President David Granger: I will have to depend on the children to save me so thank you Toshao. Chairman of the Region, Mr. Rennis Morian; Chairman of the [People’s National Congress Reform] PNCR District, Ms. Sandra Adams; other officials; teachers; parents, but most of all the children from Upper Demerara, particularly Muritaro and Malali, I went to Malali before and I remember telling the children in Malali that their village is the only village name on a Guyana currency note.
You can see Malali; a ship was named after Malali and you have Malali on the $20.00 note; so Malali is a very famous place. Few people have gone to Malali, but I’ve been there and I like the people there so I’m back here in Muritaro.
I wasn’t able to visit here before, but I want to do what Chairman Morian says, “Keep on coming to the Upper Demerara.” It’s so peaceful. The water is so clean; the people are so nice; the children so beautiful – isn’t this a paradise? So it’s great to be here.
Why did I come today? I came for several reasons; one reason, of course, is because it’s Easter; today is what the Christians call Holy Thursday, tomorrow is Good Friday and on Good Friday we commemorate the execution – the crucifixion of Jesus.
But Easter is the reason I’m here most of all, because Easter is the most sacred, the most holy festival for all Christians, not Christmas, Easter. Easter is the reason that there is a religion called Christianity because Easter symbolises the end of a period of suffering and sacrifice. Forty days and forty nights Jesus spent in the wilderness and we spend forty days and forty nights remembering Jesus’s sacrifice.
Just like in Islam, those of you who are Muslims would know that there is …a month called Ramadan and at the end of Ramadan, there is Eid, a time of rejoicing and celebration. At the end of Lent, the Christian festival, there is a time of rejoicing; that is what we know as Easter which celebrates the resurrection of Christ, the most significant event in the entire history of the world that Jesus would have died and he arose again. Similarly, those of us who have sinned could find salvation; those of us who are lost could be found, all because of the lesson of Jesus, the sacrifice of Jesus.
Now I have brought some kites here. Where did these kites come from? Chinese were flying kites 1,500 hundred years ago. The Chinese invented kites and when they came here in 1853 they brought kites, but the English people saw them flying kites and they were very suspicious. They said, “Stop flying the kites” and you know the Chinese are very clever people; so they said, “We are flying these kites to celebrate the resurrection of Christ.” So the English people say, “Oh go on, go on”; of course, the Chinese were flying kites because they knew about kites; they made kites because they had bamboo and light paper material.
So that is why you could go to Antigua, you go to Belize, you go to Barbados – Guyanese are the only people flying kites on Easter and we don’t fly kites at Christmas; we don’t fly kites on Emancipation Day; we don’t fly kites at Diwali; we fly kites at Easter. So that is how this tradition came about. So I thought by coming here today we’d be able to continue this tradition by providing kites for children so that they could participate in what is a Guyanese festival. It doesn’t matter if you’re Christian; it doesn’t matter if you’re Hindu; it doesn’t matter if you’re a Muslim.
All Guyanese as part of their culture fly kites on Easter Monday and we are here to distribute kites. So that is the first reason for coming here, but I have many other reasons; now, any of you have an exercise book? Let me see you wave the exercise book- okay, thank you; and you have ballpoint pens? Very good, very good; you must get the President to come more often. [Laughter.]
Now that is the second reason I came – because I like the two songs that I heard. One, the most important thing for children, apart from good parenting, living in a good home; apart from good meals and good health is education.
Education is the gateway to your future; to that good life and we believe that every child must be in school and even before you all put me here – I didn’t put myself here you know. People had to put me here- around 207,000 people, but even before I became President, I was aware that many children couldn’t go to school because they couldn’t afford transport; a lot of people in Guyana don’t realise the conditions under which you live.
Oh, Muritaro, a nice village man; Malali, nice village man, but children cannot get to school and when I was campaigning I went to another river – the Pomeroon River and parents told me that children couldn’t afford to go to school because sometimes it would take $5,000 a week just to go to Charity and I said this can’t be right and from the year I got into office, the first birthday I celebrated after I got into office, I started to mobilise support for providing boats for children in riverine areas. Berbice River has a boat. Demerara River has a boat. Pomeroon River has a boat. Essequibo River has a boat.
They are not enough and we are trying to get more boats, but the idea came from people like you to make sure your children could go to school without spending thousands of dollars; and in addition to that we provided buses. We know that all the areas don’t have buses; in fact, we provide a bus lower down this river at Coomacka but the road was bad and they couldn’t use the bus for a long time, and also we have provided bicycles.
We have been to Kwakwani – provided bicycles. We’ve been to other areas- provided bicycles. So we started calling it the ‘Three Bs’ programme – that is, buses, boats and bicycles. The important thing is not the hardware- the important thing is the software that you can go to school and learn and we will continue to work with the business community, with the private sector, to make sure that you can get to school and I am confident that once you can get to school you will not only be able to absorb the education but you will be able to have a good life. Now, this book is particularly precious to me. I designed a book, but I didn’t want to put my own picture on it but I ended up putting my own picture; can you see my picture there? No? Well, it’s true- my picture is not on it, but the pictures of 20 animals are on that book cover.
