In December 2009 University of Guyana’s best graduating student Loria-Mae Heywood in her valedictory address called on the government to do more to create an enabling environment to stem the relentless brain drain of university graduates.
A year later she is still unemployed after having failed to secure a job since being awarded the President’s Medal for her academic achievement. It is not what she expected.
Heywood told Stabroek News: “I always knew that there was some difficulty for graduates to get jobs but I never imagined that I would fall prey to the same situation. I didn’t expect to be served on a silver platter but I never imagined that I would have to wait so long.”
Like many little girls, her prepubescent dream had been to become an “air hostess,” a dream that changed over time first to be a teacher and then in her secondary school years, to become a linguist. But she said that while her passion for languages continues unabated her introduction to International Relations, her major at UG, left her with the desire to become a Develop-ment Analyst/ Policy-maker.
“I think what attracted me to this particular subject was my general interest in global affairs and the stark fact that we live in an integrated world where any event, despite its nature, could have serious repercussions on individuals despite their place of abode,” Heywood stated.
The 24-year-old’s puzzlement at being jobless a year on is understandable given her varied academic achievements to date.
“The curricular content that I was exposed to in the IR programme majors in International Relations, but includes a wide range of subjects, such as French, Sociology, International Finance, International Law and Politics. I also, in addition to doing CXC, went to the university with four A-level/CAPE subjects including English Literature and Communication Studies,” she revealed.
Heywood believes that even with the paucity of jobs locally, she is more than qualified to secure employment and is at loss as to why she is at home after sending out 41 applications over the course of the year.
The agencies she targeted included the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Guyana Revenue Authority, the United Nations, the Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security, the US Embassy, the Canadian High Commission and CIDA.
“I guess I had hopes of Guyana being some kind of meritocratic society, but based on my experience, this is certainly not the case, it’s about who knows who,” she said.
Several things are needed to adequately address the deficiency in the job market, Heywood stressed, including a culture that celebrates and rewards excellence and committed endeavour, as well as “recruitment policies and practices that give priority to securing the highest standards of efficiency, competence and integrity.”
“To rephrase Martin Luther King’s dream, candidates should be judged not by the colour of their eyes, the texture of their hair or the shade of their skin, but by the quality of their competence and the content of their character,” she stated.
Heywood also called for more collaboration between international and governmental organisations to ensure that the perennial ‘brain drain’ is curbed through the provision of internships which would serve to bridge the gap and provide the requisite experience for those desirous of being employed.
Heywood said over the past year she has been able to do some research projects with two agencies and recently started assisting a music teacher with piano lessons. She also had a brief stint with Gecom in 2006. In addition to the piano, she also plays the recorder and gets in the occasional set of lawn tennis.
“I volunteer on Sundays with the Rosemary Lane Outreach Programme, which is sponsored by the Guyana Police Force and consists of approximately 60 registered ‘at risk’ children ranging from 3-16 years of age. It is aimed at assisting poor children by providing core meals on Sundays, teaching religious literature and providing other services as the need arises,” she revealed.
Heywood’s situation became public when the Kaieteur News, on October 29, published a letter written by her mother. According to Heywood, the letter has generated expressions of surprise, support and rage from many individuals of various backgrounds. “It has even attracted the attention of Guyanese in the diaspora whose reactions indicated sadness as well as support and suggested strategies to address this abnormal situation,” she told Stabroek News.
In her valedictory address Heywood had said that the brain drain posed a developmental risk to Guyana.
“The past has been strewn with intelligent and qualified graduates emigrating to greener pastures merely to earn a decent living.
This brain drain is one which Guyana could ill afford, especially given the daunting reality that in a world marked by the survival of the fittest human capital is integral to our development.”
She has now committed to furthering her studies abroad having sent in applications to Cambridge University in the UK for the 2011-12 academic year and two other institutions. And while she may forever cherish her President’s Medal, only time will tell who will eventually benefit from her services. “It’s a bit too early to comment on that,” Heywood said.