marlon_hill_001.jpgDANIA BEACH – Despite the increasing list of problems and the economic downturn that makes it difficult to send money and gifts to relatives back home, Jamaican immigrants remain attached to their home country.

About 100 participants from across the United States, along with several top Jamaican officials, deliberated at the recent inaugural Jamaican Diaspora of the United States conference on the many challenges affecting the country—primarily emergency preparedness, education, health, investment and trade.

Themed “Responding to the Challenge: Jamaicans Unite for Progress,” the conference, which took place Oct. 2-4 at Dania Beach’s Sheraton Airport Hotel, “called on  Jamaicans to define our roles, pool our resources together, forge relationships and collaborate with projects in Jamaica.”

Wayland Richards, advisory board member for the Jamaican Diaspora’s West/Midwest region, said: “For those of you who have been around this movement since 2004, you will know that this has been a long desire of the Government of Jamaica. It must bring joy to their hearts to see the Jamaican Diaspora movement taking shape and coming to life.”

According to the CIA Factbook, the Jamaican economy is heavily dependent on services, which now account for more than 60 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The country continues to receive most of its foreign exchange from tourism, remittances and bauxite/alumina. Remittances, which were once a high source of revenue, continue to dwindle, and now account for 20 percent of the GDP.

Jamaica's economy, already with the lowest economic growth in Latin America, faces increasing difficulties as the global economy declines. Long-term problems such as a substantial trade deficit, a high unemployment rate and a serious crime problem remain inevitable. The country’s huge debt impedes government spending on infrastructure and social programs; debt repayment accounts for nearly half of government expenditures, according to the Factbook.

Therefore, the Jamaican government has to seek other means to boost its economy.

Turning to Jamaicans living abroad, Ronald Robinson, Jamaica’s minister of foreign affairs and trade; Andrew Holness, Jamaica’s minister of education; Consul General- Miami Sandra Grant-Griffiths and Consul General- New York Geneive Brown-Metzger convened with the Diaspora to discuss collaboration initiatives that they hope will build the economy.

Among the initiatives are investing, marketing Jamaican brands, and engaging the youth.

In his address on developing a relationship with the Diaspora in the U.S., Robinson re-introduced the newly established Jamaican Diaspora Foundation, which operates as a liaison between the government’s Joint Select Committee and the Diaspora. He also urged communication with the Diaspora Advisory Board members and keeping in contact through a database operated by the Jamaica Diaspora Institute (JDI), the operative arm of the Foundation.

“The conference is consistent with the key role that the Jamaica Diaspora Institute intends to play in realizing the goals of the Jamaica Diaspora Foundation,” said Professor Neville Ying, chairman of JDI.

“One of the principal goals is to strengthen the links and support systems between members of the Diaspora abroad and those at home and to deepen collaboration and cooperation between the stakeholder groups that serve them,” he continued.

In recent years, the Jamaican Diaspora of the U.S. has been attacked for its limited engagement. Marlon Hill, a local attorney and advisory board member for the Jamaican Diaspora’s southern region, attributed the inactivity to the legal work done to ensure that the organization is in full compliance with U.S. and Jamaica laws, and the challenges in becoming a recognized national organization that spans the entire U.S. geographical area.

The outcome of the conference will determine action plans that should by the end of the year transform the U.S. Diaspora movement into a viable and structured organization with a governing body to oversee community and organizational involvement, contributions, individual memberships and volunteerism, and serve as a catalyst for Jamaican immigrants.

“Through the Jamaican Diaspora, individuals will have direct channel and access to the Jamaican government,” Hill said. “The individual person must feel if the Jamaican government needs to hear about something specific they can call the regional board advisory member or the [future] national.”

Pictured above is Marlon Hill.