Romona Bennett: Kabakaburi's daughter Arts
Ruel Johnson
Guyana Chronicle
December 7, 2003

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IF YOU'RE reading this article, there is a likelihood that you would find it a challenge to locate the village of Kabakaburi on a map of Guyana. Most people might even place it some place northwest of Timbuktu. Romona Bennett, Best Graduating Student for 2003 in UG's Faculty of Arts and second Best Graduating Student overall, can probably find her way to Kabakaburi with her eyes closed.

Bennett was born in the Amerindian village 29 years ago and though her educational career has quite literally taken her places, she still possesses a deep affinity for the place she grew up in.

Romona remembers her early life in the village clearly. Life, she recalls was lived mostly on the river. Everything had to be done by boat. She grew up on the Kabakaburi Mission, her parents - Jennifer and Nicholas Baharally - both, at the time, teachers at the village primary school.

After writing her Common Entrance examinations, Romona secured a place at the Anna Regina Multilateral School.

"One of the hardest things I've ever done," recalls Romona, "I had to leave home and live in a dorm for five years." Not to say that the school was all bad. Romona says that, despite her perpetual homesickness, "good things" came out of her time at the Anna Regina Multilateral School.

One of those good things she remembers was the dancing. "We had a 'dorm tutor' who used to play oldies. We used to dance every Friday and Saturday night." From 1984 to 1989, Romona danced her way through forms one to five of that high school. After CXC, she wanted to attend a city school to continue her studies in English but was convinced by a former teacher to do her 'A' Levels in Accounting and Economics instead. These she did at St. Rose's High School in Georgetown.

After 'A' Levels, the petite and youthful looking Romona returned home to work as a Secretary at Barakat Sawmilling Company, at Jacklow on the Pomeroon, living while she was there with her maternal grandmother. In 1992, she went to teach at Kabakaburi Primary School, a job which - she says - afforded her the opportunity to catch up on the lost years away from home.

It was during this time that she grew to love teaching, she related to Sunday Chronicle. She spent four years teaching at the school during which time she was picked to participate in a teacher exchange programme being sponsored by Canadian Crossroads International, a Canada-based NGO focused on building partnerships between Canada and what it calls "countries in the South". She spent three months at the South River Public School in Ontario, where she worked mostly on a reading programme for children with reading disabilities, which paired both parents and teachers in conducting remedial reading lessons.

If her teaching experience at Kabakaburi made her fall in love with teaching, her short stint (September to December, 1995) in Canada confirmed that this was the path she wanted to follow in life.

She started out at the Cyril Potter College of Education (CPCE) in 1996 where she majored in English. In June of 1999, she graduated with a distinction, one of only four students to achieve the honour that year. In September of 1999, Romona Bennett - the usually mandatory two years of teaching being waived for her - enrolled in the University of Guyana's Degree in English programme. On the advice of the then head of CPCE, she also managed to secure a teaching position at the College as well; and she was identified to take part in the Hinterland Teacher Training Programme, or HTTP Initiative.

During her third year at the University of Guyana, Romona applied for a place on yet another exchange programme, this time with York University, Canada. She was successful and ended up spending her final year at York. Of course, homesickness struck again.

York University, she says, is by any measure an enormous one. It caters to more than 40 000 students, from Canada and other countries. It lacked the camaraderie that typified life on campus at UG. Whereas at UG, you could lime on the catwalk or under the benab in small intimate groups of friends, York was as cold and impersonal as a big city.

"There was this coldness [there] that I didn't find welcoming," she says.

While there, she says that she also got to appreciate the quality of the curriculum at UG, but at the same time her experience at York was invaluable since she had to do courses that she said weren't available here.

Romona returned to Guyana in June of this year to resume her duties at CPCE and, later, to collect the Vice-Chancellor's Medal for Best Graduating Student in the Faculty of Arts, 2003.

And what lies in her future? She is currently applying to UWI and some Canadian Universities to begin her Masters Degree in English in 2004. After that, she says, smiling, she'll most likely get married and settle down "somewhere in the Hinterland region."

"Because," says Romona, alluding to her Arawak heritage, "it's in my blood."