Dr Ishmael should be given the Order of Excellence
Stabroek News
May 31, 2002

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Dear Editor,

I have been waiting with bated breath to hear of an official state recognition of Guyana's most respected diplomat who has been accorded international fame by winning a most prestigious global award.

Dr Mohamed Odeen Ishmael, Guyana's Ambassador to the United States and our country's Representative at the Organisation of American States (OAS) was recently the recipient of the Martin Luther King Legacy Award.

This award recognizes and affirms those who make significant contributions in the areas of race relations, justice and human rights in the US and abroad. Dr Ishmael has been a perfect candidate for this award having made significant contributions in the areas outlined.

This distinguished son of ours has now joined an elite group which includes boxing great, Mohamed Ali, Senator Edward M Kennedy, Queen Noor of Jordan, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, US Surgeon General Dr David Satcher, Rev Jesse L Jackson, Sr, General Colin Powell (now US Secretary of State) and the late US Secretary of Commerce Ronald H. Brown, among others.

I recall Dr Ishmael's humble beginnings in rural Guyana.

As a young teacher, he taught President Bharrat Jagdeo, myself and many others at the Mahaica Multilateral School (Bygeval Secondary) during the late 1970's and early 1980's. I recall him living with his family in a modest apartment in the school's compound, and I have vivid memories of him riding his bicycle (Humber or Raleigh?) to the Mahaica Market every Saturday.

I clearly recall him taking his wife, a teacher also, on his bicycle, every school-day to the nearby Helena Primary School.

Dr Ishmael gave selflessly to all those he taught. He was a great teacher who commanded the respect of one and all.

However, as life would have it, he migrated, like many others of our best professionals when the local political waters became turbulent during the climaxing days of the People's National Congress under the leadership of LFS Burnham.

Like some of his colleagues, Dr Ishmael sought the comforts and rewards of the education system in the Bahamas where he spent some time. I have no doubt that he also give selflessly to those students he taught there.

Dr Ishmael never gave up on Guyana as was evident in the many trips he made back home during his years of teaching abroad.

By 1992, when free and fair elections in Guyana, a rarity in Guyana's politics until then, saw the Peoples Progressive Party/Civic winning a landslide victory, Dr Ishmael had already secured his doctoral degree. I, like many with whom he was associated, was extremely elated when he was appointed our Ambassador to the US.

His oratorical skills demonstrated during lectures to us at Blygeval Secondary supplied evidence of the man's class. His knowledge of West Indian and World History, the subject he taught us, was beyond comparison. I knew since then that this great teacher was destined for greatness but little did I realize then that he would have won world acclaim.

His unique class of international diplomacy is today being defined in the world arena where he frequently gives lectures and other presentations to intellectuals and ordinary citizens.

Dr Ishmael is one of the few individuals in our midst who puts country before self and recently told me that his Martin Luther King Legacy Award is a significant achievement for all the people of Guyana. I believe his every word because he is the type of individual who believes in his country, people and Government.

Through his achievements, this classic son of our soil is ensuring Guyana's recognition on the diplomatic map of the world.

Dr Ishmael, having received the Martin Luther King Legacy Award, made the front-page lead story in one of the Washington, DC dailies. Unfortunately, in his home country very little was said or written about the lifetime achievement of this distinguished, honourable son of ours who has been flying high our Golden Arrowhead in the international arena.

Is it that we are not aware of the importance attached to such awards? Or is it that we care not about those who have been successfully representing and promoting our country? One would have expected that our local media (private and state-controlled) would have interviewed, extensively, Dr Ishmael upon this significantly glorious achievement.

I am at a loss why even the Guyana Information and News Agency (GINA) did not use the opportunity to interview Dr Ishmael on this landmark achievement, which is also a first for the Caribbean, as far as I am aware.

Our Government, whom Dr Ishmael is so capably representing, not only in the US and the OAS but at other important international fora, should publicly acknowledge his achievements in a way that can be considered tangible, justified and fair.

I would like to urge our Government that Dr Ishmael should be fittingly accorded our country's highest national honour, the Order of Excellence (OE) in view of his excellent achievement for our country and the recognition the Award has brought us.

Mr President, it is not too late for bestowing this honour on a man who has been my mentor, yours and undoubtedly many others.

I now look forward to Dr Mohamed Odeen Ishmael, OE, Guyana's Ambassador to the US and Guyana's Representative to the OAS.

Over to you, Mr President!!

Yours faithfully,

Mahadeo Panchu