President David Granger: The ‘green’ village: first of all, let me thank Toshao Casey Hastings for allowing me into the village and when he allowed me into the village I gave him a small ticket so that I could enter the village safely. Next, to my pleasant surprise, there was a Guard of Honour. Oh boy, these dark jackets and the dark shades and the songs. I said “Yes, if I was a Venezuelan I wouldn’t think of coming into this country, this place is dangerous”. You know sometimes you look at the army and there are a lot of men in the army but not in Kako – girls only.
Toshao and Master of Ceremonies, Mario Hastings, Minister- the first Minister from the village of Kako, Dawn Hastings-Williams. What good can come out of Kako? A minister can come out of Kako. Chairman of the Cuyuni-Mazaruni Region, Mr. Gordon Bradford; Regional Education Officer, Roderick Edinburgh; resident doctor, Levon Henry; teachers; students- particularly the pupils of Kako Primary School. Thank you for welcoming me into your community and thank you all for coming out this morning.
Each one of you should have an exercise book and there are some pictures of the President on the exercise book cover. You saw the pictures? Anybody see the President picture on the exercise book cover? No, what you saw? What you can see are pictures of the ‘giants’ of Guyana and we brought those for you, so don’t believe that you only have tigers eating up your dogs; you have some of the biggest and the best animals in the world. The biggest freshwater fish in the world comes from Guyana, the biggest eagle in the world comes from Guyana; the biggest spider in the world comes from Guyana; the biggest snake in the world comes from Guyana. So you all will inherit a very beautiful country and those exercise books are for you to show you what a beautiful country you come from.
You have some pins: each one of you should be getting a little pin and on that pin, you see the words ‘Every Child in School’. You have a pin? Everybody got a pin? Not yet? Okay and on that pin you see four symbols: one symbol is for science, one is for technology, one is for engineering and one is for mathematics – STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics so this pin has a lot of messages for you. The first message is that you have to stay in school and the second message is that we want you to learn science, technology, engineering, and mathematics so you could develop this beautiful country. So, there we are.
Every time I come to Kako I try to learn one word of Akawaio. The first word I learnt was anupaning. What is anupaning? A teacher? Teacher? Oh boy, and who is the first teacher I meet from Kako? There you go. So today I have to learn another word. Zenupangnodakahaio, am I pronouncing it correctly? Zenupangnodakahaio. So I’m here at a place of learning. So if I come to Kako a hundred times, I will learn a hundred Akawaio words. But my message today is very short and very simple; I have come to celebrate the opening of this school twenty-nine years ago and I hope to come back next year for the 30th anniversary, but we have to do some things between now and then.
You can’t have a President of a country coming to a school without lights; we have to get some solar panels, we have to get some lights. And I would like the Toshaos; I would like the head teacher; I would like the leaders of this village to put their heads together and let me know before the start of 2018 what else the Kako Primary School needs and we are going to make sure that when you have your 30th anniversary party you have as much as possible as we could afford. So I’m promising electricity, but I would like to get advice from you as to what else the school needs so we’ll have a big birthday party next year October.
Children, villagers, ladies and gentlemen, members of the Kako community, I particularly wanted to come today because education is important. It’s important to every child here, it’s important to the village, it’s important to the region, it’s important to the country and the reasons why I brought those pins, the reason why those pins were manufactured for Guyana – no other country in the world has them – I didn’t go to the supermarket and pick up those pins, they are for Guyanese children. And those pins were made because I believe in the marrow of my bones that every Guyanese is equal; every Guyanese must be given equal opportunity and the way to equality is through education. It is no point talking about Georgetown and Corriverton and not talking about Kako or Waramadong. If we want to ensure that children have equal opportunity, we must give them equal access to education.
So first of all, I leave with you that message and I ask the Toshao; I ask the parents; I ask the village elders to do everything possible to make sure that every child comes to school and has a full primary education, complete total primary education- no child must drop out. We want to make sure that children get the best possible start in life. If you can’t read; if you can’t write; if you can’t count; if you can’t spell, doors will be closed to you – nobody wants to employ you. If you want to drive a minibus, you can’t spell bus, you want to drive a boat, you can’t spell boat, you want to own a cat you, can’t spell cat, so if you are to get by in this world you have to come to school. If there is anything, Toshao; anything, Headmistress, that is keeping a child from school, let us know and we will try to solve that problem.
In other areas, we have tried to provide every possible means to make sure that children can come to school and stay in school. If there is anything keeping children out of school let us know and we will try to solve that problem between now and next year October. Education is important, as the Honourable Dawn Hastings-Williams has said. Kako has been exporting educated people to other districts and other regions but at the same time, we must make sure that the standards in Kako remain high and that you have everything possible in this village to give children the best possible education.
