Limited objectives

Stabroek News
October 1, 1999

In her column last Sunday captioned "Things fall apart" Andaiye [please note: link provided by LOSP web site] described the anarchy and lack of standards that prevail in our capital city. It is as if everyone couldn't care less. They litter the streets, clog the drains, drive recklessly and generally show no interest or pride in the surroundings in which they live. "Georgetown has to be the most squalid capital in the Caribbean and is a disgrace to the rest of Guyana - no part of which I have seen looks, smells or feels like this" she said.

She is quite right. There is a lawless attitude which manifests itself in many ways, riding up one way streets (though this has abated since the police started doing something about it), casual littering and throwing empty food boxes out of vehicles on the road, obstruction of pavements, poor service in ministries, public agencies, and some shops and supermarkets -and so on. What has gone wrong? Why are we "content to let things fall apart"?

This anomie that Andaiye discerns may spring from a sort of alienation in which people have lost hope in their economic condition being bettered after decades of failed promises, educational standards have fallen making progress more difficult, and citizens are numb from prolonged political strife combined with ethnic division which leads nowhere. The diaspora continues and things fall apart.

There is no quick fix. A medium to long term solution will demand more investment and development [please note: link provided by LOSP web site], better education, more discipline at many levels and a saner and more enlightened politics. Where we may disagree somewhat with Andaiye is in her apparent conclusion that there is no value in small, specific projects with limited objectives that make no attempt to tackle the broader problems. We believe it is better to do something than to do nothing, with a proper awareness of the limitations of what one is seeking to do. And quite a few people are doing this in their own way. There are the ladies from Help and Shelter, for example, helping abused women and children, there are the nuns and others running orphanages, there are the service clubs where members do good work, there are some unsung heroes in the teaching and medical profession who bear their burden quietly every day and shed their light, there are a surprising number of people who try in their own way to make a contribution to the public good.

So all is not lost. And of course Andaiye herself has been involved in many civic projects over the years. The big solutions take time and vision. The small ones take will power, organisation and a sense that living only to satisfy one's immediate needs is not enough. If enough people arrive at this conviction one day critical mass may be achieved and the quality of life will improve.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples