Yesterday members and friends of the Amerindian community staged a protest in front of the privately-owned Mae’s School at Third Avenue, Subryanville. The protest was as a result of a reported action by the school on Friday.
Nine-year-old Joshua Chacon was reportedly informed that his cultural wear was inappropriate.
It all started when Mae’s sent a letter to Joshua’s mother, suggesting that he wear attire reflective of his culture.
In a letter dated May 15, 2018, addressed to Parent(s)/Guardian(s) and headed “ACTIVITIES FOR MAY”, part one of those activities was “CAREER DAY” – that was Tuesday May 22nd, 2018. It required parents to dress their child to depict a profession of his choice.
The second part of that letter was labelled, “INDEPENDENCE DAY CELEBRATIONS” and stated, “in celebration of Guyana’s 52nd Independence Anniversary, pupils will be allowed to dress in their cultural wear, depicting an ethnic group of their choice on Friday, May 25, 2018.”
Karen Small, Joshua Chacon’s mother, dressed her son in traditional Amerindian attire and took him to school, only to be told that his outfit was inappropriate.
Ms Small then took to social media, and expressed her dissatisfaction in a post on Facebook. That was accompanied by a photo of her son with the Amerindian wear that she said the administration at MAE’S found inappropriate.
The situation escalated to yesterday’s protest which saw the participation of Mr. Joel Fredricks, Chairman of the National Toshaos Council (NTC), Mr. Mervyn Williams, Ministerial Adviser to the Minister of Indigenous People (who claimed to be there in his personal capacity as an Amerindian) and a number of prominent individuals from the Amerindian community. They all claimed discrimination against Amerindians.
In the wake of the protest and three days after the child claimed that he was discriminated against, the school issued a statement denying any wrongdoing.
“The child, accompanied by his mother, came to the school dressed as has been portrayed. The mother was told at the gate that there MAY be an issue with the fact that he was exposed, but he was nevertheless allowed to enter the school as-is,” the statement said. It added that the child was allowed to continue to his class.
The statement claimed that the staff could only speculate that there was some “gawking” at the child “who exited the school building and met with his mother, who helped him don a t-shirt already in her possession”.
“At no point was any teacher engaged on this issue either by the child or his mother.”
This contradicted a statement by the mother, who said that she approached the head teacher and was told that the child’s dress was inappropriate.
Photographs released by the mother showed the child dressed with his upper body exposed. That prompted a clarification by the school.
“There is no clear cut national policy that is consistently enforced on what is acceptable in terms of exposure for BOTH boys and girls when representing our very diverse culture, especially in this climate where gender equality is being promoted, and specifically in a school environment.”
Mrs. Small claims her son was in tears not long after entering the school. He said that he hated how he looked. She said that by the end of the school session the boy had stripped every piece of Amerindian attire from his body.
NTC Chairman Fredricks said, “We are a quiet people and we respect the other nations or races. Something like this happening here, I am not seeing what the government is saying about social cohesion.
“Is this social cohesion, for a big school like Mae’s to do something like this? Since then to now, no one is coming out and saying let’s make a public apology to the family, to the child.
Mervyn Williams also voiced his displeasure with the development, “It was very unfortunate that an institution like this school that is supposed to be propagating and preserving the culture of different races, would do something like this; we have many ethnic groups in Guyana, and it would actually blatantly discriminate against a brother from a particular group.
“I think it’s very unfortunate, and I think this should not be allowed, I think the Ministry of Education should do something to ensure this doesn’t happen again, not only to our indigenous brothers and sisters, but to any other ethnic group.”
Mae’s said yesterday, that it will never engage in any discriminatory behaviour. The school said that it is very supportive of social cohesion, hence the willingness to host Culture Day.
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