In my travels I have had the privilege and honor of meeting incredible people who are doing incredible things in loving and humble ways. Brian O’Toole is one such person I recently met and I’m so grateful our paths crossed. Brian recently put out a book that offers some of his thoughts and honest reflections on the last four decades of development work that he’s been involved with in Guyana, where he has pioneered with his wife. The book is called Educational Leadership: A Guyanese Perspective, and I decided to ask Brian about his book and his work and here’s what Brian had to say:
Baha’i Blog: Can you tell us a little bit about the book? What’s it all about?
We have now been 40 years in Guyana having left the UK as a young married couple. Guyana has proven to be a very receptive country to the Faith with Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism well established in the country. By the early 1980s, Guyana had more than 7% of the population as declared Baha’is. My thinking was: if a significant percentage of the population embraces the Faith and nothing seems to change then what is the point? This led us to introduce a number of development projects in literacy, youth leadership, disability and education to see what it means to try and put the principles of the Faith into practice. The book is a reflection on these efforts.
Baha’i Blog: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and why you decided to write the book?
I went as a pioneer to Guyana having just completed my training as an Educational Psychologist in Scotland. In our time in Guyana, Professor Roy McConkey, from the University of Ulster, encouraged us to write the book. He has visited us about 15 times to help on the various projects. He was the one that suggested there was a book to be written.
Baha’i Blog: Why do you think it’s important to document these types of experiences, and what do you hope readers will take away from the book?
The book details our work over 40 years to try to put the principles of the Faith into practice in a very receptive part of the world. A part of the book examines the growth and development of the School of the Nations and Nations University, that we developed from scratch, which over the last 20 years has grown from three children to 3,300 with partnerships with the University of London, University of Cambridge and University of Bedfordshire in the UK. We now have more than 650 persons pursuing their MBA with us. The book tries to avoid a sense of triumphalism and rather tries to explore what worked and, more importantly, what did not work. The hope is that there might be lessons in the book for others in the field of development. In part, it also tries to avoid the false dichotomy of “teaching the Faith” as opposed to being involved in “development work”. It explores some of the resistance we encountered over the years, sadly sometimes from within the Baha’i community, and from outsiders. But it tries to explore a road well travelled that has offered a means of presenting the vision of the Faith to significant numbers. A few months ago I was given the Highest National Award that the Government of Guyana offers.
Baha’i Blog: What advice would you give to others who are writing, or thinking about writing something similar about their own experiences?
Embrace the experience. I would not have written the book without the encouragement of my good friend. Share your experience to help others reflect on their own challenges.
Baha’i Blog: Where can we find out more?
The book, Educational Leadership: A Guyanese Perspective, can be purchased here on Amazon.
You can also order it directly from me for US$15 (including postage). Payment can be sent by personal cheque or I can send bank details. Here is my address:
41 New Market St
Baha’i Blog: Thanks so much, Brian! Congratulations on your recent recognition and for publishing this insightful and helpful book!