Pull Quote: “I am so thrilled that those who I would have taught in my career have grown to love and cherish me for my contribution to their education, and I am humbled by the respect I have received in the various communities.”
By Rohan Sagar
Like many persons born in the hinterland of Guyana, Victor Ferreira was not expected to
climb the ladder of success. His earliest vocations were in the streams of education and music, and as he moved gradually upwards, it was hard for him and others not to believe that it was a gift.
Many students have passed through the hands of ‘Sir Vic’ or ‘Teacher Vic’ as is common how persons like him in hinterland communities are addressed. These students have become successful in their own right, and whilst they have consistently thanked him for providing that platform, for ‘Sir Vic’ it was nothing else but his mission to transform young people into valued and productive citizens of their community, and by extension, the world.
He desires none of the trappings that are associated with his kind of success. He continues to live on the island of Mathurin, Santa Rosa, Moruca River where he has lived for many years. This is his story.
Victor Ferreira was born on March 16, 1949, at the Acquero Maternity Centre in Moruca River. His father Vincent Ferreira was a fisherman and small business owner. His mother Mary Agatha Ferreira had three children before marrying Vincent, and Victor was the second child in this latter union.
Victor’s father became ill when the youngster was only seven and died two years later. From then on life became harder for the family, his mother took to work at the Catholic Convent as a launderer, washing the clothes of some 200 children for the princely sum of five dollars per month.
The family had a farm about one mile behind Huradiah, a village immediately opposite Cabucalli, where the Ferreiras lived previously. Here the boys would accompany their mother to help prepare, plant and harvest the land before and after school. They would also glean copra from coconuts which they would sell.
There would also be the traditional kayaps which would be used to help generate and supplement much needed provisions for the home. Victor describes his father as a disciplinarian and his mother a staunch Catholic, which had instilled within them intrinsic values helping sustain the family even after the death of his father.
Perhaps the most enduring memory of his boyhood occurred in the evenings when he along with his brothers would lie on the floor and watch his mother iron the convent children’s clothes, and then they would fall asleep. After all, it was the only bed they knew. Victor, after becoming employed, undertook the role of father-figure, helping his younger brothers and sisters through school (in Georgetown) and at the same time becoming the breadwinner at home in Cabucalli.
Later in life, Victor met and married Patricia (also of Santa Rosa) in 1976, and they had seven children, two of whom have passed away.
BIRTH OF A TEACHER
Victor Ferreira attended Santa Rosa Roman Catholic Primary school, completing his education in Form Two, which was then the furthest he could have gone. He left Santa Rosa to attend the St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Seminary where he studied for two years. After completion of the two years he returned to Santa Rosa. As someone who was then, for his community, better qualified, he applied for a
teaching post through the Catholic Church (which managed the primary school) and he was accepted, though his first posting was at Santa Cruz, a place he had never heard of before. It was his first time so far away from home and when the boat dropped him off at Santa Cruz, he recalls “crying like a ‘lil child”. He taught at Santa Cruz for a year and a half.
Fr. John Britt-Compton, the Catholic priest met young Victor whilst still a teacher at Santa Cruz and told him there was a vacancy at a school in Moruca. The priest convinced him that he was most needed at this school and he accepted. The school was at Kamwatta, another island further upriver from Santa Rosa on the Moruca River. That it was much closer to Santa Rosa was of great comfort to ‘Sir Vic’ and he taught at Kamwatta Primary for seventeen years.
He recounted that when some of his students went to work in Berbice they were asked who was responsible for their education – ‘Sir Carl’ Rodrigues and his (Sir Vic’s) name were mentioned and the two were duly recognised with gifts from their employer.
Desirous of becoming a graduate teacher, at the ripe young age of 34, Victor entered the Teachers’ Training College and excelled at all the subjects. After graduation as a qualified teacher he applied to teach at Santa Rosa Primary. He did not receive an appointment letter, but was told that in such an instance he could report to the nearest school (which was Santa Rosa Primary). So he turned up at the school and the District Education Supervisor promptly paid him a visit with the news that he was on the next boat – his appointment was at Waramuri Primary! ‘Sir Vic’ jokingly recalls that both he and ‘Sir Carl’ would calculate the number of miles they each would travel to Waramuri from Santa Rosa.
Though he was saddened that once again he had to spend time away from his family (he was now married) today he is overjoyed with the development, since he was able to engage in a music project which he is still involved. At Waramuri many of his former students remember him and actually thank him for being responsible for making them the respected citizens they are.
His fame has even spread to the present generation of students both at Waramuri and Kamwatta. According to Sir Vic, “I am so thrilled that those who I would have taught in my career have grown to love and cherish me for my contribution to their education, and I am humbled by the respect I have received in the various communities.”
After his tenure ended at Waramuri he returned to Santa Rosa Primary to teach and he felt that it was time for him to make a real contribution to his community. He insisted that his students try to exceed past landmarks. ‘Sir Vic’ identifies as one of his best students, the present Minister of Foreign Affairs Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett. According to him, Ms Rodrigues broke all the records whilst a student at Santa Rosa Primary.
THE SECONDARY EXPERIENCE
One of his main concerns was the lack of opportunity for students who had the necessary qualifications to access a secondary education, but whose parents could not afford to send them all the way to Georgetown. A survey which was done around the same time revealed that the community was not ready for a secondary school.
‘Sir Vic’ admits that when he began the conversation about a secondary school he was not the first, as other parents had mooted the idea before.
