Every child should be able to attend school and complete their education. This is the founding principle of President David Granger’s Public Education Transportation System (PETS). Shortly after taking office in 2015, the President started this programme in order to combat high drop-out rates and improve education accessibility.
This is a special edition of Government in Action celebrating President Granger who, on his first birthday as President, gave the children of this country a gift: a chance to get to school safely, quickly, and free of cost.
The PETS programme
“There is no better investment in this world than investment in children. We… see education as the gateway to the good life. We see that by providing these buses, boats and bicycles that we will improve access to schools; we will improve attendance and in so doing, we will improve achievement. We want to see ‘A’ students and those are the ‘A’s we are working towards today: access, attendance and achievement… We want to make access for education easier for children and we want to create a more equal society so that they children in Mabaruma… in Jawalla… and Aishalton would have an equal opportunity to education as the children in Sophia, Industry or Cummings Lodge,” the Head of State said at the commissioning of three David ‘G’ buses in August 2017.
In its early stages, the PETS programme was known as the Three Bs, which stood for Boats, Buses and Bicycles. Later on, with the addition of the Breakfast and Books, the programme developed into the Five Bs. The now four-year-old programme boasts a fleet of 29 buses, 12 boats, and over 1200 bicycles spread across all Ten Administrative Regions of Guyana that help the nation’s children to open the doors to their futures.
During an interview, Minister of Social Protection, Ms. Amna Ally explained the inspiration behind the programme.
“While we were in Opposition, Mr. Granger visited a number of communities…I can recall we were in Essequibo in the Pomeroon and himself and First Lady gave a child a gift… and this gift was a book… When the child was given the book, the child said, “thank you, but I cannot read.”
“So, [the President] said, “Well, why can’t you read?”
“And the child said that she cannot read because she doesn’t go to school. It is very costly to go to school. It is from the Pomeroon River to Charity and her parents couldn’t afford it.
“Then we outreached again to West Coast Berbice and there was a child at Trafalgar who told the President, “I have to go to school in New Amsterdam, but it is very costly. It is going to cost me $1000” per day to get to school…” For one child, it would be $5000 transportation cost for the week alone.
“The President was moved with those two instances… As soon as he came to office, it was his birthday… He is a humble person. He didn’t want people showering him with gifts. He wanted to give gifts for his birthday. And so, he started the Bs programme and his first gift was a boat to the children of Pomeroon,” the Minister said.
Minister Ally also explained that the funding for the boats, buses and bicycles all came from the donations from corporate citizens and members of the Guyanese diaspora. The programme, she said, has contributed to the marked improvement in academic performance within the education sector.
“When we go out there, these people are so happy. You see them embracing our effort when we have the commissioning of these buses, boats, and bicycles… It is with pride that they board these buses… [that] they get into these buses and ride their bicycles to their destination,” she said.
Minister Ally then offered the President a birthday greeting.
“My President has a face for everything. You see the fatherly love coming out of him. You see the country coming out of him. You see progress coming out of him. You see the want of development coming out of him…I would like to say happy birthday to my President. I would like to wish him well. I want to wish him good health because I think that is really necessary for him at this point in time. And he has a whole country on hand, and I know with him on the helm, come his next tenure, he will continue to deliver for the people of Guyana,” she said.
Tackling education accessibility together
First Lady, Mrs. Sandra Granger partnered with ReThink Initiative of Trinidad to provide shoes for students going to school in the hinterland. This is just one of myriad educational initiatives spearheaded by the First Lady.
“For mainly hinterland children we have the Shoes that Grow project… Years ago my husband and I noticed that many children went to school barefoot and there are all the issues associated with walking barefoot in the bush… ReThink organisation of Trinidad came up with the idea of the Shoes that Grow project and ran it by me… I was very happy for that because this is a company that makes a shoe that a child can adjust as he or she grows and we have been able to distribute to the children in the hinterland,” the First Lady said.
Mrs. Granger has received generous donations from the Diaspora and the Central Islamic Organisation of Guyana (CIOG), and even Caribbean Airlines, who brought in the shoes that grow free of cost. For the First Couple, it is with great passion that they ensure that the children of Guyana have the tools and means to be properly prepared for the world of work. This is a fundamental principle that shapes the vision of her own remedial education, Information and Communications Technology, and STEM Robotics workshops.
“[The Five Bs] speaks for itself because it focuses on ensuring that young people have the resources to get the education that they need. I think we must look at education, not only in the academic, book-learning sense, but look at education as something that equips our young people for life… I hope that [Guyana’s] children will enjoy the benefits that will come to this country through the… sustainable utilisation of the resources that we have. I hope that they will understand that they have a great gift that they have to care for but that they can also enjoy and that it will not be just a few people benefiting from it, but everyone in every single square meter of Guyana will benefit from it as well,” She said
First Lady offered a birthday greeting to the President.
“I would like to wish my husband a very happy birthday. I would like to wish him long life and good health and many more happy, active, productive years,” she said.
