There are times when it seems that we do not know who are the true heroes of a nation.
Despite the efforts of some institutions to elevate those whom they define as ‘unsung heroes’ to national and regional recognition one is still not certain that we pay due homage to many.
One would have thought that the smaller the country the easier it would have been to do many things, not the least of which is to recognise those whose contributions to the international recognition of the nation is unchallenged.
Here in St Vincent and the Grenadines we have been for many years caught up in a discourse of sorts about the national awards. The issue seemed to have had something to do with sovereignty and independence. Unfortunately under what some suggest is ‘the most progressive political regime’ in this country’s history the Queen’s award retains its existence. One wonders whether the proponents of the awardees simply dreams some of the names put forth.
In the current circumstances there are many Vincentians who would hope that the current regime never considers them sufficiently worthy to gain nomination for any award.
The situation of Earl ‘Ole George’ Daniel and Joel Butcher has left many with a very sour taste in the mouth and reveals the extent to which heroism in this country now seems inextricably linked to one’s unconditional affiliation with the ruling Unity Labour Party.
The walking heroes
Earl ‘Ole’ George Daniel is responsible for a very special component of Vincentian history. On his own initiative he transformed his passion for walking and physical well being into a national phenomenon. He took the nation by storm with his walking exploits moving from a mere trek, hike and hours-long to several days of this physical activity without sleep.
Initially many did not seem to think that Ole George was doing anything out of the ordinary. He was just walking for a cause.
Many would have remembered that while still resident in England, Ivan O’Neal returned home to walk for a cause, helping to raise funds.
Ole George started with relatively short walks. He quickly became known for his commitment to causes through his walks. He journeyed to some of the neighbouring islands in this same vein.
Then Ole George thought that he would make a name for this country by seeking to establish a world record for walking without sleep and set about organising the project.
Ole George’s plan hit a snag that still plagues his achievements to date. The officials at the prestigious Guinness Book of Records insist that there is no category for the undertakings of Ole George and they do not seem disposed to introducing such anytime soon.
Undaunted by the stance of the Guinness Book of Records George nonetheless set about a very long walk, seven days.
Vincentians may well recall that it was Ole George who told us that Joel Butcher, a quiet, unassuming individual living in a dilapidated infrastructure, joined him as he had promised on one of his walks. At the start of the walk at Richmond, Ole George did not see Butcher and thought that he had abandoned the idea of engaging in the long walk. After all, Ole George did not know who Butcher was or the level of his physical and mental preparedness for the challenges that the walk required.
Eventually, some time after he had begun his walk, he saw someone emerging out of the back of a garbage truck around Mt Wynne. The man had hitched a ride to get to the point of their meeting. He then walked up and introduced himself as Joel Butcher.
The two became a team thereafter and impacted this country more than anyone could have imagined.
Following their exploits here at home they journeyed to Jamaica where Ole George exceeded the achievements at home. On the second night Butcher injured his ankle and Ole George continued the walk for seven days on around Kingston’s Emancipation Park. Butcher stayed there urging Ole George to complete the task.
It was not until Ole George and Joel Butcher had shown Vincentians that it was possible to engage themselves in the endurance walk that lasted several days at home that they received some recognition at the local level.
Actually, the fact that Nice Radio had assigned its personnel to carry coverage of the walk over several days meant that at any given point the public could be in the know as to where the two men were in their walk and what was their physical and mental status.
Vincentians then came out as they passed by their respective areas in support. People called in on the radio to congratulate them. Many came out with refreshments for them.
ECGC came forward at the start of the long walk and finalised a contract with Ole George that allowed the company to facilitate promotional activities during the walk. This essentially took the form of some presentations in Barrouallie and massive musical accompaniment from Calliaqua to Kingstown on the final day of the walk. At South River Road a huge crowd was on hand to greet the dynamic duo as they completed their walk. There was plenty of music and some speeches.
The next few days saw an outpouring of appreciation and recognition of both Ole George and Joel Butcher. They were treated to several days of much-needed rest at the Camelot Hotel in Kingstown Park. LIAT expressed an interest in coming on board as did several other enterprises around the country.
There were expressions of awe and joy from people from different parts of the world. St Vincent and the Grenadines made the news far and wide.
George was asked to deliver speeches here and there and he willingly accepted.
