President David Granger: Thank you. A, B, C, D, it’s an honour to be here again. You know, I’ve been here before and I’ll keep coming back. You just produce a lot more Hamiltons’ and I’ll keep coming back.
First of all, thank you very much for this history of your community. We’re going to make some money out of this, I’ll tell you how later on.
Secondly, I’d like to thank the two girls who welcomed me at the bridge and here they are. Thank you for your warm welcome. Third, I’d like to thank the Hamilton Awards Committee for inviting me to be here this afternoon among you and I’d like to thank our President’s College Band; they played for me two weeks ago when I was at their graduation ceremony so I’m happy to see you here again. And thank you Ann’s Grove, thank you Two Friends; nobody calls Two Friends, right, everybody just says ABCD. What about T? ABCD… T?
Mr. Chairman, Justice Nandram Kissoon; Mr. Vincent Alexander, Mr. Osborne Mason, members of the Hamilton family, the Awards Committee and particularly Lisa herself; principal of Queens College, villagers – this is a special day for you. It is a special day for Guyana and my being here is a confirmation of the faith that we place in education; it’s a confirmation of the importance of education to the future of our country.
Pastor Noel Holder knows that I was up here for the anniversary of Ebenezer. There are two Ebenezers: East Coast Ebenezer and West Coast Ebenezer, but West Coast Ebenezer is at Den Amstel, I think, and I had put together some notes on Ann’s Grove, Two Friends and I’m sure that this will supplement my own notes, but I believe that he may have a copy of a magazine that I usedto publish in an earlier incarnation. But it’s important to know as we speak, it’s important to remember, it’s important to tap into the pride, it’s important to tap into the enthusiasm and the love that you have here for your community.
This village, this community, at least Two Friends and Ann’s Grove, was bought 156 years ago by 76 persons, 76 men. I’m sure it’s here (indicates documentation)…. The transport for this village was passed on the 5thof May 1849 and let me tell you this; it is out of respect for you, for people like you and villages like this, that last week Saturday, the 7thof November 2015, for the first time was declared National Day of Villages in Guyana.
When I was in the Opposition, a motion was brought before the National Assembly and the resolution was passed calling on the then Government to declare the 7th of November as the National Day for Villages. Well, it wasn’t declared then, it wasn’t declared in 2013, it wasn’t declared in 2014, but things have changed now.
So from now on, the 7th of November (it’s not a holiday), the 7th of November will be known as National Day for Villages and that is a reflection of the respect I have for villages in this country. I see Mr. Desmond Saul there looking at me under his glasses; he comes from Victoria and he knows why I chose the 7thof November. But, today we don’t want a village fight because when I said that Victoria is the first village, Queenstown said,“uh-uh, it’s not the first village”; Bagotville said,“I am the first village”; Litchfield said,“I am the first village”; next thing you know Buxton say they are the first village. So I don’t get involved in village politics. I get involved with national politics.
So 7thof November will be the day of all villages: A, B, C, D, E, F right down to Z.
But I did so not because I am a student of history -I don’t call myself a historian – I’m a student of history, but it was named National Day for Villages not because of the past but because of the future and Lisa is the future. Lisa is the face of the future. What happened a hundred and fifty-six years ago was of seminal importance, but a lot has happened over that century and a half which has made us very unhappy. Some of our villages have become dormitories where people go to sleep. In the morning, everybody catching minibus to go to town or gone somewhere else.
One speaker said, I think it was Vincent, he said, “it takes a village to bring up a child”. Another speaker spoke about the dropouts; it means that the village is not doing the work. If the village is supposed to bring up the children and you still have dropouts it means that something has gone wrong, something is missing and that is what we hope to correct by having this idea of a National Day of Villages, so that the villages….
(Long ago was wild cane you know, see how all day children playing noisy outside, nowadays you can’t have corporal punishment, you have to have what they call in the GDF ‘sergeant punishment’).