They are world class animals- it is not Mickey Mouse, it is not Tom and Jerry- these are Guyanese animals and they are there so you can see them and realise that you are living in the most beautiful, the most bountiful country in the entire Caribbean. You can’t find these animals in Anguilla, you can’t find them in Antigua; you can’t find them in Barbados- only in Guyana. I don’t say so boastfully because God has blessed us. I’m not boasting but I want you to know what you have and to be careful to protect the places where these animals live.
You know Amerindians have a saying that that trees hold up the sky; if you cut down the trees the sky will fall. So we have adopted a programme of protecting the environment. On the first Saturday of October every year we have what we call National Tree Day in which we plant trees all over the country. You think we have enough? We have to plant more; 85 percent of our country is covered with forests and we are committed to protecting that forest.
Yes, some people have to cut logs to build houses, to sell to make a living, but it must be done in a sustainable manner and we want to ensure that we protect the environment because those very animals live in the jungle; they live in the forest; if you cut down the forest the animals will die. So on this exercise book you have the largest snake in the world; the largest eagle in the world, the largest freshwater fish in the world, the largest spider in the world, the largest rodent in the world, the largest bat in the world. All of these animals are world class animals and they belong to you and for generations to come.
So, I bring you also a message not only for Easter, not only for education but for the environment and I beg you to protect this environment just as the environment has protected you, protected generations of Guyanese; and the environment could give you a good living because in many of our towns and villages and communities young people come out of school and they can’t get employment but their employment is right here in this very environment, in this very village.
You know it pains me when I go to a shop or a supermarket and I see cassava chips made in Guatemala; plantain chips made in Costa Rica. I said, ‘Goat bite we or what?’ We can produce- you ask anybody who’s my age and I’m over 50; I’m over 50, I don’t tell lies, you ask and they would tell you that their mother used to make guava jam, guava cheese, guava jelly, pone, all of these things you could make; we don’t have to import plantain chips, cassava chips.
A few months ago I had the Heads of Government of the Caribbean because right now I am the temporary Chairman of the Caribbean Community and everything they had for lunch there was made, was produced in Guyana. What they had there: corilla, baigan, cassava chips, plantain chips, breadfruit chips, fish- everything they had there came from Guyana.
I don’t make joke; I don’t put any macaroni and cheese and thing; white potato with topping – I don’t do that. I do crab and callaloo soup – heavy stuff, and even the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the Honourable Ralph Gonsalves, if you see breadfruit in this man plate. [Laughter.]
I hope you don’t have any Vincentians here but he loves breadfruit and he tells me in St. Vincent they have 18 types of breadfruit. So what I’m trying to tell you Muritaro is that this soil, this earth, these villages, these communities, can provide fruit and vegetables which could be processed and sold. I’d love to lead a delegation, the Muritaro Breadfruit Delegation, to go to St. Vincent and sell breadfruit to St. Vincent. What about that? [Applause.]
You know, my Minister of Agriculture told me two years ago when we launched the National Tree Day at Bartica. He said, “If every household in Bartica planted one breadfruit tree, Bartica alone would produce a million pounds of breadfruit every year.” So what it calls for, my young brothers and sisters, is that when you graduate from school, some of you will go to the mines, some of you will become doctors and lawyers, some of you will become Regional Chairman but some of you will want to become rich because the Regional Chairman poor, you know. Some of you will become rich because you will be able to produce passion fruit juice, orange juice, and other beverages from this village, from these riverine communities, and sell them in Linden and in Georgetown. That is what you’ll do.
Last weekend, where was I? Not lying down in a hammock in Georgetown. I was in the Essequibo River and what did they give me in Essequibo River? A bottle of coconut water and I taste this thing and I say, ‘where this thing come from?’ It marked bottled in Trinidad but it actually come from Pomeroon. You can tell the difference. Any Brazilians here? You know I’m a Head of State; you’re Brazilian? I have to be careful because I don’t want to be reported in the international spotlight but I never taste any coconut water like Guyanese coconut water. Let me tell you that.
Last night I had a very important visitor. I can’t call his name; being Head of State is not easy; as soon as you call somebody name people might want to put it on Facebook or something else. What would you like to drink – some orange juice, coffee, tea? Coconut water – that’s what the man asked for; the man come from Norway and want Guyanese coconut water.
So please believe me, boys and girls that your employment comes from right here. That’s why I urge you to protect the environment because in so doing you will also protect your employment that we want to see coming out of these rivers – and Guyana got rivers fuh so. We want to see coming out of these rivers the farm produce which could be processed but how you’re going to process it? You’re going to process it because you have access to cheap energy. Now everybody hear about petroleum, they start get high already… some people already drunk on petroleum, on gasoline. They’re addicted to gasoline. Well, I grew up at a place called Whim on the Corentyne; some of you might never see Whim in your life but in the time when I was very young – as I said, I am more than 50 years old – but the rice farmers, rice millers, already had wind chargers.
