On Friday 20th January 2006 the Caribbean Conference of Churches (CCC) warmly welcomed the new Ambassador of Panama to its General Secretariat in Port of Spain. This was the Ambassador's first official visit to the CCC.
His Excellency, Ambassador Gerardo Maloney, was first greeted by CCCs' General Secretary, Mr. Gerard Granado, following which he held a short meeting with the General Secretary and other members of CCC's Staff Executive Group (SEG) - Ms. Allison Bidaisee, Associate General Secretary (Ag.) Organisational Development, Planning and Administration; and Rev. Dr. Knolly Clarke, Associate General Secretary (Ag.) Ecumenical Relations and Theological Affairs.
In welcoming Ambassador Maloney to the General Secretariat, Mr. Granado expressed the CCC's commitment to strengthening cultural ties with Panama and other Central American countries where the CCC's membership is located.
The General Secretary emphasized that the question of culture as an integral part of development is a major focus of the CCC's desk for International Relations and Cultural Affairs.
Previously a professor of sociology at the University of Panama before his ambassadorial appointment, Ambassador Maloney has a deep interest in the area of culture.
It was also noted by the General Secretary that Ambassador Maloney was instrumental in co-ordinating the cultural extravaganza at the CCC 7 th General Assembly which was held in June of 2005 in Panama City, Panama.
After introduction of the staff of the General Secretariat, a DVD giving an overview of the organisation's work was viewed by Ambassador Maloney and CCC Staff.
This sparked quite a lively conversation between the Ambassador and the Staff. His Excellency indicated that he looked forward to working with the CCC whose role in Caribbean development he is well aware of.
He also expressed interest in collaborating with the CCC in the areas of social justice and moral re-awakening which he emphasized is of critical importance to the development of the region at this time.
In this regard, he felt a deep sense of importance being at the CCC discussing ways for continued collaboration.
Ambassador Maloney further added that he saw great possibility for collaboration in many of CCC's programmes including Disaster Management - Mitigation, Preparedness and Response, Drug Demand and Reduction and Crime.
Regarding the issue of crime, His Excellency shared the success of a UNESCO-sponsored programme in Jamaica for inner-city boys who were trained in acting and drama and were also exposed to the technical aspects of that industry such as lighting and camera operation.
The result, he added, was a sense of empowerment as they produced films about their own life stories. Continuing in this vein, Mr. Granado informed His Excellency of the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the CCC and UNICEF Regional Office on November 15, 2005.
This MOU seeks to promote collaboration between the two organisations as they work together for the rights and protection of the youth of the Caribbean region.
Such programmes, the General Secretary added, would fall under the ambit of CCC's Family Life, Youth and Gender Affairs Programme currently coordinated by Programme Officer, Karen Ambo-Christiani.
The Ambassador also shared some of his personal history and ties with the Caribbean region noting that while he was born in Panama, his first language being Spanish, both of his parents are from English-speaking Caribbean territories, namely Barbados and Jamaica.
Against this background His Excellency also gave some insight into programmes which, as the new Ambassador, he hopes to initiate.
These would include exchanges of one-hour television programme segments, initially beamed to Panama and vice versa, starting with Trinidad and Tobago . The goal however, is to broadcast throughout the region.
Such programmes would assist in the integration of the Spanish language into the English-speaking Caribbean thereby helping to break the language barrier and uniting the region.
Mr. Granado supported this plan by saying, "We don't wish to let another generation pass with these language barriers."
Further to this, Ambassador Maloney also spoke of plans currently underway for the development of a language center in Panama.
This is with a view to having Caribbean people going to Panama to study Spanish. At this point the CCC Staff were gently quizzed on their Spanish skills as Mr. Granado indicated that as part of the organisation's staff development programme one of the languages being studied by various staff persons was Spanish.
In his closing statements to CCC's management and staff, Ambassador Maloney said that: "I wish to let all at the CCC know that at the Embassy of Panama you always have a friend."
This was received with lusty applause from the CCC Staff who returned the heart-felt sentiments.