We all have a responsibility to play a role in developing our country
Stabroek News
May 3, 2002

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Dear Editor,

I was born in the 1960s and grew up in the rural areas of Guyana. The grandparents from my mother's side were East Indians with roots from India. My grandfather from my father's side migrated from India, and married my grandmother (paternal side), who was an African woman with a mixture of Amerindian ("Bouviander").

As a youngster, I grew up on the British food of ice apples, grapes, currants, raisins, sardines, mackerel, etc. At that young age, I heard my parents discussing the racial disturbances that followed and about East Indians moving to other areas of Guyana.

During the 1970s, a climate of fear and bullyism prevailed. At that time I wondered, why was everyone afraid to be open in views about issues affecting them. They would often speak in hushed whispers, now and again looking over their shoulders. I was also perplexed about the role of the army which would come and seize the ballot boxes after the poll, and no one dared to follow the boxes. I can vividly remember one instance when my father, who was a tax driver, was taking some party agents to ensure that the boxes were not tampered with, and they nearly lost their lives because the soldiers stopped them at gun point and forced them to turn back.

As a young child, I personally experienced the humiliation of having to stand in long lines to get basic items like salt, sugar, soap, toothpaste, etc. Then to crown it all, when I left school and sought a job as a teacher, it was really difficult for me to clinch the job, even though it was acknowledged by the interviewer that I was qualified. I was naive as to the reason for my failure until a sympathetic friend called me aside, and told me that I could get the job if I bought a party card! I was astonished at his suggestion, and as the reality of it sank into my head, I refused because I do not want to become a political prawn of anyone. Nevertheless, my friend warned me that since I was determined, it would be futile for me to achieve my goal.

Today, things are far different, but yet ironically with a twist. During the 70s and 80s, the average Guyanese faced the force of the law if they had dissenting views about what was happening around them. Some preferred to stay neutral and just tagged along with the flow of the tide. But where does neutrality begin or end, if civil society does not take a stand against lawless elements around it? Haven't we sown the seeds of anarchy and aren't we reaping the whirlwind of destruction?

Come on Guyanese, this is not a time for us to close our eyes and wish that the problems go away. Let us not make the government of the day a scapegoat for what we have inherited now. Who is the government? Aren't we the government, because we make the government work? Yet it is we who undermine the government by causing injustices and corruption. We demand bribes and give "hush money" when we need work to be done. We need salary increases; yet we loiter on our jobs and keep our eyes on the clock. We do not even realise that we are servants of the public, and should extend simple courtesies when dealing with them, but instead we growl and "war" with them. How can we expect the government to function effectively and carry out its mandate to the people, when we create a climate of fear, instability and lawlessness?

Come on Guyanese, our mental energies and emotions are locked against each other by the politicians who prey upon our insecurities. Yet our minds should be focused on a vision of a prosperous Guyana for the "betterment" of our children. The pertinent issue is this, that we should bend our backs to the plow and develop our country so that our children can have economic security and a good education.

I believe that we can do it. History has provided examples about our foreparents who had stood against the odds and were successful. The African slaves, leading up to their freedom, pooled their money that they were saving, so that at the end of their tenure, they were able to buy the very plantation. Some of the East Indian immigrants at the end of their contract did not return to India, but stayed behind to work on the land. Our ancestors struggled for what they had because they had a vision of a prosperous Guyana for their children.

Has our vision become so blurred that the sacrifices which our foreparents made are in vain? The vast majority of Guyanese want peace and economic development. There are many Guyanese who instead of migrating would have preferred to remain behind, to serve their country. Some toil relentlessly, not because of monetary rewards, but that their efforts would be a great start in developing our nation. For example, I am impressed with the attitudes of some senior lecturers who have remained behind to share their education with us, so that we also can have say in our country's development.

Why have I decided to pen this letter? I am not the kind of person who would listen to the speeches of the politicians. However, I turned on the television when the President was discussing the economic plans and the money that was approved for these plans, and was impressed with the sincerity and genuineness in his tone of voice, his facial expressions and his body language as he appealed to all Guyanese to side with him in his development quest. The charisma that he portrayed is a message to us. Let us join hands together whatever may be our race, creed, religion and beliefs as we work together for a prosperous Guyana.

A dying man on his bed called his nine sons together, and gave each one of them a piece of wood. He told them to tie the pieces together to make a bundle. This bundle was passed around to each of his sons who tried to break it but were unable. Next the bundle was untied, and the pieces were distributed to his sons again, the old man asked them to break their wood and his sons were able to do so. The sons understood what their father wanted them to know. Once they unite they are strong, but if each goes his separate way, they are bound to be broken like that piece of wood.

That little story carries a vital message for us. Whether we are a labourer, a farmer, a teacher, a nurse, a doctor, or a policeman, each one of us has a role to play in our country's development. Our ancestors have set the pace for us. Heaven be against us if we absolve ourselves from that responsibility. We cannot allow the past to be repeated, for the past has already condemned some of us. Now is the time for peace, for healing to take place. Now is the time for tolerance, respect, dignity and pride to rule over the land. Now is the time for justice and mercy to reign. We say no to lawlessness, to hatred, to racial instigation and intolerance in whatever form.

The time has come for us to take a stand. There is no neutral or middle ground. We have a moral responsibility to God, our conscience and to our children, to do so. Would you?

Yours faithfully,

Bissoonauth Bacchus