by Jeff James
I came to know Mrs Jestina Charles about 40 years ago when I assumed the post of Director of Cansave in St Vincent and the Grenadines (later renamed VINSAVE). She was introduced to me by the late Deltash Da Santos who was the Supervisor at the Byera Day Care Centre.
CANSAVE had embarked on a community development programme in Byera which led to the formation of ByeSave. We were looking for someone to provide training to parents and other Byera residents for a sewing project that residents had indicated that they wanted in the community. Mrs Charles readily agreed to guide the development of the programme, first by conducting sewing classes with the participants and secondly to oversee the setting up of a small business through which the ladies could earn an income.
She ensured that the products that the ladies produced were of a marketable standard, and through her initiative, a project to make and sell school uniforms to persons in Byera and adjoining communities, as well as to stores in Kingstown was established.
The initial engagement with Mrs Charles left a lasting impression on me. She was very meticulous in her instruction. She ensured that the ladies mastered the different aspects of the training provided to a certain level of perfection, while at the same time imparting a number of life skills and values in the process. She was very professional in her approach. She emphasized discipline, punctuality, honesty, patience, team work and respect for others. She insisted that the ladies conduct themselves with a certain level of decorum while they were in her presence, and offered advice and support where they encountered difficulties in other areas of their lives.
Mrs Charles also taught the ladies smocking for a project she undertook with a company at Campden Park. Through this means, the parents were able to obtain additional income. She also did some cake decorating classes with parents who attended the Byera Day Care Centre. Needless to say, Mrs Charles had a profound impact on young mothers in the community, and devoted a lot of time and energy to the development of Byera and Chester Cottage where she lived.
My encounter with Mrs Charles did not end with her involvement with VINSAVE and ByeSave. Most of my interaction with her had to do with her establishment of Bethel Care in Georgetown. She had a deep interest in the welfare and wellbeing of older persons, and she saw the need to establish this organization, subsequently working collaboratively with HelpAge International in this regard. By this time I had moved to Jamaica and was the Regional Representative for HelpAge International in the Caribbean.
Bethel Care provided an avenue for older persons to meet and socialise, fellowship with one another, receive personal care services and tips on healthy ageing, access food packages, and continue to live healthy and productive lives. Through its ‘Sponsor a Grandparent’ Programme, HelpAge was able to provide financial support to the organisation. Mrs Charles’s dream was to have a Centre for older persons in the north eastern section of St Vincent and the Grenadines. I was, therefore, able to work with her to get the NIS to establish the Golden Years Activity Centre at Black Point which turned out to be a very important resource for older persons in the area.
Through the instrumentality of HelpAge International, Mrs Charles was able to attend a five-month course in the Care of the Elderly at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica. The completion of this course provided further motivation for her to deepen and expand her work with older persons in St Vincent and the Grenadines. She was very involved in the setting up of the National Council for Older Persons and became its second President. She provided outstanding and committed leadership to the Council, but was forced to give up the position due to health issues. The organization was never the same after she demitted office, and the rest is history.
Mrs Charles’s involvement with the Council led to her participation in the World Assembly on Ageing in Madrid, Spain in 2002, that saw representatives from 159 countries in attendance. She was also able to develop a wide network of friends and colleagues in the field of ageing throughout the Caribbean while attending regional meetings to discuss issues affecting older persons. Some of these persons have asked me to convey to her family sincere condolences on her passing.
“Condolences on the passing of Mrs Charles. She will be remembered for a long time.” Loranna Jno. Baptiste, Dominica Council on Ageing “My sincere condolences. I feel sad to know that we will never see her again.” Nellie Richards, St Catherine Community Development Agency, Jamaica “Kindly extend my condolences on behalf of the Montserrat Senior Citizens Association” Cheryl White
Mrs Charles’s contribution to her community, country and the region has been immense. She dedicated her life to the upliftment of her fellow human beings. She lived a life that added value to all those who crossed her path. May her soul rest in eternal peace.