Story and photos by Joanna Dhanraj
This week, the World Beyond Georgetown visited a gem of a village tucked away between Sarah Johanna and Caledonia on the East Bank Demerara. Before Pearl existed, the area belonged to the Dutch. It was then a sugar plantation under the supervision of ‘Carter’ and then ‘Bagwandin’ (only names mentioned). The sugar cane would be loaded and sent to Diamond for processing, but it was uneconomical and the plantation was sold. It is rumoured that there were once two sisters named Sarah Johanna and Pearl, who each inherited for themselves a piece of land, and that’s how the two villages came to be.
Pearl is home to approximately 200 – 250 residents. According to lore, a pearl is said to be the “teardrop of the moon.” The tranquil beauty of the village and its hospitable residents certainly support this.
One such person is 43-year-old Kate Nelson called Lovern who was born on the West Bank Demerara, but went to live in Pearl at the age of five with her parents Carl and Myrtle Powers, three brothers and baby sister: Tyron, Carlton and Sydney Powers and Yvonne Wilson. Nelson recalls a simple childhood where her family used a flambeau for light and fetched water from the public road. To make a living, the Powers’ reared pigs, ducks and turkeys and sold fruits and vegetables.
Nelson said that her father, Carl Powers, owns Borselem, one of the three islands in the Demerara River. Borselem was once the location of the Dutch capital of Demerara.
Nelson got married at the age of 19 and left Pearl to live in Timerhi but still considers herself a resident of Pearl since she’s there six days a week from the wee hours of the morning until night selling at her little shop. Nelson considers Pearl the best village on the East Bank Demerara.
Yvonne Wilson (Nelson’s sister), is a farmer and miner who has been living in Pearl since she was just two months old. Wilson says she is grateful to have been married for 22 years to the love of her life, Nigel Wilson with whom she shares four amazing children and though there have been challenges, living in Pearl, a multicultural village, has been a blissful existence.
Yvonne Wilson farms at Sears Hope on the West Bank Demerara and gets there by paddling a boat. She boasts that she was among the second batch of pupils to attend the only school in her village, Pearl Nursery School.
Head Mistress of Pearl Nursery Michelle Roberts said the school was a dream fulfilled by the villagers of Pearl through self-help. Since there was no school between Soesdyke and Friendship the drive to school every day was tiresome for both the children and adults. Edith Lynch and a few other villagers came together and through a fund-raising activity were finally able to get the building constructed at a cost of $16,000. On September 18, 1979 the doors of Pearl Nursery were open to the public.
The school which was then headed by Mrs Faye St Kitts and teaching aide, Patricia Greaves started out with 23 registered pupils. Today Pearl Nursery caters for 74 children hailing from Pearl and other villages such as Sarah Johanna, Land of Canaan, Coverden and Caledonia.
Roberts says her staff—Nonette Cameron, Michelle Winter, Abiola McCurchin and Jael Yarris—are friendly and courteous; a truth that is evident in their eagerness to help.
According to her the parents are responsive and supportive and the pupils respond well to the ministry’s new initiative, which sees nursery intake begin at a younger age. She noted that an extension to the school building would be welcome as they are usually hard pressed to impart knowledge to 74 children in a building that once housed less than half that number.
Leaving Pearl Nursery School, the World Beyond Georgetown caught up with the famous fundraiser Edith Lynch, whose name had been echoed by a few of the villagers. Jamaican by birth, Lynch has been living in Pearl for 45 years. She and husband, Eric Lynch, who is believed to be the oldest in the village at 85 years old, settled there in 1970. “It’s just four streets but it was isolated,” when they bought their lots and moved there. “We still had electricity and water though it didn’t come so often,” she said.
According to Lynch, they were the only ones with a telephone in the village back then since her husband, Eric, worked at Telecoms. Back in those days she worked too – as a record-keeping librarian at the then Guyana Broadcasting Service, but she left to be a full-time mom to her four children.
When asked about the Pearl Nursery School project, she said modestly, “We saw the need for a nursery school in Pearl. It was difficult for the parents to go back and forth to take their children to school every day. Once it got started it took nine months before it was completed and there were many positive feedbacks.”
She noted that Pearl is a not a business area but a residential area and a pleasant one at that. Along with its farmers, Pearl is also home to teachers, nurses, entrepreneurs and newly appointed Minister of Business Dominic Gaskin who has been living there for over 15 years. According to Lynch, he and his family are “pleasant people.”
The 79-year-old said that when she is not helping her village, she enjoys listening to classical music and entertaining family and friends.
Further along was Khemraj Puran also known as Rajesh, a koker operator and technician who lives with his wife and four children. Rajesh proudly wears his “Keep Pearl Clean” jersey as he goes about his duties. He is part of the Pearl Clean-up Campaign along with teacher Michelle Winters, Minister Gaskin and other community members. The villagers get to work every Sunday trying to make their village the cleanest.
Rajesh has been residing in Pearl since 1984 and he said that most of his relatives belong to the village. “It is quite a challenge living in Pearl if you’re a farmer,” he noted. The drains in the farmlands way down in Pearl are blocked up and during the rainy season, the farmlands are under water. Because of this farmers have been forced to stop planting. Some farmers have even migrated to other parts of Guyana and overseas.
Rajesh said it is his hope and that of other villagers that the problem can be rectified soon. Rajesh pointed out a few of the clean drains and plants they would have planted.
On our way back we ran into an elderly resident, Daniel Bourne, who was on his way home. The Now 82, Bourne recalled moving to Pearl in 1987 after buying a piece of land for $20,000. Stating that he’d never leave Pearl to live elsewhere since he enjoys spending time with his elderly friends in the village, Bourne said, “These people here are like my family.”
He revealed that he too worked at Telecoms with his good friend, Eric Lynch. He went on to working a hire car on the road driving from Georgetown to Timerhi for many years before retiring.
His wish, which was also mentioned by other villagers, is to have a community centre where village youth could be catered for.