A word from the beneficiaries
PETS has transformed the lives of students across the country. We travelled to the Regional Democratic Council of Mahaica-Berbice (Region Five), home of two David ‘G’ school buses to hear from the beneficiaries. Here is what they had to say:
Delicia Solomon, Rosignol Secondary School: The experience of … riding the David ‘G’ bus is very lovely. The bus is comfortable when you’re riding it… I was able to save more money… The passage I used to pay [to] go to school, I use to do assignments and my other school work.
Rasheeda Mohamed, Number Eight Secondary School: You [get to school] very early… you save money. You help your parents… If you catch the bus in the morning and the afternoon, for the whole week, you save, actually, $600 and that can help the parents. And the bus if very safe to travel in and comfortable.
Yolanda Tyrell, Woodley Park Secondary School: It’s comfortable, relaxing. It saves me a lot… coming to school… It helps me. It helps my mom, especially, as a single parent, saving, helping me with my assignments, doing my SBAs…It makes me feel good. It makes my mom feel good because she doesn’t have to do a lot of spending because the savings from the bus [help] a lot… if you add that $600 for the month, it’s a lot of money. So, it helps me a lot… I think most students, especially if their parents are single parents, I think they should make the [effort] to get up, do what they have to do, and get the bus. [It’s] very early in the morning. You [get] to school very early and that is what I like about it.
THE bus workers, drivers and warden, also shared their experiences with the David ‘G’ buses, even making a point to encourage students to focus on their studies during the rides.
Mr. Egbert McPherson, Driver: Since I’ve been driving the David ‘G’ bus it [has] been a good experience with the kids. You get to understand them more, you know.
Mr. Seaun McDonald, Driver: I feel great about it because it’s a lot of assistance, especially for the parents… especially [for the] transportation [costs]… bringing the children out in Ithaca, they will have to pay passage at least four times because they have to come from Ithaca, stop… at Rosignol, then get [another] transportation from there to school. So, the buses, now, do a great lot for them…I’d [be] glad to see, at least, they go and get a job… that’s the first thing. Not go around and hide around the place and then get themselves into some problems with the police and they [have] to prison and all those things. We do a lot of talking with them. I tell them [to] take in [their] education. That’s the very first thing. And then, with [a couple] of them who [travel] here, I told them whoever gets the best percentage for the term, I would give them a surprise or some gift.
Ms. Jonel Dover, Bus Warden: Right now, I’m excited because… Thursday and Friday… school closed. Everybody in the bus was Top Ten. So, that makes me feel proud knowing that I encouraged them to work hard, study hard, and keep the focus on what they do, where school work is concerned…[There are] kids who would… turn their back when the bus is passing. One day I decided to ask the driver to stop the bus and… I had a talk with [a] young lady… [I told her that it’s] no problem. You don’t have to pay anything. Take the first ride and from that day, she has travelled every day with the bus. She felt so comfortable because [of the] one [on] one that I had with her.
Ms. Gloria Davidson-James, Senior Schools Welfare Officer: The parents in the Mahaica-Berbice Region, with this Five Bs initiative, they’re responding well because they… have mentioned that the money that they have to give their children, that burden is off of their shoulder… the children are able now to attend school regularly and they’re always on time with this initiative…The money that they used to pay the transportation fee with, they’re better able to help with their assignments. Teachers, previously, they used to complain about the children not doing their assignment, but it’s because [of] a financial situation. Now that the bus is on stream, the children are better able to do their assignments and get the work done, and their grades are up because they now have the money to help with the assignment.
OF course, the students and employees were eager to send birthday wishes to President Granger.
Delicia: I want to say happy birthday to the President of Guyana and I do support this lovely help that he’s done for the country thus far. So, he can continue to live [a long] life.
Avindra Beharry, Belladrum Secondary School: I would like to say happy birthday to the President and thank you for serving our country.
Rasheeda: I would like to say a special, special happy birthday to our President, David Granger. He should enjoy his day and have a pleasant birthday.
Yolanda: Hi, Mr. Granger! I would like to wish you a happy, happy birthday. For the past four years, I really do appreciate everything you have done in this country. I hope you live to see many, many birthdays and do have a wonderful birthday.
Mr. McPherson: Happy birthday. You continue to keep up the good work and I hope that the next five years, you’re still in office.
Mr. McDonald: Happy Birthday and wish [you] all the best for the birthday. Good health and strength by the grace of God.
Ms. Dover: I must say, Mr. President, happy birthday. I’m happy that this venture that you’ve put out, the [Five B’s], continue, regardless of what happens continue sharing the love. Happy birthday.
Ms. Davidson-James: A happy and blessed birthday. And I must say that may God bless you and you continue to guide us as people of Guyana. Happy Birthday, Mr. President.
Mr. President, you have done many great things in your lifetime, but, we, the people of this great nation, believe there is still more greatness to come. Happy birthday to you and may the latter 74 years be even brighter, fuller, and more prosperous than the former.