A conversation with Magda Pollard

At eighty Magda Pollard remains mentally alert, enlightened, a keen conversationalist and seemingly always inclined to engage in discourse on important issues. Her appetite for exchanging views derives from the range of experiences that have shaped both her public and social lives, ranging from the contribution she made to the national Home Economics curriculum both as Principal of the Carnegie School of Home Economics and as a national examiner in the subject and as Women’s Affairs Officer as the Caribbean Community Secretariat. Beyond her professional life Magda Pollard remains a member of the Woodside Choir, an experience which she still enjoys sharing. When Guyana Review visited Magda’s Bourda Street home during the summer to talk about the Woodside Choir she was quick to offer cookies and to invite us to watch the summer Olympics with her. Over the next few hours we discovered that her interests went way beyond music and the Olympics.

In this issue of the Guyana Review we publish an extended interview with Magda Pollard .

I imagine that a great deal has changed since you were a much younger person growing up in Guyana. Could you tell us  about those changes that occur to you most………..both the positive and the negative ones.

Education has always been available, but it must be recognized that specific and  measures have been established making attendance at school compulsory for the population: aged 5 years to 17 years. This applies to the entire population. Education in the early years of the twentieth century was a matter of choice for parents.

Magda Pollard

The negative challenges in the social and economic aspects of our lives have not changed significantly for too large a section of the population – both rural and urban. Development still seems to be a buzz word, and quality of living is not in the grasp of a large section of the population. Sections of the city in which a significant number of persons live are simply underdeveloped in terms of the physical environment. Flooding, inappropriate building construction, maintenance of a healty landscape, efficient systems for street lights to illuminate the city – need for a safe environment – fires, flooding and accidents are all important concerns. There is migration too. Indeed there are things that need to change. The size of our population, for example, may well mean that there are not enough people  around any longer with the variety of skills necessary for building our country at all levels.

You must have heard it said in one way or another that many of our young people are underprepared for adulthood, for parenthood and for leadership. Do you believe this to be true and what exactly has failed them?

It is my view that many young persons are under-prepared for the responsible positions required for leadership. Although many of them would have completed a satisfactory five to seven-year secondary school programme  this does not lead them into the level of management, social orientation and citizenship, which are essential,  for adulthood, parenthood and leadership. The school curriculum is currently largely geared towards academia and even in that context it does not fulfill what is required in the areas mentioned. Admittedly, the social sciences syllabus would give an introduction which would necessary be in adequate.

Certainly, the world and Guyana with it, has changed. One significant area in which it has changed and is currently changing is in the area of family life and the roles of the father, mother and siblings. There is no doubt that there is a crisis. Still, I would wish to be hopeful and not be a Jeremiah. I would assume that some young people would have desirable character traits which may be nurtured by adults – teachers and others – to become exemplars. God would not have created a world peopled by sinners. Remember, he created the world, and saved us from the problems we  created for ourselves.

How important do you consider music, the arts and culture to be to the qualitative development of Guyana?

Music, the arts and culture should have a prominent place in the lives of young people. These aspects of our knowledge and skills at a personal level are absolutely essential to shape the lives and characters of everyone with whom any one establishes contact. Music, the Arts and culture, generally, are messengers of the finer qualities in our lives. Of course, there are different forms of each, but the message is real. My experience has been that young people find it difficult to cope with the intangible. They do not readily see the message/lesson to be learnt or the pleasure and talent depicted. At a personal level, one of the tenets which have given me lifelong inspiration was in a poem by Robert Browning –
 “Self knowledge, self reverence and self control
These three alone lead life to sovereign power”

We have to urge youths to recognize that they have a soul – very intangible, but it is the essence of their existence. My view is that every effort must be made to achieve the qualitative development of Guyana.. I wish for a piano in every school, an art room, and a large open area where children can create and display any appropriate skill.

Are there, perhaps, areas of development in Guyana to which Madga Pollard still has something to give?

I am already committed and have been so through my years of teaching Home Economics and serving as Principal of the Carnegie School of Home Economics from 1957 to 1978. Too few persons, even educators, recognize its full significance in improving quality of life – engaging the sciences as well as nurturing the culture of the nation. Between 1980 and 1991 I also served as Women’s Affairs Officer at the Caribbean Community Secretariat. A look of my work in that position had to do with the removal of all forms of discrimination against women. That is a struggle that is still being waged.

Is there, perhaps, one thing about our post-independence development that you would change which, in your opinion would make a difference to the kind of society we are today?

I claim no expert knowledge of development in its many and varied forms but I believe that since independence, we seem to have engaged with many countries and with the United Nations though I must admit that sometimes it seems to me that we have had difficulties in engaging with ourselves. Of course, many of our citizens have migrated and this is not a happy situation though it sometimes seems to me that despite the many tragic cases of maternal casualties we may be on the verge of a baby boom.

There is an absence of space for public discourse that is driven by civil society. Sometimes it seems that government enjoys a monopoly of those spaces. I think it is less well-known than it ought to be that all CARICOM countries, including Guyana have signed on to the Charter of Civil Society to promote better governance. Still, it often seems to me that our Non Governmental Organizations are not participating sufficiently in important public discourses.

Some people have said that one of the problems the affect the growth of our society is the notion that behavioural patterns that are reflective of good manners, respect for elders, pride in our surroundings and mutual respect among people are old-fashioned. Do you subscribe to the view that in some respects our problems as a country have to do with the fact that we have largely abandoned those virtues?

There is no doubt that our society has changed. In fact, the entire world has changed. There will always be persons who do not promote these virtues Funny enough, even the rudest and crudest expect to be respected. There is an adage which says “Do as you would be done by”.  We are in this state because our rules –our constitution and our laws are not be adhered to by our leaders. On the other hand there are still, perhaps surprisingly, many Guyanese who do adhere to principles of good manners, respect for others, and others, and who take pride in their surroundings.


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