H. E. Brigadier President David Granger: Thank you very much for bestowing this honour on me this evening. Chairperson, Master of Ceremonies, Nial Nazeer; other President Matthew Langevine; Wesley Cummings, Chairperson of the Council of Governors; Mr. Ivor English, past Chairperson of the Council of Governors; Mr. Leon Rutherford, Secretary of the Lions Club of Bel Air; executive members of Lions Club, particularly, of course, my friends from Kwakwani, Upper-Demerara Berbice region. One day we’ll build a highway. We’ll be able to climb across a bridge, go to Ituni and motor all the way to Georgetown – one day. We’re working on it. It has just been eight months.
Distinguished guests, Lions, Leos, members of the media, ladies and gentlemen, thanks again for bestowing the honour on me and also for this kind invitation to be here with you, this evening, and for the opportunity to toast to your successes and listen to the report of service from the President.
As you know, next year 2017, Lions International will be celebrating their centenary and over the last ninety-nine years Lions have become known around the world as being dedicated to the service of humanity, and I recall what is printed on their programme: “Where there is a need, there is a Lion.” We’re going to come to that.
The Lions originated out of a very simple idea. It was true ninety-nine years ago and it is true today – that is, that businesses should extend their operations beyond mere profit making and should do more for the communities in which they work and in which they live. The idea of service to others is at the heart of Lionism, at the heart of Lions Club. Wherever they are, they are committed to serving others.
In Guyana and, particularly, the Lions Club of Bel Air should be proud of their tradition of service. I felt proud listening to their presentation a few minutes ago, the work that has been done and the work that you contemplate doing in months to come as you get ready for your centenary. You have a good reputation, you have a proud record of service and I congratulate you.
What I mean you? I congratulate our-selves… well done.
[Laughter and applause]
This year of course Guyana celebrates its 50th Anniversary of Independence and I designated it as a Year of Rebirth, a Year of Renewal; a Year of Renaissance. I call it a Year of Renaissance because those of us who were alive in 1966 would know that we were born under very difficult circumstances – what I think the gynaecologist might call a difficult childbirth. We were in a state of emergency, many people had been displaced, many people had been burnt from their homes, driven from their villages, and there were boycotts. Some people didn’t participate in the independence celebrations, in the framing of the independence constitution and the country was divided and it’s my personal hope that this year, on the 26th of May, we use the opportunity of our fiftieth anniversary for reconciliation, for healing the wounds and repairing the damage of 1966 and of the years leading up to 1966.
We have to work together to achieve that national unity and in order to improve national cohesion – in order to develop that common purpose and enhance the common good – and that’s why I feel so happy tonight because here we have a group of Guyanese men and women who are doing just that, helping to provide a better life for their fellow Guyanese.
So this year we have another chance, we have an opportunity to have a new independence and to bridge the divisions which existed fifty years ago. It is not going to be easy but we will not get much further forward, we will not move much faster unless we heal those divisions and achieve a common purpose, that purpose of being Guyanese, of building a kinder, gentler, more humane society.
That renaissance requires responsiveness and this is the year in which we could respond more vigorously, more purposefully to deal with the problems facing our society, problems which are corroding our social fabric, problems which are gnawing at the nation’s economic muscle, problems which are rotting the moral fibre of society.
The Lions Club is a service organization but if it is to do good, it should be guided by what is taking place in the rest of the country. I’m not suggesting that you should deviate from the course that you have chosen but you have the luxury of being a Lion. I have to be a jaguar because that is the national symbol and it is the symbol we have adopted for our fiftieth anniversary, and that is the largest predator on the continent of South America and when you look at the Coat of Arms of Guyana you will see two jaguars holding up our shield. So I have to be a little different from the Lion; so forgive me if some of the things I say are anathema to you.
My concern is what I call the four horsemen of the Guyanese apocalypse. Those four horsemen, but of course they’re different from the Book of Revelations but for me they are the horsemen which have done the greatest harm to Guyana; and my challengers are the elimination of crime, particularly juvenile crime. My challenge is the elimination of disease and every day you seem to hear about some new disease, you know. Once it was Chikungunya, Ebola, Zika and the rate at which Zika seems to be moving through, not only South America, but the rest of the world should alert us to the fact that we are facing an epidemic.
