CASTRIES, St Lucia -- With the good news that citizens of Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) member states participating in the economic union can now stay indefinitely upon entry into most member states, Saint Lucian youth are beginning to appreciate the full import of the OECS single economic and financial space.
Two important groups that were privileged to speak one-on-one with a technical team from the OECS Secretariat were school-based youth and members of the National Youth Council, along with representatives of other youth oriented organisations. These ‘conversations’ formed part of the Saint Lucia public education country mission now being undertaken by the OECS Regional Integration Unit in collaboration with the OECS commissioners offices in member states.
The RIU through the Offices of the OECS Commissioner in each member state is working closely with state facilitation agencies, business and social groupings as well as various knowledge centres to interpret the significance of the existence of one single economic and financial space for the OECS region.
Dr June Soomer, Saint Lucia’s ambassador to the OECS and Caribbean Community (CARICOM), heads Saint Lucia’s Regional Integration and Diaspora Unit. Soomer, who played a central role in the design of the Saint Lucia country mission, set out to ensure that both teachers and students participate in the consultations as part of her overall objective to champion a review of how OECS integration is incorporated into and treated in the school curriculum.
To this end, over the course of two days, contingents of teachers representing schools island-wide engaged with the technical team, which brought to clarity perspectives on intra-regional and international trade, free circulation of goods, free movement of people, the social development agenda of the OECS and the harmonization of approach to addressing priority and emerging issues.
In light of information received in respect of the progress with the free movement agenda, teachers were particularly interested in harmonization of national insurance which would safeguard pension entitlements; as well as comparative salary scales between the member states.
When school-based youth met with the delegation on Thursday morning, the session started with the introduction of the OECS song. The services of former Calypso King Nintus and Steelpan virtuoso Imran Simmonds were solicited to teach the ‘anthem’ to the scores of students attending.
Soomer cited this as important, as it is found that while citizens are enjoying the benefits of integration every day, they have not linked these privileges to the workings of the integration process.
“The OECS song expresses one identity, one region strengthened by the combined strengths of all. It speaks to unity, collaboration, togetherness and how this matters in terms of our smallness. I believe that we have to inculcate these ideals in your children at an early age. We were touched by how well received this exercise was, with schools asking that we come to their schools that all their peers would have the same experience,” she said.
According to Safiya Horne-Bique, programme officer in the Regional Integration Unit working specifically with the free movement agenda, school children have been a very responsive group during the course of the six country missions.
“I must make mention of the children we met with in St Kitts; Over 300 on the mainland and about 60 in Nevis turned out and it was clear that perhaps youth are even more ready to exploit the opportunities of citizenship beyond within the Union. This was evident in the questions they ask,” Horne-Bique said.
The Saint Lucia Mission is the fourth to date, with those to Grenada and Montserrat scheduled to take place early in 2014.
Since the Economic Union came into force in January 2011, OECS member states have been working towards creating the legal framework to support a number of related initiatives; among them is the right of citizens within the seven-member state Economic Union, to move and conduct business without restrictions. In that regard, the priority of the OECS Regional Integration Unit (RIU) continues to be awareness building among citizens of member states of the implications, opportunities and benefits of the union.