Where are the day care centres in this country?

Women's-eye View By Vanda Radzik
Stabroek News
December 31, 2000

Where on earth are the day care centres in this country? This is the dawning of the year 2001 and we do not care enough for our children to afford them safe places to stay so that working mothers can leave their children in a managed environment. Spare them a thought as we step into the New Year.

How many more babies and toddlers must burn, while we spend a fortune photographing and registering reluctant adults for the upcoming elections jamboree?

All the donors are busy tripping over each other in the spending splurge on Elections 2001. But I wonder what equivalent has been put into day care facilities? The most visible day care centre that I know of is the Dorothy Bailey Municipal Centre on South Road in Georgetown. This is also, without a doubt, one of the best kept public buildings in town. Congratulations!!

But are there others? Is there an equivalent in Linden or Bartica or New Amsterdam or Lethem or Mahdia? I hope so, but I am doubtful.

I was particularly struck at the stridency with which some persons stood ready to accuse the mother of the two children that burned to death at the Timehri docks not so long ago. It seemed to be a case of you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. According to press reports, the young mother was out job-hunting when the tragedy occurred. She tries to be responsible to earn a living but has nowhere to leave the children but home alone. Even if she had found employment, the question still remains unanswered: who would have looked after the children?

Gender blind budgets
An examination of the budgets in Guyana under either of the two governments we have been plagued with as a nation stand as monumentally unfriendly to working women. The regional/local government budgets are even worse. A gender analysis will quickly and clearly show that there is insufficient attention paid to women's and children's needs. Everyone, especially the private sector, that most dubious 'engine of growth' has never, ever included day care in any of its rhetoric. The backbone of this economy and most other economies, rests squarely on the backs of women - but there is scant attention and even less resources put into the most currency of all - the children of the nation, the majority of whom are born and raised by poor working women.

Is there any corporate entity that actually supports a day care facility for its workers? Why ever not? Do any of the ministries that employ thousands of mothers and fathers with young children support a day care facility? Do any of the aid agencies and donor-related organisations offer day care facilities? I hope so, but sadly, am unaware of any such.

I think that the Beacon Foundation has or had initiated something along these lines, but that is the only example I can recall. And I remember having a conversation with Dr Leslie Chin some years ago who had a brainwave about fostering such centres. But I guess no one stepped up to the table and put up the money for this excellent suggestion.

And where is child care incorporated into corporate Guyana?

It is time for corporate Guyana and the private sector as a whole to assume some civic responsibility and establish institutions such as day care centres for its workers.

It is more than time for NGOs and development agencies to come to grips with what is really most needed for nation building. A good place to start is always with the children.

Such institutions can become the basis of transforming our nation. Parenting programmes can be established, early childhood development and 'head start' programmes initiated. Including special 'fathers' sessions, family planning, conflict avoidance and domestic conflict resolution or domestic violence counselling and so on. Such centres can serve as outreach venues for other service organisations, and for creating a healthy workforce in all senses of the word.

Linked to this needs to be a big lobby to engender the budget - national and local budgets. It is time to lose the gender blindness that has characterized these budgets gentlemen, and put the money where it matters most. I want to propose that a good proportion of the HIPC millions be invested in childcare centres.

Buildings, buildings everywhere and not a day care centre in sight

Like most Guyanese of a certain generation, I am amazed and appalled at some of the concrete monoliths being constructed in and out of the city. They are like a fungus or virus multiplying all over the place - as fast as the population is migrating, these buildings are mutating. Who are they for? What 'stocks' for which population is being stored in these places?

Is any one of them a child care centre? I think that these tycoons should develop a social conscience - even a mere one per cent of the space or cost of such contract could go into a children's fund that would support space and staff to care for children of working parents.

I would vote for a budget that levies a tax on all new buildings constructed in the past 10 years and puts this into a social development fund. The aid agencies and government (courtesy of HIPC initiative) can match this and presto! we would have a safer, saner nation in the future and a chance for reparation in this present life.

The Private Sector Commission should set up a new millennium day care facility in its premises and lead by example. All the new Chambers of Commerce should consider putting day care/family centres down on their brand new agendas as well.

Too much loose change in the regional pockets goes unspent?
I'm not sure how many citizens out there know, but at my last check, most regions underspent their budget allocations or did not utilize the full quota available. This is a situation that needs remedying immediately. It is unacceptable that in poor regions that have so many unmet needs, that funds are not or cannot be used. Part of the problem lies in the unwieldy local government machinery and the rather inept control from the central ministry of such funds. I hope that voter education will stretch to include what we are voting for - that is representation and our right to ensure that the finances allocated are used how we the people want to have them used. It is high time that the administrative public servants - whom no one votes for, after all - understand that it is the electors' will that needs to prevail in decision-making at the regional and municipal levels.

Voter education worth its salt is gone with the wind
I must confess to feeling that the development dollars being poured into the elections will provide us with a little plastic ID card and little else of worth. I really had hoped that voter education would have provided some lessons in citizens' rights and in the power of the vote to secure community-based representation. But with the dice loaded as it now is in the bizarre formula for allocation of seats - one only for Regions 9 and 8, for instance, and a 'top up' of 40 more from Lord alone knows where and to no other avail than the continuing and obnoxious power war between the PNC and PPP, it is hard to see how any voter education programme could do other than wring its collective hands in consternation at the unfolding farce.

Anyone who had the stomach enough to view or listen to the Parliamentary debate on the allocation of seats according to the Constitutional Reform recommendation would know that those persons are worthy of leading no one with any good sense. But of course, since when did good sense ever prevail over voting habits and patterns since the Independence of Guyana. (No pun intended!)

With a wish and a prayer
My New Year wish for Guyana is for a Women's Caucus in Parliament after March 19 that will meet across party lines to push for gender aware national and regional budgets, gender equality protocols at all levels of the legislature and within the governance of the nation as a whole that will include the prioritization of day care centres. This would be a good place to start a new era - a mandate to secure a safe place for the present children of Guyana and a just future for the men and women they will become.

Will our women politicians rise to the occasion? I hope so - with all the good faith I can muster and with a prayer.

Honour Roll: The Dorothy Bailey Day Care Centre

Woman's-eye View Honour Roll
Women's-eye View Honour Roll gives an honourable mention to the Dorothy Bailey Day Care Centre - one of a kind, and for beautifying the city with its upkeep!!

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