Yes, my brothers and sisters, I am concerned about villages because when Vincent said, “it takes a village to bring up a child” he was right. There was a time when you were afraid to skulk. There was a time when you couldn’t stay away from school because this village is made of up aunties and uncles. ‘Boy, you should be in school!’ and you start to run. Nowadays a man liming, playing games, playing cards, drinking Guinness, he’s not going to school.
I meet some of them in this same village. They try to get out of school as quickly as possible and go to Aranka. Remember the minibus – “God bless Aranka”? You laugh? You know I’d be here but things have changed in Aranka now, a lot of people coming back and they now realize that gold is not the answer; the answer is something that Lisa discovered, and let us speak a little bit about that, because our village economies have started to get very wobbly.
In these villages 50 years ago, nobody was hungry; the backdam was full of vegetables and provisions, fruit trees in abundance. People couldn’t take off the food that came out of these villages: genips, mangoes, cherry, dasheen, plantain, cassava, you name it and these villages came out every Friday and Saturday by the markets were thriving, but what has happened?
The villages have become dormitories, people going down to town to work in the security services; they want to become police, civil servants and they come home seven o’clock at night to sleep; wake up next morning, they gone down to town and nobody’s producing the food that used to feed these villages, nobody’s providing the leadership that used to make these villages the cradle of democracy. These same villages, all of our greatest politicians of a generation ago came from villages, but things have changed, and that is why I want to capture the spirit of villages in that National Day for Villages.
I’m coming to you Lisa, just now. Don’t worry with all this village talk; I’m coming to your excellence, but right now we are talking about the village that created you.
I do believe that every child should be in school, every, single child should be in school. And that is why on my birthday last July I told people, don’t give me frankincense, give me school boats, but now I’ve extended from school boats to school buses and from buses to bicycles – so it’s the ‘three Bs’: Boats, Buses and Bicycles – but every child must get to school when day come. I don’t want to hear that children can’t get to school because they don’t have minibus fare. A whole generation came up without minibus fare and they got into school; they walked and they rode bicycle.
Those in the Pomeroon must get boats, those who’re living far away must get school buses, those who’re closer must be able to ride a bicycle to get to school. I’m very happy that people are coming along; businessmen are coming along, providing one of those ‘three Bs’. The important thing is that every child must get to school, and some children don’t have anything to eat in the morning. We must give them breakfast, another ‘B’; give them something to eat in the morning and they must get shoes, they must get footwear, they must get uniforms and they must get school books.
Sometimes I go around this country – and I’ve been around this country, every single region -and there’s one place in Region Nine in Rupununi, at Parishara; I was there at three o’clock on a Friday afternoon and the children were coming out of school and I don’t think two of them had shoes on. Y’all won’t tolerate that in Ann’s Grove, you won’t tolerate it in Kildonan and you won’t tolerate it in Georgetown, and I won’t tolerate it in Parishara.
What I’m saying is that we have to look after children; we have to make sure that they can get to school in the first place, so that we produce not one – because it’s about a quarter million children in this country, school children – we need thousands and thousands of ‘Lisas’, not just one. One is good for Ann’s Grove, but I am President of a whole country; there are lots of Ann’s Groves and every village must be able to produce scholars of excellence, scholars of quality.
When does a child’s education start? Anybody knows? It starts a hundred years ago. I think you heard it already this evening; the time to educate a child is a hundred years go. It sounds like a paradox but sometimes when you see your child drop out of school, you see a child can’t speak properly, a child getting involved in criminal activities; well look for his mother, look for her father and then you see why the child is behaving like that. Children don’t behave like that because is ‘just so deh stay’; they learn the behaviour from elders. So when you see a child misbehaving, look to see what that child’s mother or father is doing or what that child’s grandfather and grandmother were doing. The time to start educating a child is a hundred years ago and the values from the grandparents will be transmitted to the parents and will be transmitted to the child.
So sometimes you see children misbehaving it might be too late because that child has been learning that behaviour for 10, 15 or 20 years and the child believes that that is the way to behave. So what we see happening is a vicious cycle in which poorly educated parents produce poorly educated children and we have to break that cycle. We have to break that cycle; we’re going to talk about that just now.