The second thing I would like to mention, Kako, is this – when you come up that landing there, you are struck by the beauty of this village. I don’t want to criticise any other village, any other community, but before I came to Kako I had to be somewhere else and I was walking along with the Chairman of the Region. He is not the Mayor of Bartica, he is the Chairman of the whole region and this region is bigger than The Netherlands. I said, “Look at this Guinness stout bottle; look at that Topco bottle- everywhere you see litter but when you come to Kako- no litter.” True, true story; no litter in Kako. We have to protect the environment because the environment will protect us and that is one of the reasons why I give every school child that exercise book because these animals live in our environment and if the environment is destroyed and I know this is a big concern of Kako – I have spoken to Mario; I have spoken to Dawn; I have spoken to every Hastings I could find – that we have to protect the environment and I am on your side. I am on your side; so the exercise book that you have tell the children a story, that our forest, our rivers are the habitat; the homes of these animals and these animals need to be protected because the animals are more important to us and to the cycle of life than you could imagine.
Guyana belongs to something called the Guiana Shield which stretches from Columbia right through to Cayenne and includes parts of Venezuela, Suriname, all of Guyana and part of Brazil. The Guiana Shield is part of the lungs of the earth; when other countries create pollution, when they foul up the atmosphere, our trees help the earth to breathe. Our fresh water helps to keep us alive and it is important that we protect the environment and that is why we want children to grow up learning to protect the environment. You know it is said that from the Amerindian people that trees hold up the sky; if you cut the trees down, the sky will fall, so we need to conserve, we need to protect. Yes, we know you need wood for your buildings and firewood, but for thousands of years Indigenous peoples have been able to live sustainably and we want to make sure that the environment is sustained so that how we were born and we found it, we will die and we will leave it for future generations. We were not born into a desert, we were not born into a barren land; we were born into a fertile land with animals- we could even make jokes about tiger and magga dog, but we need to protect the environment and I want children, from day one, to learn to protect that environment. The miners must protect the environment. The Government must protect the environment. The region must protect the environment but each one of us has a duty.
The third thing I would like to mention to you, which emphasises the importance of education is employment- jobs. When we grow up, when we leave school, we want to work but without an education, you will not be able to find good employment. Nobody wants to employ you if you can’t spell “stop”, if you can’t even spell “work” so education is important because we’re now entering or we are already entering an age of information and those white boxes there have something concerned with information, information technology, and this will help you not to get some job with the Government, but to employ yourselves.
Everywhere in this country we are providing employment for young people through what they call agro-processing. Everything you can produce. Every banana, every guava, every grapefruit, every breadfruit could be processed. So rather than trying to carry a boatload or a corial load of ground provisions you can produce chips, you can produce flour, like cassava bread. You can process it. Cassava bread is part of agro-processing. You take the cassava and you process it into cassava bread. You could also take the guava and make guava jelly, guava cheese and guava jam. You can take your fruit and make fruit juices. That is why we need electricity and energy in this community, so that you can do agro-processing and provide employment for the young people of this community. They don’t have to go out of the villages to get work unless they want to become a Minister of Public Affairs but they can stay right here and get full employment, and lastly, when I say lastly, I don’t mean I’m about to stop because I can’t come to Kako and talk for five minutes. Lastly, for the time being, is a question of empowerment. If you don’t understand what political parties are telling you, what the Government is telling you, what the Toshao is telling you, what the Regional Chairman is telling you, what the REO [Regional Executive Officer] is telling you, what the REdO [Regional Education Officer] is telling you; again you will not be able to use your power as citizens and we are talking about the empowerment, empowerment through the election of Toshaos.
You have the power to decide who is going to be Toshao. When elections come around, you have the power to decide which political party will go into Government. That empowerment must be informed. That is, you must know, you must be able to choose. When somebody comes to you and say, “Why should I vote; why you should vote?” Why? Because you are empowered, you can ask questions. We don’t want sheep, we don’t want docile people, we want people who are educated and empowered. I’m not here on a political campaign, I’m here on an education campaign to demand that you must be able to exercise your rights as citizens by being fully informed and fully empowered.
So boys and girls that is why education is important; education is the gateway to equality, is the gateway to protecting your environment, is the gateway to employment and is the gateway to empowerment. That’s why education is so important and that’s why we must get things right at Kako Primary School so that everybody leaving here will be fully educated. With that in mind, I would like to do everything possible, from the point of view of Government, to make you all into ‘A’ students. You know in education you have ‘A’, which is the best student, and sometimes when you get ‘F’, F means fail. If you go to school and you get an ‘F’ or you go to university and you get an ‘F’, it means you failed. Well I am not interested in ‘F’ students, I am interested in ‘A’ students but to produce ‘A’ students, first of all, we must make sure that you have access; that you can get to school and again, I remind the village if any child has difficulty in getting to Kako Primary School let me know how that difficulty could be overcome.
