President David Granger: Thank you, Brian, for your hard work in putting this engagement together and thank you all for coming and accepting the invitation. I would like to thank the dancers; I wish I was twenty-three instead of seventy-three, you know, I could have been there, it really opens your appetite.
Mr. Brian Smith, Deputy Director of Sport; Ms. Melissa Carmichael, Director of Youth; Dr. Astell Collins, the Executive Director of the President’s Youth Award: Republic of Guyana (PYARG); other invitees: I am really happy that you should all be here and I welcome you to the Baridi Benab- these are two Arawak words you know. Benab means Benab- you know sometimes people say that they don’t want to speak creolese but then I say, “how do you tell an Englishman what is a benab? How do you tell an Englishman, what is eye-pass and suck-teeth?”
How do you tell a man who doesn’t speak creolese that he get me so mad ah jus suck meh teeth and walk away? You will spend a whole page just trying to explain that or what ‘eye pass’ is, but this is a Guyanese word “Benab”; it comes from the word meaning banana; it means a shelter made of banana leaves – banana bow so that’s where benab comes from and Baridi is a bat falcon. You can see it there, it’s a bird of prey and it catches bats in flight. So when it’s flying to catch its prey it can actually reach a hundred kilometres an hour and of course it devours the prey very quickly; so this hut is named after the Baridi, a Guyanese word, and both words are of Arawak/Lokono origin. So, this is the Baridi benab; so welcome.
As you know, over the last year or so this has been the venue of a variety of cultural events. Diwali, you saw Hindus here lighting their diyas and for the first time in my life, I have seen a row of diyas from Main Street coming into State House. When I was sworn in on the 16th of May, 2015 I said, I would be president of all Guyana; so Hindus are welcome here. After Eid, as you know Eid comes at the end of Ramadan, a festival of fasting and prayer, and the post-Eid luncheon was held here; well not directly after Ramadan, not directly on the day of Eid but afterwards; so the Muslims came here.
A couple weeks ago the Christians came here; young people came here, the Press Association came here, so everybody comes here; this is state property. I’m not taking it with me, so you are welcome here; this is yours, so I agree with Brian I hope to see you here next year as long as you remain youths.
Before you leave there are some wallets there for you there marked ‘The Green State’; they have pictures of Kaieteur Falls on them, so please take away one with you and in that wallet you will see a little notebook called the Giants of Guyana and on the cover are photographs of twenty world-class animals of which you all could be proud. The largest snake in the world; the largest spider in the world; the largest river otter in the world; the largest anteater in the world; the largest eagle in the world- all of these belong to you- belong to Guyana. The Harpy Eagle is not the second largest eagle in the world – it is the largest eagle in the world; the Black Caiman is not the second largest Caiman- it is the largest Caiman in the world and when you get those books you will see them. These are books I give to children when I go to the various villages around the regions and I want you to feel very proud of this country; very proud of this environment because at seventy-three I have to hand it over to you all; I can’t carry it with me where I’m going- where ever that is; but you have to inherit this country and I am very proud of saying over and over again- this is the most beautiful, the most bountiful country in the Caribbean and I am very proud of it.
I am very proud of our coastland, even of the mud where we get our boundary crabs. I’m very proud of our grasslands – the Rupununi savannahs, the Berbice savannahs; the Rupununi alone is bigger than Costa Rica. I’m very proud of our highlands, Mount Roraima, the Pakaraimas, I’m very proud of the islands in the Essequibo River and those three islands – Leguan, Wakenaam and Hog Island alone – are the size of the British Virgin Islands- those three islands alone are the size of the BVI. I’m very proud of our wetlands – the swamps which have given us the Canje Pheasant, and which possess a wide range of snakes and birds, alligators, fish. I’m very proud of our rainforests which are the habit of those animals that you see on the books which you have collect- the notebooks which you collect. I’m very proud of the mangroves and I have been told by the people who like ‘sweet things’ that the bees which go to the mangroves produce the best honey. I didn’t know that; I thought the best honey would come from sunflowers or some other flower, but mangroves apparently are the place where the bees go to make the best honey.
I’m very proud of our rivers. The Essequibo River alone is a thousand kilometres long, one of the longest rivers in South America. Some people say it is the second longest- I don’t believe that, I’ve never measured it. I’m very proud of our waterfalls- Kaieteur. I’m very proud of our lakes; I don’t know if all of you have ever had an opportunity to ever go to the lakes, but we have lakes, we have huge lakes – the Tapakuma lake, Capoey Lake – and I hope one day that you can travel all around the country, all ten regions, and see these rivers and waterfalls and lakes. I say these things because I want you to love your country; I want you to own your country; I want you to be the best you could be.
