Saturday, 3 March 2012

Earth Hero: Eileen. "I am fearless."

Before I’m accused of partiality in choosing my own mother as my third “Earth Hero”, I’ll let the Kaieteur News, a Guyanese online magazine, speak for me.
She has blazed a trail through uncharted territory and virgin soil, defying the odds in her drive to improve the standing of all women. Decades, characterized by unremitting perseverance and staunch resilience in consumer advocacy has taken its toll on her strong but aging shoulders yet the fiery ambition within her breast, ignited more than three decades ago, refuses to abandon a mission initiated out of necessity and pursued through concern for the well-being of ‘consumers but more importantly, her fellow women.
 Mum was a member of Guyana’s first generation of feminists. Born in 1918, she always stood out as “brainy”, and as a child her example was always placed before me as a standard I had to achieve. Mum was head girl at Bishops High School, the country’s leading girls’ school, and as a pupil there myself, and a rather naughty one, she was always pointed out to me by my teachers as a model, a shining example I should strive to emulate. There was her name carved on the board of former head girls; when I was suspended from school for—ahem—causing a disturbance in class, my headmistress, Miss ramrod-backed Dewer, duly reminded me that I was “letting my mother down”. What a disappointment I must be! I was told.

Mum was the first girl in the country to win the almighty Guiana Scholarship (Guyana, of course, was Guiana in those pre-independent days) and I’ve been told that this annoyed the eligible boys in the country no end; but it was a scholarship based on merit, and she was the best. It would have enabled her to study medicine or law in the UK—but she turned it down. I’ve never asked her why; on this visit I will, but the answer can perhaps be found lower down in that article:

And what are her views on education?

“Diplomas and Degrees are merely prerequisites for attaining certain positions in the work force. If I attain a Bachelor of Science or any other fancy qualification, I would still have to obey some official or the other. For me, there’s more to life than the acquisition of academic excellence. Staunch inter-personal relationships provide solid relations and should not be sacrificed on the altar of academic qualifications,” advocated Ms. Cox.

With daughter
I can’t help wondering, though, where Mum would have gone as a lawyer or a doctor. Law, especially would have suited her; as it is, she worked wonders for the country.
Mum grew up in an age when
“…most men believed that a woman’s place was in the kitchen among the pots and pans.” She felt it was her task to prove them wrong.
“Women possessed the academic acumen to cross the established gender barriers,” she posits. Sadly, these women were only allowed to occupy administrative positions up to that of a records clerk. She also said that in most cases, some of these women were even more qualified than their male counterparts.
Armed with the resolute belief that all humans ought to receive the relevant opportunities to realize their full potential, Ms. Cox decided to meet her male disbelievers head on.”
The rest is history; one thing led to another and Mum soon saw the link between women’s dependency on men and their roles as consumers. In 1971 Guyana’s first consumer association was formed.
 Ms Cox’s advocacy and vibrancy made her an automatic candidate for the position of President of the inaugural body. Her mandate was simple — educate and represent the consumer’s interest to government and industry. In order to effectively address this mandate, Ms Cox decided to liaise with the International Organisation of Consumer Union in England.
In 1971 she took her advocacy one step further when she submitted articles that appeared in the daily Graphic newspapers. She also took the message to the airwaves on a five-minute programme aired on the then Guyana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC).
At the Caribbean Consumers Committee (CCC) Conference in 1972
As a result on those weekly articles and broadcasts Mum became a household name in Guyana: someone who made changes and stood up for her beliefs. I remember as a growing teenager I was sometimes even jealous of the attention she gave to all het causes; because of course, as teenagers do, I thought I should have all of her attention.
 “Haven’t you ever nurtured fear that someone may attempt to do you harm for your vociferous advocacy and inflexible stance on these matters?” I asked her.
That 92-year-old woman who appeared unable to harm a fly looked me straight in the eye and pronounced, “I am fearless; I have no relatives who would be victimised because of what I say or do; I criticize whomever, whenever it is prudent to do so.”
She further intimated that irrespective of whosoever may transgress the laws, she fearlessly speaks out against it. “I have criticised the police for excesses; I have stuck my neck out for defenceless consumers and I nurture no fear,” ....
But what exactly drives Ms Cox to the extremes in proffering assistance to her fellow human beings? “My love for people,” she reveals, “I don’t talk down to people, irrespective of their status or standing, I talk with them.”
At 92 not out, Ms Cox has every wish of raising her bat to the crowd after she would have scored that coveted century. But is that her desire?
“I would very much love to cross that hurdle, but not in Guyana,” she pronounced. She noted my lifted eyebrows and ventured an explanation.
“The VAT (Value Added Tax) might be the intermediary force between the coveted century and whether I lose my wicket,” she stated matter-of-factly.
Salvador and Eileen
Mum is the reason I’m going to Guyana at this time. She’s 94 and still as feisty as ever, living in the house she built even before she married. I’m her only child, her only relative in Guyana. In Guyana, relatives care for their older ones. It’s a matter of honour, a matter of love. But I live in Germany. Where and how will she spend the next decade or so? That’s what I’m about to find out.


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