Kaieteur News – A young woman wrote a very distressing Open Letter to the First Lady of Guyana, Mrs. Arya Ali. In that letter she detailed her frustration at the lack of opportunities for persons in her community, Yakusari, Black Bush Polder (BBP). She highlighted her own challenges in attending school, in deferring her dream career and in finding employment.
Her story got the attention it sought. An obviously embarrassed Minister indicated in a Facebook post that her Ministry will find the girl.
However, the struggles of this one young lady are symptomatic of a national malaise and one which disproportionally affects not a few individuals but tens of thousands of school leavers. This is a rural problem not an individual problem. Finding that young lady and providing that young lady with a scholarship will not resolve the plight of the tens of thousands of young rural school-leavers who lack similar opportunities.
The Office of the First Lady responded with a statement. It thanked everyone who had brought the young lady’s plight to the First Lady’s attention and indicated that she and the Minister had discussed how they can bring meaningful change to BBP.
BBP is not an isolated case. How many interventions will be needed? This is a national problem which cannot be solved by selective interventions. Each year thousands of teenagers leave school and encounter limited opportunities for further education and employment. The problem is most acute in rural areas, and it has generally gone unnoticed.
BBP has its own deep-seated problems. It is one of the areas which is most prone to suicides and the authorities have not found out why this is so.
One month ago, a letter writer pointed out that given the wealth which this area generates, the communities in the Polder should have had better lights and roads. They should also have had better opportunities for the school-leavers.
Instead, suffering and suicide blights the communities of BBP. Many parents cannot afford to send their children to school. Many parents cannot afford to send their offspring to the Tain Campus to further their education after secondary school. Many of those leaving school cannot find employment. Some people cannot afford a decent meal every day.
The news which comes out of the Polder is problem-riddled. If it is not floods and drainage, it is bad roads, lack of internet, landlines and poor water supply. If it is not murder and suicide, it is streetlights and robberies or the loss of cattle. BBP is a list of tragedies.
The only escape is migration. This often means trying to get abroad by any means possible, including arranged weddings. There is a lot of heartbreak in the BBP area because many young men are forced to leave their girlfriends and seek jobs outside of the Region. Some of them end up in Suriname. Many never go back.
And yet, BBP is one of the top-producing agricultural areas in the country. The area produces rice and cash crops, which feed large sections of the country’s population. So why then should there be this problem with lack of opportunities?
Rice has been the backbone of BBP. But there are still feudal relations within the rice-growing sector in Guyana, and this includes BBP. And land ownership is skewed.
The problem with BBP is not unique to rural Guyana. It is a problem of economic inequality.
If the First Lady and the Ministry of Education intend to make interventions in that area, they should examine the economic inequalities in the Polder. They should examine who has the land and who benefits from government services the most and the extent to which those persons plough back their wealth into the community.
But the problem is also one of economic policy. Since Cheddi Jagan died, the PPP/C has pursued an economic model that promotes inequality. The trickle-down effect of the neo-liberal did not trickle down to BBP. The PPP/C should be asked what it did for BBP in terms of creating jobs outside of rice and sugar for the people of BBP.
BBP has been left behind also in education. If the Minister of Education is serious about intervening to assist neglected communities, she should look at the pass rates of students leaving school in rural communities. She will find that the majority of these students fail to obtain five subjects. So even if there were jobs outside of sugar and rice, how many school-leavers would be able to qualify for those jobs without the requisite subjects?
And this is not just a failure of Region Six. It has been a national failure because of the trickle-down model of development pursued since 1999.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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