“Some children I have found do not have the kind of love and support at home and they might come to school expecting that from a teacher. We as teachers have to realise that it is not just about teaching, we have to be loving and caring too.”
By Sharmain Grainger
While some people might be inclined to believe that Gaitri Singh-Henry is able to express love in
everything she does because she was born on a day designated to celebrate love, she, however, has a very different theory.
She has over the years learnt to recognise that her dependence on the Creator is far more important than acquiring all the knowledge in the world. It was just this dependence that has been helping her to not only be a good teacher to pupils she treats much as her own, but also to be a very loving and caring Minister of Religion.
While at the start of each day she never believes she will be able to fulfil all that is required of her, including being a fulltime mother and wife, Singh-Henry confidently confided that she has over time accepted that “once I submit to God and wait on His guidance I can get through anything.”
But she didn’t always embrace this approach to life. In fact at one time she was sure that she had devised the best possible plan for her life and was determined to see it to fruition. Turns out that was not the ideal path for her life; after all it never panned out. She, however, has no regrets and is thankful to God that He guided her to where she is today. She lives by the mantra: “we should depend on the knowledge of God and allow him to work in our lives because only He has a better plan for us.”
REFLECTING ON BARTICA…
The last of four children born to Tarmattie and Doodnauth Singh on February 14, 1980, Singh-Henry remembers growing up in the quiet Region Seven locale of Bartica.
“Everything was always so peaceful and serene in Bartica…everybody knew each other,” she
recalled as she went down memory lane for a few minutes. She only has fond memories of Bartica, well except for the day that her father passed away.
But even before that sad day she had her career path all mapped out.
The young Gaitri Singh attended St. John the Baptist Primary School and then Bartica Secondary. Fresh out of secondary school in 1996, she became a teacher at St. Anthony’s Primary School. For her, becoming a teacher was merely a stepping stone to where she wanted to be – a proud lawyer.
However, the death of her father the same year she started teaching, might have been the single thing that helped her eventually realise that teaching was really her professional calling. You see after her father’s death, she, like her older siblings, had to contribute a bit more, financially, to the Singh household. At the time, Singh-Henry recalled, she didn’t want to see herself as a teacher for the rest of her life. But since there really weren’t many professions for a young person to choose from in Bartica, she had to accept the fate of either remaining a teacher or venturing into nursing. She chose to remain a teacher, but still had the ambition of becoming a legal mind one day. She however found that her family’s financial wherewithal would not have allowed her to take that path.
TRAINING FOR THE JOB…
She taught for two full school years before she decided that she would delve into teachers training at the Cyril Potter College of Education at Turkeyen, in order to qualify herself as a teacher. After four years of training, she returned to teach in Bartica, before she eventually moved to Georgetown and was also able to practice the teaching profession at the Sacred Heart
Primary School. That school was destroyed in 2004 by a conflagration which eventually led to it being phased out. Singh-Henry also taught at St. Gabriel’s Primary.
It was however in 2014, having secured a Senior Mistress promotion, that she was placed at the F. E. Pollard Primary, where she currently teaches.
Today there is no one who can dissuade Singh-Henry from thinking that she wasn’t born to be a teacher.
“Being a teacher wasn’t my first choice but having taught at a number of schools, I have grown to love it,” she related. She recalled that it was only years into the profession that she recognised how very important the role of a teacher is.
“Teachers have a very important role to play in the lives of children, especially at the primary school level, because this is where the children get their academic foundation… but they may even need more,” she considered.
“Some children I have found do not have the kind of love and support at home and they might come to school expecting that from a teacher. We as teachers have to realise that it is not just about teaching, we have to be loving and caring too…I know I probably don’t do nearly enough, but I know as a teacher I have to help with the all-round development of each
child that passes through my class,” said a compassionate Singh-Henry.
She especially understands that she has to be a role-model and mentor for her pupils because “when I was at school the teachers were always important in my life. If we as teachers push the children aside and say ‘oh we are coming to teach them and that’s it’ we will not be able to really make an impact on their young lives.”
