President David Granger: Thank you, please be seated. Thank you for that brief introduction. Member of Parliament, John Adams; Reverend Nestor Austin; Mr. Kempton Hillman, Chairman of the NDC; Mr. Denis Jaikaran, Regional Executive Officer; pastors, fellow worshipers:
I’m very happy to be here today at the eve of our 178th Anniversary of Emancipation, that’s number 178… (Hello, thank you very much. I just go a ‘green’ exercise book. Come please, let me give you [this] – it says ‘Every child in school’.)
Today, we celebrate not only our 50th Anniversary of Independence, but in a few hours’ time we’ll be celebrating our 178th Anniversary of Emancipation. Tomorrow, 1st of August, is our new year’s day. The 1st of August was the day of deliverance, deliverance from bondage, 200 years of enslavement from the time the Dutch came here, from the 1600s to the time Africans were freed.
Tomorrow we celebrate the day of departure, the day when we started to move away from the degradation and the domination of servitude under plantations. Tomorrow we celebrate a day of determination, the determination of our forefathers to build a better life for our families and future generations. Tomorrow when the words of the Psalms 118: tomorrow will be “the day that the LORD has made; We will rejoice and be glad…”
My brothers and sisters, tomorrow will also be a day of thanksgiving, a day when you give thanks for that freedom, for that Emancipation. Again, you turn to the book of Psalms in the Holy Bible and it is written in Psalm 100: “Know ye that the LORD, he is GOD: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.”
My brothers and sisters, today, once again I am at Ebenezer. Once again I am at Den Amstel and I pay homage to the founders of this village, the people who didn’t go to university but they had the wisdom to convert this plantation into a human habitation. Today we pay homage to the Congregational Church in particular, although I know other congregations are represented here. I pay homage mostly to the Congregational Church, especially Ebenezer, which provided comfort for the free persons for over 170 years.
Today, we pay homage to the stalwarts of this community. You know them very well. I was here three months ago to remind Den Amstel of the work of James McFarlane Corry, the founder of our Local Government System, whose monument (thanks to Brother John and other members of the Den Amstel community) is now a place where all of our children can go to remember his good works.
My brothers and sisters, 178 years ago, on the 1st of August, 1838, we made a covenant; we made a promise, it was a promise of freedom, and freedom meant everything to our forefathers. In Guyanese history, I see five great movements and the first great movement was the Emancipation Movement, the movement to be free. It was not a gift from humans, it was something that our forefathers struggled for and it was a gift of God. There were great revolts; you remember them: 1763 led by Kofi; in 1823 – and in a few days’ time we will be celebrating the great East Coast Revolt and don’t ever forget – it was on the 20th of August, 1823 as the enslaved Africans were coming down the East Coast, they were stopped at Bachelors Adventure and 200 of them were slaughtered in one morning. Two hundred people were slaughtered – the greatest massacre in the history of our country, and then again there was the revolt in Essequibo led by Damon in 1834.
So, Emancipation didn’t come easy; it wasn’t as though Queen Victoria just signed on the dotted line and say, ‘heh, tek, y’all too ruction, tek yuh freedom’. It is something that people fought and died for and in our country, you commemorate those struggles and the deaths and the executions in 1763 – there’s a monument; in 1823 – there’s a monument; and in 1834 – there’s a monument.
It was the Emancipation Movement which brought us to the 1st of August, 1838. Some people like to speak about 1834; nothing happened in 1834 except a man called Damon raised a flag at La Belle Alliance and was executed for his trouble. So, we didn’t get freedom from 1834; so don’t fool yourself. We got freedom in 1838 and that’s what we celebrate tomorrow, but that Emancipation Movement led to other movements. It led to the Village Movement and last year I passed an order so that the 7th of November, every year, could be commemorated as National Day of Villages.
It’s not a holiday, but stamps have been issued and it is observed as the day which our first village, Victoria, was purchased. But that village movement led to 100 other plantations being bought and made into human habitations and, of course, Den Amstel and Fellowship and Bagotville and other villages were part of that great movement.
