I am writing in solidarity and in support of Varshnie Singh, starting with the wonderful work of Kids First that the former First Lady poured her heart and energy into. She inspired many and helped even more! So many sick children healed, so many at death’s door saved. She tirelessly fund-raised for Kids First here and abroad. Also on record is her clear advocacy for children’s rights and her public stand against corporal punishment, signing on to the petition last year and generally exemplified through her work with the National Commission on the Rights of the Child.
I also wish to share a personal memory: during her first year as Guyana’s First Lady, she was invited by Dr Brian O’Toole to give a keynote address to the ‘Youth Can Move the World’ conference. I was on the panel that day and she sat next to me. It was the first time I was meeting her up close and personal, she was feverishly editing her text.
When she rose to speak, she said she was going to tell a story to the youth leaders gathered there that day, a real life story about a young boy from Guyana who grew up in the countryside who was not rich, who did not like school, who had no blueprint for success or role model in his immediate environment and whose teacher took him aside counselled and coached him and instilled in him a school-work ethic and the grit to succeed against the odds. She went on to relate that he won scholastic awards and a scholarship to study economics and was blessed and helped along the way because he made the first effort himself and never faltered in his path to make it in the world and to meet his own dreams head on. She told the audience that he eventually entered politics, became Minister of Finance and then she asked the kids to guess who this person was. Some did and got it right – Mr Jagdeo, the President of Guyana. She said he was an example to them and to her, that you can achieve greatness and overcome your challenges. She told the story in a moving way and she used the story as motivation and inspiration. There was applause.
The shadow side of this story in another, very different chapter is only now being told. The teller of the tale, now a victim of the hero therein, has recounted the love lost and the promise broken.
I often wish Varshnie had told her own story too, that day − of how she grew up and left Guyana and studied in England and how she succeeded also, and opened her mind to the metropolitan melting pot of London, returned to Guyana, a modern young lady to marry a young Guyanese leader, with shared patriotism and with her own special sense of self and mission, her own brand of personal courage and her vision to build up an organisation to help Guyana’s sick and suffering children.
Over the years the breakdown and break-up of her marriage has been regrettably played out in the public sphere. It saddens me greatly to hear of her humiliation, her isolation and her desperation – and of the mental abuse, indignities and suffering she recounts – such a grim and different story from the one above. (In contrast, I cannot help but look at the sparkle and grace of the relationship so evident between the world’s newest President and his First Lady – Mr Barack and Mrs Michelle Obama − and wish that something similar could have been the hallmark of the relationship for Guyana’s First Couple too.)
The Domestic Violence Act, the Stamp It Out Campaign and the various state policies governing Zero Tolerance for All Forms of Discrimination and Violence Against Women means that all Guyanese, high and low, male and female, are expected to uphold the tenets therein. For persons who hold public office, it is even more critical to be accountable and to lead by example in upholding such state policies, conventions and laws of the very land that they have been entrusted to govern.
My sincere hope is, regardless of whatever private issues caused the irrevocable breakdown between this couple, that there will be due civil and legal redress; that Ms Varshnie Singh’s human and constitutional rights will be upheld and that dignity and decorum of behaviour on all sides will prevail. I certainly hope that Kid’s First will continue and that in her new cycle of life, Varshnie will carry on this very good work for our country within the wider diaspora where, I understand, she will now reside.