NAP TIME. Day care in Georgetown, Guyana, is vital but costly

AS more young women all over the world enter the labor force, day-care centers have become a necessity. Here in Georgetown, Guyana, during nap time, preschool children lie, two on each small mattress on the floor, in one corner of a large upstairs room.

Fortunate to be at the South Road Day Care Center, the girls and boys sleep or look around without making a sound.

Sandra Hooper, director of the center and its 285 children, aged nine months to five years, speaks quietly so as not to disturb them.

She explains that this is one of the 22 centers maintained by the city council of Georgetown - the capital of this small South American nation (the size of Idaho). It was formerly a British colony - situated between Venezuela and Suriname.

Part of the challenge of child care relates to the nature of the country itself. Georgetown residents number about 200,000 - one-quarter of the population of the entire country. In this land, covered 85 percent by mountainous rain forest, most people are squeezed into the flat, overpopulated coastal area, which is secured by a 63-mile wall because the land is six feet below sea level.

Despite the currency-exchange difficulty and decreasing income from exports, the new government headed by President Hugh Desmond Hoyte strives to promote foreign investment while trying to maintain some public services. Day care is one of them.

But at the South Road Day Care Center, parents pay $25 (Guyanan) per child monthly, and $15 for each additional child.

``An average family has about five children,'' says Ms. Hooper, ``and paying even this amount is quite difficult.'' Weekly minimum wage is $23 (about US$1.50), and the unemployment rate remains very high. Many job vacancies cannot be filled, because the city has inadequate resources.

Working mothers may leave their children at the day-care centers from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Aid from UNICEF since 1985 includes books and educational toys for the children - and a stove and other kitchen equipment needed for preparing the snack and one daily meal.

Also, efforts are being made to establish day care centers and health facilities in the remote areas of the hinterlands, but regular supplies of electrical power are unavailable there.

In Georgetown, the elementary school, which is on the ground floor of the South Road Day Care Center - and the clinic in the building nearby - need assistance not yet available from UNICEF.

Nineteen nurses and five doctors (three part-time) provide prenatal and postnatal care as well as home visits to new mothers. Family planning sessions, including contraception information, are held weekly, and unwed mothers receive help in learning various skills.

For instance, a girl might be taught how to sew. She might also be given a machine in an effort to encourage her to manage her one-parent family.

But throughout the city, children look healthy and neat in their uniforms. They are well disciplined, and they speak proper English, the national language in this developing country, which claims to have 86 percent literacy.

In this ``land of many waters,'' rain in the hinterland mountains floods the rivers, which flow north toward the Atlantic Ocean. Drainage is a major problem, as excess water must be pumped beyond the sea wall when the tide is out.

Yet many people question the safety of the city water that comes from artesian wells, so they boil all they drink. Another concern for children is that canals beside the main streets in Georgetown are polluted, and there are numerous places for mosquitoes to breed.

Despite the hardships, life goes on. More and more, women are seeking jobs to supplement the family income, and day-care is increasingly needed.

Typical of other developing countries that care so much about their countless children, efforts in health and education, beginning with day-care services, remain a priority.

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