It has been four years since Jelani St Clair left Saint Lucian shores for educational advancement, even though he says it feels like yesterday. A former student at Saint Mary’s College and Sir Arthur Lewis Community College agricultural division, St Clair always had his mind set on a future in the agricultural industry. His dream is about to come to fruition, thanks to the support of his parents, and the government of Taiwan that made it possible for him to study at the Pingtung University of Science and Technology (Department of Tropical Agriculture and International Cooperation). I took the opportunity to learn more about Jelani while on a week-long visit to the People’s Republic of China (Taiwan).
KW: What’s it been like?
Jelani: The first year was the hardest year because you’re still adjusting, and you miss your family so much. The food is, well, very different from what I’ve been used to. I love my breadfruit and my ground provisions, but here it’s rice, rice, rice.
KW: How did all of this come about?
Jelani: I was so excited when I applied. Then when I got the scholarship with ICDF it hit me. The day before I was scheduled to leave I was like . . . oh my goodness. I’m actually moving! I cried at the airport. I’m not a crier but that day I cried like a baby. My mom, my dad, all of my family came to see me off. And then I arrived in Taiwan and it was like I was in a dream. Everything was so different.
KW: What for you was the most striking difference?
Jelani: I mean, here I was so far away from everything and everything I was used to. But I’d never felt so safe. And I remember thinking, ‘How sad!’ In Taiwan I walked around and never once felt in danger, regardless of the time. Crime is relatively nonexistent here. No one is going to rob you. You can actually leave your key in your scooter, and no one will steal it. Just park anywhere. Once, I lost my wallet and somebody brought it back to me. My money was untouched; so were my documents. It used to be like that in Saint Lucia.
KW: Support in Taiwan?
Jelani: When I first arrived here the Saint Lucian Embassy hadn’t yet been established. The ICDF members picked me up at the airport, took me to campus, took good care of me. But it’s great having the Saint Lucian Embassy; they’re very active. The ambassador is very friendly and down to earth. Sometimes we have Saint Lucian activities in the north and in the south. For Independence we had a special fete. A lot of the Saint Lucians attended. So did some other nationalities.
KW: Most valuable lesson so far learned?
Jelani: To value my time. When you leave your homeland to study in another country you miss those special moments with your family—and that taught be to be so much more appreciative of them.
KW: How has it been with your studies?
Jelani: As you know, I’m studying agriculture. But my major is in aquaculture. I’m actually using giant African snails to make feed for shrimp in my final experiment. I’m hoping we can use that back home instead of just killing them; they have a very high protein content!
KW: Would you encourage more Saint Lucians to pursue agriculture?
Jelani: Most definitely. When I left SMC and decided I wanted to go to the Department of Agriculture at SALCC, a lot of people discouraged the idea. Most of them advised me to think of being something else: a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer. There’s that stigma still attached to agriculture even after all these years. But my parents were so encouraging, so supportive. I would say to my fellow Saint Lucians that there’s a lot about modern agriculture that makes it more than worth pursuing. For a start it would help us feed ourselves.
KW: Anything you want to add to that?
Jelani: When I came here I really understood the full scope of plant breeding, plant pathology, animal science. You can be a vet; there’s meat production; there’s so much you can do by just studying agriculture. I think we need to step away from the notion that agriculture is for poor people with nothing better to do. Or that farmers are uneducated and farming is dirty work. We really need agriculture in Saint Lucia. It made me sad to discover while researching for a presentation that our food import bill is around $400 million; we export around $40,000. I got that last year from the government’s website. I mean, how embarrassing! We’re such a small country; we should be able to produce for ourselves. In Taiwan they take agriculture so seriously, I wish we could follow their example!
Update: Jelani St Clair graduated from the Pingtung University of Science and Technology in July as a top performer in his division. He received an award for Academic Excellence from the University.