Jamaicans are adventurous, they are explorers, never afraid of trying something new including living in a totally different environment from their island home. In fact, Jamaicans can be found on every continent. Australia is a perfect example. This massive land mass is home to some 4,000-5,000 Jamaicans including those born in Jamaica and those who claim its ancestry. So, how do we find these Jamaicans who proudly maintain and share their culture?
Meet Dr. Stephanie Fletcher-Lartey, PhD. Born in Bamboo in the garden parish of St. Ann, a product of St. Hilda’s High School in Browns Town, a graduate of the West Indies School of Public Health who went on to become a successful Public Health Inspector in Jamaica. Today Dr. Fletcher-Lartey is an epidemiologist and has been in Sydney Australia since 2009. And, as the founding member of the Jamaican Association of Australia she flies the flag high.
“We launched on Jamaica's 50th independence and one of the impetus for the launching of the Association was really to keep the culture alive,” Fletcher-Lartey explained.
“The Jamaican culture needed gatekeepers. On various levels, we needed it for ourselves, for our children. People were worried that we didn't have anything for our children to connect with what's happening in the community that identifies being Jamaican, not just Caribbean or West Indian. We believe we have something very precious and we wanted to preserve brand Jamaica. So, the Association was born.” she added.
Having completed her Masters of Public Health with distinction at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Fletcher-Lartey Arrived in Australia to pursue a PhD after receiving a full scholarship from a local university. Today, as an accomplished Public Health Epidemiologist and Researcher living and working in Australia, this Jamaican-Australian proudly maintains her roots.
“I'm one of the real true blue Jamaican-born here, and mi stick wid mi nice proppa proppa patwa.”
As an articulate, outgoing, and strong Jamaican, Fletcher-Lartey had no major problems assimilating into Australian society. In fact, the Australians she encountered were friendly, inquisitive, and welcoming. She did, however, feel isolated as a student on this vast continent. Because there weren’t many people from the Caribbean on campus outside of the few black people from Africa or the random African-American, it was a lonely start. So what did she do — start to hunt for Jamaicans.
LANGUAGE OF JAMAICA
Jamaica is well known around the world, and it is no different in Australia. But, what truly connects this continent to the island is cricket, Australia’s favorite sport. Jamaican/Caribbean cricketers such as Michael Holding, Jimmy Adams, and Viv Richards are household names in Australia, as are Jamaica’s women’s netball teams. And of course, reggae music is the ‘language’ of Jamaica. All of these things are conversation starters when Australians realize they are in the presence of a Jamaican.
“Jamaica has a very big name as you would imagine, because we are always punching way above our weight,” said Fletcher-Lartey.
But, no matter how welcoming your new community is, there are always adjustments and growing pains having been uprooted from the familiar.
“When I started my PhD in 2009 it was quite challenging to adapt at first. Being far away from home, I didn't have many friends or any kind of support system. And I was broke most of the times. consider I was coming from quite a senior role in Jamaica, so coming here on a student stipend, it was a huge adjustment for me. So, as part of that process I experienced things that were uncomfortable.”
Fletcher-Lartey recounted how she felt overwhelmed and depressed. It was these feelings that reawakened her creative spirit. The student started writing poetry and songs about her experiences and has since published about 15 songs, with a substantial following on YouTube.
“My first song, which is called 'Don't Give Up’ is a reggae song. And I chose to do it in reggae because I wanted my first song to represent me.”
This multi-talented Jamaican is well respected in the scientific and academic communities in Australia, and worldwide, as she continues to conduct research and present findings at international conferences. As the visionary at the Australian-based ARETE Research Global Pty Ltd, a company focused on research, policy, and practice in environmental health, disease surveillance, and emergency management, Fletcher-Lartey is a key voice in international health. But just as important, she is a Jamaican working to make sure the culture stays vibrant in a land far from home.
“We've been partnering quite a lot with the Embassy of Jamaica in Japan, which covers Australia and New Zealand, to host some community-based events that focuses on buying property, how to apply for a passport, how to connect with some of the big organisations like the Registrar General department, citizenship and immigration status,” the epidemiologist explained.
Fletcher-Lartey noted that there are also Jamaican representatives across the different Australian states who work together to host similar events in their communities.
Her recent election as the Regional Representative for the Asia and Pacific region on the Global Jamaica Diaspora Council builds on that connection. This role means she represents Jamaicans across the region through the Jamaican embassies in Japan, China, and India, adding the voices of Jamaicans in more than 20 countries these embassies represent.
“I am flying the Jamaican flag with great pride. I absolutely enjoy every opportunity I get to talk about Jamaica and to share, whether it's a song, a Miss Lou poem, or through my work.”
For more about Dr. Stephanie Fletcher-Lartey, visit: https://linktr.ee/stephjewels100