They came from different backgrounds and travelled different pathways but what they had in common was a fervent patriotism and a burning desire to see the land of their birth develop into a society that fostered the flowering of all potential and provided equity every which way for all citizens.
Lionel Peters grew up in rural Guyana and like many countryside Indians gravitated towards the People’s Progressive Party, in part because his dad was an activist of that party. Faith Harding grew up an urban girl and ended up in the People’s National Congress, like the vast majority of urban Afro-Guyanese. After serving at cabinet level under late president Desmond Hoyte, then Dr Faith Harding travelled the world on international assignments on behalf of international institutions – the United Nations and the World Bank. Meanwhile Lionel Peters developed an awesome capacity to organize and mobilize people in the political arena, eventually ending up as the PPP organizer in Georgetown leading up to the 1992 elections.
While Faith was honing her people’s skills and her grounding with the grass roots in Africa and Asia, Lionel used his already finely tuned people’s skills and capacity to ground with others to excellent effect in helping the PPP establish a foothold in Georgetown, a hitherto impregnable PNC fortress. In particular Lionel was able to reach out to the business and professional community and persuade them that the PPP and its then leader, Dr. Cheddi Jagan, ought to be given a chance at the upcoming elections. To fructify such support, Lionel, along with the others in the then leadership of the PYO (Khemraj Ramjattan, Rohan Singh and Annan Boodram), organized a meeting between Dr Jagan (who was accompanied by Moses Nagamootoo) and a group of businessmen and professionals. This meeting paved the way for the creation of the Civic component of the PPP government, and Annan Boodram was selected as liaison between the PPP and the Civic, the latter spearheaded by Vic Insanally, Vic Oudit, Dr Hughley Hanoman and Mohamed Nazar. In effect Lionel Peters was the individual solely responsible for the establishment of the Civic, yet he has not, to date, been given any credit for this by the PPP.
In spite of being brought up in the PPP, Lionel Peters displayed certain characteristics that would eventually make it impossible for him to remain in that closed institution, characteristics that have been displayed by many others over time, all of whom had to either leave or were forced out by the centralist PPP. These traits included not being a ‘yes’ man but rather exhibiting critical inquiry; a view that the leadership was/is not infallible; an outlook that put people first and felt that leadership should always be answerable to the people. Such a personality could not survive in the post-1992 PPP and as heartbreaking as it was, Lionel had to walk away.
After exploring the alternative political landscape for a few years without finding a fit, Lionel reluctantly migrated to the US in order to finally find time to put his family first. Yet a piece of his heart remained in Guyana and thus when the Alliance for Change (AFC) came on the scene Lionel became reinvigorated with a renewed zest for political activism. Sadly by then, years of neglect of personal health were beginning to take their toll on his body and even though the spirit was unbowed and the mind untrammelled, the body gradually deteriorated. And thus, before his dream of a new Guyana could be realized he had to say his final farewell last year and the Guyanese world became poorer for that loss.
Much like Lionel, Faith’s patriotic fire drew her back to Guyana and eventually she threw her hat again in the political arena with the hope that she would be able to lead the march towards a Guyana where all would be afforded the scope to realize their potential. Sadly the ingrained political dysfunction that existed, not only stymied her aspirations but drove her to leave active politics and to focus on helping to develop communities and empower people, especially women and the young. She threw herself mind, body and soul, into this mission, giving freely of her time, her efforts, her skills and her resources. And like Lionel, Faith paid scant attention to her personal health. Not unexpectedly her body began to feel the toll and despite a spirit that was raring to keep going, Dr Faith Harding said her final farewell in January this year. And once again the Guyanese world became poorer for that loss.
Both Lionel and Faith were simple, honest and passionate about helping people. Both were never found wanting in dishing out advice and helping others to stay motivated; both exhibited sharp intellects and probing minds and were irrepressible optimists. Both were rare individuals who were able to rise above the divides of politics and ethnicity and advance the lives of Guyanese individually and collectively, while exuding care and compassion to all who were fortunate to enter their embrace.
Lionel Peters was a lifelong friend of mine while Faith Harding became a relatively recent friend. I manned the political trenches with the former prior to 1992 and walked with the latter on the journey to empower people and help them deal with the everyday social issues. Those of us left behind by their demise must now move on, emboldened by the tremendous impact they have had on our lives. Yet we hope and pray that, sooner than later, the Guyana they both dreamed of would become a reality and that the lessons we learnt from them would continue to inform our outlook, so that despite the detractors, the naysayers and the demonizers, we would continue to put people first and to share, care and empower.