President David Granger: Members of the media, fellow Guyanese:
I’m happy to be here, this is my third event in the East Berbice-Corentyne Region Six today. I started at sunrise at Fyrish and then I went up to Bara Cara and now I’m at Rose Hall and the day ain’t done yet.
But what we’ve seen here in Guyana over the last quarter of a century is the result of hard work and vision by Mr. [Hilbert] Foster to make this a reality, it cannot have been easy. In fact, if 25 years ago you tried to draw a chart of the number of sports organisations in Guyana and see where they are today, you’d see what an achievement the Rose Hall Town Youth and Sports Club has brought about in this country. It could not have been easy and I would like to start by offering congratulations to the entire executive of this Club for the work that it has done over the last quarter of a century. [Applause.]
I have had several events in East Berbice-Corentyne since the start of the year, some not so successful; but on every occasion I’ve emphasised the centrality of this region to the development of Guyana. In the whole CARICOM, in the whole Caribbean, there are only two Caribbean states which touch each other; Guyana and Suriname, and the cutting edge for Guyana is East Berbice-Corentyne. I have great hopes about East Berbice-Corentyne (Region Six) not only in terms of the economy, rice and sugar, but in terms of commerce and most particularly in terms of culture and sports. So I am particularly happy to be here in this region because this region I regard as the frontier region in the future development of our country.
You know the older members of the audience here today, and I don’t like to call names when I refer to age, but there was a time when sport was something exclusive. You’d be surprised. Sport was exclusive; there were clubs which certain persons could not enter…There were certain sports clubs that ordinary people couldn’t enter. There were certain sports that you would never see ordinary people represented in and worse still, over the last hundred years some of these sports were not only exclusive, but they were deliberately exclusionary in the sense that they prevented people of certain origins from getting into them. And I don’t say it with any hatred but truthfully, there was a Chinese Sports Club and an East Indian Cricket Club, there was a Portuguese Club, clubs for Africans. It was completely divisive and this is not the way a country could develop and fortunately, over the last fifty or sixty years, these walls of division have been broken down.
And this is what I say, this is what I feel, this is what I believe is part of the work of Rose Hall Youth and Sports Club; it has helped to break down walls which prevented people because of their origins, from participating in some sports. And one of the things which occurred last March, which you may not be aware of – the 18th of March – here in Rose Hall of course, you are aware of the fact that you have a new Mayor and you no longer have an IMC, but an important development was that for the first time in 45 years we have had three new towns.
Well Region Six was always so lucky – the only region with three towns but there are many regions with no towns. But for the first time the huge Barima-Waini (Region One) has got a town at Mabaruma – that region is four times the size of Trinidad and Tobago and had no town. Region Seven – Bartica; Region Seven is bigger than The Netherlands and it had no town to administer it. Region Nine – Rupununi, bigger than Costa Rica and there was no town.
People in Aishalton had to pay $5,000 to travel from Aishalton to Lethem to collect their pension. Well you know what the pension is and you know how they have to get back. If you’re in Lethem there is only one way you could get to Aishalton, but what happened on the 18th of March is that ordinary people were able to select local and municipal governments and why I say this is because I believe that these municipalities will be the means by which our regions could do exactly what Rose Hall Town Youth and Sports Club is doing here today.
As a young officer growing up in the hinterland some of the finest footballers I have ever seen in this country are from places like Paruima and Waramadong, but they have no Rose Hall Town Youth and Sports Club, so they bloomed like a flower and they just withered and perished and disappeared.
So coming out of the colonial setting in which sport was regarded as the exclusive preserve of some people what we see is a sort of democratisation and I would like to see not only Rose Hall Town having a youth and sport club, but Mabaruma town and Bartica town and Lethem town, all of them having clubs but you only have one Hilbert Foster, that’s the problem.
So ladies and gentlemen, briefly, I see this ceremony today as a means of making Guyana more culturally inclusive and I hope that following the example of the 18th of March we’ll be able to replicate this model in all of the regions. So perhaps I must change the Constitution to see if I have the power to make this young man a sports ambassador to all of the other regions. [Applause.]
A month from now, I think maybe 39 or 40 days, the countdown has started as you know, we will be celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Independence and this is a good occasion for us to take stock of where we were 50 years ago and where we want to be 50 years from now. I won’t be here, although early last week I was given something, which I want to take with me from DDL. [Laughter.]
