Institutions that have proven their worth Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
October 22, 2002

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AS A result of persistent agitation and representation by the late President Cheddi Jagan against the deplorable living conditions of sugar workers in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the colonial authorities eventually agreed to address the problems.

Consequently, the Venn Commission was established to investigate living conditions of sugar workers and make recommendations for the improvement of living and social conditions in the sugar industry.

One of the most decisive recommendations to emerge from the findings of the Venn Commission was the establishment of a Sugar Industry Labour Welfare Fund (SILWF) to be used to establish housing schemes, build roads and set up recreational facilities, among others.

This was a landmark achievement and from the 1950s the living conditions of sugar workers dramatically improved - they were able to emerge from the logies (shacks) and build decent homes, and for the first time enjoy a potable water supply. Paved roads were also built in the housing schemes.

However, one key result from the findings of the Commission was setting up community centres in most of the sugar estate locations.

The first such community centre was established in May 1957, at Uitvlugt on the West Coast Demerara. In fact, it was the first of its kind in the Caribbean.

Following this others were built at La Bonne Intention on the East Coast Demerara and at other sugar estates.

These community centres boasted boys and youth clubs, cricket and a host of other sports clubs, girls clubs, which trained girls in a variety of home economics subjects, and libraries, among services. And they were managed by trained welfare officers in conjunction with voluntary service from members of the community, as well as support from the management of sugar estates.

Those who are old enough will remember that one of the biggest and most successful annual fairs in this country was the one held at Uitvlugt where funds raised were used to equip the various clubs and manage the affairs of the centre.

Also noteworthy is that out of this system of community centres many of our sports heroes emerged - Rohan Kanhai, Basil Butcher, Joe Solomon, Roy Fredericks, Alvin Kalicharran, Harry Prowell, Moses Dwarka and so many others.

The point to note here is that these community centres provided the youths with an excellent facility for excelling in various fields of sports, rather than channelling their energies into anti-social activities.

But most importantly these were institutions that built character, inculcated discipline and the correct social values. Anyone who is a product of those institutions can testify to this.

In those times in those communities there were hardly any cases of loitering and indulgence in anti-social activities by youths and there was much greater social cohesion in the communities.

Unfortunately, between 1970 and 1992, both the physical and social infrastructure at these institutions collapsed. This left a social vacuum, contributing significantly to a decline of social responsibility and social values among youths in the sugar estate communities.

In fact, during this period the only purpose the centres served was to house nursery schools because hardly any buildings were built to accommodate compulsory nursery education. In some cases they became virtual dance halls which contributed significantly to the destruction of their infrastructure.

From 1994 onwards the physical infrastructure of these community centres was rehabilitated beautifully, but proper management and restoring them to the `bee hives' of social activities and interaction they once were, is yet to be achieved.

These institutions have proven their worth and can contribute positively in the drive towards the restoration of values and discipline among youths.