THE need to bridge the social, political and racial divides that continue to plague today’s society was underscored when the Social Cohesion Ministry consulted with the Christian community on Wednesday under the theme: “Christianity in Nation Building.”Social Cohesion Minister Amna Ally, the Ministry’s Programme Coordinator Sharon Patterson and Reverend Raphael Massiah, a Senior Pastor at the First Assembly of God Church, were among the officials present at NCERD, in addition to leaders from the various denominations.
During the interactive forum, a question was raised on the magnitude of racism in Guyana and whether there was really a need for a Ministry of Social Cohesion, given statistical reports that suggest that racism is not as prevalent in Guyana as many would believe.
But Reverend Massiah in a direct response, said racism is still a major concern in Guyana, even as he cited a personal experience in which he was a victim of racial discrimination in the market place. In his quest to highlight the relevance of a Social Cohesion Ministry, he said if social cohesion is not driven from a central point, then the nation would be in trouble.
“One of the things that we need to work on in terms of social cohesion…is healing and reconciliation. Racism is not just during election year, racism is just beneath the fabric of our society,” he told those present. The majority of the religious leaders there were in support of the notion that racism remains a problem and must be addressed holistically.
During his initial presentation on the theme, “Christianity in Nation Building,” Reverend Massiah alluded to the word “Shalom,” which according to him, speaks to wholeness, totality, well-being and harmony. He said it also conveys an interest in health, security, long life, successful completion of enterprise, prosperity and victory of war, noting that in a cohesive society, individuals or groups are not shortchanged with respect to these key elements.
“Shalom is a very complex word, it just does not impact individuals, Shalom describes a community…it captures the well-being not just of an individual, but the well-being of an entire nation, an entire society,” he posited.
Another concern raised at the forum dealt with the Social Cohesion Ministry’s decision to meet with the Christians, Hindus and Muslims on separate occasions. Hence a call was made for the religious community to meet with the ministry as a single group, not in part. Minister Ally, in commenting on the recommendations and concerns raised during the forum, said it is recognised that in Guyana there are a number of religious groups, but urged that the differences among the groups should be seen as barriers. She said that the Social Cohesion Ministry had thought it best to meet with the various factions of the religious community separately before hosting a general meeting.
Alluding to concerns raised about the relevance of the Ministry of Social Cohesion, she, like Reverend Massiah, emphasised the importance of the ministry. “We do have problems in our country. Racism is a beast, inequalities, poverty and all these things make us endure what we are enduring,” she posited, noting that Guyana will not achieve social cohesion in a month or a year, but it may take years. Minister Ally said the consultation is a mechanism put in place to hear from the people on measures to be taken to move the process forward.
Since the establishment of the Social Cohesion Ministry, the Government has been placing attention on reducing extreme poverty; eliminating gender and geographic inequalities; fostering greater participation of political parties in national development; creating opportunities for fair employment and safety in the hinterland; and ensuring equal access to education.