It saddens me to read of the state of the old New Amsterdam Public Hospital. During my tenure as Conservation Officer at the National Trust of Guyana a report was prepared and submitted to the board and later forwarded to the Ministers of Culture Youth & Sport and Health. As is the customary case of most government agencies the report was still being examined approximately two years after it was submitted.
Numerous calls were placed to the Ministry of Health but the responses were all in a circle; yes, there were plans and that the state of the structure would be addressed. The administration of the Trust, politically appointed and guided, has never made any serious attempt to address this issue, and the matter, despite repeated efforts, was simply filed away and deferred at various meetings for further discussions.
In 2002 this structure was identified to be gazetted as a National Monument to allow for its preservation; six years later, as is customary this proposal is still being examined by the government.
The history of this magnificent timber edifice is well known and to those who voice their appreciation for it to be preserved I say, thank you. There is a pressing need for officials to be more proactive as it relates to historic preservation in Guyana.
As it relates to the capacity of the Trust I can say that based on my experience the budgetary allocations which the government gives to this agency will never allow for the restoration of this structure. Owing to its deplorable state and wilful neglect by the Ministry of Health it would mean that the figure for a complete restoration would run into the hundreds of millions of dollars, well out of the league of the government’s reach.
The proposal by one person to attract financial grants from overseas is a noteworthy suggestion. This is not the first time that such a proposal has been made; the Chess Hall on Main Street was slated to be restored in 2001 with overseas funding from one such agency, whose name I shall not mention, but because of pure arrogance the entire project folded. All that was required was a simple letter of invitation and acceptance to be received by the funding agency, yet the entire project fell through despite the concerted and best efforts of those who were dedicated to and passionate about historic preservation.
Cultural heritage receives very little attention in Guyana; the talk of heritage tourism seems not to have resonated well with officials involved, given the fact that there are standards that must be adhered to. I was privileged and shocked to have attended a high level meeting where a political figure noted that they would prefer to buy a tractor over restoring a building or building an archive as they can see faster financial returns from that investment.
In the circumstance I offer all Guyanese one word of advice: photograph the historic buildings that we have left as they will surely, if left neglected, as seems to be the case, disappear before our very eyes. At least by taking pictures its memory will forever be preserved.
To those who continue to hold some glimmer of hope I can only ask that the media shine some light and maybe, just maybe, public opinion, as was the case with the historic railway bridges, may prevail.