Life in Essequibo is very different from life in Georgetown

Consumer Concerns
By Eileen Cox
Stabroek News
July 30, 2000

"The Ministry of Education is committed to the all-round development of the child and is pushing ahead to achieve that objective."

This statement was attributed to the Chief Executive Officer at the Ministry in one of our daily newspapers. It is a laudable objective but one wonders whether the Ministry is aware of the magnitude of the problem. A visit to the Essequibo Coast, the area with which I am most familiar, will reveal to him how vastly different is the life of the child there from the life of children in Georgetown.

To begin with, there are few job opportunities in that area. The rice industry that was once flourishing is in the doldrums, though there are major steps being taken to have it once more viable. Millers owe farmers money and farmers owe the banks. There is saw-milling but I am told that money is not always ready for payment to labourers. Parents are hard pushed to give their children the necessities of life. To outfit them for school is a problem.

Many are the requests I receive for school uniforms. The Needy Children's Fund did supply uniforms to some schoolchildren in the Supenaam area on two occasions. Parents say that they have never received uniforms from the Ministry of Education. Go to the Amerindian areas and you will hear the same complaint - no school uniforms.

Many of us have the perception that school uniforms are widely distributed and we have wondered why parents in depressed areas like the Essequibo Coast do not regularly receive this assistance. Areas like the North West District, like the Rupununi, do they receive school uniforms as a normal entitlement?

I have learnt that there is no vote for school uniforms in this year's estimates for the Ministry of Education. This leaves the need unsatisfied and NGOs will have to come to the rescue.

There can be no all-round development of children on the Essequibo Coast or in other rural areas when there are no schools teaching Home Economics, when there are no Technical Institutes. During the long school holidays children are seen idling, watching television - no playgrounds, no libraries.

Again, if one is comparing life on the Essequibo Coast with life in Georgetown, one has to find out the cost of transportation. Taxis and mini-buses charge $40 sometimes for a short drop but most times they charge $60. The visitor to the area will be charged $80. To send one's child to a secondary school from the Supenaam area is nothing less than $200 per day. In addition, the child must have money to buy a snack. It is only reasonable to suspect that many children are malnourished.

Children with disabilities are at a disadvantage. They must come to Georgetown for medical attention. The child whose hearing is impaired, who is going blind, who is born with a deformity, receives no attention in the rural areas.

We have had a Poverty Alleviation Programme but nowhere have I seen any signs of poverty alleviation. Nice schools I have seen, but schools without teachers and without the enrolment of all the children in the area are not going to bring all-round development.

Much has been written about poverty alleviation. I have in front of me a document, Eradication of Poverty, which promises more than alleviation. This document is made available by the International Co-operative Alliance. It propounds the virtues of cooperation for eradication of poverty. In the words of the Secretary-General of the United Nations: "co-operative enterprises provide the organisational means whereby a significant proportion of humanity is able to take into its own hands the tasks of creating productive employment overcoming poverty and achieving social integration".

We are yet to see this put into action in Guyana. We suffer because our large rivers cut off large slices of our population from the mainstream of life. There is not enough contact with developers in Georgetown.

The all-round development of the child is a noble goal but we must be assured that the Ministry is looking at development of children in every Region of the country, including the Rupununi, where children walk bare-footed to school.

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