USEFUL LIFE EXPERIENCES…
It was while on her path to becoming a truly dedicated teacher that Singh-Henry decided that she wanted to advance her studies. She opted for a degree in Sociology at the University of Guyana. But it was while pursing studies in this regard that she learnt of the possibility to study theology too. This she learnt through the church [Burns Memorial Presbyterian Church in Queenstown] at which she fellowshipped since moving to Georgetown. This was particularly important to her, having been a member of a Presbyterian church since her young days in Bartica.
She recalled wanting to learn theology in hopes of one day returning to Bartica to help out in some way. With this in mind, Singh-Henry recalled seeking an audience with the pastor of the Queenstown church, Reverend Dale Bisnauth [now deceased former Minister of Education, and Minister of Labour, Human Services and Social Security under the People’s Progressive Party regime].
“I knew he was surprised when I approached him, because young people are not known
to usually reach out to their elders to say I want to learn more about the Bible,” recalled Singh-Henry amidst a gleeful chuckle.
Reverend Bisnauth was only too eager to get her on board the theology course, slated to span a three-year period. But Singh-Henry would soon find out that it was no easy task attending university, theology classes and being a teacher simultaneously. She, however, disclosed that for some reason she felt the need to be so engaged at that point in her life – she recounted being able to maintain straight A grades at all of her university courses.
It was during her busy studying years that she met a young man by the name of Neil Henry. He too was attending university. The two took a liking to each other and before long Singh-Henry recalled she was pregnant with his child.
“I was pregnant out of marriage and many people did not take it too well, especially those within the church. In fact some of my ‘friends’ would say ‘I would like to see her keep up her grades now’,” recalled Singh-Henry. “I took
that as motivation,” reflected Singh-Henry, who not only tied the knot before her due date, but was able to maintain her grades to the end of her four years of university studies to graduate with a distinction. She and her husband are today the happily married parents of three lovely children.
FOCUSED ON RELIGION…
But despite receiving some flak for becoming pregnant out of wedlock, Singh-Henry said she was intent on completing her theology course. Although she hadn’t seen herself becoming very involved in a religious ministry upon completion, Reverend Bisnauth saw the need for her to be ordained as a Minister of Religion.
At the age of 33, Singh-Henry was ordained a Reverend, in March 2013, and in fact was among the final batch of ministers of religion to be ordained by Reverend Bisnauth. He died 11 days after, leaving a void for Singh-Henry to fill.
“It was only after his death that it hit home to me that I was the person God had called for this…I didn’t know that He was working to bring me in this direction all along,” related Singh-Henry, as she considered that “some people say they get a vision or epiphany, but all I knew was that I couldn’t run away from the church because God brought me there.” This however did not mean that she didn’t try.
Singh-Henry recalled praying diligently for the task at hand to be passed on to someone else.
“I was actually telling God that he should choose somebody else for this…I was telling Him what He should do and how He should do it,” she recalled. But this was not to be, following a landslide vow in her favour. In October 2013, Singh-Henry became the designated pastor of the Burns Memorial Presbyterian Church.
“We can question God, but God knows what he has in place for us. He has a purpose for each of us in this life…even though we might question things as they unfold,” Singh-Henry asserted.
She has ever since been on a mission to be a Reverend with a difference. Having endured rejection and disdain from some because she ‘slipped and fell’ according to religious beliefs, Singh-Henry intends to lead a church where all can feel welcomed and accommodated regardless of their life experiences.
“I believe the church should be there to help and guide people not to judge and turn them away…you will never find that happening in my Ministry,” assured Singh-Henry, who is convinced that her religious beliefs have transcended to every facet of her life. It has allowed her, she believes, to become a teacher, even with a desire to love and serve without reservation.
“I think whatever we do, we must do it unto God. But in order for us to do what He wants, we have got to spend time with Him. Praying for guidance is important and if we do that, we will be more productive and won’t merely be going through the motion,” insisted a thoughtful Reverend Singh-Henry.
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