Everything Caribbean

A rose blooms on the hill

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In a
world inundated with so much that is disturbing, so much that is parched and
barren, it is always a relief to come across flowers in the desert. President
George Bush, the father, referred to these as “points of light; the imagery
being that, in a world or universe of darkness, much like a constellation of
stars, there is light and hope; in an arid desert, there is an oasis of life
and beauty. To be sure, Bush was referring to groups and institutions, many
outside of government, that were providing exceptional humanitarian service to
those less fortunate. He was referring to those bodies that go above and beyond
to enrich the lives of the down-trodden, to make this world a better place for
those who find themselves in straightened circumstances.

One such
place is the Fiennes Institute, now located in the old Nurses Hostel at the top
of the Queen Elizabeth Highway. This was the place where student nurses once
lived; many of those nurses would go on to work at the Holberton Hospital,
which was named for a kind-hearted minister by the name of Robert Holberton.  According to the 150th
EMANCIPATION COMMEMORATIVE MAGAZINE
published in 1984, the good ‘man of the cloth,’ “in 1829, established the St. John’s Friendly Society. It was intended
to promote good feelings among the lower classes by aiding in times of
distress, providing the sick and needy with a daily meal, and encouraging
sobriety and industry among them. A boiler having been presented to the Society,
a ‘soup house” was set up. Since the planters did not care for the sick very
long after emancipation, Reverend Holberton provided a doctor when they fell
ill, for up to this time, there had been no relief for any black person . . .”.
That was the beginning of organised care for poor black people.

Meanwhile,
the Fiennes Institute was founded by Governor Eustace Fiennes in 1929, one
hundred years later, to provide a home and care for those who had fallen on
hard times, and could no longer provide for themselves.  This was on the self-same Holberton
grounds, just across the road, due east of the aforementioned Nurses Hostel.
Sir Selvyn Walter, a great former Member of Parliament, outstanding debater and
writer, described Governor Fiennes and his work here in Antigua thusly, “What
we have to address is how the nature of our villages and our city environment
has imperceptibly changed, leaving our older people stranded like beached
whales floundering in the shallows of the twilight of life without direction or
help. This phenomenon was recognised in the 1920’s by our Governor, Sir Eustace
Fiennes, whose socialist background impelled him to initiate programmes in
Antigua that are still relevant today. I salute him, especially for drilling
for sub-surface water – Fiennes Well; attempting to take care of health
problems — vide the lepers; and attempting to solve the problems associated
with old age in a colonial society — vide the Fiennes Institute, derisively
called the Poor House by the general populace. You may wish to call the results
of his efforts by any name you desire, but when we consider the existence at
that time of slums like Gray’s Farm, Garling’s Land, Pig Village, The Point and
Booby Alley, the changing social conditions in the villages, the influx of
people to St. John’s and its environs, the construction of the Fiennes
Institute near to the Holberton Hospital and Lady Nugent Cemetery for black
paupers, it was a planning feat. Poor, old people had two places to go — either
Fiennes Institute or Lady Nugent Cemetery, both of which were in close
proximity to each other.”
[DAILY OBSERVER, July 29th, 2010, column entitled, OF DIS AND DAT: THE PARADOX OF OLD AGE
(Part I)
]. We’re talking about points of light, folks; we’re talking about
roses a-blooming!

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Interestingly,
prior to the construction of the Fiennes Institute on the Holberton Hospital
grounds, the home for the indigent was in the building on Old Parham Road that
now houses the Antigua Grammar School. The burial place for poor black people
was at that same Old Parham Road site, just east of the poor house – Lady
Nugent Cemetery. According to historical records, lepers, the mentally
disturbed, and the poor were in that Antigua Grammar School building until the
mentally disturbed and the lepers were moved to Rat Island. The disturbed were
eventually moved to the current Clarevue Hospital in 1905. [HISTORICAL AND ARCHEOLOGICAL SOCIETY, THE MUSEUM OF ANTIGUA AND
BARBUDA: Of Lepers, Lunatics and The History of Rat Island by Dr. Susan Lowes]

Mercifully,
the original Fiennes Institute buildings were razed by the government in 2019.
This was after industrial action by its workers who were fed-up with the
abominable working conditions, what with the 90-year old structures that had
fallen into a woeful state of disrepair, and were a clear and present occupational
hazard. To his credit, Minister Weston, he of the Ministry of Works, made a
promise to the workers at that time (exactly a year ago), that they would be
moved to better facilities, and he delivered on his promise when they were
moved to the Nurses Hostel. He actually, promised that a new home for the
unfortunate would be built, but nobody is expecting that promise to be kept any
time soon. After all, it is an open and pitiful secret that this
administration, never mind its braggadocio and self-described wonderfulness, is
flat broke. This administration cannot do a blessed thing without going,
cap-in-hand, to some pliant financial entity for a loan, or to the
ever-obliging Chinese (who have their own self-serving agenda) for another gift.
It will surprise no one if the oh-so-generous Chinese eventually provide the
government with a grant to build a new home for the indigent . . . just in time
for the next election campaign. As you can imagine, at that time, there will be
the grand announcement and the ground-breaking, with much sounding brass and
tinkling cymbal. . . and the pictures and the story of the new Fiennes will be
in the election ‘monkey-festo!’ Sigh!
So tiresome!  

But
we digress. We here at NEWSCO have been concerned about the plight of Mr.
Malcolm Harley aka ‘Si’, an
85-year-old man who’d fallen on hard times, and who was squatting in a
container on the grounds of the Sunshine Hub Car Park. Regrettably, Si was unceremoniously thrown from his
makeshift dwelling, and last we’d heard, he was living on the streets of St.
John’s. We’ve been trying to locate him to see in what ways we can assist, but
so far our efforts have been fruitless.  Actually, it was our search for Si that took us to the Fiennes Institute this past Thursday, and
while we were disappointed that Si
was not there, our hearts leaped within us with joy at what we discovered.
Permit us to explain. The Fiennes Institute is spotless. The residents are
well-cared for, and they are all clean, comfortable and contented. This writer
had the pleasure of meeting Shauna and Nicky, two extremely pleasant and
welcoming nurses, who were quite happy to answer questions and show me around.
I was impressed. Shauna and Nicky have been at the Fiennes for roughly seven
years, and they have almost never taken a day off – so dedicated are they to
the residents and their calling. Yes, it is a calling; a labour of love,
because they really cannot be paid for all that they do for their seventy-seven
charges. They treat them like family – so much patience and concern and genuine
affection. The Fiennes Institute is truly a point of light; a rose blooming on
the hill; and the matron, and Shauna and Nicky, and the entire staff ought to
be commended. They are doing a fantastic job, and we are grateful! May the rose
that is the Fiennes Institute ever bloom! 
  We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your
feedback on our opinions.

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