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I write this letter on September 25—the birthday of our first prime minister, Dr Eric Williams. On May 30, 1999, on Page 3 of your Sunday Express, writer Louis B Homer reminded us of a very important incident that took place in 1958 in Debe.

The then-Chief Minister Dr Williams visited Debe and, in response to the pleas of the community and surely he too would have been taken aback, changed the name of a small community to Gandhi Village, replacing the former offensive name.

How does the name of a street or community impact on the self-esteem of the inhabitants?

I was equally appalled when, on attending the funeral of the sister of three of my pupils, Sirah Williams Parris, a beautiful child, 15 months old, snatched away from her family by a cruel act of domestic violence, to see the name of the street: Hellshire Avenue!

Who would have made the decision to name the street in this way? A shire is a rural administrative district, popular in England. Hell is a dark, unhappy place for the condemned.

Richard Fisher, a senior journalist for the BBC, wrote an article on July 12, entitled “Streetonomics: what our address says about us”.

He began by referring to writer and lawyer Deirde Mask, who states in her book, The Address Book: What street addresses reveal about identity, race, wealth and power, that if we want to gain a deeper understanding of a place, its “defining culture and underlying attitudes, you should look at the titles it has chosen for its roads”.

It spawned a group of researchers to begin a study called “Streetonomics”.
Mask goes on to say street names can be a bellwether for a culture’s underlying attitude.

Whatever the underlying thoughts that led to the name Hellshire being imprinted on the inhabitants of this picturesque street stretching the undulating hills of beautiful Tarodale, Ste Madeleine, it has to be immediately changed.

There are many prominent citizens of this community whose names can be preserved, for example:

• Mr Patrick Manning, former prime minister;
• Mr Brian Manning, Member of Parliament;
• Mrs Marlene Coudray, former MP and acting prime minister;
• Mr David Maharaj, teacher;
• Pastor Farouk Mohammed.

And, of course, Sirah Avenue, for everyone to remember a little girl who was taken away from so many who loved her, and will stand as a reminder of that horrible societal disease that affects so many families worldwide—domestic violence.

Learning is a change in behaviour, and foundational to learning is building the self-esteem of our pupils.

Living on Hellshire Avenue will not contribute to the upliftment of self-esteem, in my humble view.

Fyodor Dostoevsky, regarded as one of the world’s finest novelists, reminds us: “There is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome and useful for life in later years than some good memory, especially a memory connected with childhood, with home.”

Let the children of this street say and write their address with pride long into their twilight years. And let it be so all over our nation.

Sixty-three years ago, Dr Eric Williams did it, and today a village in rural Debe is very proud of the label that comes with every letter, package and conversation.

The word Hellshire has no place anywhere in society and, even worse, the labelling of a community.

Michael Diljohn
principal, Ste Madeleine Government Primary School

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