You know long ago the Egyptian Pharaohs would pack up everything so they could enjoy the afterlife, but the gift I got there – I’m not encouraging young people to drink. – but certainly it is a precious gift.
But the point I’m making is that 50 years from now we want to see our young people being able to intermingle, to engage each other and that is why I feel that this ceremony here is important. I really would like to see Rose Hall taking its sports ambassadors, its excellence that we have seen on display here into Mabaruma and into Bartica. I really would like to see in the years to come, right here in East Berbice-Corentyne, a sports stadium bringing the best cricketers, limited overs, right here in East Berbice-Corentyne. [Applause.]
So as we celebrate our 50th Anniversary of Independence let us embrace the vision of this region, not only as a powerful economic engine for producing rice and sugar and coconuts and fish, but also as a cultural capital bringing in international cricketers from all over the Caribbean right here in East Berbice-Corentyne, the home of so many famous international cricketers up to now, up to Sunday the 17th we’re still producing quality international cricketers.
I do believe also that apart from the economic change taking place, apart from the sport and cultural change taking place, there will also be political change and I say this because the time for political divisiveness is past. We have in this country, three levels of government, we have a central government and there is Ms. Amna Ally who represents our Cabinet; she is our Minister of Social Cohesion in central government. I don’t think the Regional Chairman is here, Mr. Permaul Armogan, are you here Mr. Armogan? Wave your hand. No, he’s not here, but we have the municipal leader in your Mayor.
So there are three levels, the central level, the regional level and the municipal level. But for there to be development, all three levels have to work together – you can’t have a head and feet and no stomach; all three levels have work together. So it does not make sense to stay away; it does not make sense to be divided. So what I see again this ceremony representing, is not just a triumph for Rose Hall Town, but an opportunity for us all to employ sport and culture as a means for forging national unity; as a means for bringing people together and that is what I see when I move around the country.
Let me tell you of my experience, every August I go up to the Cuyuni-Mazaruni Region – a huge region as I said, bigger than The Netherlands – and in the Upper Mazaruni, people hardly go to Upper-Mazaruni unless they’re looking for gold, like here, people hardly go to Bara Cara unless they looking for something else like cassava or pumpkin. But every August about a dozen villages mostly Akawaio and a few Arecuna communities because Arecuna is just in the far west at Kaikan and Paruima, but most of the other villages are Akawaio villages, but they plan their own Upper-Mazaruni District Games and it is a thing of beauty; to go to Jawalla or Waramadong or Kamarang or Kako and see around the fields – pavilions. Each village built its own pavilion, each village has its own colours and male and female cricketers and footballers having fun, some of the female cricketers nursing, put down the baby go and score some runs and come back and finish nursing. [Laughter.]
But the point I’m making – these people from different villages, different communities come together once a year.
No bitterness, no steroids, no drug taking, no urine samples, but fun through sport and that is how they build their solidarity; equally that is how they build their expertise. And if you see the outfits; who ain’t dressed like Barcelona dressed like Arsenal, everybody got gear, fully equipped. And sometimes over the years I’ve wondered, could twelve villages in any other part of Guyana, without government intervention, come together religiously, every single year and camp out? When I look at the camp I said a lot of boys, a lot of girls, really having sport, but come together for a week at a time – some of them walked for two days to get to the venue – and that is the beauty of sport. They look forward to the sport, they get the equipment, they train, they meet people from different villages and they perform.
So Mr Foster, today you’re opening the eyes of persons not only the recipients of trophies and awards, but the possibility of giving the East Berbice-Corentyne Region a precious gift of cultural integration. We have turned; we have closed the chapter, we have turned our backs on the type of sport apartheid – it was sport apartheid and the older people know it was sport apartheid – that existed in colonial times. We’re now an independent nation and we will always be an independent nation, but let us fulfil the covenant of independence by allowing our people to come together to participate in sport and this I believe is the greatest gift, the greatest trophy that the Rose Hall Town Youth and Sport Club could give to this region and to the country.
So my remarks are brief today, but my hopes are high for this region and for this Club. It is a pioneering Club and I only pray that those of you who go to other regions of this country would take the model that has been created here by the residents of this town and implant this model in Mabaruma, Bartica, Lethem, Mahdia, [Anna Regina] and all of the other towns of Guyana.
So thank you very much. Congratulations. May God bless this Rose Hall Town Youth and Sports Club. Now that you’ve celebrated 26 years, I wish you success over the next 24.
May God bless you all!