There is something called hereditary poverty and when you see a child begging on the street in Georgetown, or elsewhere, or in the market, again, look to see what that child’s mother or father is doing and you’ll see why that child is begging. The mother is probably poor and her mother is probably poor and that child is poor and that child’s child will be poor. That’s what I call hereditary poverty and we have to break the cycle and that is why it’s so important that we overcome the problems of poverty, because a poor child is very likely not to go to school because he or she has nothing to eat, or the mother gone to work at some security firm six o’clock in the morning and the child skylarking. And the way to do it is by removing inequalities and giving every child opportunities. Lisa, okay she has gone to a good school but there is only one QC. There is only one PC. Forty years ago they had five top schools; now we they still have five top schools. There should be fifty; there should be a top school in every region. You have to expand; you have to enlarge the number of top schools in the country so every child in this country could get access to a top school.
And it is not only the top school, it is also what happens in church or the masjid or the mandir. It is also what happens in the home and most of all it is what happens in the village. Not in Aranka, Aranka won’t save you, but what will save you is this, and I’d like to propose to Ann’s Grove because I’m now in a position which I can help people who want to help themselves. Hear me good, you know. I didn’t stop by saying I want to help people. I want to help people who are prepared to help themselves.
When I was speaking at the Education Rally in Georgetown during Education Month, I repeated something that I heard from the lips of Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and it’s advice I’ll give to Lisa, advice I’ll give to all Guyanese. He said, “Usain Bolt doesn’t stop running at 50 metres, you know. Usain Bolt don’t stop running at 50 metres, you have to finish the course”. And Lisa is not going to stop at CSEC or CAPE she has to go on, but for her to go on; we need to strengthen the villages. Not just the school system, that’s an institutional response that has to be done, that is necessary, but it’s not sufficient because a lot of the delinquency and truancy takes place right here in the streets of these villages. The pressure that your peers exert: ‘Why you wasting yuh time with CSEC and CAPE and all that? Become a trader and get rich! Look at me teeth, you see? This is real gold and I ain’t got no CSEC, I ain’t got no CAPE. Greenbacks, like Granger shirt’.
But what I would like to propose is that in every, single village of this country, every village, we set up some Village Trust; a registered trust, with a bank account and I am going to put money into that Trust.
I know Pastor Noel Holder is here. I know sometimes he is looking forward to a good collection, but you know sometimes it is like this is El Niño. I don’t know how people say this is nice weather. This is El Niño, we’re in a drought, and sometimes collection is like a drought too. But I am prepared to put money into every Village Education Scholarship Trust and my friend from Victoria knows that V. E. S. T because it is something we discussed ten years ago, but the village has to accept some responsibility. Lisa didn’t drop out of the sky you know, she didn’t come from the clouds; she came from the grassroots.
And I want every village to make sure that their children go to school, every day, not some days. This VEST is important to me and I’ll help to the limit of my resources. The people at President’s College could tell you, I even cut the grass and fixed the bridge. Not true? You hear? True, true story. President is getting the grass cut, but the schools are important that is where the children go to learn. They must see clean environment. They must have laboratories. They must have toilets that flush. They must have teachers. They must have furniture.
Mr. Alexander is here, he is going to look after the infrastructure but what I want is that you the parents, the village leaders; village mothers and fathers, would take responsibility and the moment you come with that registration stating that Ann’s Grove ABCDE – whatever you call it- is a registered Trust or friendly society and you have a bank account, I am going to put some money in there. I’m going to put some seed money, so that it can start to grow.
President David Granger: Don’t clap too long, I didn’t ring anything tonight, but I have to see…that the fund will be properly administered. This is something for you, tonight you are here to celebrate one of your daughters, her success, and I’m making this proposal to you so that among yourselves you can see which children are underprivileged or disadvantaged, sometimes they may have an ailment, a wheelchair to get them to school, sometimes they may have a learning disability. Their parents might be too poor; they don’t have breakfast in the morning, but you have to take responsibility, you didn’t hear it from me, you heard it from the big shots; it takes a village to bring up a child. Well, you are the village, bring up your children; accept responsibility for them.
