Feb 09, 2014 News
“To know that I was able to help so many people, you can’t imagine how elated I feel today.”
By Sharmain Grainger
While there is great satisfaction in realising your true potential, it could probably be said that there is even greater satisfaction when this is characterised by helping others realise theirs, even in the face of challenges.
Myrtle Narene Richards née Oliver has known of such accomplishments only too well. In fact, for several decades she has been so engaged at the Georgetown – based Extra-Mural Department of the Kuru Kuru Cooperative College situated at Durban Backlands, a task she only gave up a few mornings ago when she retired. More than 1,000 students have passed through her ‘educating hands’ over the years, many of whom have gone on to become outstanding individuals in the society.
Known to many simply as Miss Richards, the resident of Lamaha Park, Georgetown, is particularly well known for her role in helping to transform the aforementioned institution, which has literally grown in size over the years, allowing for many young people to acquire a well-deserved education.
Under her guidance, the institute has been able to make quite an outstanding impression in the local academic landscape.
After years of dedicated service, Miss Richards gracefully handed over the headship role to her successor, Hansen Elliott, but intends to continue to render her service wherever and whenever it is required.
And so it is for her undeniable dedication to the selfless enlightening of others that Miss Richards is this week being recognised in these pages as a ‘Special Person’.
During an interview with this publication recently, she noted that she is quite satisfied to have done her part to help educate a wide cross-section of the nation’s children.
“To know that I was able to help so many people, you can’t imagine how elated I feel today,” said a radiant Miss Richards.
Born to Joseph and Edna Oliver in Alexander Village, Georgetown, 63 years ago, Myrtle was the third of five children. She disclosed it was soon after her birth that her family decided to move to Bagotstown, East Bank Demerara, an area that most of her mother’s family resided.
The family would opt to move from that location seven years later, as they were able to purchase a modest domicile in West Ruimveldt Housing Scheme.
Richards recalled that her first academic exposure was at the privately-operated Wilson’s Training Institute at McDoom, East Bank Demerara. However, her attendance there ceased when her family relocated.
In remembering her early schooling days, Richards disclosed how it was a norm for her to “walk the few miles” from Bagotstown to McDoom.
“Strangely enough, I used to walk to school every day…In fact, you had to make up your mind to walk if you wanted to go to school in those days,” she recalled.
But it was Ascension Lutheran School for her, after the family’s relocation, and soon after that she was placed at East Ruimveldt Secondary.
According to Richards, it was during her secondary education that things would drastically change in her life. In deep thought, she recounted how her father, the sole breadwinner of the family, died when she was just 15 years old. She disclosed that it was an elder brother who was first forced to drop-out of school, then a sister, before it became evident that she too had to contribute to the family’s earnings.
As a mere sales clerk, Richards would soon recognise the need for a more impacting skill if she was to make a significant enough input. And so, before long she was saving to pay the fees to attend Secretarial School.
The Secretarial School she wanted to attend was in fact deemed the number one of its kind, back in the day. Her eventual attendance there was perhaps deemed somewhat historic as she was one of only four Afro- Guyanese girls privileged to be enrolled at the time. Her teacher, Miss Persaud, she fondly recounted, hadn’t any eyes for ethnicity.
“She was a very good teacher; she was the Head, but she taught the advanced courses herself…and Miss Persaud never tolerated second best; when you were in Miss Persaud’s class you had to perform, and people knew you were good because you came from the Secretarial School,” Richards reflected.
Secretarial Studies spanned a two-year period and soon the ambitious Myrtle was employed with the prestigious Clarke and Martin Solicitors Law Firm as a Steno-typist (short-hand typist). However, that engagement did not last very long – in fact it lasted for exactly six months.
Life was beginning to really evolve for the young Myrtle, so much so that by the time she neared the age of 20, she already had a serious suitor. And since her husband-to-be was gainfully employed in the mining town, it was understandable when she started applying for jobs there.
