“I have watched the pain people go through and I know it’s not necessary, so I try to put myself in a position where I’d be able to help. I am satisfied with my life, but there is still so much to do for others, I am hurt when they suffer.”
By Leon Suseran
What’s not special about a woman who possesses a wealth of knowledge, experience, charisma and a strong passion
to help people? A woman who has used— and continues to use—her life to help the poor, disadvantaged, neglected, and countries that are politically-torn put the pieces back together.
The story of Faith Harding is a very inspirational one, to say the least; one that goes to show how unimportant and insignificant one’s degrees and doctorates can be unless that knowledge is used for the betterment of humankind.
She has spent a number of years as a Government Minister and Member of Parliament, using her skills to reform and transform Guyana’s Public Service; fought vigorously to ensure that new laws and legislation were passed so as to create avenues that the rights of women and children were protected and given priority.
She was instrumental in starting an education programme that was regarded as one of the best in the Caribbean and has been intimately involved in a wide range of volunteer projects that turned around communities and local neighbourhoods in Guyana. An example of some of the projects and programmes that she implemented included the Tiger Bay area. This saw her rallying the residents together to form a committed, rehabilitation group that was focused on rebuilding the community while being able to improve education and economic conditions for youth and women.
Her conflict-resolving skills sent her to countries in Southeast Asia like East Timor where she helped in the restoration of democracy after a lengthy period of warfare.
Born at Cummings Street, Alberttown, Georgetown, to Egbert and Beryl Blackmore, Faith grew up in a very close-knit family with six siblings. She experienced much of her younger life without her dad (who died when she was nine), to whom she felt a deep connection.
“I felt closest to him because he would hug me a lot— if my mom thought I was doing something she didn’t like, he sort of protected me!”
During those years, too, she encountered a horrible fall down the stairs of their home and cut her forehead, “those were two traumatic events that happened in my life when I was very young”.
Her mother had to take up the responsibility of caring for the children, thus she had to take on an evening job as a restaurant Supervisor. Faith remembered her siblings and herself waiting up late at nights, expectantly, for their mother to come home.
“I could just see us peeping through the window, looking for when she would come, and then run into our beds quickly, when we realized she was safe. That had its own pain— fear of being alone, unprotected, but when mom came home, you were safe.”
She recalled, too, distributing food and other items during the school holidays to senior folks and shut-ins at Mahaica where her mom worked tirelessly as a Red Cross volunteer.
“I remember eating all those crabs under the steps— we used to catch crabs and boil them and eat them under the moonlight— very interesting days as a child.”
EDUCATION AND MIGRATION
Faith attended St. Ambrose Anglican School and later, St. Stephen’s Primary. Her secondary education was acquired at the B.G. Education Trust after which she wrote the Senior Cambridge Exam and was given a job at age sixteen to teach at the Agricola and Grove Methodist Schools for the next three years. She followed her mom’s migration to the United States in 1968 and commenced studies in Laboratory Technology at Mills College of Education, as she desired to seek after a field that was for the most part
non- traditional for women.
“That sort of boosted my image of women, getting into the field of medical technology,” she reflected.
Faith then pursued to read for her Bachelor of Education Degree, a programme she completed in half the time. She desired to enter Pediatrics, but could not afford studies in that area in 1973, at Columbia University: College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York. Hence, she commenced studies by reading for two Master’s Degrees at the same time; a Master of Arts in Curriculum and Teaching and Master of Education, programmes which she again completed before their stipulated time-frames.
During this period, she gained additional training in mental health and psychology; how the brain works, from birth and oxygen and its importance to brain development. Faith then completed her Doctoral Degree, with special emphasis on how teachers can be better in the classroom. She focused on curriculum and development, with extra focus on psychology.
After returning to Guyana with her husband in 1975, she then began work to develop the Early Childhood (Nursery) Education curriculum for the Cyril Potter College of Education. She returned a year later to the U.S. where she continued to read for her Doctoral Degree, which she completed in 1981. Returning once more to Guyana, Dr. Harding started to work with the Government of Guyana in 1982 as the Assistant Chief Education Officer.
Life became a bit more exciting at this point while traveling the expanses of the nation, meeting
people; getting communities to know the importance of nursery education.
“That was the most exciting time of my life, training teachers.” Her concept which was sought after by other countries in the years ahead, stressed on the cognitive interactionist curriculum, a fairly new idea back then. “So I did that for Guyana, and the Caribbean also asked me to come develop theirs for the other islands, and I did that at the University of the West Indies.”
Dr. Harding did a lot of viewpoints, too, on the radio, particularly on ‘Talking About Education’ which dealt with early childhood development.
PERIOD IN GOVERNMENT
She was subsequently employed in the Ministry of Planning & Development after which she was asked by then President Desmond Hoyte to be a member of his team. It was during these years where Dr. Harding entered the political arena. She recalled Mr. Hoyte saying that she was, “over-ripe”, to enter politics, so she did in 1985.
Dr. Harding helped to campaign for the People’s National Congress (PNC) after which they won the elections. Now Minister of State, she found herself in a very important unit of government, where she was involved in the restructuring of the Guyana Public Service: reducing inefficiencies, redundancies, and overall ineffectiveness of government programmes.