If the child comes from a satellite, from a distant settlement, if that child has any problem that prevents him or her from getting to school, let me know, let Minister Hastings know, let the REdO know, let the Chairman know so we can solve those problems. You say the school is crowded so let us see how we could expand the schoolhouse so when children come in here they are comfortable. There are enough benches and tables, there is enough space for children; there is enough access within the school building for children to get a good education. At the rate Kako is making children, I need to expand this building. Look at children. When I first came here there weren’t so many children. If I come back next year, you’re going to have to put a tent outside but keep on keeping on, keep on keeping on but every child must get access.
Better schools, bigger schools, sufficient staff, proper libraries and from there we must look at other assets so that we can have little laboratories so children could start the introduction to computers early, the introduction to Science and Technology early in life. From the time they come to primary school they have to be competitive. They have to compete with Brazilian schoolchildren, Dutch school children, American school children. Kako is not a world by itself, we have to be competitive so we have to give every child access.
The second ‘A’ – I said there are three A’s – the second ‘A’ is attendance and I just want to say again and again every child must come to school every day unless that child has an illness but as long as that child is able, that child must be able to come to school. If it’s a question of distance, if it’s a question of breakfast, if it’s a question of poverty, let us try to overcome those problems to ensure that every child can get to school.
And the third ‘A’, of course, is the question of application. We want to make sure that the education that you get here in school in Kako is suited to your employment. We want to make sure that the education that you get enables you to function here in Kako and in the region and in the country as a whole. So we want to make sure that you can apply that education; sometimes it’s academic, sometimes it’s practical, sometimes it’s technical, sometimes a student may have an aptitude for information technology. Sometimes you go to communities, there is no newspaper, there is no telephone, there is no internet access, there is no television; you can’t use your cell phones, so you must think of bringing technology to every corner of Guyana, bringing information to every corner of Guyana, and by applying educational standards in this region, in this village, we will be able to use our education to improve communication with other parts of Guyana.
And finally, we want to make sure that the education achievements- that’s the fourth ‘A’. I said three? Well, the fourth ‘A’ is achievement. We want you not to be satisfied with being a primary school student. We want you to go to a secondary school; we want every single Guyanese to have a sound secondary education, universal secondary education. Everybody must get secondary education and after that you can go to tertiary level. So it’s primary, secondary and tertiary. You know, there was a Secretary General of United Nations called Ban Ki-moon and he told me something I’d never forget. He said, “Usain Bolt doesn’t stop running at fifty metres.” So I don’t want you to stop running at primary school or secondary school.
There is no reason why you should not be like Dr. Henry or Minister Dawn Hastings-Williams. Do not believe that you must end your education at Kako or Jawalla or Waramadong or Bartica. You must go to Turkeyen, you must go to university and be the best that you could be and this would start at National Grade Six and I must tell you that it pains me when children, particularly children from the hinterland, do not do well at the National Grade Six [Assessments] and we are doing things to improve the quality of education here. You would have seen in the papers today, and I brought some papers here which I’ll leave with the Toshao, we just got fifty million-dollars’ worth of scientific equipment from the People’s Republic of China for the Cyril Potter’s College of Education so your teachers will have a higher level of scientific education.
Thank you for your applause. What we are trying to do here is to make sure that the accomplishment is higher, not just to go to Cyril Potter College and come out, but just that you have the STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics on those little pins. It starts with your teachers. So the next batch of teachers going into Turkeyen, going into the Cyril Potter College of Education, will get advanced training and education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. So this means that in years to come the National Grade Six will have improved standards of accomplishment. CXC and CAPE will have improved standards of accomplishment and, finally, we will have more Guyanese with tertiary education or university education. These examinations are not obstacles. They are opportunities.
I mentioned four examinations: National Grade Six, CXC exam, CAPE exam, but these exams are not obstacles to keep you out. They’re opportunities to allow you to be the best that you could be. So my brothers and sisters, children of Kako and Upper Mazaruni, every time I come to this sub-region, to this district, I learn something. I have seen your games every August, your Upper Mazaruni District Games, and everywhere I’ve gone to, Berbice, Northwest, I always tell them about ‘Upper Maz’ games, how young people could walk, one, two days to come, put up their own pavilions, play football, cricket, have fun.
I go to other regions and say “Why you all can’t do that? Why you all can’t be like Upper Maz?” So I will keep on coming. I keep on supporting what you all are doing here in ‘Upper Maz’. I am very proud to be here, to be with you, to celebrate this anniversary. I look forward to returning next year and I would be very happy to be part of the School Improvement Programme, the SIP, to make sure that Kako will have one of the best primary schools not only in the region, but in the country.
I am very happy to be with you, among these children. So Kako, thank you very much for welcoming me. Once again, I feel very happy, very proud and don’t regard me as President, regard me as a partner in Kako’s development.
Thank you and may God bless you all.