The Diaspora and Guyana – commentary

The Diaspora and Guyana


The intense interest that people in the Diaspora show in Guyana is understandable, but at the same time something to cause raised eyebrows. For starters, there are those who send money (make remittances) to their relatives back home. This, perhaps, is the most popular sign that people have a lot to think about when it comes to their homeland.

This is not common to Guyana, but given the size of the population, remittances are huge. According to figures released by the Inter-American Development Bank, two years ago Guyanese remitted some US$447 million.

But that is only the cash. The people in the Diaspora look for other ways of helping the country. Nurses would collect material that they believe is needed by the various medical institutions and post them. But for the most part, they would travel to Guyana on their vacation and deliver these things which are always well received by the Ministry of Health. And the travel is done at no cost to the government.          

Just recently, some Guyanese amassed a number of doctors and specialists in the medical field to come to Guyana for what is now known as Guyana Watch. It is not that Guyana does not have doctors and specialists. It is not that the population is so large that the few doctors there are cannot attend to the population; it is not that there are no medical clinics for the people who live away from the capital.

Rather, it is a case that people sometimes refuse to travel to the medical facilities, either because they feel that the distance is too great or because they feel that they do not receive the kind of attention they need, or simply because they feel uncomfortable outside their district. The result is that medical missions like Guyana Watch attract huge crowds.

Schools also receive a lot of attention from the Diaspora. Over the weekend in Canada, some former students and teachers of Queen’s College met in Scarborough to discuss situations at the school. They looked at funding scholarships, assisting the less fortunate, and this time around the possibility of boosting the teaching staff. Again, whatever assistance they give is done at no cost to the government.

Most of the people at the meeting have been visiting Guyana and going to the school to meet with the teachers there to get a grasp of the situation.

The casual observer would wonder at this interest when the very people had an opportunity to remain at home and do even more. The answer lies in the ability of the government to pay the kind of money that would allow people to give back.

This has long been a talking point. Everyone who has migrated insists that had the pay been what it should be then they would never have migrated. A small country like Guyana says that it would like to pay better salaries but that it simply does not have the money to do that and undertake development at the same time.

But is this really true? Recently, the Minister of Finance told parliament that there are contract employees who are paid very high salaries for doing things that are not important to national development.

There are about 40,000 teachers in the system. The head of the premier school receives a salary of about US$700 per month, the same as the head of some of the lower schools. But a spokesman for the government gets as much as three times that figure.

The then President Bharrat Jagdeo once said that the number of teachers is too great and any salary increase would bump up the spending by the public treasury. Yet education is something that one cannot toy with.

Kaieteur News recently conducted a study of some of the contracts awarded by the government in the other sectors and found that many of these were so overpriced that the conclusion was that there was corruption in the planning and the award of these contracts.

One suggestion is that the people in the upper echelons of the school be offered contracts and paid the kind of money paid to those other contract employees. Indeed, the government has been known to import teachers and to pay them such sums.

After all, these very lowly paid teachers are being gobbled up overseas and after a while these very teachers then begin to give some of their earnings back to their counterparts at home.

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  • Elaine McGregor  On 08/07/2012 at 5:52 pm

    A really interesting article and also the subject of my masters thesis which I will submit tomorrow. Thank you for sharing.

  • BERNARD N. SINGH  On 08/07/2012 at 8:36 pm


  • Rosaliene Bacchus  On 08/07/2012 at 10:04 pm

    “Everyone who has migrated insists that had the pay been what it should be then they would never have migrated.”
    My family and I did not leave in 1987 for reasons of better wages. Perhaps “everyone” refers to immigrants over the last 5 to 10 years.

  • PATRICIA A ALSHABAZZ  On 08/08/2012 at 12:30 pm

    i left guyana with hopes to return one day to work in my country that i love so much, but i have to say after making trips upon trips to visit my other family it is not what i expected conditions have worsen and that is why people have to help their love ones back home and people are still dieing from health situations

  • Lynette Andrews-Baker  On 08/08/2012 at 9:22 pm

    A source of income for Guyana could be to attract Guyanese who left the shores some 20+ years and ago and would like to return to the fun in the sun. Georgetown is well suited for this venture having regard to city being well laid out and with lots of sidewalks and other places to walk and exercise, e.g., the avenues on Main, Waterloo, Hadfield etc. Streets with their avenues. The city is supposed to be the showcase of the Country, but the way it is right now it is a turn off rather than an encouragement to expatriates to return home.

    • Andrew Cromwell  On 08/11/2012 at 3:29 pm

      Good Point!!