In 1989, she became Minister of the Public Service, where she was instrumental in reforming that
sector at the request of President Hoyte. Her background in Institutional Analysis gave her the skills needed to do this task. Ministries were reduced from 23 to 18 in number in 1991, “and people were very nervous about it— it was an interesting time. I got a lot of death threats about people losing their jobs or feeling they would be demoted.”
But this did not discourage the young politician.
“I wanted to do a good job, because at the next elections in 1992, whether it was us or the PPP coming in, we would have something solid to work with and we did a lot of training of staff.”
After 1992, she became a Member of Parliament (MP) with portfolios under Health, Education and Public Service at various times.
“That was also a very interesting time, where I worked very hard— although we were not in government, I felt that was not an important thing to help people… that I could help people even when we were not in government.”
EMPOWERING WOMEN AND HELPING OTHER NATIONS
She took to various communities across the country, again, listening to their concerns and helping them to rise up – empowering women in Tiger Bay and Den Amstel, teaching them new skills, sending kids to school, finding jobs for the women and mothers, and getting them land and housing.
She helped transform the outlook of those communities where she initiated cosmetology and fashion programmes with the women who couldn’t get jobs. In Den Amstel, she created a day-care centre with assistance from the Canadian Government, and brought people in to teach the women skills.
“I trained those women in 1994 and that building is still there, looking fresh, so I am proud of that.”
In 1999, Dr. Harding was then called by the United Nations (UN) to embark on a peace-keeping mission to help restore democracy and stability to war-torn East Timor.
“They wanted somebody with government experience, who can design a government and also work with women; and they sought me out.” In February 2000, she ventured to the war-torn State, where she spent the next year.
“It was quite an experience,” she related. She played a pivotal role there in the restoration process. She was also the Deputy- Governor of the Central Bank in that country, “so that gave me some other sets of skills, learning about central banking”. East Timorese, after elections, then took over the function of their country.
Two years later, there was the war in Liberia, and she was called on again by the UN, “so I left and I spent almost four years there, in different roles.” “We had to work on cleaning up the country; on setting up the government…so it was a lot of work just setting up.”
Because of the tribal differences, there was a lot of friction and corruption, and it was in this context which Dr. Harding worked and utilized her skills. She designed a system to eradicate corruptive practices; mechanisms to look at production of diamonds and the selling and storing of diamonds.
She lived under very precarious conditions, but this did not discourage her work.
“We built a lot of hospitals, police stations— because the police used to meet under a tree with a desk and a baton with whatever paper they had. There was no building; the magistrate used his house as a court and when he had to lock up somebody, he used his bedroom— so I got money from the UN and we were able to build courts and clinics for the babies.” In one year, 24 police stations were built.
In 2008 she came back to Guyana, but was called by the World Bank in 2010 while Sudan was in crisis. She also was instrumental in creating a new Sudan— South Sudan, “and that felt great, creating the last two new countries in the world.” She helped restore a more financially-stable Sudan.
TRAINING, SCHOLARSHIPS AND GRANTS
In 2011, Dr. Harding returned home where her work is fully vested in the interest of Guyanese, “trying to raise people’s awareness of what they have, because a lot of people think they have nothing, when in front of them, they have so many resources to make their lives better.”
She ran for the Presidential Candidacy of the PNC, and she decided to use the money left over, in communities that worked during her campaigns. One of her largest groups, from Long Creek, benefitted much from her assistance. Dr. Harding embarked on awarding four university scholarships. Additionally, over $100,000 in cash grants were awarded to students who needed it. Training was also provided for persons who wanted to become nurses, etc.
She instilled a sense of financial empowerment in persons who wanted make money in the agricultural sector, by starting-up a massive sorrel-planting drive. She acquired 40,000 sorrel seeds from the Mexican Embassy, free of cost, in exchange of 400 tonnes of dried sorrels.
“We haven’t got the 400 tonnes yet, but we have got a lot of people interested.” Planting is continuous, even to this day. “This was an amazing project…and everybody was shocked and surprised in this sorrel— it’s on the market all year- round.”
“Women need to be helped more, so that they can raise better families and live their lives in an economically safe environment. It’s a great thing to raise women out of poverty.”
INITIATIVE AND ADVOCACY
Dr. Harding has also taken an initiative across the country to help pensioners, “so we provide them with the opportunity by accessing and linking them to government— we link young people to give them the skills and provide a stipend to travel; jobs in accounting, computer technology; car and body mechanic; there’s training here and we have money for it.”
She is able to help female teachers and other women professionals access land and money for homes. In the hinterland communities, she has worked with many 11 and 12- year- olds. “My plan is to take people there and try to help them get their CXCs and link up with universities in the Region and U.S. It’s a plan to get them there.”
“I have watched the pain people go through and I know it’s not necessary, so I try to put myself in a position where I’d be able to help,” she added, while reflecting on her life.
I am satisfied with my life, but there is still so much to do for others, I am hurt when they suffer.”
Today, Dr. Harding continues her advocacy for national development and a more comprehensive look at the mental health situation, which she deems a “crisis” in Guyana.
Dr. Faith Harding is a truly remarkable woman who humbly describes her life as “quite an interesting journey”. Quite simply, she is a ‘Special Person.’
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