Within ten years of emancipation, over 40,000 Africans had moved off of the plantations and were living in freed villages like this one. And there were other movements – the labour movement – we remember Hubert [Nathaniel] Critchlow; the political movement; we remember Forbes Burnham and other political leaders; we remember the cultural movement, which gave us these beautiful songs that this present generation is embellishing even further – songs written by people like R.C.G Potter and Valerie Rodway.
So, Emancipation was important because it started; it triggered all of those movements but, most important, I see emancipation not as an African festival, although Africans are justly proud to celebrate that day when their forefathers and mothers were freed; but it is also the day when the other ethnic groups found it necessary to come into Guyana. And don’t forget, brothers and sisters, that only on the 5th of May this year the Indians celebrated the 178th Anniversary of their Arrival.
Isn’t it a coincidence that Africans celebrated their 178th Anniversary of Emancipation and the Indians celebrated 178th Anniversary of their arrival? They came because of Emancipation, because it was felt than the Africans would leave the plantation. The Portuguese themselves came on the 3rd of May, 1834 after the Emancipation Act was passed, and when you go down by Windsor Forest you’ll see a monument – Windsor Forest is the village where our first president was born, Arthur Chung. But there’s a monument because in January 1853, the Chinese arrived at Windsor Forest, the first place they went to.
So the coming of the Portuguese, the coming of the Indians, the coming of the Chinese all had to do with African Emancipation. That is why I say this – there is one day that all Guyanese should celebrate, Indians, Africans, Chinese and Portuguese and Amerindians, because it gave birth not only to their immigration into this country, but also to the liberation and all of them knew that there would never be an slavery again after the bonds of slavery were broken on the 1st of August, 1838. What a great day it was for all of us.
I’ve often said, and I repeat, that these villages which were established on the coastland were the single most important economic, social and political development in the history of our country. Before the village movement, before the Victorias and Buxtons and the Bagotvilles and the Den Amstels and the Queenstowns and the Danielstown, there was nothing but plantations.
People lived in hovels, not logies, hovels, disgraceful hovels; if they had some poultry, the poultry was in there with them. They slept on the ground, they were treated like two legged domestic animals; they had no rights; they couldn’t marry; they couldn’t give evidence; they could be tortured and killed and we must remember [that] Emancipation put an end to all of that. But some people never emancipated themselves intellectually, or as our brothers told us, philosophically or ideologically… But in these villages, they saw the construction of a new society, a society built on four pillars.
First of all- the home because there were no homes on the plantations; people couldn’t marry and even if you had a partner she could be sent to Wakenaam, she could be sent to Bagotville; family life was not permitted. After Emancipation people trekked back so they could reconnect with their wives and their children and they could build homes; that’s why they had to get off those plantations, so they could build homes. That was the first pillar on which these villages were built – family homes. Keep the family together and we must never forget that every child belongs in a home; husbands too – one home, one family. [Applause.]
The second pillar was the church; and that is why I’m so fond of the Congregational Church because they were on the scene, they took the licks, they took the prosecution, they stood by the freed Africans and gave them support. Just listen to the chronicles of the Congregational Church and you will see, 170 years old, 160 years old, not 5, or 10 or 15. It is an ancient church; even though the congregation might have diminished, the strength of their lesson remains strong. And schools – the plantations had no schools.
Schools were the third pillar of which the villages were built and, yes, some people did leave the sugar cane plots to go to school and that’s why after Emancipation so many of our teachers, so many of our pastors, were educated people that’s is why the founder of the Village Movement, James McFarlane Corry, born in the 1860s, because they were able to get their education out of the village schools. And that is why Reverend Austin, I’ve brought some little buttons which I just gave the little girl who gave me this book; fair exchange. But each button is for a child and that button has on it four words: ‘Every child in school’. And I want this church, this village; I want this community; I want this region to take a vow this new year’s day, tomorrow, that when I come back 365 days from now, you’ll be able to tell me, President Granger, every child in this village goes to school. [Applause.] We don’t have drop outs, we don’t have delinquents and truants, every child goes to school… When you see me giving out bus, giving out boats, giving out bicycles, it is not to become famous. It is to get children in school. [Applause.]