Working in Georgetown was no longer an option, especially since it was within a short time that she was able to secure a position as a Filing Clerk at the Guyana Bauxite Company which was later renamed Guyana Mining Company. It wasn’t much later that she tied the knot – a union which lasted 10 years.
After nearly a year in the mining town, she was able to gain employment as a Steno-typist at the Linden Mining Company and eventually as Secretary to the Administrator at the Linden Hospital Complex, where she stayed for a number of years.
Not only was she thoroughly efficient at what she was tasked with doing, but Richards even mastered the work of administration. Interestingly enough, this resulted in her having to train several persons who were subsequently employed in higher positions of the health facility. This saw her being considerably suppressed.
“I knew secretarial work was a good field, but at the same time it was a dead-end, because you knew you weren’t going to get any promotion in the company…”
Recognising the limitations of her secretarial training, Richards decided that she was going to return to ‘night school’ where she successfully completed five GCE subjects.
And although attempts were made to secure a scholarship to study hospital administration overseas, this was not to be.
About two years later, she was intrigued by a Kuru Kuru Cooperative College advertisement, which was appealing for persons to apply to do a Diploma in Management. It was in January 1980, she stared the one-year course, a move that was not supported by her superiors. Moreover, she was soon parting ways with the hospital.
But it would appear as though luck was coming her way, as the same year she completed her management course, the Kuru Kuru College introduced a Secretarial programme. And who better than a product of the Secretarial School to manage the programme!
It was indeed Richards who was asked to coordinate the Secretarial Programme, which lasted for just one year. This was due to the fact that Government funds to the College had considerably decreased.
“They had to make some serious decisions, and what they decided is that they wouldn’t run that programme anymore,” said Richards. But as the saying goes “when one door closes, another opens.”
She was instead tasked with coordinating classes in Business Studies at the Extra-Mural Department of the College at Linden. This saw her ensuring that those enrolled for classes were afforded courses in English Language, Statistics, Economics, Co-op Studies among others, at centres at Mackenzie and Wismar. Although new to the arena, Richards, a proud mother of two by then, was determined to do her best.
“I am like this, once somebody gives me a job to do I put my all into it, and I look forward to 100 per cent or more. So they gave me a job to do, and I did the job to the best of my abilities and I excelled,” Richards noted.
She said that her involvement was rather extensive since the College was one designed to train the entire Cooperative movement. As such, she was able to undergo Trainer of Trainers’ courses in Dominica and Israel.
“Some people when they hear Co-ops, they don’t understand that teaching Co-ops is really teaching business. I remember seeing people being shocked when they get exposed to Co-op teachings,” a smiling Richards asserted.
She has even been able to share her vast knowledge with Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) over the years.
“If you were to compare what I did with the NGOs to what I did with the Cooperatives it is minimal,” Richards intimated, even as she underscored that NGOs were able to utilise the skills she taught much more than the Cooperative movement, although it wasn’t intended for them.
Although she was in her early 30s, her capabilities were widely recognised, and were even noticed by then Principal of the College, Henry Jeffrey, who recommended that she be sent to Georgetown to Head the Extra-Mural Department, located at Durban Backlands. Richards recalled how Jeffrey was confident that she was the one to transform the Georgetown Department, and she certainly wasn’t going to let him down.
Although it was a great task to win the support of the small staff there, Richards was able to ensure that the Georgetown-based institution moved from strength to strength, even when imminent closure loomed. And since several of the classes were conducted during the evenings, Richards was able to considerably elevate herself, undertaking a number of programmes at the University of Guyana, putting her in an even better place to improve the operation of the institution.
Today, a satisfied Myrtle Richards is directing much attention to her Christian convictions, since she is of the firm belief that her passage in life was especially designed to help her guide the path of so many individuals, both young and old.
“God knew all the time that I was going to end up working with so many different people, and so I am more than satisfied that I was able to fulfil my purpose. I have done my best, and I give God thanks for all that he did through me.”
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