Apr 01, 2021 Letters
Bernell Wickham, in his letter to SN on 28 March (“NDC must rescue Mahaica Community Centre”), calls for, in his words, a comprehensive plan for the beneficial use of the building as part of a wider effort to improve the lives and living conditions of the residents of the community. He adds that a rescued centre can be used for a wide range of fitting purposes.
Instinctively, regardless of where we live in Guyana, many can make a similar call within our own communities. Such calls, however, too often fail to examine, because of the seeming self-justification of a community centre, the deeper question of what community goals could or should be achieved by having such a building. This failure mostly results in numerous renovated community centres soon becoming underused and eventually abandoned. Until the next cycle of renovation, underuse, and abandonment.
We need a wider perspective. The ideas for which a centre could be used include (as Mr. Wickham points out) a library, an ICT hub, lectures, discussions, meetings, skills training, reception hall, concerts, games, and club events. These and other uses split into two core purposes: (i) the centre as a convenient physical enclosure (for a library, wedding receptions, for example) and (ii) the centre as a space that facilitates the building of social connectedness and collectiveness, and community spirit. Club events, games, and village meetings, as examples, fit here.
The longevity of a community centre is assured only if demand exists within the community for the two core purposes. One suspects that many centres have fallen into underuse or disuse mostly because of the scarcity of activities aimed at building so-called social capital to which the second core purpose speaks. Rescuing community centres must fall within the broader goal of developing this social capital.
Achieving this broader goal requires social organisation within the community. Put in starker terms, events and activities such meetings, skills training, and concerts do not happen merely because a community centre exists, no matter how well-maintained. They have to be organised by individuals, groups, and organisations within the community. And for these actors to so act, they have to exist and feel the need to so act. And for them to continue to exist and feel that need, their fellow residents have to show interest through their participation and support. Moreover, outside of organised activities, residents must feel the need to cross paths and engage.
Achieving social organisation within the community need not precede the erection of a good community centre. In fact, the centre can galvanize and catalyze this social process. But to play that role, the physical paradigm of the community centre in Guyana must be radically reconceptualised. Rescuing (to use Mr. Wickham’s word) the existing obsolete buildings would not serve. They have long outlived their usefulness. What we need now are modern multi-purpose complexes, with spaces for concurrent staging of meetings, games and recreation, education and study, village administration, etc. These structures should be designed with an eye to using them also as evacuation and emergency centres. For community centres in tiny yards (such as the dismal BV/Triumph community centre), let us erect a 4 to 5-storied structure. Remodeling centres at this scale is beyond the financial and other capacity of NDCs. The central government must step forward.
Creating that healthy social environment requires more than a well-functioning community centre. It would also require, for one, stronger local governance (see discussion on https://www.communities-guyana.com/). The social restrictions necessitated by the COVID pandemic would also pose a challenge. Interestingly, in countries coming out of a lockdown, much attention is already being paid to restoring a vibrant community
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