President David Granger: I’m very happy to be here. It’s the first time I could drive into Sophia without stopping to pull my car out of potholes. [Applause.]
When I drink water, I don’t have to hold it up to the sun; we now have lights; we now have roads; we now have clean water but this is just the start. Sophia is an urban legend; people would not believe what Sophia has gone through over the years; it is a saga of sacrifice; it’s a saga; is struggle; it’s a saga of survival and today is a celebration of the success that comes after sacrifice, struggle and your battle for survival.
Sophia is the largest ward in Georgetown – over 21, 000 people live in Sophia … Over 21,000 people live in Sophia but it is the poorest ward in Georgetown; but do not believe that Sophia is a slum; do not tell yourself that Sophia is a shanty town; do not tell yourself that Sophia is a squatter settlement.
Sophia is a part of the city of Georgetown and the Mayor knows what I think about the city of Georgetown. It is the national capital of this country and Sophia is as much a part of Georgetown as Kingston or Queenstown or Alberttown or Cummingsburg. So, Sophia must reclaim and establish its dignity, build that community spirit. You have the size; you have the talent and we will help you to get the resources; of course, everybody knows that Sophia is more than Sophia. Sophia is part of Cummingslodge, is part of Turkeyen, is part of Liliendaal, is part of Pattensen but this used to be thought of as the ‘greenbelt’.
When Georgetown was small, we regarded this part of the country as a ‘greenbelt’, but over the last 36 years or so there have been lots of changes. As the sugar plantation started to shrink and as the population started to grow, the ‘greenbelt’ started to diminish and today what used to be plantations have become part of this city. A lot of people have come from the countryside seeking their fortunes in Georgetown; they couldn’t get housing and they came to Sophia. Some people started as cash crop farmers, hoping to cultivate crops to sell in the markets. Most of the people in Sophia were self-employed. In fact, the first place I bought my plant pots like this one was right here in Sophia – the best plant pots. [Applause.]
When you go outside the people tell you $20,000; they come in Sophia, the people say $10,000 for the same plant pot. But Sophia, for a long time, was ‘no’ ville. Sophia had no water; people had to get black tanks; had to collect rainwater; had to buy water; had to get water from the trenches. Sophia had no good roads, just old plantation dams – as soon as the rain falls it turned to mud. Sophia had no sewerage [system] – still has no sewerage – you had to depend on latrines. Sophia had no electricity – everything was no: no electricity, people used flambeaux; people used to use car batteries to light up their homes; people had to use firewood for cooking; you had no garbage collection and when there is no garbage collection people tend to throw their garbage in the canals; the canals get silted up and when the rain falls you can’t drain it properly.
Sophia did not have the services that it needed – the health centres, the schools, the markets, the transportation, the sanitation, street lights, parks, playgrounds, fire hydrants – all of these utilities and services are necessary if Sophia is to catch up with the other wards in Georgetown. So, in short, Sophia has to stop being a collection of people from all over the country and start to become a community of people who want to make this a place where your children will be happy, your old folks could be happy and that is one of the reasons why at the start of our administration we changed the name from the Ministry of Local Government to the Ministry of Communities – I want you to feel part of a community. But this community cannot be transformed by government alone; we need the support of all of the residents; all of the citizens; we need the support of civil society; we need the support of the municipality.
So all four of us working together – citizens, civil society, municipality and central government – we can transform Sophia and make this a destination that people want to come to because they can buy their craft; they can buy foodstuff; they can buy all sorts of products which are not available in other parts of the town or the country and it is by coming to Sophia that I felt convinced that as soon as we got into power …we had to move Sophia up to the standard of the other wards. And the Minister of Public Infrastructure, I would like to thank him because the speed at which he was able to put down the ring roads demonstrated our commitment to getting the people who suffered before – old folk, ambulances couldn’t come in here; minibuses couldn’t come in here; if somebody got sick how could they get out? If there was a fire, how would the fire engine get in? There were safety concerns, security concerns; the road is not just for comfort, the street lights are not just for comfort- they are for safety.
So today is a celebration. It’s a celebration of [the] coming of age of Sophia and Turkeyen and Liliendaal and Patterson and Cummingslodge. But I want you all to come together- the central government is not fighting you, the municipality is not fighting you. You have to demonstrate that community spirit to transform Sophia so that there are more health facilities, there are more schools, there is better transportation, there is better sanitation; there must be parks and playgrounds; people must be able to come into Sophia and see football matches on a Saturday afternoon.