So day and night the wind, whether it was hard or soft, was turning the charger and generating electricity. When I went to Rupununi, you know, 48 short years ago, you see I went when I was two; they already had wind chargers there so you don’t have to carry gasoline everywhere you go. Use the wind, the sun. I asked the Chairman when I arrived here if he has a blowtorch on the roof; he said, “Nah, that’s just the Muritaro sun.” I thought it was a blowtorch- the sun hot bad but that sun is energy. My watch runs with sunlight and you can have solar panels which generate electricity. The bank at Camp Street, the Demerara Bank Limited, runs with electricity. Almost every building people are putting up now in Georgetown runs with electricity. So either way we will end up bringing petroleum from offshore but we’ll be able to sell the petroleum because we’ll be generating electricity already from the sun power and water power and wind power, you see?
So, this is what I call sustainable energy, because the good Lord will continue to give you sunlight to the end of your days. So you don’t have to worry; some days you might get a little, some days you might get a lot of sunlight, some days you get a little wind, some days you get a lot of wind but we’ll be able to generate energy from the sustainable use of our natural resources, particularly sun, wind and water.
So Muritaro, so Malali, you will be able to run little machines with renewable energy. You don’t have to get generators; children will be able to study at night because they’ll be using solar generated electricity. So that is another reason for my coming here, to encourage you to adapt a form of energy which is renewable. Every day, every week, every month you will get the sunlight and you will get energy all over again. So it’s time for us to get off of our addiction to gasoline and dieseline and to adapt sustainable energy.
So these are some of the reasons why I’ve come to tell you about the importance of Easter but also to tell you about the importance of education, the importance of the environment, the importance of employment. I don’t like to see young people not working and I will do everything possible to help them to get employment but here in Muritaro you have some issues, some challenges. Well I am the problem solver; if you have a challenge you tell me – I will try to overcome that challenge. I understand there are some challenges with the school. I am going to ask the chairman, Mr. Rennis Morian, and I will ask my administrative officer Colonel [Francis] Abraham to work together to find out how we can solve those problems. If the washrooms of the school need to be fixed, we will fix the washrooms. [Applause.]
So if the fence needs to be repaired, we will repair those fences but I want you to have a good life right here in Muritaro; and whatever we may do together I may not be able to send in any big construction consortium here, but perhaps we can provide the materials and the villagers can come out to work. [Applause.]
Similarly if you need to develop proper school farms – and that is where you have to learn because there is no point in waiting till you’re 35, 40 or over 50 like me to start farming. You have to start farming when you’re young so you understand the importance of care and how to protect your plants from diseases or from pests, when to reap, how to process and maybe in time to come we will be able to provide some simple machines to help you to manufacture or process those commodities.
You know, let me tell you a story. A lot of villages produce cassava bread, some produce cassava bread bigger than this. Big, big cassava bread; it looks nice but when people want to travel to United States they can’t put it in the suitcase. The border security [will] hold them and say what you have there? They think it’s some type of satellite. They say no, no it’s only cassava bread. Cassava bread? That don’t look like bread to me, throw it out. They have some rough people there at the Customs but they have some other people who produce cassava bread small like wafers almost.
So when you go to these diplomatic cocktail parties you see these little wafers with a little piece of fish on it or something like that but the people who’re producing these big cassava bread selling it for $200.00 and the people who’re producing the small and selling it for $500.00 because the rich people want the small neat cassava bread with a little packet, and then you put produce of Muritaro; but the packaging is very important and the bottling is very important; so we need a little factory and all over the country there is a boom in production, in the Rupununi, Potaro-Siparuni.
People are making pepper sauce, people are making tamarind ball, don’t be left out. There is a revolution going on in cottage industries and we have a Ministry of Business, which is going to help to promote small industries so that in small villages you’ll be able to get involved in agro-processing; and these commodities don’t even have to leave Region Ten because Region Ten is one of the most important, is the best connected region in the whole country. If you want to get to Region Nine you have to pass through Region Ten, if you want to get to Region Eight or Region Seven you have to pass through. Region Ten like pot salt. [Laughter.]
Every region, Region Six, every region it touches. It’s the only region. I’ve told Mr. Morian before it’s the only region that straddles the three main rivers of Guyana: Essequibo, Berbice and Demerara, the only region that straddles all three; it’s important and I am convinced that with the spirit these children have shown today, this warm welcome that I have received today, the welcome going on lil’ long because it’s still warm, this warm welcome that I have received here will encourage you to make sure that the quality of life in this village, in this community, remains high. This is not bush- this is not back road.
So Muritaro these are the messages I have brought to you this Holy Thursday. I would like to distribute the kites, I have left some books and some pens with you and I would like to urge you to continue to remain in school. I would like to know that 10/15 years from now I could go to University of Guyana and see some of you graduating in the sciences: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Some of you who I know are writing your Common Entrance, your National Grade Six I wish you luck but you know my mother used to tell me when I talk about luck, she said, “The time to repent is before the event.”
So you can’t go to your exam and then say you’re sorry. The time to repent is before the event, so if you haven’t done your homework well then you will see the results in a few weeks’ time; but good luck and Muritaro children, and of course the not so young children, I pray that God may bless you and make this village prosperous.
Happy Easter to all and may God bless you.