Connecting the Caribbean Community at the Durham Caribbean Festival

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BY EMILY SINGH

The sun was out and the music was pumping as the Durham Caribbean Festival kicked off at Ajax Downs on Saturday. This fun filled family day was just one of the many exciting events that took place during Ajax Caribbean Week which ran from June 20th to June 27th.  The official proclamation was made on Monday inside the Ajax Council Chambers and was followed by a special VIP reception at Rum Diaries.

The Durham Caribbean Festival lived up to its reputation of being the largest Caribbean Festival of its kind in the Durham region. An assortment of vendors meant that there was a little something there for everyone to enjoy. Food vendors were serving up everything from traditional carnival eats such as french fries and hot dogs to mouth-watering dishes with a Caribbean kick to them like the jerk chicken poutine, which was a hit amongst the crowd. Other amazing food options included chicken foot soup, mango chow, jerk chicken and rice, roasted corn on the cob, doubles, salad and much more.

The entertainment was nothing short of lively as the main stage featured live Reggae, Soca, Hip Hop, R&B, Gospel and Salsa. The Destiny Band did not disappoint as they hit the stage as Curtis B had the entire crowd on their feet dancing.

This was surely a family event as it catered for a wide audience including the little ones! The festival featured carnival games, prizes, pony rides, cotton candy, popcorn and of course bouncy castles.

One of the greatest things that can come from festivals such as this one is the sense of community awareness it creates. It is a chance to educate the public on pressing issues that exist within the community. One issue that is greatly in need of dire attention is blood and stem cell donation. The Canadian Blood Services along with The Gerdine Graham Foundation were on site to talk about the importance of getting swabbed and how one person can truly save lives.

“In the summer time we are always in need of more blood donors. We have the one match stem cell and marrow network which is the Canadian registry for the potential stem cell donors. We currently have about 328 thousand registrants here in Canada,” says Char Herons. “Right now as we sit here today we have thirty-one patients from the black Caribbean community who are in need of a transplant and are looking for their matching donor. “

The numbers speak for themselves with less than one percent of registrants coming from the black Caribbean community. In terms of blood donation one person has the power to save up to approximately three lives. Individuals over the age of seventeen and are in good general health are eligible to donate and save lives.

Marcia A. Tulloch and Delroy Graham founded the Gerdine Graham Foundation on October 25th, 2015.  This special foundation was established to remember and honor those who have lost their lives to blood related cancers. This organization strives to educate and empower the community through raising awareness about the importance of blood, stem cell and bone marrow donation amongst the Caribbean community.

On March 3rd, 2016 Davey Rochester lost his cancer battle to Adult T-Cell Leukemia Lymphoma. Rochester was in dire need of a stem cell transplant in order to save his life. Unfortunately, he was unable to receive one and his memory is what pushes the Gerdine Graham Foundation to continue to raise awareness about stem cell donation. Davey’s passing will not go in vain, instead it will serve as a reminder as to how real the issue is and encourage the community to step up and make a difference.

“When the Davey Rochester story broke we saw the need to increase awareness and increase blood, stem cell and bone marrow donation in the community,” says Tulloch.

This amazing one of a kind festival could not have been possible without the support of business sponsors such as: OLG Slots at Ajax Downs, Grace, Island Mix, Hilton Garden Inn, Veridian Connections, Foster Kia, Stevenson’s Rental Service and the presenting sponsor of this incredible festival, Jamaica National International Money Transfer, to name a few.  Of course we cannot forget the media sponsors who judging by the turn out did an amazing job in promoting the festival and spreading the word in and around the Caribbean community. These sponsors were: The Durham Citizen, Caribbean Vibrations, Pride, G98.7, Caribbean Headline News, NVP ITV, Nikki Clarke and last but not least ByBlacks. This festival was meant to not only showcase the beauty, diversity and cultures of the Caribbean but also to unite the community as a whole. It is important to recognize the community sponsors who helped to make the festival a success such as: The Kerry Lee Love Project, Inspired by Coco, Drum Artz, WI Shipping Services Inc. and SKD Bilingual Child Care Centre amongst many others.

As Ajax Caribbean Week wraps up we look forward to next year’s festivities as we celebrate the beauty and rich culture that is the Caribbean.

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