And the last pillar on which this village was built, and all villages were built, were the farms, because people had to feed themselves. Some people have some strange notion that Africans don’t like work, they don’t like farming. They didn’t have Nigel’s Supermarket in 1838, you didn’t have Mattai’s, you didn’t have Survival; you had to feed yourself or you’re dead, and we fed ourselves by our farms and even some later communities, like Black Bush Polder, which was established in the 1960s – they were able to get their planting material from Fyrish, from Nismes and from Union.
So, we understand Guyanese society was integrated, but the integration started with these villages where there were homes, churches, schools and farms, and those were the four pillars on which these villages were established; and brothers and sisters, when you shake those pillars, the house will fall. When you shake the home, when you shake the school, when you shake the church, and when you shake the farm, the villages will collapse because you will have nothing to rest on.
And I always say when I was growing up at Bartica I attended St. John the Baptist Anglican School and when you looked out of the window, what did you see? St. John the Baptist Anglican Church; and when I went to Whim, you look out the Auchlyne Church of Scotland School, what did you see? St. Xavier’s Church and when I went to Comenius Moravian, you looked out Comenius Moravian and you saw Comenius Moravian Church; and then I went to Sacred Heart and the class was in the church – in the back of the church.
So, we must remember, you know; we must not throw out the baby with the bath water. When children go to school they have to be taught values; they have to learn the worship of God and not to separate them – too much Marxism and Leninism not good for you; you have to come back home; you have to come back home.
Today my brothers and sisters, I want to leave one brief message; don’t believe I am near the end though, and that is the message that on the 1st of January last year, we started the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent. It started on the 1st January, 2015 and it will end on the 31st of December 2024. This is not an invention of the Government of Guyana or of the Coalition or any political party; this is the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent, worldwide. This is the decision of the United Nations and our Government intends to implement the decisions of the United Nations with regard to this international decade and our goal must be over this ten-year period to make Emancipation a reality.
So we have to plan, my brothers and sisters, we have to perform and we have to produce. The international decade is not a miracle that, at the end of it, you will suddenly become rich and comfortable. It is a period in which every village, every family, every NDC, every RDC must plan to make that decade a reality; and again that decade has certain principles, objectives, targets; and the first target is the target of education: every child must go to school.
This country right now has 4000 dropouts every year; children drop out from primary and secondary school. When children drop out from school, they can’t read, write or spell properly and this causes a problem; so, it is very important, at any cost, to get your children to school. Don’t worry about going into the backdam; don’t worry about meh mind ain’t tell me go to school today; and that is why at a personal level, at a political level, you try to ensure that if the distance is too great, give the child a bicycle.
We know the minibus fares are high. In the riverine areas we tried to give boats. In Region Ten alone, the region in Guyana that straddles three rivers, Demerara, Essequibo and Berbice – they have three boats, one for every river; and when you go up to the Pomeroon River, where a father is paying $5,000 a week to get his child to Charity Secondary School, now they have a boat.
So first promise and the promise I will hold Den Amstel, Hague, Blankenburg to and all of the other villages – African, Indian, Amerindian in this country – is to get their children to school for God’s sake; don’t tolerate illiteracy, don’t tolerate it. [Applause.]
The second principle that we must observe and respect is that four letter word – work. Work – the scourge of the drinking classes; work. I said before and some people like to misinterpret me, some months ago, I remember going by the ground there, seeing some boys playing football; some I think had come from up the bank. “Were are you, at school now? No, no, left school already? What you planning to do? Planning to go in the police force? And you? I want to become a soldier. And you? I want to become a civil servant.” My brothers and sisters, work does not necessarily mean government jobs; work can mean self-employment. [Applause.]
Some years ago a man described government work as employed poverty. He described civil-servants as the employed poor. No government in the world can promise to employ every single person who leaves school. We will work with civil society; we will work with the RDC and NDC; we will work with the communities; we will work with businesses; we will work with the international organisations and the donor community to help young people to get work.
We will not abandon young people, but we want people to understand that employment would be easier if you are educated, if you are qualified. And once you have that education and once you are not a drop-out, once you have the intelligence and the energy, we can help you to help yourself; even if it means guava cheese or sending some mauby to the President when weekend come. You can make good money…
But the employment is there. A few weeks ago in this very month of July I went with the Prime Minister of Barbados to the Rupununi. 10,000 hectares – a Barbadian businessman is planting rice, growing sweet peppers, watermelon in the Rupununi. All of this is being sold to Brazil because the infrastructure is very poor; you can’t bring it to town, but we can sell these things to the Eastern Caribbean; our sweet potatoes, our mango juice, our avocado pears, our plantain chips.