The third challenge, perhaps, is the worst of all – the challenge of ignorance. Sometimes you meet an ‘ignar’. When you meet an ‘ignar’ you realize it’s worse than a disease; but when you see, you know, 300 children dropping out of school every few months, you wonder how many children drop out of school every day. It is frightening because one of these days you will meet one of them who can’t even spell gun, but he’s got a gun in his hand; can’t spell stop but he’s driving a minibus. And finally, the challenge of poverty – and I disagree with Jesus on this one – I think poverty could be eliminated, not necessarily always with us. We can help the poor out of poverty – not that Jesus didn’t try, but of course he didn’t have 39 people like the Lions Club of Bel Air. He had twelve.
I’m not here to criticise the Lions and I don’t intend to dismiss or diminish or disparage the great work that you have done. It’s just that I said that I have a different mission, but what I would ask the club to do is measure the impact of all of its good works and, as they used to say in the 19th century, ‘the greatest good for the greatest number’ could be a useful yardstick. The club’s traditional focus is necessary and I applaud you; and you must ask yourself whether it is sufficient. Has the club made a difference? Is it making a difference?
Your resources are limited and it is possibly misleading to listen to the banker tell you what the bank balance is. He hasn’t told you what the bank charges are but it is good to have a healthy bank balance and it is also good to apply that balance to solving some problems facing our society at this point in time; and I’m sure that you have among you, a plan of action. I have a plan of action in designating this as The Year of Renaissance and I hope that I’ll be able more positively to tackle the problems of children’s education, of juvenile crime, of disease, particularly maternal deaths, and of poverty if we are to achieve that target of a rebirth, something I dream about.
Crime is a big concern. I’m sure everyone in this room is concerned about the level of crime. You don’t need to go into the causes of crime or the origins of crime but what we know is that there is much too much crime affecting Guyanese – murder, abuse of women and children and abuse of husbands. Many of these problems affect young people. Sometimes you look at the age of some of these would-be robbers robbing banks or robbing persons in their homes or in the street. We need interventions to deal with the causes of crime, particularly juvenile crime and we need to seek solutions because Lions look for solutions – they don’t just treat the symptoms but they also want to treat the causes of the disease.
Talking about disease, that’s the second problem. We face the threat of epidemic diseases, not only the old-time big foot and malaria. Even that’s sometimes very painful you know, you go into the countryside and you see young people coming back from the gold fields shivering with fever. Malaria is still rampant but we now have the problems, as I mentioned earlier of Zika, Ebola, Chikungunya, dengue and, most recently, gastroenteritis at Baramita. Those of you who have ever gone to Baramita would know Baramita is a very difficult community. It is also the preeminent pirate community in this country. It’s the tribe of indigenous people after whom the Caribbean was made, but bad times have befallen Baramita.
The point is that disease is rampant in some communities and there must be intervention. In 2013 in Port Kaituma, about ten children died. Some of you may not know that because, by the end of March when the figures started to rise, the state media simply stopped reporting. You check back your papers; you can’t tell what happened in Port Kaituma after the 30th of March. Lots of news block-out, although the numbers had been rising – 100, 200 300, 400 people became ill. Certainly everything is normal but disease is still a very serious problem in Guyana and, in addition to disease, there’s a tremendous burden of mortality.
Sometimes young women go in to the hospital for their first delivery – and I’m mentioning that there’re really too many teenage pregnancies. A fourteen year old girl’s body is not capable of sustaining the tremendous strain of childbirth. It is a terrible wrong to impregnate a thirteen or fourteen year old girl – and on Christmas morning my wife and I were at the maternity ward… I don’t want to give you all indigestion tonight but we need to deal with these problems of public health. We need to understand that this is not force majeure; it’s not an act of God, but these are soluble problems and we must pay attention to that.
