When people look in to Guyana what do they see? What do others feel about us as a society? When foreigners walk the streets of Georgetown, talk to us and encounter our socio-cultural norms, what do they see?
Do they see what we aspire to? Or do they see that we struggle to provide our basic needs and wants?
Walking through the villages of Corentyne, Berbice, one would see signs of the massive migration trend. We suffer as a country from a sparse population, with empty properties withering away in villages as migrated families make their way in the world all over the globe.
Guyanese left their homes for greener pastures because they wanted to escape the hard daily grind. They left to build themselves up, many with an intention to return to live a fruitful life in the land of their birth. Of course, most do not return except for a very short vacation.
So, how do these overseas-living Guyanese view their land of birth?
Many look at Guyana’s socio-economic struggles with absolute contempt, an arrogant pride that they are getting on in the world while the country seems stuck in perpetual struggles. When people return to villages and see minimal progress, they compare it to what they are accustomed to in developed societies. And they square their shoulders and pronounce that they are better off, with an attitude that infers that the local population is somehow inferior.
This generates resentment at home, so this overseas Guyanese attitude of superiority wedges a wall between the “back home” folks and “us who are overseas”.
Leo Tolstoy may have touched on this human psychic state when he wrote in his famous novel Anna Karenina that “happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” In a nation split between those who comprise the Diaspora and those who comprise the homeland, many families are thus split in two: the happy side overseas and the unhappy side at home.
Last week I walked into an Internet café at La Penitence to find all the phones occupied with earnest, sober-faced people intensely focused on filling in their happy overseas families about their unhappy life at home with Christmas coming up and money in scarce supply.
Remittances make up a huge chunk of the local Gross Domestic Product. Overseas Guyanese fund a big part of the local economy. And this rather important role of funding a country generates this attitude of arrogant pride in the overseas population.
And it is this attitude that stops the amazing opportunities that Guyana could offer its overseas-based citizens.
India cultivates its global population to excellent effect. And overseas Indians do not seem to look down their noses at Indians back home. China also cultivates a special relationship with its global nationals. In the Caribbean, Jamaica’s flag flies high in how that country welcomes and cultivates its overseas-based sons and daughters. And Jamaica recently has been making amazing strides on the world stage, most notably at the Olympics.
Without question, the Guyana government must develop a sound national policy to harness the enormous latent power of the Diaspora. Guyana would leap ahead very quickly if overseas-based skills, resources and talents can be encouraged to put their hands to the plough.
Everyone blames the government for the lack of such a policy. The problem, however, may not lie in Georgetown at all, but rather in the hearts and minds of migrated families who have become happy, and have to fund their unhappy families back home that live in a land crushed under nearly 40 percent chronic poverty.
The time has come for overseas Guyanese to look into Guyana and see the desperation lurking in the eyes of the unhappy families in villages devastated after decades of social neglect. The time has come for people with skills, resources and talents to feel not arrogant pride but a sense of duty to reach out and offer a humble hand of service.
Those fortunate enough to have migrated must humble themselves, must realize that living in developed societies is a fortunate opportunity that does not mean they are superior to those without that opportunity.
In the government, at least two educated Ministers returned home and struggled for free and fair elections. Another – Sash Sawh – served until he was gunned down and killed. These serve because they humble themselves and willingly get into the trenches and fight the fight. When Janet Jagan left the US to live in colonial Guyana with her husband Cheddi, she made a choice of sacrifice.
That ought to be the watchword for the Diaspora today – sacrifice. We want to see people who left the shores of Guyana and made their way in New York and other US states, England, Canada and the Caribbean to make sacrifices to rub shoulders with their unhappy families living in the filth of a nation running with Haiti and Nicaragua in the poverty trenches in the Americas.
The government cannot carry the weight of developing this nation. The job is too heavy, too hard. Guyana is staring at some serious threats to its stability: crumbling sea-defence, flooding from rising oceans, economic stagnation as a primary producer, a massive brain drain that worsens daily, and so on. The litany of woes is immense. The opportunities and possibilities are much more immense, if we would see.
The government would be absolutely foolish to ignore hands stretched out in sacrifice to right the ship of state.
The Diaspora must take the responsibility to make the sacrifices that would open the doors of our nation to the glorious possibility of a reuniting of split families – not just financially, but in reality.
This sacrifice must lead to a national policy to harness the skills, resources, knowledge and talents of overseas Guyanese not only for fostering retail sale at Christmas, but to generate community projects that transform unhappy families into happy ones, here at home before they would want to migrate.
There is a class of Guyanese living here who would not want to migrate. These are the rich, happy families. Yet, even they send their children away to New York, Toronto and London.
It is time that we accept ourselves as a migrant people trotting about on the global stage, and work together as a global Guyanese population to build a homeland that becomes a world-class society.
Can we see that possibility when we look into our hearts? Can we feel the pain of being responsible for the state of the land of our birth? Each and every one of us must cultivate this attitude of sacrifice for the good of our land. And more so, happy families who benefit from the developed world. For the unhappy families in under-developed societies like Guyana need hands reaching out in sacrifice – seeing and feeling their dreams and aspirations.