“My Story” Chapter 27

“My Story” – by Randall Butisingh.

(Reminiscences during my life beginning 1914)

CHAPTER TWENTY -SEVEN

During the strike when the African teachers were on leave, I was appointed acting head teacher at Lusignan School in 1962.  I welcomed the position as I knew that that I would be able to innovate and do some of the things I believe essential in the training of the child.  The children already had access to the Community Centre and were availing themselves of the facilities of the Home Economics Department and the library… I introduced craft, gardening, singing, drama and miming.  In a few weeks I was able to bring off a school fair and concert.

I was fortunate to have some good teachers, fresh from the training centre.  We were able to make a textbook for the middle division and a School Magazine with articles and poems by pupils and teachers; but my tenure of office ended when a head teacher of a smaller school was transferred to Lusignan for a misdemeanor and made Head Teacher.  What a sad Irony! Things were happening which in a stable government situation would be unthinkable.  This was tantamount to “promotion for misdemeanor”.

I knew my hand would be tied and I felt frustration.  The education officer who was interested in my activities and how I was trying to run the school in these difficult times agreed to my request to transfer me to another Grade-A School and recommended my promotion to Deputy Head Master at Ann’s Grove Government School.  I felt more comfortable in that situation though there was not much scope for my special activities.  This was a school of African children; the Indians were removed to a temple with a makeshift tent under the supervision of the same head teacher,  a Mr. Rodrigues. There was only one female African teacher there. Mr Rodrigues was later transferred to a prestigious school in the city and I automatically became acting head.

As acting head of the Ann’s Government School, I had also to supervise the makeshift branch in the neighbouring village Clonbrook.  This branch was exclusively Indian brought about by the racial tension which pervaded  during and after the strike and disturbances beginning in 1962.

In Guyana there are two major ethnic groups, the East Indians and the Africans.  The Indians now outnumber the Africans, but not to a great extent, and so there is always a struggle for power between the two racial groups; and until this is resolved,  can there be any peace and harmony in the land.  In 1964 an African based party, the PNC,  was elected led by Forbes Burnham, replacing a previous Indian supported party, the PPP,  led by Cheddi Jagan.   Now the present PPP President (2009) is Indian and his Government Ministers and management are mostly Indian. The Government is suspected of bias by the Africans and this may be so as the Indians who support him, expect more favours from him… so nothing has changed in relation to better racial harmony.

For instance, in 1964 when I was on duty in the main school at Ann’s Grove, when a messenger came and told me that there was a disturbance in the Branch School at Clonkbrook.  I immediately walked across and found a large crowd of Africans in front of the school.  A pupil had written on the blackboard:  “No black teacher wanted here”  The only black teacher in the school, a woman, was alarmed and went to the police post near the school to report.  A few Africans got wind of it and raised an alarm which brought out a large crowd of Africans. I tried to pacify them, but a young man said; “you see, you start it first”   After a while the crowd dispersed, but I anticipated danger if the racial issues were not resolved.

That afternoon as I was coming home to Buxton By train, I saw a large gathering of Africans waiting for the train.  As soon as the train stopped and some teacher and I disembarked, they boarded the train and began beating up the Indians.   Fortunately some armed policemen and a commissioned officer were there and that prevented any fatality.  I suffered a minor injury when a lad hit me over my head with a light electric cable.

The crowd had gathered when an Indian businessman living near the railway station threatened to shoot an African who had accosted him.  The local mob was reinforced by sympathisers from the People’s National Congress in Georgetown and nearby country areas.  As soon as it was dark the mob began setting fire to the shop and other Indian buildings in the area.   Altogether nine buildings were gutted.    My wife who was pregnant was taken in by an African neighbour,   My eldest son and a daughter were taken in by an African neighbour living behind us.   Two of my sons and I went to keep vigil with relatives who owned a store nearby.   We kept watch during the night, but no one attempted to set fire to it.   I found out later that the ring leaders gave orders not to torch some of th Indian houses.

The next day I did not return to school.  I stayed home as the situation was tense.  A teacher from the main school came to tell me not to return to Ann’s Grove as they were plotting to kill me.  He told me that a group of young men had drawn a coffin on the school’s bridge and a body in it representing me.   I  did not return and was transferred to Mon Repos as acting head of a number of improvised bottom house classes.

What I met at Mon Repos was appalling.   Formerly the children of Mon Repos attended the Beterverwagting  Government School, a large building with accommodation for about six hundred pupils, but during the disturbances, the bulk which were Indians discontinued attendance;  so the Government which at that time P.P.P.,  got their supporters to loan their bottom houses for holding classes.  There were in all fourteen makeshift classrooms holding about four hundred children.   There were no trained or certificated teachers, as all young people with the exception of an elderly woman who escaped from Mc. Kenzie after the killings and beatings began there.    She was a very conscientious teacher and she used to tell me of her frightful experiences.

It must be noted that these classes were not adjacent and this made it difficult for supervision.   A few were in Triumph Village the others were in Mon Repos; at their extreme they were a about a quarter mile apart.  My office was in the living room of a small house loaned by a kind family.   Some of the teachers would gather there for the lunch break.

During this time, also, efforts were being made by both the Government and the people to acquire a school building.   An old building at La Bonne Intention which accommodated about a hundred and fifty children was removed and set up by self help in an open area about four acres with a bottom flat.   This accommodated about about half of the pupils who before were in bottom houses.

Very soon after I assumed acting headship, nine teachers were sent from Corentyne, Berbice who were admitted to the University of Guyana.  At the beginning, some stsrted out well and we gained good passes in the School Leaving and Common Entrance Exams, but later I discovered gross neglect on the part of the University students who would spend much time doing their own studies.   There was gross neglect in instruction and supervision and this was further aggravated by the physical conditions that  obtained.

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