Winfer Garden pupils, parents protest over school building
-as promised completion deadline passes
Stabroek News
January 31, 2004

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No retreat! A man tries valiantly to restrain the disgusted students of Winfer Garden Primary School who protested outside the Ministry of Education, Brickdam office yesterday calling for the completion of their new school on East Street. (Ken Moore photo

"We need our school! We need a new school!" were some of the chants of students and parents of Winfer Garden Primary as they protested outside the Minister of Educa-tion's office on Brickdam yesterday.

The parents and pupils said they were fed up with the many promises being made to them by the ministry with regard to the completion of the school.

Assistant Chief Education Officer of Georgetown, Joseph Gilgeous, had told a news conference recently that the school would have been ready by this month end. He said that the only works which were left to be done were the installation of electricity in the building and connection of the water and sewerage systems.

That was on January 21. More than a week later, none of these things has been done. In fact, no work was done on the building since then.

Contacted yesterday after the protest, a top official at the ministry admitted that there were some slippages in the design of the contract which caused the delay in the completion of the building. According to the official, as far as the ministry was concerned the problem resided with the contractor and as such, a meeting yesterday decided that by next week Friday the school must be completed and handed over to the ministry. The official agreed that it was very frustrating for the ministry as well as the teachers, parents and students of the school. He said the ministry did its part and was now depending on the contractor to complete the building by Friday. Failure to do so could result in penalty, the official asserted.

Meanwhile, speaking to Stabroek News yesterday, Keith Griffith, a parent said they were forced to protest because they were being pushed around for too long. Griffith who is also a member of the school's Parent Teachers Association said the students reported for school as usual yesterday morning, but the parents decided to take them out. He told this newspaper that the teachers had nothing to do with the protest. "These children are our children. We believe that the building which they are occupying right now is unfit for human occupation and since they are our children, we brought them out," Griffith declared.

Griffith reminded this newspaper that they had to protest before the ministry condemned the former building on East street, protest before the ministry even considered building them a new school and now for it to be completed they were forced to protest again. The contractor had promised to complete the building last year September.

The man said it was very frustrating for the parents since many students have been complaining about skin rashes as a result of the deplorable condition of the Guyana Teachers Union building on Woolford Avenue where they were now housed.

Griffith said the building had no proper windows, had defective toilets, a leaking roof and a host of other problems. According to the parent, to compound the situation the yard is a "free for all". He complained that young men would usually lime there during the day and play cards.

"Look at the minister's office," Griffith exclaimed pointing to the ministry's building on Brickdam. "He has a clean yard, good windows and everything else, but our children have to sit, eat, play and dwell in mess," the visibly upset parent said.

The children, undaunted by the presence of police officers who tried to prevent them from blocking the minister's office's gate shouted at the top of their voices: "We need our school!"

During the protest, an official of the ministry came outside; she was overheard castigating the parents for allowing the children to demonstrate during school time. The officer also told the parents that the pupils "belonged" to the ministry.

No sooner had she uttered those words than an irate woman told her that if indeed the students belonged to the ministry it would not have treated them in that manner. "That's how the ministry does treat its children? We don't treat our children like that. We don't have them sitting in mess," the parent responded to the officer who quickly returned to her office.

She ventured out a bit later, after calling for more police reinforcements. A senior officer and two junior ranks arrived and politely persuaded the parents to quit the protest. The parents departed from in front of the ministry around midday and vowed not to send their children back to school until the ministry gave an undertaking as to how soon the building would be completed.

Winfer Garden Primary is being built by the Ministry of Education with a design that has already generated criticism. Griffith told this newspaper that the PTA had already taken note of what he described as the flawed design of the school which has no windows. He said at the moment they were more concerned about getting the children into the new building. Once that was done the window issue will be looked at.