Dr. RANDY PERSAUD: Please allow me the use of this medium to communicate with the Guyanese diaspora population. I would especially like to open up a conversation with Guyanese in the United States and Canada, two countries that I lived in for extended periods.
The first thing I want to bring up is the media, and especially the newspapers. This is a good place to start because I know from experience that the diaspora is especially dependent on the newspapers for keeping up-to-date with developments in the country.
Let me go to the point directly. Given what makes news and how that news is represented in the newspapers you might feel as if the country is in turmoil. For those of you who have strong feelings about your homeland that must induce feelings of sadness. Many of you may even contemplate throwing in the towel. Others might develop feelings of anger and those feelings might push you to supporting forms of extremism.
I ask you to be careful with this stuff. Guyana is alive and well. The stores are stocked to the ceilings and there is no shortage of customers. In the Guyana of today you can find most things you have in North American stores. I know some will say yes, but things are so expensive. Fair enough, but not everyone in Canada and the U.S. can shop at Macy’s or Lord & Taylor as a matter of routine. This is why Wal Mart, K-Mart, and Target are so popular. And then of course, there is no shortage of dollar stores, places where you will also find Guyanese shopping.
On the fast food scene you will find Pizza Hut, KFC, Church’s Chicken, and Popeyes. I am not thrilled with this development, but they are here. What you have to keep in mind is that these outlets are considered a ‘big-thing’ here.
I must also mention New Thriving Restaurant on Main Street. It is without qualification one of the very best Chinese restaurants I have ever been to anywhere in the world, and say this having been to Asia on many occasions.
Last night a bunch of us visited GuyExpo. This is a trade fair, much like the county fairs they have in the United States. I, for one, went to the Montgomery County Fair outside Rockville, Maryland, every year over the past decade. GuyExpo is a much more interesting and much more fun. Twenty five thousand people attended on Saturday, and Sunday pulled in a figure close to that.
This year’s GuyExpo has nearly 300 exhibition stalls and many of the products are top notch by any standard. I know you will be proud of these products and many might even doubt that they are made here. My pick of the lot is Summerson’s Furniture. If you lay eyes on their kitchen cabinets I feel sure you will import them into North America. This is the real wood.
Most of you must have heard about how people dress in Guyana, you know, better than overseas. This one is simple. It is true.
Developments are popping all over the country, something that some in the newspapers refuse to acknowledge. Incidentally I saw the Berbice Bridge and I can tell you it is rather handsome. It makes the Outerbridge Crossing in the New Jersey/New York area look ugly. There is no bridge in Toronto that has the scale and beauty of the Berbice Bridge. Come and take a look.
For those of you who haven’t been here for a while you will be taken aback by Don Valley Parkway quality lighting on the major roadways here. Imagine Vreed-En-Hoop to Parika will so get ‘wall-to-wall’ street lights.
Last month I went to the commissioning of the Skeldon Sugar Factory. It is a gem. You must insist on seeing it. When it is up to capacity, the Skeldon Factory will also produce enough excess electricity to light up most of Berbice.
Last week I passed by the water front and saw with my own eyes the new GPL generators being installed. The blackouts that have dogged the Georgetown area over the last little while will soon be history.
When you do come you may want to stop by the Diamond Housing Scheme. Take even a cursory look and tell me if things are that bad. You may want to also go to Tuschen and Cornelia Ida where they also have giant housing schemes. On top of that, the indefatigable Minister of Housing and Water, Irfaan Ali and his staff have, in one fell swoop, modernised the housing sector by developing One-Stop-Shops.
Major developments have also surfaced in healthcare. Let’s take a good look at this sector. In 1964 the life expectancy was 60; it moved up to 65 by 1975, but then plummeted to 59 in 1990. Today it is 70 years! In 1991 per capita expenditure from the fiscal budget was $U.S.7 per person (seven dollars); in 2008 it was $US 80 (eighty dollars). This is expenditure from the fiscal budget. It does not include grants and other funding from external sources. In 1990 the MMR (Maternal Mortality Rate) was 34:10,000. The comparable rate today is 11:10,000. In 1989 the Infant Mortality Rate was 78:1000; today it is 19:1,000. In 1990 Guyana was administering 6 (six) antigens (i.e vaccines), today it is administering 14. My friends in the diaspora may know what it costs for one of these vaccines. If you do not, I can tell you that the yellow fever vaccine in the U.S. costs $US 600 (six hundred). All of these vaccines are now provided free of cost in Guyana. The H1N1 vaccine is coming next.
These are measurable improvements. There is more, but for now let me just remind my overseas friends that today Guyana does open heart surgery, hip and knee replacement, and radiation therapy for cancer! There is a new Ophthalmology Centre in Berbice. Cataract cases that had people in the dark for a long time have now taken care of and older people can now see the grandchildren for the first time. President Jagdeo stated recently that apart from the obvious service to Guyanese, the Centre will provide care for other Caribbean nationals free of cost!
Yes, things are challenging, but that is no different from where you are now. As in any country, some people have it relatively easy while others do indeed find it hard to make ends meet. I am confident that President Jagdeo and his Cabinet would acknowledge that we have quite a distance to go in order to have the kind of Guyana we all want. The difference here is that this president and his cabinet are out there everyday working to make this a better Guyana. President Jagdeo must be one of the hardest working leaders in the history of the Caribbean.
There are so many things happening in this country that would make those of you who live overseas proud to call yourselves Guyanese. I urge you to be careful with the daily dose of dread that has become the signature of the newspapers. Perhaps I should go back to where I started, that is back to GuyExpo.
Guyana is on the move. If you want the evidence, come and see for yourself.