Look at the variety of occupations you saw: the students, the workers, the sailors, the nurses; you could be whatever you want to be and I do hope that while I am here I’ll be able to give you that vision, that sense of purpose, so you could love Guyana but at the same time want to use these resources here in Guyana to be whatever you want to be. If you want to be a journalist, if you want to be President, why not? You want to be a politician, a lawyer, whatever it is you want to be, an artist, engineer, but the country is wide open and it’s open to you. When I was young, you know, I felt I could walk on water, I felt I could do anything and I want you to feel that way too. So first of all this engagement is about you, it is about the environment which I want you to own, I want you to love. It’s about education like the little girl who ended up with a University of Guyana academic gown. I want you to go to school but school is not nursery or primary or even secondary. You have to go to university. When I say have to, you ought to. Former United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon has a saying that you know, “Usain Bolt doesn’t stop running at fifty metres” and you too mustn’t think that you should stop running at CXC or CAPE.
Maybe when I was young, such a long time ago, it was good to get GCE ‘O’ levels and ‘A’ levels but now tertiary education almost mandatory for some types of occupation. So don’t quit- keep on; keep putting pressure on the education system so that more and more of our Guyanese here at Turkeyen, at Tain and throughout the country will demand and get access to higher education. I want Guyanese to be ‘A’ students. Good access, high attendance and good achievements in the education system- three A’s; and that is why my wife and I introduced these Three ‘Bs’: boats, bicycles, and buses.
There are over two dozen free buses on the streets of Guyana, every single day, taking children to school because of that initiative which was launched on my 70th birthday on the 15th of July, 2015. Over two dozen buses and the Regional Education Officer of Region Six calculated the millions of dollars being saved because those buses are free. So all of those households, instead of paying four hundred dollars a day to take their children to and from school, are putting that money back into their households; but education is the first step and I would like to see every child in school. I went up the Pomeroon River; I saw children who couldn’t afford to go to school because they couldn’t afford to get into a boat. I gave them a boat. Children on the highway who can’t come to Soesdyke because they can’t afford the buses – give them a bus and with the support of the Private Sector we’ve been able to provide more and more buses, bicycles and boats in the riverain areas. Every river now has a boat. Demerara, Essequibo, Berbice, Pomeroon, all have boats taking children to school every day.
The next point I’d like to leave with you is employment. We know employment is a problem for young people. When I was campaigning, I met a young woman from Tain campus on the Corentyne, she graduated; she has a Bachelor’s degree but can’t get a job, that is a problem for me, that is a problem for her, it is a problem for the country. I would like to see full employment. What can we do? At one level, starting at the beginning of this year, we are bringing some of the youth programmes together- the Hinterland Employment Youth Scheme enterprise; we’re bringing the YEST; we’re bringing all the youth programmes together so that there’s a common core curriculum so that every child, whether or not he or she has dropped out, who enters that programme will get common training which will prepare him or her to be employed in Guyana. I don’t like to see young children; some of them who have left secondary school in Rupununi, for example, drifting over to Brazil to do menial work. I think they can stay here and get a good living. Not only because oil is on the horizon but also because we can produce practically every food item that the eastern Caribbean needs.
Everything that you eat in this place will be produced in Guyana. I don’t boast about it but the first people to eat in this Benab were the Caribbean Heads of Government and everything they ate, every bit of fish, every serving of soup, every plantain, every breadfruit came from Guyana and the Prime Minister of a certain country boasted that his country is the breadfruit capital of the world; they have eighteen varieties of breadfruit. So when you come here, you eat local. No macaroni and cheese but what does this have to do with employment? It means that you, with your intelligence, with your education, with your equipment, can produce everything that you need to have a good life.
We have instituted what I call a programme of Regional Agriculture Exhibition and you would be amazed that households produce every bit of condiment, cassareep, honey, pepper sauce; you name it and there are households in Guyana right now which are producing these commodities and putting them on sale and you too, with a little bit of support, can become an entrepreneur, can become a business person by bottling some of that guava drink, by making guava cheese. I was trained in Brazil a long time ago – I don’t want to tell you how long because the figures might scare you – but a very long time ago I was trained in Brazil and one of the desserts that they served every day – it’s a jungle warfare training school so there were no frills – it was something called goiabada. We eat this goiabada; they brought it in big tins, like huge cakes. Goiabada is guava cheese but the Brazilians have been able to put goiabada on an industrial scale and you too, young entrepreneurs, young businesspersons, can put your mauby, can put your plantain chips, can put your guava cheese, your guava jam or guava jelly on an industrial scale and sell it to the countries which don’t have those things.
So your education will not only equip you for employment, but will also equip you for entrepreneurial activities. So these are the things I would like to leave with you, and I hope that our engagement as Brian said, will continue annually or even as regularly as he wants, as you want. As I said, this is state property and I invited you to come here today so you can meet one another; not in a political setting, not in a governmental setting, but in a friendly setting among equals, among peers and I just want you to be proud of your environment. I just want you to adhere to the educational standards. I want you to feel that there is a possibility, even a necessity, for you to get full employment in this country and most of all for you to become business persons so that you can become rich.
Thank you for coming.
May God bless you all and keep on being young.