Charlie Keffer Reports From St. Vincent

Dr. Charles Keffer, former provost of the University of St. Thomas, has been sending reports of his (and wife Barb's) service work on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent. This is his tenth report.

March 4, 2001

Hello from St. Vincent!

Well, it's official! Election Day is March 28. The current prime minister announced this date last week. Given all the earlier activity, it seems hard to image that things could pick up but that is certainly the sense one gets around the country. On the road today, on the windward side of the island, there were truckloads of people going to ULP rallies in Fancy and Owia, two villages at the extreme northern end of the island. ULP, the opposition party, has been playing to huge crowds at their events. But no one is really sure how the election will turn out. And many people are worried that there may be violence before it is all over. Some people have said that they can feel the tension in the air. There is no question that Vincentians take their politics very seriously, perhaps a little too seriously.

Bishop Rivas, as president of the Christian Council, is in the middle of all of this since the Christian Council has been charged with ensuring that the elections come off on schedule (before March 31) and without any hanky panky or violence. They have set up a monitoring mechanism and they developed a code of conduct signed by all the major candidates/parties but everyone seems to think that the bishop should be able to keep everything under control all by himself.

We celebrated the 11th anniversary of the Diocese of Kingstown Jan. 22 with several events that preceding weekend. During February there were two diocesan pilgrimages, one to the shrine of Our Lady in Yambou (windward side) and one to the shrine of the first Jesuit martyrs in Barroullie (leeward side).

Dr. Christina Schwindt has returned to her native California after a very productive time of volunteer service here in St. Vincent. She endeared herself to lots of children and parents with her care and attention. She was able to work closely with Sister Hyacinth Bacchus, a nurse who handles the asthma clinic and most asthma patients in the country. Christina profited from Sister's organizational skills, talent and energy and Sister profited from Christina's knowledge, assistance and energy. Christina in two months saw more of St. Vincent and the Grenadines than we have in over a year by visiting all of the government medical clinics to treat patients with asthma. Christina hopes to be able to return to continue her work on asthma as well as with HIV/AIDS patients and issues.

My cousin and her husband visited Barb and me in early February from Slovenia. Stanley and Xenia had visited our home in the Twin Cities a number of years ago (after we had visited them in Slovenia). We played tourist again for a week. The highlight of that week was probably our trip by air to Union Island and then a day of island hopping on a catamaran with stops for swimming and snorkeling and food and drink on board.

Our second grandson, Liam Maier Keffer, was born to Peter and Monique on Jan. 27. Everyone is doing well. Peter has sent us a short video clip of Liam, and Susan and Mary Hitzemann have sent us a number of pictures, all by e-mail. It almost seems like we are there.

I am assisting with the plans for a visit of three representatives from the Harbortown Rotary Club of Duluth, Minn. They wish to explore the possibility of cooperating with one of the local Rotary groups in undertaking some humanitarian project or projects. As expected we have a number of projects that we would like to interest them in, including the Home for Girls, the Bread of Life Community which serves children with HIV/AIDS (and abandoned girls as well at the moment), and a proposed home for the aged. I am looking forward to the visit next week.

Unit II of our Lay Formation program concluded a week ago. Our attendance has fallen off somewhat during this unit, but those who are sticking with it remain interested and supportive of the program. We have about 30 committed, consistent attendees. This unit focused on the New Testament and the Life of Jesus and the skills of theological reflection and conflict management. We have been seeking financial support for this effort. Our proposal to that effect is still being considered by two sources – but they seem to take forever with their review process. Barb and I need to begin thinking not only about Unit III (this year's last unit) but also about how the program will be staffed and implemented next year when we are no longer here in St. Vincent.

The first effort to translate the lay formation program to a format for the Southern Grenadines didn't come off this weekend as planned. Maybe the second one on March 17 will. The program for ushers/ministers of hospitality that I did in late January seemed to go OK. We will be offering workshops for Eucharistic ministers, lectors, ushers and lay presiders during the next month in various locations around the diocese.

My programs dealing with leadership skills for young people from Sandy Bay, Georgetown and Bellevue have been suffering from poor communication, competition from other activities and poor attendance. I have actually gone there on at least two occasions and was not able to conduct the program as planned. I will be trying again after the elections.

I went to Trinidad for a day last week to see the work of the St. Vincent de Paul Society there, especially in the area of homes for the aged. They are doing impressive work and provided me with a lot of information that will be of help to the group, which wants to establish a home for the aged here in St. Vincent. That group meets again on Tuesday of this week.

We're still working on the filing system in the bishop's secretary's office. We got some additional books for the Diocesan Resource Center, so I will need to catalogue them soon. But the most unusual thing that occurred recently was the tent erection party held yesterday. It seems that the Rev. Michael Stewart acquired this very large tent a number of years ago. However, the tent has never been set up and whatever instructions they once had are long gone. I was able to obtain some general instructions for erecting large tents and so organized a group of people to attempt to put it up. In the end we were not able to erect it. We laid it out on the ground, studied it, figured
out how we thought it would go together but opted not to try to set it up because it would have taken us too long and we could have used more people to assist us. For your information (in case you were wondering), this tent is 60 by 120 feet in size and comes in four large sections! I am trying to get some additional instructions since we were able to find a label on the tent itself indicating the manufacturer. Stay tuned!

Our dog, Toby, has become somewhat footloose and fancy free recently. Another dog in the neighborhood taught him how to get out of the yard by jumping over the fence. He may have used to occasion(s) to "sow his wild oats," but he is also finding that living in the wild has its challenges also. He has been beaten up, is losing weight and now has a limp also. I think he is a slow learner, though.

Please keep St. Vincent and us in your prayers as we move through this month before elections.

Charlie Keffer