Celebrating the true treasures of Barbados

Towards the end of last week, on two consecutive days in fact, Barbados toasted the amazing longevity of another three senior citizens. They have joined a steadily growing list, where there are almost monthly admissions, to membership of the island’s centenarians club.

On Saturday, two incredibly sprightly and mentally sharp women – Errie Young and Gweneth Sandiford – celebrated the coveted milestone with family, friends and well-wishers in the presence of Governor General Sir Elliott Belgrave. The previous day, an equally sprightly and alert James Springer also crossed into the triple digit age category.

Birthday girl Gweneth Sandiford, centre, seated with from left her brother Vaughn Collins, sister Thelma Broomes and brother Winston Collins.

A common theme runs through their life stories, as was also very much the case in just about every other centenarian who preceded them. An abiding faith in God, deep devotion to family, a history of hard work, and a habit of healthy eating constituted their formula for longevity.

In remarks at the celebration for Mrs Sandiford, Minister of Social Care, Constituency Empowerment and Community Development Steve Blackett noted there are currently over 60 centenarians on the island and a long list of over 40 99-year-olds, meaning the number of centenarians will keep rising for the foreseeable future.

“It is an honour to have the largest number of centenarians in the world per capita,” Blackett remarked, noting only a small city in Japan outperformed Barbados in this regard.

Errie Young was pleased to welcome Governor General Sir Elliott Belgrave to her home.

In remarks at the function for Mrs Young, Sir Elliott observed that many centenarians have the physical appearance of persons in either their 70s or 80s. He credited “our climate and our Government and our health care system” for contributing to the fact that Barbadians “seem to be living longer and longer”.

The fact that so many Barbadians, not only at home but also in many other countries abroad, are living to reach and, in many instances, exceed a century is something Barbadians ought to celebrate and be proud of. Indeed, there are many developed countries, with far greater resources, where longevity on this scale, though much desired, remains elusive. Who would not like to live for as long as possible?

Interestingly, coinciding with the celebration of the three newest centenarians and also to mark the island’s Golden Jubilee of Independence, the Barbados Postal Service last week launched a special issue of postage stamps celebrating the island’s centenarians. It features 27 centenarians, some who have died and others who are still alive.

The list includes two super-centenarians, the late James Sisnett, who died at 113 years and the late Emily Clarke, who died at 110 years old.  Sisnett, who died three years ago, has the distinction of being, on record, the oldest Barbadian to have ever lived. During his lifetime, he was also recognized as the second oldest man in the world.

It seems longevity runs in Barbadian genes. At one time in Guyana, the oldest woman was 112-year-old Barbadian-born Ismay Spooner, who moved to what was then British Guiana or BG with her mother at ten years of age. She died in 2013. In St Lucia, Barbadian Elsie Ward accomplished the same feat. She reached the ripe old age of 110 before passing away in November 2013. There are Barbadians in Canada and the United States who have also lived to, or past a century.

It is important that the life stories of these centenarians are captured for the benefit of future generations. Not only can they offer valuable insights on how to achieve a long life, but they were also eyewitnesses, at least those who remained here, of the remarkable transformation of Barbados from a network of impoverished villages to a modern nation with the latest amenities and a high standard of living.

It is unfortunate that there exists today a wide generational gap between young and older Barbadians, to the point that some young people do not know what it is like to relate to the elderly or have an appreciation of the tremendous sacrifice which they made to lay the foundation the younger generation now enjoys. They sacrificed so much for us; the question is what are we sacrificing for them?

We salute our centenarians and senior citizens on the whole. May their lives continue to be richly blessed! By their example, they more than qualify to be recognized as genuine nation builders and represent true treasures of Barbados.

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