By:T. C. Phipps-Benjamin
Many years ago, my parents shared with me their thoughts on one of the greatest tragedies in our Federation’s history; the sinking of the M. V. Christena.
On Saturday August 1, 1970, the M. V. Christena made its fateful journey across the Narrows; the strait that separates the islands of St. Kitts and Nevis. Hundreds of citizens perished as the over capacity vessel sought to accomplish the impossible; to safely transport dozens of human beings in excess of its capacity from St. Kitts to Nevis.
The tragic loss of many of the bread winners of households throughout the length and breadth of St. Kitts and Nevis brought more than just economic woes to the two islands; it also brought an unwelcome blend of emotional and psychological scars to many lives. The manner in which those wounds affected families, communities and the two islands, formed part of the tragedy that befell St. Kitts and Nevis.
Documentaries of the Christena disaster helped to paint a picture of how unforeseen devastation can drastically change the trajectory of young lives and the community in which they dwell. Through the telling of the story of life after the sinking of Christena, the impact of the disaster set a precedence for the kind of life generations to come would inherit.
My parents explained to me how dozens of children in my village of Cayon lost their parents to the tragedy on that fateful day. As a result, many children grew up without a parent and truly depended on the “village” to raise them.
They were the sons and daughters of Cayon, many of whom have made their contributions to building their community and country, despite the demise of the only providers they knew.
In 2016, as many Kittitian and Nevisian families attempted to navigate through life’s challenges, a tragedy of symbolic proportions continued to eat away at the fabric of our community of Cayon, and by extension, the nation.
Young men, many of them fathers, continue to be murdered like dogs in our streets, leaving behind helpless and innocent children with nothing but fleeting memories of a father they knew only briefly.
Unlike the young boys and girls who grew up up to make good of their lives despite the horrific Christena disaster, many young people in our time are stained by the memory of a father or friend violently snuffed out for reasons that many deem incomprehensible.
For as long as violent crime has been a problem in our tiny island Federation, scores of nationals have made recommendations and devised conflict resolution measures with a view to minimizing crime and mapping a way forward.
However, many of us remain
blindly boxed into political ideologies and often have great difficulty working with each other. As a result, crime is peddled as a political football and is one of those social issues that expose our biases as a people.
Rooted deeply in the disrespect for others and the devaluation of human lives, homegrown killers continue to create mayhem in our nation. Clearly, the criminals have no interest in politics or the politicians. They care about settling a score or violently taking what someone else works hard to attain.
It seems difficult to believe that somehow hope can rise from the crevices of warmongering and fear that plague our nation, but just as the Christena disaster forced many to redefine their path in life and fight for the orphans of our communities, so too can we as a nation vow to make homes and villages safe again. It is evident that we must show some degree of “collective will” if we don’t want to live as hostages to criminals in our country.
Recently, young pioneers at the Cayon High School took a bold step to get feuding young men talking with one another in a commendable attempt at conflict resolution. Following the October 31st meeting, a solidarity march, organized by guidance counselors, teachers and students of the school, was held through the streets of Cayon.
The objective of the initiative was to engage the young people, garner an understanding of what issues they are conflicted by and successfully map a way forward in connection with various community alliances, including the police, to ensure that communities are safe for all to live in.
The march dispelled many beliefs that we cannot come together as a community to solve issues that threaten to keep our nation mired in the tragedies brought on by youth on youth crime. Despite the march, our community is still stained by violent crime and death and so the painstaking work continues.
A village of proud people who carried the burden of many of our nation’s orphans over 40 years ago has too often been plunged into mourning. But how do we find resolve in our once tightly knit village?
In a February, 25, 2015 article written by Bruce S. Trachtenberg in the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, the author emphasizes the importance of information sharing during the difficulties faced by a community. He essentially states that, “While disasters and other kinds of tragedies – such as shootings and robberies are disruptive to entire communities, causing pain, economic loss and even severing friendships, if more news outlets and community leaders keep writing stories and keep the issues in the public domain long after these disastrous events occur, valuable lessons will be learned and will contribute to the long-term unifying of those affected by tragedy.”
The community of Cayon and its environs found a way to comfort hurting boys and girls who lost their parents in an instant as a result of the sinking of the M.V. Christena in 1970.
Today, the young and seemingly helpless boys and girls in our community who continue to lose their fathers to gun violence depend on US to help them move beyond their personal tragedies. Will we continue to fail them?
Like the teachers and guidance counselors at the Cayon High School who took a stand in recent months, it is incumbent on us to take our communities back and save the very sons who threaten to destroy the fabric of our community and the pulse of our nation.