Now, we came to Guyana with the understanding that GAMAS meant Guyana Adventist Medical Aviation Service. A few weeks after being in Siparuta Village, we learned that the GAMAS board had changed the meaning of the acronym to Guyana Adventist Ministries and Services. When we learned this we were rather disappointed. It seemed like a downgrade from the work they were doing before. There is great need for medical personnel and medical evacuation services in this country. With its vast hinterland, Guyana presents a challenge for proper healthcare coverage. Sure, it’s expensive, but God had provided in the past and would certainly provide again. And those persons living in the interior were most grateful for the help. Now, GAMAS is focused on these schools in interior villages where administrators frequently do whatever they feel like doing with a board whose supervision is largely laissez faire. What administrators say on the radio each morning cannot always be trusted. By what measure are they being held accountable?
At Siparuta Mission Academy, we noticed some things that didn’t seem too kosher with the operations nor the behavior of the administrator, Mr. Lawrence, and the principal, his wife. The same went for the woman introduced to us as Granny, a Ms. Parnell, who was supposed to be the advisor to GAMAS regarding the runnings of SMA. We started to wonder if things were being done above board. Here are some of the things that we realized:
- The morning after we arrived, very early in the morning, Jermaine awoke and saw some men standing in the distance by the Lawrences’ house. Thinking they were members of the village council come to meet us after learning of our arrival, he wondered if he should go over to meet them. The Lord told him to go ahead. He ended up walking into the midst of a business transaction. Mrs. Lawrence was about to receive payment for a 7500-watt generator that had been donated to SMA. It was being sold to a pastor of another church in the village to the tune of GYD $150,000. The down payment was 100K, with the rest being promised as soon as possible. Mrs. Lawrence asked Jermaine to check the count of the money and sign as a witness on the receipt. This was a rather interesting development considering:
Mr. Lawrence had told us, while we were still in Jamaica, that all donations had to be used for their appointed purpose. Donors had to be contacted if administrators wanted to use donations for other things. He was quite emphatic about this.
Later on, we realized that our church did not have power. Even though it was wired for electricity—ceiling fans and all. Sabbath morning services were kept as short as possible because of the daytime heat. Evening services needed to end before sundown so we could see our Bibles.
There was constant talk from the administrator and his wife of a (rather elusive) budget that seemed impossible to meet.
- Mr. Lawrence conveyed to us that he had to empty his bank account to clear, from the wharf, the container rammed full of donated items of all kinds. Yet, Granny told us that she paid to clear that container.
- Mr. Lawrence told us that for the 15 people (inclusive of the female dorm students and our two toddlers) that eventually ended up residing on campus, they spent GYD $80,000 per month. Being that it was fed to us that food in Guyana was very expensive, we figured this explained the high food bill. But when my husband finally had the chance to leave the village in January, he couldn’t believe how inexpensive food was. Especially the things they bought. We ate a predictable revolving schedule consisting of some arrangement of the following purchased ingredients: beans, rice, pasta, oats, flour, tomato sauce, cornmeal, yeast, canned corn. These are not expensive things; probably the most costly items were the canned goods and the 10kg rice.
- There was a constant negative portrayal amongst the Granny-Lawrence triad of other persons. Granny told us horrible things about the family that had run the school for the five years before. She conveyed that they were unGodly and were destroying the village left, right, and center. She seemed to state with glee that the family left “like the bees was after them”. Once we got the opportunity to interact with more villagers and the village council, we learned that Granny had orchestrated the removal of that family. That she kept antagonizing them until they gave up and left. Her mean streak became more evident the longer we were there. Yet, she constantly proclaimed, “Jesus knows I’m here” and claimed her allegiance to Him and the Bible. Students and others in the village know her true colors and talk about them readily.
Mrs. Lawrence felt it her duty to inform us that the villagers could turn on you very quickly (for no apparent reason). She told Jermaine that a teacher who had left earlier that year (2013) had gotten along really well with the students, like Jermaine was, but all of a sudden the dorm girls just turned on him. So she advised Jermaine not to befriend the students. Since then we saw how the students interacted with their former teacher when he came back to visit and saw none of the animosity she mentioned. She also told us that one of the dorm girls had a verbally abusive mother, but upon interacting with said parent on more than one occasion, we are hard-pressed to believe Mrs. Lawrence.
These things only scratch the surface of what concerned us as the days and weeks went by on campus.