I have two sisters who were part of an entourage of eighty-seven students who travelled from the Rupununi to participate in the children’s Mashramani programme in Georgetown. They faced a number of serious difficulties during their brief sojourn in the capital city.
Travel from the Rupununi takes a minimum of fourteen hours along a rough, rickety road. A normal trip leaves passengers drained and tired by the time they arrive at their destination. These unfortunate students were forced to endure almost double the normal time on the road on both legs of the journey, because old, faulty buses were hired to transport them. Some of these buses broke down on both trips. The travel to Georgetown took over eighteen hours while the return trip home took over a day.
Almost as bad as the travel arrangements was the treatment meted out to the students while in Georgetown. The students performed and practised late into the night on all of the days of the event. Yet the quality and quantity of the food was barely minimal.
The final day of the event was the children’s float parade, and the way the students were treated was almost inhumane. They participated all day in the float parade and upon its completion in the late evening they were forced to depart for the Rupununi. They must have been dead tried from their exertions in the sun all day long. Yet they were now forced to commence their long journey home. If this logistical nightmare wasn’t bad enough, the hapless students were given a dinner of a croissant bun and a cup of tea after all their exertions earlier in the day and their impending exertion as a consequence of their long journey home.
The travails of the children did not end there. As they readied
themselves for the trip home they found out that five buses had been arranged as transport. Buses fitted and insured to transport eleven passengers comfortably were now transporting a minimum of seventeen passengers. Little heed was given to the safety of these children when overloading these buses. Neither was consideration given to the comfort of the children who would most certainly have been dead tired from their earlier exertions and would have wanted a comfortable seat in order to sleep since they were being deprived of their night’s rest. Inevitably two buses encountered mechanical difficulties and the return trip took over twenty-four hours to complete. Maybe their Rupununi spirit helped the children to survive the ordeal.
Many questions need to be answered. Firstly, how can a ministry whose role is to protect and mould our young people be so reckless about the welfare of these hinterland students? The travel arrangements were woefully inadequate. The accommodation was unacceptable, while the action on the final day bordered on inhumane. Which is priority for the ministry? Cutting corners to save some dollars? Or ensuring that the safety and well-being of the students are paramount irrespective of cost?
I have been informed that the children’s Mashramani programme is a fully sponsored event. As such I am enquiring if the sponsors are aware of the harsh treatment meted out to the Rupununi students? Are they satisfied about sponsoring an event where participants, and more specifically hinterland students, are treated so poorly? Is their money being properly utilized and accounted for?
In closing, a post was made on facebook about the conditions these students faced and the response was almost resigned, since many people said that hinterland students have been enduring poor treatment for a very long time. If so, this is a damnning indictment of a government ministry tasked with ensuring that the welfare of our children is paramount.
Hopefully this letter will publicize the difficulties the Rupununi students faced to participate in this year’s national Mashramani children’s events (and have been facing for a very long time) and that it will serve as a catalyst to bring change and betterment for future students.