The problem of ignorance is deep-seated. Unless we can get our children back in to school we are going to continue to have serious social problems. There is no point waiting until the problems manifest themselves and then try to solve them by having bigger jails. It’s better to get the children in school – and that is what my wife and I have been doing for most of the last eight months, providing school boats because some children do not go to school because they cannot afford the five thousand dollars it takes to get from whichever Grant of the Pomeroon they’re living in to Charity. And that’s where I got the ideas from – I got the ideas from the real world.
Children have to pay five thousand dollars to go to school every week, even West Coast Berbice; children living in those areas have to pay to get to the Berbice High School. Transport is a very, very serious problem and we’ve been providing what we call the ‘three B’s – boats, bicycles and buses and, luckily, just as we depend on volunteers – volunteers have been making contributions. We now have about six boats … [Turning to Mrs. Granger] Sandra, I don’t know how many bicycles, about 200, 300? Ask the banker.
There are about 300 bicycles to help children to get to school and this has been, I would say, a demonstration of the volunteerism which I find present in the Lions. Although we didn’t approach the Lions, many persons whom I know to be Lions have come to us and say “look, I’ll give you twenty bicycles” or “I’ll give you a bus” or “I’ll give you a boat”, but more children are getting to school because of those ‘three Bs’.
So those of you – don’t clap too soon – you ain’t hear about the breakfast. That’s the fourth B. Yeah, we have to give the children a little breakfast before because some of them don’t have much to eat before they get to school and they fall asleep on their desk. So you can clap about the ‘three Bs’ now and when I come back I’ll tell you about the fourth B; but it’s important that we deal with the challenge of ignorance by keeping every single child in school.
It is not fun for children to be running around their village or their community ten o’clock on a school day, not paying attention to their lessons simply because they don’t have uniforms or they don’t have breakfast or they don’t have transportation. I am confident that, if we got more children to school and cut down that high dropout rate of nearly four thousand a year, we would have a more intelligent and less ignorant population and would have less crime, a moral environment and more cooperation among our citizens.
And the fourth horseman of the apocalypse is poverty. Once you have extremes of wealth and poverty in any community – I am not talking about Sociology and I am not talking about ideology. I am just speaking about inequality; I’m speaking about people who are too poor to access quality education. I’m speaking about people who are too poor to have a decent nutritious meal; I’m speaking about people who are too poor to have decent housing where a man and woman can live together with their children. Unless we rebuild families, unless we rebuild homes, unless we overcome the burdens of poverty we will not be able to solve some of the other problems that we face.
Poor people don’t have many choices, you know. Poor people don’t wake up in September and say, ‘Should I send my child to Mae’s or Marian Academy?’ They don’t have those choices. They end up eating less nutritious foods, going to less efficient schools and sometimes doing strange things to get transportation to school – very, very strange things – and poverty becomes hereditary after a while. Many poor people are children of poor people and many poor people will produce children who themselves are poor. It becomes hereditary after a while because they don’t have the opportunity; a few may escape from the bonds of poverty but most of them will be entrapped in poverty from generation to generation because they don’t have the opportunity to escape.
Fellow Lions, the government cannot solve these four problems alone. We need your support, we need your partnership, and we need your collaboration. You have the ability to network, you have the talent and you have, perhaps, interest and the energy to help to solve these problems. As the newest Lion in Bel Air, 39 plus 1, I don’t know why I keep saying the membership is 39 – it’s 40. [Laughter and applause] Maybe he sees the danger of having two presidents in one club [Laughter and applause] – but allow me to challenge you to look at your plan of action and to measure the impact of your words and your work.
I take comfort in learning of everything that you’ve done and I’m sure that you would be comfortable also to know that the work that you have done is being appreciated by the persons at whom or towards whom your efforts have been directed – the beneficiaries of your work. So tonight I feel very proud, very honoured to be among you.
Thank you for the honorary membership of this organization – and I congratulate you on the work that you’ve been doing over the last 43 years – and, certainly being a member to the best of my ability, I will continue to support the work of this great organization.
May God bless the Lions and may God bless particularly the Lions of Bel Air. I thank you.