Boarding aircraft at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport – Guyana
Photo Credit: Guyana Times International
The worse part about emigration is not the brain drain. It’s the fragmentation of the family and community. Before my time came to leave the land of my birth, I had already lost to emigration, aunts, uncles, cousins, school friends, my three brothers, my sister, and my mother. Only my father and I had remained. Marriage gave me a new family with new connections.
Like thousands of other Guyanese over the years, they left for all kinds of reasons: higher education, reunite with family, economic hardships, racial and other violence, political victimization, corruption, crime, and more.
Violent crime remains at critical levels. In South America, Guyana has the fourth highest murder rate, after Venezuela, Colombia, and Brazil (UNODC 2010). That’s three times higher than the United States.
During the period of the civil rebellion that culminated in the assassination of Dr. Walter Rodney on June 13, 1980, I was working at the University of Guyana Library, Turkeyen Campus. I left the hotbed of political intrigues and victimization to work in the private sector.
In 1982, with the economy in crisis, the government’s ban on imports of wheat flour and other staple food items brought new hardships. Contraband flour from Suriname kept our newly-started, home-based pastry business going. The locally produced rice flour substitute proved useless for baking Chinese and English pastry. Doing business under such conditions came with its dangers and stress.
When the ban on wheat flour lifted four years later, another crisis hit us: the thallium scare. Panic broke out in the capital in July 1986 with the disclosure of several cases of death by thallium poisoning at a local private hospital. Although the World Health Organization had banned its use as a pesticide since 1973, the Guyana government was using the highly toxic poison as a rodenticide on our sugar plantations.
Fear and panic spread when the Government Analyst Department diagnosed a high incident of thallium poisoning among the hundreds of Guyanese tested. My husband, our two sons, and I were numbered among those tested positive. Later, it turned out that their equipment had malfunctioned. The news came too late for me and my family. We had already left Guyana for Brazil.
Recent articles in Guyana’s online news media reflect concern about persistent emigration and brain drain. While some emigrants do turn their backs on the land of their birth, a great number of people in the Guyana Diaspora remain connected and engaged with the relatives and communities they left behind. In his article, “The Diaspora Reconsidered: A Guyanese Perspective,” Lear Matthews mentions some of the organizations that facilitate that bond.
Over two years ago, the Guyana government and the International Organization for Migration launched the Guyana Diaspora Project, designed to contribute to the economic development of Guyana through the support and engagement of the Guyanese Diaspora. The groundwork for its implementation is in place. It’s up to all parties involved to make it work.