On the 1st October, which is a Saturday, in Guyana here we celebrate National Tree Day and I want you, in this NDC, particularly in this village Den Amstel, to get all of the children stop dancing for that day and start planting for that day.
One day, I had been told last year when I was in the Bartica National Tree Day that if every household in Bartica planted one breadfruit tree and there are 5,000 residents in Bartica; let’s call it 5,000 households. Some I know have two, three households but let’s call it 5,000 households; but if every household in Bartica planted a breadfruit tree Bartica alone would produce a million pounds of breadfruit every year. Now if any of you ever been to Barbados you would know how Barbadians treat breadfruit. So any breadfruit chips; any breadfruit you produce can be sold; sell breadfruit to Barbados…
But what I’m saying is let us use National Tree Day to promote the production of crops so that our young people, instead of liming and dropping-out, could do what their forefathers did 178 years ago. Go back to the land and become self-employed [as] there will never be enough places in the G.D.F or the police force or the public service. I’m encouraging you and I will support you in your quest for self-employment.
The third objective of this International Decade for People of African Descent must be enterprise and I mention… by enterprise, I mean that you must become businessmen and women yourselves and not depend on becoming government employees. You must become entrepreneurs, you must become innovative. Look what the young people did; I never heard the song that way but they were innovative and it was great to hear it. [Applause.] Even if Valerie Rodway was alive today, I believe she would have said, ‘the tune nice’, but we must take that innovative spirit into business just as the Bajans could come across the seas to invest in Rupununi, we must use our capital to invest in our villages and in our own country.
Information technology – those of you who were in Georgetown on the 25th of May and saw that flag go up – look at cell phones, a forest of the cell phones. People in New York were sending back messages at two minutes after twelve – this is great. I wish I was there! Information nowadays travels at the speed of light and we must grasp at information technology in all of our schools; in all of our homes.
One laptop must not be some little toy, some little Christmas gift; it is a necessity. When I was going to school, slate and pencils were necessities; nowadays, cell phones and laptops are necessities and children must get access to the necessities of life. More and more people must go on that information superhighway and that is why at the beginning of this year I created a Ministry of Public Telecommunications in order to stimulate progress in the field of communication and information technology.
And finally, my brothers and sisters, there was an event in March this year and that event was meant to empower you; every one of you who is over the age of 18 should come out to vote because that is how you determine how your councils are run. At your neighbourhood level, they will determine drainage and solid waste management; they will determine street lighting; the eradication of mosquitoes, which bring zika, chikungunya and filaria into your villages; they will determine whether you flood, whether you get pure water and that is why your forefathers struggled for freedom 178 years ago – because living on the plantation they had no power over their own lives, over their own families, over anything that they did. They were treated like farm animals and we fought and died so that we can get that empowerment and now we have the empowerment, don’t drop the ball, don’t go playing football when you have to go and vote. Don’t lay down in the hammock and sleep; don’t say “man it too far.”
You have to come forward and vote and determine who runs your NDC, who runs your RDC, who runs your central government; all three levels. That power is in your hands, not in the hands of one person or one party or a politician, but in your individual hands; that is why you must be educated, that is why you must understand that you have the power to transform your lives.
So, my brothers and sisters, today or in fact tomorrow the 1st of August, we celebrate the gift of freedom, the gift of Emancipation. And again, it is written in the Holy Bible, James 1:17 and I quote “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”
So when you sing the song “Great is Thy Faithfulness” and you come to the words there is no shadow of turning, you know where it comes from. The words come from the Bible and with God there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
So let us give thanks.
Reverend Austin, Pastors, congregation, today I’m very happy to be here once again in your midst and to bring you this message – the message of freedom, the message of thanksgiving, but most of all it is a message to all of you adults to look after our children and to remember those four pillars. Let us keep the home intact. Let us respect and support the work of our churches; let us look after our schools and our places of work, particularly our farms, and let us give thanks to God.
May God bless you all!

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