In his speech to the nation to commemorate Guyana’s 52nd Anniversary of Independence, President Granger urged greater protection of the nation’s children and said, “we need to bequeath to them, much more than we inherited from our own parents”. I’m sure the historian in him was not only referring to property and wealth, but also to moral values: ethics; integrity; and tolerance for someone else’s religion, ethnicity and culture. Guyana is a country blessed with rich diversity. But all too often some in authority use their position to discriminate against others.
On Independence Day, an article in the Stabroek News confirmed a story of a student of Mae’s Schools that gained wide coverage in the social media the day before.
In the words of the student’s mother, Karen Small, “A letter came home from my son’s school requesting that he dress in an ethnic wear today. I decided to dress him like an Amerindian and he was so happy when he left the house as he was taught mostly by his father to be proud of his appearance and culture. Once he got to school, he was greeted by the security guard who told him he had to put on a top because he was inappropriately dress this was also supported by some of the teachers, who said it was inappropriate to bring him to school like that. All this is unfolding in front of him, which of course brought him to tears and later on went on to say he hated the way he looks. So it’s okay to dress like the other race but inappropriate to dress like Amerindian?”
According to the Stabroek News article, the mother put a shirt on her son and left him at school for the day. But despite this, he was mocked and laughed at.
Editor, on October 18, 2013, Stabroek News published a photograph of students cerebrating Culture Day at Stella Maris Primary School. A cute little boy in that photo was shirtless and dressed like his African ancestors.
On August 1, 2017 the Guyana Chronicle carried an article captioned “Rich Guyanese culture celebrated on Emancipation Day”. The article was accompanied by a photograph of youths dancing shirtless in celebration of the 179th Anniversary of the abolition of slavery.
There are many similar photographs online with similar themes.
The persons in these photographs were all appropriately dressed for they represented the cultural diversity that defines us as Guyanese.
What was done to the little boy from Mae’s Schools is a violation of at least two Articles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. These are:
– Article 3 (Best interests of the child): “The best interests of children must be the primary concern in making decisions that may affect them. All adults should do what is best for children. When adults make decisions, they should think about how their decisions will affect children.” and
– Article 30 (Children of minorities/indigenous groups): Minority or indigenous children have the right to learn about and practice their own culture, language and religion. The right to practice one’s own culture, language and religion applies to everyone; the Convention here highlights this right in instances where the practices are not shared by the majority of people in the country.
Despite the school’s explanation, the child was appropriately dressed in traditional indigenous attire in celebration of his culture, an event that the school participated in. Had he turned up for school dressed like that on a regular school day, that would have been inappropriate and unacceptable. Mae’s cannot apply the school’s dress code on Culture Day or even Halloween (if participation is encouraged by the school) now that Guyanese have adopted yet another American tradition. Cultural intolerance is unacceptable, and counterproductive to social cohesion. If the Ministry of Education fails to address this unfortunate incident, it may well affect future participation of our children to cultural events.
This incident should never have happened, but it once again demonstrates the lack of respect for our First People, the Indigenous People of Guyana.
Karen Small and her son have been traumatised by the cynical actions of these teachers. She finds it hypocritical, “This is just wrong. You might as well tell them to wear culture wear except for those from the Amerindians.”
Who knows what devastating effect this will have on this child’s performance in school, and his relationship with his classmates. The head teacher and the staff of Mae’s Schools owe Karen Small and her nine-year old son a public apology. And in the interest of social cohesion, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Indigenous People’s Affairs should demand that this be done.