So, let us start this November with this Village Education Scholarship Trust, call it what you like, you don’t have to call it VEST; It doesn’t have to be VEST. But what I want to see is that your children must be given access to education and I think once that happens, you can get them to school; the Ministry of Education will look after the teachers and the other requirements for education.
So we are at a stage, my brothers and sisters, in which we have to accept that this country cannot move forward without education. Every day we are faced with problems and one of the biggest problems that we are faced with is, apart from the educational deficit, is that you and your grandparents inherited a country of 215,000 km² and since 1966, 49 years ago, the Venezuelans have been in occupation of 7 km² of that 215,000 km²; that is, the island of Ankoko. And we have a challenge, we have been attacked by gun boats from the East, we have been attacked by gun boats from the West (is a good thing we have a land border with Brazil; they don’t attack us) but the point I’m making is that we have to safeguard our territory or else people like Lisa wouldn’t have any territory to come back to when ‘she go pun she scholarship’. We have to protect this territory, it is our patrimony.
And we here don’t really own Guyana, we are trustees; we have to pass it on to the next generation and we can’t drop the ball. I hear some man say he want to give them a corridor, a corridor to where? Not one cuirass, not a blade of grass. If he comes in this village tell him that; don’t give away anything.This is the best country in the English-speaking Caribbean. It is the biggest country, it is the most beautiful country and now that we’re cutting down grass and bush in Georgetown people are saying,“This place really nice, you know”. And if we are to inherit this country, if we are to make Guyanese proud of this country, we have to take possession of it from the grassroots level….And we’re all afraid of catastrophe and when I look at education, I see catastrophe. I see school dropouts and every month now about 500 children drop out of school, maybe Mr. Alexander could check the statistics because the statistics vary. When I first started paying attention to the dropout rates it was one per hour, everyday, 24 children were dropping out of school, from primary and secondary school in this country. True, true true story; I don’t make up stories. I’m not Gocool you know. I could count straight). But the dropout rate has been reduced, but children are still migrating.
I remember yesterday I was sitting on the tarmac, Mr. Alexander was there on the tarmac there in Turkeyen; 1500 young people graduated. The statistics show that four out of five graduates migrate from this country; in other words, once the statistics are correct, again don’t quote me I may be out of date; 1200 of those 1500 will be planning to migrate not to return, that is a catastrophe for me.
We want to develop this country, this same 215,000 km². Who will develop it, the Venezuelans…? The Surinamese…? “Is ah we dis, is ah we.” I need engineers. I need geologists. I need scientists. I need mathematicians, if we are to develop this country, and that is what I told the young graduates of President’s College week before the last. When I went there, yes; I went to the classroom; yes I went to the dormitories, but I paid special attention to the laboratories. Right now President’s College has Wi-Fi, you know that? You all don’t know that? You all have Wi-Fi? President’s College has Wi-Fi, not because I’m President that President’s College alone must have Wi-Fi, I believe that every school should have Wi-Fi. If you go in a hospital you must have Wi-Fi, you go to the post office you must have Wi-Fi, you get lock up you must have Wi-Fi.
I do believe that access to the information super highway is an entitlement, that you are entitled to be able to communicate. I have suffered for it. I have suffered for that too. When I was campaigning, once you pass Lethem, you pass St. Ignatius; you can’t speak to anybody. Spend two, three days in the Savannah, no cell phone contact, no television, no radio, no nothing. There are huge parts of our country that are out of touch, here perhaps you could pick up your cell phone and speak to your son fighting in Afghanistan, but you can’t speak to Aishalton.
There is a story I always tell about the people in Region Two. There is a place named Karawab, you can’t get cell phone contact unless you climb a coconut tree. So when I go into Pomeroon, I always tell them, “look when you buy a cell phone buy a coconut tree too”. But we are being left behind; behind Barbados and Trinidad because our people cannot use the internet because they don’t have access.