At the governmental level however, the government of the day seemed not to understand the power of the sporting achievements of the two men. The Ministry of Sport never knew how they could have been used.
Attempts to convince the Ministry of Tourism that there was much that could be used seemed to have fallen on deaf ears. Perhaps it was thought that no one comes to a country because people walk for days on end.
Indeed the issue served to highlight the lie in the government’s claim that sport holds a ‘central’ position or plays a ‘central’ role in its broader national development strategy. It reflected the paucity of understand of sport. It also gives the lie to the much-vaunted ‘wellness revolution’.
It was after the indomitable duo of Ole George and Joel Butcher ended their long local walk here in St Vincent that the Prime Minister of this country promised to provide Joel Butcher with a home.
Initially it appears that the Comrade wanted to do something for the two but Ole George indicated that his primary need was to see Joel Butcher given a home. He wanted nothing for himself. The home for Butcher was the best gift anyone could offer.
Understand that Butcher did not himself ask for anything. The truth is that Ole George, having been particularly impressed with Butcher as an individual and his commitment to stay the course in walking together, saw the man’s greater need and thought that the provision of a home would have been fitting for what he had done.
But promises are not always fulfilled.
We are several years later and the promise to provide Joel Butcher with a home is yet to be fulfilled. This should however come as no surprise.
One wonders whether the failure to provide Butcher with the promised home has to do with the possibility that unfortunately for him he is of little or no political currency to the ruling regime?
This is consistent with the ruling party’s inability to recognise that the achievements of Ole George and Joel Butcher possessed the potential to positively and consistently impact and enrich the vast tourism income-generating capacity of St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Instead, it appears that the current administration could not bring itself to an appreciation of the significance of the achievements of Ole George and Joel Butcher.
This is but one more example of the narrow-minded and myopic nature of the politics of the ruling regime. Blinded to all but itself the administration has failed to see the importance of anything that does not fit into its immediate political agenda at any given point in time.
To many it may seem inappropriate to address the issue of the Comrade’s failed promise of a home to Joel Butcher but understand clearly that the reason it is mentioned here is because of its importance to an appreciation of the modus operandi of the current administration that does little more than pay lip service to sport.
As we draw ever closer to the general elections it is essential that Vincentians at home and abroad become aware of all aspects of the governance practised, not merely mouthed, by the ruling regime.
It was expected that the Prime Minister may well have been seen as the ‘go to’ guy’ and that he may have deliberately de-mystified this perception. Thus it was also the perception of Vincentians that when he promised to provide Joel Butcher with a house that it was as good as done.
To many, Butcher has paid his dues.
Were Ole George and Joel Butcher missing something?
Did they confuse paying dues generally with the payment of political party dues?
Were they expected to swear allegiance to the ruling party?
Were they expected to jump on the political bandwagon of the ruling party as some sportspeople have done and continue to do?
Had Ole George and Joel Butcher done this, played up to the government politicians, would Butcher have had his home already?
Is it that Butcher is of a class where he has no impact on the political fortunes of the ruling regime and therefore can be totally ignored?
To be fair, Ole George has never abandoned his pleading for the home for Joel Butcher even as Butcher stayed from the bright lights of publicity living as he has always done.
Some years ago, The News newspaper made its own contribution of a bed to Butcher and at the time told Vincentians that the young man had still not been the beneficiary of the promised home with adequate amenities.
We are today in the throes of an elections campaign and we can expect any day to suddenly hear that Butcher has assumed some measure of political importance to the ULP.
Do not be surprised should this come to pass. But should this occur it would only serve to highlight the level of political expediency that has characterised ULP and the Comrade’s politics.
In the recent past Ole George has committed to engaging in one final walk with the sole intention of cementing his own agony over the failure of the administration to fulfil the promise of a home for Joel Butcher. He will walk again in the hope that the funds for the home would be realised.
Ole George put his plans thus: The next walk I will do, will be to give Vincentians a chance to assist Butcher. Business persons can make suitable contributions to his cause. I will not be eating during this walk – drinking only water. I will stop when I am told it is enough – Butcher has his home or will get it and I must see tangible evidence of this. Or, I will stop when I am physically unable to continue walking.
There are times when it seems that we do not know who are the true heroes of a nation.