His Excellency, President David Granger: Thank you Mrs. Clarissa Riehl, Chairperson. It’s very dangerous to deliver a feature address at a luncheon – the two don’t go together. It’s either one or the other but I am very happy to be here. Mrs. Pamela Ramsaroop, Eddie Boyer, Thurston Riehl, David and Marilyn, the musical couple, and all the other distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
Mr. Ramsaroop was quite right to say this is my first official visit to this institution as President, and it is not my last. I’ll be back; so you can look out for that. The Chairperson was also right. This is my fourth engagement for the day, and if I recall the first one, I was at her old church where she met me. I know she was awake at midnight at Christ Church where I was baptized seventy years ago and since then I’ve had some other engagements. So it’s very important for me to be here.
I don’t know how long I’ll be able to spend because I have other engagements too. My family might wonder if I’ve migrated if they don’t see me. But it’s good to be here, good to be among you and good to hear the report from Mrs. Ramsaroop about the status and the situation of this important institution.
I think every Guyanese that has grown up here has heard of the Dharm Shala, hearing about all of the Ramsaroop family. It is an institution that is more than an institution; it is a part of Guyana’s history, it is part of Guyanese hospitality, it is a part of our sharing and caring and I don’t know if there is any other institution that so manifests the spirit of Christmas than Clarissa Riehl spoke about just now as this institution, the Dharm Shala.
It’s not about the partying, it’s not about drinking, and it’s not about the 2 a.m. curfew. It is all about the goodness of Christ, it’s all about charity, it’s all about peace, it’s all about goodwill; and throughout the years the Dharm Shala has been about peace and goodwill and I commit myself to increase the subvention to the Dharm Shala to enable them to continue to do this excellent service – perform this excellent service they have been performing not only to Georgetown but to Guyanese all over the country.
I have been very busy, as the Chairperson said. I have been up the Canje Creek, I have been up the Pomeroon, I have been up the Akawini Creek and I’ve got some more creeks to go up before the first of January. There are many communities scattered all over this country that do not get the same opportunities as people on the coastland get. You go to schools and you see children barefoot, you see children with rotting teeth, you see children without sufficient teachers in their classrooms. In one village there are two hundred and forty children at the school and only four teachers and there is only one school in the community, a primary school and that is what happens.
The result is that many of our citizens get left behind because they do not get an opportunity to go to school. It is not that they’re stupid, they do not get an opportunity to go to school; and that is why two days ago, I was once again in the Pomeroon River and I took delivery of another school boat. When my birthday came in July, I was given the first boat as a birthday present and over the last five months I’ve gotten five boats. So that can’t be too bad. It means that more children can get to school and I am very confident that the more children we can get to school, the more qualified they will be, the less unemployed they will be in this country and we’ll all be able to enjoy that good life.
We feel that by getting children to school we remove the inequalities that make some people very poor and make some people very rich. So that is part of my programme and I hope that, in this institution, some of that additional money that will be coming your way in 2016 will be used to encourage persons regardless of their age to remain in employment or to enter and re-enter the world of employment and also the world of education.
We never stop learning, we never stop learning and, regardless of how old you are, there is always something to learn, there is always something to do; so do not feel that when you enter this institution or when you pass the age of fifty or sixty or seventy, as I have passed, that your employment has come to an end, your occupation has come to an end. I became President for the first time at age seventy; what about you?
So I’ve come to bring a message of hope to you, and as I have told other groups, I am prepared to help people who are prepared to help themselves and the Dharm Shala has been helping people for over two decades; and I am prepared to help because they are helping not themselves but you; and I will do the best I could from my limited resources. So my message is short, and as I said, it’s dangerous. I’ve found in a lot of occupations to speak to long before lunch and I would just like to emphasize the mission of this institution. It is not just about charity, it’s not just about generosity. It’s also about your spiritual growth, it’s about your becoming full citizens of Guyana and in this regard I would just like to close by reminding you – because as I look around this room it seems that there are many people just about my age that is over fifty – anybody here not over fifty?
Well, as you know back in 1966, forty-nine years ago our country gained independence. At that time unfortunately we had just come out of something called The Disturbances, something I hope that no other generation would have to witness, something I wish we could all forget and that is why next year, 26th of May, is so important to me because it is a moment in time of healing, it is a time for coming together, it’s a time for showing what Guyana, with its abundant resources, could do.
Some of you don’t realize that we are the biggest, most beautiful, most bountiful country in the whole English speaking Caribbean. There’s no other country like Guyana. If you put all the Caribbean countries together they will fit snugly into Guyana with room to spare. What I see from this is that there is no reason for anyone to be poor.
There is no reason for any Guyanese to be poor and next year I regard as our second independence. Maybe we dropped the ball on our first independence but this time let us come together. We don’t have enemies among ourselves.
This morning I was at the maternity ward. We have Amerindian women from Moruca and Paramakatoi in beds next to Indian women from Enmore, next to African women. All Guyanese have come together, increasing the population, one set of babies. So let us regard next year 2016 as a year for coming together, a year for National Unity.
Wherever we are, let us reaffirm our faith in our nation, reaffirm our faith in one another and let us use this sacred festival of peace and goodwill to remember the lesson of Luke, that we should greet each other with peace. Every religion does that. Judaism does that – Shalom; Christianity does that – can tell you at the end of every service go in peace and serve the Lord. Islam does that – as salamu alaikum.
So let us not only utter the words; but let us mean what we say when greeting fellow Guyanese with the greeting of peace and of goodwill and let us next May work together to build this beautiful country to a place our children can inhabit, be happy and enjoy the good life.
Thank you for inviting me today and don’t let me forget the reason I came.
Happy Christmas to you all!