  • Andrew Cromwell  On 08/11/2012 at 3:26 pm

    Beware of being seduced by the nostalgia of yesteryear’s Guyana. There are several generations now who know nothing of the “Garden City” that Georgetown used to be. Their Guyana Eldorado is the one they see everyday when they wake up and walk the streets.

    There were always emigrants from Guyana and that is long before 1966. Most did not return, nor were they expected to return. Emigration was primarily for improved improved financial, social, political and educational reasons. Typically it was one or two people in the family. Some returned as professionals and some did not. Some were disillusioned and left again. Then there were those who could not return.

    More recently emigrants have added another reason for leaving and not returning: safety. The Governments do not really want Guyanese of the Diaspora to return. In fact it is to their economic benefit to have more Guyanese leave. After all, the amount of financial and material support (AID) being sent to support Guyanese families by Guyanese abroad relieves the government of its primary responsibility: creating a safe and cohesive society where citizens can enjoy their freedom, their cultural well-being in safety.

    Guyanese in Guyana are still the most hospitable people whom I have met in my travels. Ironically, some Guyanese in the diaspora, choose to live behind fences and iron grates. Yes. They may have safety issues wherever they are, but those negate the value of a flight back.

    I have few relatives and left in Guyana, but I continue to visit. With each visit I am seduced with the thought of finishing my retirement season in the land of my birth, but my nostalgia gets in the way. I have learned that Guyana is bigger than Georgetown and fortunate for me, I saw most of it before I left.

  • Cyril Balkaran  On 08/12/2012 at 3:27 am

    There are two types of Guyanese living in today’s world. One type wants to go back to serve Guyana and the other type prefer to stay put in whichever Country they now live and send some help to Guyana Via Finances as the Us $447 million dollars that they have remitted to help their families and friends. This is the love that they wish to send home to help their loved ones and nthing is wrong with their choices. Those who want to go back to serve are waithng for an auspicious moment in time when they hope to get a government of their type or persuasion. They do not want to forge a National Unity affair so that our problems can be solved once and for all. They want to promote half truths and to boost their own egos and to walk the road of Political and social chaos. How unfair can we get when we cannot see a merger of all race groups in the mother land. Look at the Parliament and tell yourself what these 35 and 27 members are up to. Are they not fiddling while Rome burns. Look how unpatriotic they have become in their lust for political Power and Greed for financial gains. They are weeping and shedding crocodile tears for the fallen and hope to take over the power by violent means. The people in Georgetown knows better and they are so far not fallen trap to plans of those extremists. WE want Peace and Love with Harmony and Dignity.

  • Cyril Balkaran  On 08/13/2012 at 7:14 am

    What is the point trying to justify the Human Resources that Guyana may need to start and stabilize the present day Developmental Processes of Government. People have graduated from various Universities and have incurred great expenses to achieve their accolades and now they must pay their debts back. The love for Country now becomes critical to their expenses and pay back rythm,rhyme and mode and so our thinking becomes blurred.
    Teachers are only one edge of the coin of Reality. What about Doctors, Nurses, Engineers, Social Workers, Social Scientists. Political Scientists and you name it.
    The Voluntary agencies abroad also are gracious enough to come to Guyana and offer their services.
    The living answer to all these deficits is to embark on more training locally for the Citizens and new age people now experiencing the life of a Guyanese. It was some 55 years ago that a Visionary leader sought to and did establish the Tertiary Institution that is now called the UNIVERSITY OF GUYANA. How many of these graduates can recall correctly the initial history of UG. This great Institution was referred to as Jagan’s Night School. Funds were politically denied it by the once Finance Minister, one Ramkarran was the Registrar of the U while one Prof Hogben of the U of SA was the Chancellor. This institution provided the Caribbean with many graduates in Science and Agriculture, Pharmacy and other useful qualifications in those days when everyone was pursuing a career in London, the mother country. Yes the visionary created an Institution that benefitted the entire Caribbean and today its shining with the graduates who must know the initial history of UG.

    • Andrew Cromwell  On 08/13/2012 at 1:42 pm

      Valid and highly informed points all around. I think of the many professionals whom I meet overseas who would gladly return to Guyana, just like the Voluntary Agencies. I have also met UG grads who are longing to leave the country, despite strong feelings of patriotism. They just cannot find productive work for their talents.

      It is the history and experience of Guyana, and basic life in Guyana that inform many in the diaspora. There are those who long to return and those who swear never to return. Then there are the children of the diaspora who never lived in Guyana, but claim their ancestry as Guyanese. They learn their history from their own ancestors. I must confess that knowing history is certainly a two edged sword. All depends on whose version of the history is being presented.

  • Andrew Cromwell  On 08/13/2012 at 1:46 pm

    PS. I think there is a need to generate Hope in people. That is not often presented as a factor in economic development.

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