Somebody in Aishalton or Achiwuib or Whitewater can’t come down to UG to attend classes; they can do that if they have some form of distance education. Post graduate students are doing their Master’s degree by distance education. I would like to see our own Guyanese students in Wismar and Christianburg and Kwakwani doing their university degrees by distance education. I know there is a teacher in Campbellville right now, she runs classes; extra class, extra lessons and somebody from Canada is teaching the children science by Skype.
You cannot educate children without modern technology and that is what is in that green box for Ms. Lisa Hamilton. That green box you see there is something to help her to get through the rest of her education, right Lisa? And it is not a Christmas present, but the point I’m making is that we have to take education seriously at every single level and that is why I look to you, the villagers of Ann’s Grove, Two Friends, Beehive, Clonbrook and all of the villages of Guyana to take control of the education system and help us to produce a generation of which every single child is in school.
I’ve come here with a great deal of hope for the residents of this community, a great deal of respect for Ann’s Grove, for you, for what your parents and foreparents have gone through for the last hundred and fifty-six years. We want to ensure that the majority of the people of Guyana, and the majority of people of Guyana still live in villages; Amerindian villages, Indian villages, African villages, all Guyanese villages. The majority of Guyanese people live in villages, not in Georgetown and New Amsterdam and Linden, they live in villages still and I would like to invite you today – I haven’t just come here to congratulate Lisa and say, “well done” – I have come here to encourage you to take control of the education system right here in this village.
By setting up this V.E.S.T, by approaching me for some seed money, and approaching your Diaspora too because I’m sure that all of you have relatives somewhere in North America… As I often say, Guyana is a nation divided into two halves, half living in North America, half living in South America; seven hundred and fifty thousand living in Guyana and a million living in North America. Canada alone has three hundred and fifty thousand and we have to bring the two sides together, the North American Guyanese and the South American Guyanese so that we can work together to take control of this country to make sure that our children get the best possible education.
Right now the situation is far from normal. I have said it before, and those of you who heard it before might say, ‘this man with the same old story’ but I will repeat it, too many of our youngsters are starting their primary education at the Onderneeming ‘primary school’, too many of them are leaving the Onderneeming ‘primary school’ to go to the Camp Street ‘secondary’and those who matriculate from Camp Street are going to the ‘university’ of Mazaruni.
Too many of our young people are spending their entire lives in the penal system; wasted lives, drive up and down this Coast during the day, from around 10 o’clock in the morning to 2 o’clock in the afternoon; see young people out of school not working, not producing, not studying. We have to turn that around and the Government cannot do it on its own, we need your help and I hope that this initiative, the V.E.S.T initiative, will help to give every villager that sense of responsibility to make sure that every child gets into school.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, residents of Ann’s Grove, Two Friends and other neighbouring villages; we are here to celebrate the success of Lisa Hamilton. We are here to congratulate her personally and to thank her parents and her relatives as well as the other persons who supported her.
[President speaks to Ms. Hamilton]. Which House are you in, by the way? Austin House? I thought it was Moulder House. Some people go into Austin House; the people who can’t get into Austin House, go into Moulder House.
We are here to congratulate her; it is not easy to achieve what she has achieved. She has worked hard and she deserves to be rewarded and congratulated. But this is an opportunity; it is not a victory for her.We don’t expect to see her driving round in a car saying, but why you driving? ‘Man you know I pass CAPE man.’
She knows that like Usain Bolt, she cannot stop running at 50 metres she has to keep on keeping on. So let us give her encouragement. I will do the best at my level, I believe that there were some issues to be resolved, I don’t know if they have been resolved as yet. Well, they will be resolved. What can’t be resolved before the 11th May will be resolved after the 11th May, a promise is a promise and I am not going to break Lisa’s heart. So this is why we are here; we are here to celebrate Guyana, we are here to celebrate the future, and I close by saying that Lisa Hamilton is the face of the future.
May God bless Ann’s Grove, Two Friends, Beehive, Dochfour, Clonbrook, Parishara, Achiwuib, Kildonan, and Anna Regina!
May God bless Guyana!
May God bless you all!