Dr. Brian O’Toole was on Saturday awarded the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) by Prince William at Buckingham Palace on behalf of the British Government for his years of service in education in Guyana and internationally.
The ceremony began with Prince William being escorted into the Ballroom of the Palace by the Lord Chamberlain, the Comptroller, and the Equerry in Waiting attended by two Gurkah Officers, a tradition begun by Queen Victoria in 1876. The National Anthem was then played, following which each of the 76 recipients were then introduced, and the achievement for which they were being decorated.
The next day, Dr O’Toole was given a Fellowship by the Association of Business Executives, ABE, in a ceremony in London that honoured four persons from Nigeria and Dr O’Toole.
Dr. O’Toole and his wife, Pamela, left the United Kingdom over 42 years ago to be of service to the Baha’i community of Guyana. The O’Tooles were involved in a number of development projects through the Varqa Foundation, a Bahai-inspired development agency that they founded.
One of the first projects that they worked on was the ‘Bahai Community Health Partnership’ (BCHP) in the Rupununi. This was spearheaded by Dr. Jamshid Aidun, who spent several years serving the health needs of the area at a time when there was no doctor in the entire region.
Dr. O’Toole recalled the vivid image of Dr. Aidun walking part of the distance to Karasabai, after having swum across a creek, walking in his bare ‘buckta’, coffee mug in one hand, and a stick in the other, looking like a latter-day Ghandi.
Another initiative was the Community Based Rehabilitation [CBR] programme which was introduced along with Ms. Geraldine Maison-Halls.
The CBR programme was able to reach thousands of people with disabilities in almost all the regions of Guyana. It attracted visitors from many countries, and resulted in more than 30 articles in leading international journals, two books, and a series of video programmes that were translated into Spanish, Italian, French, Arabic, Farsi and Amharic.
Out of the work in the Rupununi came the literacy programme, ‘On the Wings of Words’, which trained literacy facilitators in seven of the regions of Guyana and received support from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA); the British Embassy, the Luxembourg government, the Guyana Book Foundation and UNICEF.
Dr. O’Toole commented, “Laureen Pierre and Juliet Solomon worked with both the BCHP and the CBR programme for years in the interior of Guyana, earning the deep respect of so many persons for their dedication, detachment, and ability to connect with persons from all backgrounds.”
As the BCHP and the CBR programmes grew, they attracted visitors from many parts of the world, including Sweden, Italy, Mauritania, India, North America and India. The funders, AIFO of Italy, allowed great flexibility in the work in the Rupununi. The other major funder, Unity Foundation from Luxembourg, also proved to be invaluable partners, as they struggled to learn what development might mean in practice.
These development efforts were mirrored by so many persons in Guyana, as School of the Nations began to emerge 20 years ago with five children, and has now grown to 3,800 students from more than 34 countries, and partnerships with the universities of Cambridge, London and Bedfordshire in the UK.
Another partnership that ‘Nations’ has developed is with the London International Academy [LIA] in Ontario, Canada. A group from ‘Nations’ recently went to LIA to learn about Robotics, and another group is set to go in September, and will then develop a Robotics programme for primary and secondary school children at ‘Nations’.
Other exchange visits are now planned for The Gambia, in West Africa, where ‘Nations’ has a partnership with the visionary Non-Governmental Organisation [NGO], Starfish, and another partnership with schools in Ningbo and Lanzhou in China, and a school in Afghanistan. The Sixth-Form Student Council is in the process of raising funds to bring two students each from Afghanistan and The Gambia to study at ‘Nations’.
Said Dr. O’Toole, “The growth of ‘Nations’ over the years was only possible because of the support, guidance, hard work and skills of a special group of administrators and teachers at ‘Nations’.”