor General and visiting some of our older community members. We did this as a token of our admiration for them, for having lived through both the worst and best of times then come out on the other side with deeper appreciation and insight, as well as the benefits of maturity, wisdom, experience, purpose, resilience and perseverance.
Indeed, Centenarians’ Day was conceived as a day of tribute to pay our greatest respects to the members of one of our Greatest Generations who were:
- Teenagers when the political consciousness of plantation workers in St. Kitts gave rise to autonomous leadership as evidenced by the landmark Buckley’s Uprising of January 28th and 29th, 1935. We as a nation remember that 85 years ago, cane cutters at Buckley’s Estate mounted a protest that grew island-wide after they had been denied a pay raise from eight pence to one shilling (12 pence) for every ton of cane they had cut.
- Young adults when they and our forebears attained Universal Adult Suffrage in 1952, giving the right to vote to all persons 21 years old and over in the country’s first elections on October 6th that year.
- Middle aged when in February 1967 St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla entered a state of internal self-government known as Associated Statehood that was exercised through a Cabinet while Britain retained control over external affairs and defence.
- Approaching older age when on September 19th, 1983, St. Kitts and Nevis attained Independence, entitling its citizens and residents to exercise our own self-determination.
Now, in their twilight years, the great and prosperous society that was envisaged by the striking plantation workers and by Marcus Garvey – a visitor to our shores who believed in the promise and potential of this country – and that was also envisaged by our nation’s founders and leaders, is a beautiful reality, owing, in no small part, to the hard work, sweat and toil put in by these Centenarians’ Generation.
Our Centenarians and their contemporaries have paved the way for us all through their meaningful contributions to national development – and having experienced abject poverty in their childhood, they are grateful to live in a country where the Government provides social safety nets such as a $500 monthly stipend for households making less than $3,000 per month. The hard-won, phenomenal progress of the last 100 years, often taken for granted by younger generations, is therefore a badge of honour for our Centenarians. Let us remember this as we honour them today and every day.
Today, I reaffirm my Government’s commitment to fostering a society that safeguards inclusion, equality, respect for all and the right to quality of life (and health), particularly for our older persons and the most vulnerable in our communities.
Older persons in particular have been in the country’s collective thoughts during the coronavirus pandemic, and I am pleased and relieved that they were spared the ravages of COVID-19 that many of their peers in other countries unfortunately succumbed to over the past few months.
I am also thankful that our country has had no COVID-19-related deaths and that there are currently no active coronavirus cases. When compared with most other countries, in the context of the coronavirus, the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis is in a position of strength, given our early preparedness measures and success in meeting important benchmarks sooner than others. We must never retreat from this position of leadership.
For this, we owe a great deal to our Chief Medical Officer, our Medical Chief of Staff, our National Emergency Operations Center, our Health Emergency Operations Center, our Immigration Officers and Nurses who stepped up surveillance at our ports of entry since January, and all the other dedicated professionals such as the security forces who have worked tirelessly and continue to work to ensure that we all have the potential to live a long and happy life.
The 2015 Human Development Report on St. Kitts and Nevis compiled by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) says life expectancy at birth was 73.8 years in 2014, 70.2 years in 2000, 67.3 years in 1990 and 65 years in 1980. Today, life expectancy across genders has increased to 76 years in St. Kitts and Nevis. This is an achievement to celebrate and continue to emulate.
My Cabinet and I commend everyone who plays a role in protecting and maintaining the mental, physical and social health of our older persons. A phone call, a meal dropped off or a care package is just what is needed to show our love for older persons in this trying time and on this special day. It is the least we can do for those who have made some of the greatest contributions to our society.