In 1989, ‘Sir Vic’ along with ‘Sir David’ James began a series of consultations with parents and other leaders of the community about constructing a curriculum for a secondary institution.
Two years later, in 1991, the Education Department in Mabaruma informed ‘Sir Vic’ that approval was given for a secondary school programme to commence.
He remembered: “The challenge now was to find teachers, but with a handful of teachers made up of both citizens and (foreign) volunteers, a curriculum consisting of English, Math, Science, Social Studies and Agriculture was established and the secondary school was piloted in the same building that housed the Primary school. The Santa Rosa Secondary school started with two desks and benches, one blackboard and no syllabus.”
After a determination that the environment at the primary school was inadequate, the school was later relocated to Acquero, which happened to be the seat of regional government in the colonial and immediate post-colonial era.
The underlying philosophy behind the establishment of the secondary school was “the liberation our people from ignorance and poverty” which in turn led to the school’s motto of ‘Aim for the Top’. According to ‘Sir Vic’ students were encouraged to do just that, and they were cautioned that a pass of 50 % was not good enough, and that70 % was acceptable.
The environment at Acquero was so passionate that students could be seen at any time of the day with a book, either in a corner of the school class, or even up in a tree!
‘Sir Vic’ counts as the prime of the student crop such individuals as Murphy DeSouza, Steven La Rose, Graham Atkinson, Charlene Rodrigues, Bruce Rodrigues, and his daughters Ramona and Nadia Ferreira.
The secondary also became a nursery for teachers in the region, and all the present teachers in the nursery, primary and secondary schools are graduates of the secondary school. In 1998, ‘Sir Vic’ was transferred to Kamarang where he continued effectively imparting his expertise.
THE GUITAR MAN
As a teenager, Victor Ferreira got his inspiration to play music from a cadre of musicians such as guitarists – the De Souza Brothers (Marco and John), Carl Rodrigues and Eddie Jarvis. It was a tradition that these musicians would gather every weekend at the then Catholic Convent in Kokal, where they would entertain villagers.
Since they were all males, it goes without saying that a significant majority of the audience were females, and this provided even greater incentive for ‘Sir Vic’ to become a proficient musician. Not wanting to be left out after attending his first weekend concert and after observing how the guitarists would move their fingers as they held their chords he went home and practised his first song, ‘The Green, Green Grass of Home’. Though he did not reach instant popularity, his first outing was good enough for him to be accepted into that fraternity.
Later he would receive formal training from the renowned Guyanese music educator, the late Enid Peters. Initially, Ms. Peters was not too enamoured with having someone who was older (he was still in his mid-thirties) than she wanted, but Sir Vic was to later impress Ms Peters with his drive by becoming an accomplished player with the guitar, piano and recorder.
At the end of his tenure as a student with Ms Peters he proudly recalls her saying to him “I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again but I want you to go on and teach so many people. You have so much talent”.
When he returned to Santa Rosa, his first task was to form a choir at the secondary school. ‘Sir Vic’ has written some 40 songs and he has also written and composed the school songs for Kamarang Primary, Waramadong Secondary, Santa Rosa Primary and Secondary, Waramuri Primary and Kamwatta Primary.
PRESERVATION AND CONSERVATION
There was more to Victor Ferreira’s existence. In the 1990s, a German national, Mr Hartgun Kruger, attended a Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA) conference which was also attended by Sharon Atkinson, a Moruca resident. At this conference, Kruger indicated that he wanted to do a project in a Third World country. Sharon Atkinson suggested that he visit Santa Rosa, and when he did, Kruger got a firsthand look at the water source, food, and the general conditions of life and other places in Moruca.
Kruger was also especially interested in the way the people of Santa Rosa lived and in the Banchikilli music, which he recorded. In 2001 at Mr Kruger’s initiation, a pen-pal club was started between the students and people of Santa Rosa, and towards the end of that year ‘Sir Vic’ received an invitation (and ticket) to visit Germany.
He visited four cities in Germany – Dusseldorf, Hayden, Cologne, and Chemitz – and in each he delivered lectures on the traditional ways of life of the Amerindian Peoples of Guyana. The objective of the visit was to allow the Germans to learn from Santa Rosa how the people co-existed with their environment, and in exchange the Germans would fund a library, fund the purchase of school texts, and furniture for schools in the Moruca region.
The Germans were very impressed with each of his lectures and with each passing success the project first envisioned by Mr Kruger and immediately grasped by the Santa Rosa community was beginning to bear fruit. To ensure sustainability there was a school exchange programme where students from Germany visited Moruca and Shell Beach and in return eight students from the secondary school visited each city in Germany where they learned from the Germans and shared with them their own life stories.
Additionally, the Germans wanted to bring the (Santa Rosa Secondary) school into the modern world of technology and communication. In return, Santa Rosa had to commit to preserve the forest and the marine life, and build conservation clubs with a curriculum within the schools.
In order to bring Santa Rosa into the modern technological world, there was need for support systems like electricity, and the village and school did not have the resources to acquire generators and gasoline – in any case a generator would go against the very grain of what was being discussed. So the Germans agreed to fund solar systems, a satellite phone, computers and a television set for the school. Using the lesson taught to him by then Parish Priest Fr George Vanderwood SJ, when he was asked what assistance was needed by the secondary school, ‘Sir Vic’ had with him a prepared list of needs.
You wouldn’t expect anything less from a ‘Special Person’ would you?
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