So, my brothers and sisters of Sophia, this is a celebration of your citizenship of Georgetown; this is a triumph of human spirit because anyone coming here 30, 20, 10 years ago would know what you all had to go through; how you use to collect wood discarded by people in other parts of the city to come and build your fence, come and build your steps; old zinc sheets that people were throwing away you all would collect and bring them here with your dray carts – you know what you went through. The struggle is not over, but the good life beckons and we will continue to work with you. We will continue to work with you to make sure that all of your lots are regularized. We will continue to work with you to make sure that you have all of the facilities and amenities and utilities that a human community should have.
You know in 1839 when some of your African forefathers left the plantation – they didn’t leave the plantation because they were lazy; they left the plantation because they had a vision. They went into these new plantations; they bought plantations with their hard-earned cash and I want you to learn from them to be thrifty.
They didn’t sit down in a bar on Saturday night drinking out their money; they saved their money and they bought out the old plantations just like you are doing now; buying out old plantations – Sophia, Liliendaal, Pattenson and Turkeyen – and they build homes; they built homes for their wives and children so their families could come together and that is my concern that Sophia must be a community of homes that families can come together; that husbands and wives and children – just husband, wife and children – keep the family together.
So Sophia must be a community of families. Your foreparents built churches so they can worship; you too can build your masjids and your mandirs and your churches and your assembly halls so your children could worship on their holy days. They built schools and in my own party we have the Sophia Literacy Project and we will continue to help the community to build community learning centres so that your children would remain in school. We believe that every child must go to school.
The First Lady has just given you some bicycles. The bicycles are to take you to school and to bring you back home. Some of you got exercise books; let me see them – wave the exercise books in the air. You recognise anybody on the cover?… Wow! What is the name? Arapaima, yes, so we are giving you these ‘Five Bs’ – those people living in the Pomeroon have got boats; those living on the highways are getting buses; you in Sophia here are getting bicycles because we want each one of you to remain in school and I want Sophia to make a promise because this is Sophia Town Day- that you will make sure that every child goes to school.
I don’t want to hear about the Schools Welfare Division coming here 10 o’clock on a Tuesday morning and rounding up 41 children anymore. Every child must go to school. And the fourth thing that your foreparents did was that four-letter word: w-o-r-k – work! The days for unemployment are over; your children have to go to school and qualify and learn to work. When we come into Sophia, we must hear factories; we must hear machines; we must see Canter trucks carrying out guava cheese and guava jam and guava jelly. We must see people at work; we must see young men bottling pepper sauce. Sophia was meant to be a plantation and you can use the lands in order to produce the commodities. So those were the four things that your foreparents gave you: home, school, church and work; and I want Sophia to stand on those four pillars: build your homes; build your schools; build your places of worship and go to work.
You know we have launched this programme to make Guyana into a ‘green’ state and that is one of the reasons why the school children here today have got ‘green’ exercise books and they have got green pens – only the bikes are pink, but our direction is along the green pathway. If you don’t have electricity we can use solar panels so that your children can do the homework; we can generate electricity right here in Sophia from the sunlight.
We must learn to dispose of our waste – don’t throw things in the canals. Coming along here I can still see too much plastic and Styrofoam in the canals – you have to look after your environment, you have to protect your environment and your environment will protect you. You mistreat the environment, the environment will mistreat you; you throw garbage in the canals and when the rain falls the water has nowhere to go – it will flood your yards. So, you must learn proper waste disposal even if it means that this ward must charter a truck every day or every other day or every week to move the garbage from the yards and from the households.
Year before the last I declared the 1st Saturday in October National Tree Day and I want to see trees planted in Sophia along these roadways – cool down the place, let the place be beautiful like your wives- beautiful people. [Applause.]
So, I have big dreams for Sophia and I believe that your days of struggle and sacrifice are behind you and you must look forward now to a bright future. Our task is to eliminate extreme poverty; our task is to provide full employment; our task is to encourage entrepreneurs, young businessmen who can make things and sell things. No ward in Georgetown must be left behind and I would like to assure you that this government is not going to leave Sophia behind.
Once again, we are happy to come here to launch this water project, to launch the lights, to launch the roads and to provide some bicycles to help your children to get to school. I would like to thank you and urge you to come together with your councillors to make sure that Sophia takes its place with the other wards in Georgetown our beautiful green city.
Thank you and May God bless you Sophia.