Wapishana linguist Dr Adrian Gomes credits humble beginnings, dedication to recent academic achievement

Dr Gomes says he has a lighter side, which involves farming, an activity he enjoys as he supports his wife at their farm in the South Rupununi

By Alva Solomon

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, he was stranded in the Netherlands for 5 months. Then when he came back to Guyana, he had to adapt to riding 5 to 10 miles from his home on a motorcycle to use the Wi-Fi at nearby villages in the South Rupununi in order to complete his recent doctoral studies.

For this interview, he sat on his bike under a mango tree at the village of Shea, enjoying the cool breeze as he stared into the distance, contemplating what more he can do to make a difference in the academic and cultural field in the Rupununi and beyond. But such is the humble temperament of Dr Adrian Gomes that one would understand why he has dedicated much of his life to education, a trait which among other things, has seen his efforts produce outstanding students as he clambers up the academic ladder.

On February 23, 2022, as Guyana celebrated its 52nd Republic Anniversary, Dr Gomes successfully defended his doctoral thesis entitled “Introduction of a Wapishana-English Bilingual Education Programme” following which he was conferred with his doctoral degree.

He pursued this aspect of his academic life at Leiden University in the Netherlands and he told Guyana Times that he travelled to St Ignatius village near Lethem with his family and siblings by his side in order to defend his dissertation on Mash Day last. “It is an extraordinary achievement for me,” Dr Gomes said during the recent interview.

Academic achievements

Dr Gomes’ list of academic achievements is lengthy, having started his school life at Maruranau village in the South Rupununi. After writing the school leaving exams at primary school, he was awarded a place at the Central High School in Georgetown and from there on, he was destined to a life in education. Since he is the firstborn of his parents and the first to complete secondary education, his parents made numerous sacrifices as he attended school in the city.

“My dad had to support him on a meagre untrained teacher’s salary,” his sister Francine noted.

Dr Gomes then returned to the Rupununi and taught at the primary school at Maruranau in 1982 and it is there he found his love for teaching. He said he was so obsessed with teaching that he offered lessons for free. “You don’t need to charge children if you want to see your children pass,” he said, adding that, “my reward was to see them successful”. And that was exactly what happened.

His students were awarded Government scholarships under the hinterland scholarship programme to attend some of the top secondary schools in the country including The Bishops’ High, Saint Stanislaus College and President’s College, to name a few. During this time, he completed studies at the Cyril Potter College of Education (CPCE) and he went on to pursue his degree in primary education at the University of Guyana in 1994.

After completing the degree, he went back to his hometown and served another period of years and during this time the Aishalton Secondary School opened its doors. The year was 1999 and Dr Gomes was appointed the first Head Teacher of the school. He said it was a task he welcomed since educating the children was always a priority for him.

In 2002 things changed for him when he encountered a visiting British diplomat who informed him that he should pursue a Master’s degree programme since his potential as an educator was evident. Then more luck came his way when he applied for and was awarded the prestigious Chevening scholarship.

After successfully completing the paperwork, he travelled to the UK to read for a Master’s in Language-Teaching English to speakers of other languages at Leeds University. It is there that he begun to focus on the Wapishana language of his ancestors.

After completing the Master’s degree, he said his focus sharpened on promoting the language of his ancestors. He said that he spent additional time improving his knowledge of languages and through his efforts, he managed to complete another literacy programme overseas at the North Dakota University in the United States. He then enrolled and completed another linguistic programme at the University of Oregon.

In 2010 he retired from teaching and immediately focused on the Wapishana literacy programme which he and several others launched after forming an association. He coordinated the project which entailed not only speaking but also reading and writing in the Indigenous language.

Doctoral studies

Fast Forward to 2022, Dr Gomes is now at the peak of his academic life. He said the COVID-19 pandemic hampered his studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands to where he relocated around 2016. He said he managed to come home to Guyana in 2020 after being stranded in the Netherlands for some 5 months. His contract with the university was up and he said coming back to the Rupununi was a welcomed change of life for him. But then a major challenge awaited them.

The Wi-Fi services offered by the Government at Maruranau has been unserviceable since early 2020 and as such communication with his supervisors in the Netherlands at Leiden was difficult. As such he decided to find a remedy and the only option available was to ride to the village of Shea, some 5 hours away, or another village, Arauranawau, some 10 hours away. He eventually worked out a plan and according to him, “I prevailed”.

He said he received heartening news recently when he was told that the Wapishana bilingual programme, which was introduced to three nursery schools in the South Rupununi in 2016 will be enhanced and another three schools will be added to the programme this September.

As regards his role in the programme, he said he evaluated the early stages of the project and oversaw its implementation for a few months before leaving for the Netherlands.
He posited that the programme should be spread across the Rupununi and at other Indigenous villages across the country as an option for students to learn another language.

At the moment, Dr Gomes said that some 900 persons are literate in the Wapishana language as a result of the efforts of himself and other administrators of the language project.

Dr Gomes is a father of two and when he is home at Maruranau, he spends much of his time on the farm with his wife and two children. He said he will continue to spread his knowledge within the communities of the Rupununi, and according to him, “I will willingly share what I know with others including Village Councils and Toshaos”.