Celebrating women: “I knew my worth as a woman” – Dr Valarie Goorsammy-Smith

International Women’s Day will be observed on March 8, and it is essential to recognize the importance and significance of empowering women and girls, especially in today’s society.
Educators are some of the most impactful individuals in imparting knowledge and self-awareness. One of the most impactful ways to empower women and girls is by providing them with access to quality education; for it is mainly through education that they acquire the necessary knowledge and skills to become independent critical thinkers who are capable of making informed decisions about their future.
By nurturing a supportive and inclusive learning environment, that sense of self-worth and confidence can be cultivated in females, enabling them to overcome any obstacle that may come their way, and encouraging them to find a sense of contentment in all they do for themselves and others.
Guyana Times had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Valarie Goorsammy-Smith, an educator, pastor and businesswoman, who, in detailing her journey as an educator, shared some of the struggles and accomplishments that brought her through every step of her journey.
Dr Goorsammy-Smith, born in the village of Bath, Mahaicony, East Coast Demerara, shared that her father did not believe in career women, and wanted her to stay at home and learn a skill in preparation of becoming a housewife. After completing her primary education and being granted a space at a top secondary school in the region, she was debarred from taking up the offer.
However, she said, “My teacher encouraged my father that there is something more about me that he needs to consider”. She disclosed that the teacher insisted that she go to the Mahaicony Secondary School, where the space was granted. “The teacher took the opportunity and signed me up, thus I was given the chance to complete my secondary education, passing nine subjects at the GCE O Level exams; and soon after, I was able to move on to my first job in 1977 by teaching in New Amsterdam at the St. Theresa Primary School.”
By this time, she said, her father’s views about ‘girl’ children were slowly changing.
‘Goorasammy’, as she is most popularly referred to, realized that teaching at that level was not her calling, and she applied for enrollment at ‘Lilian Dewar College’ for secondary training in 1979. There, she graduated with a double major in Mathematics and English, Class 1 Grade 1 Trained Teacher’s Certificate. She then served as a trained Math teacher at the Bygeval Secondary School.
“My father was a proud father!” she related, while stating that she taught at the school for four years, after which she was transferred to North Georgetown Secondary School in Woolford Avenue Georgetown, where she spent another four years teaching CXC Mathematics.
She took a break for one year to take care of her firstborn, recognizing the importance of nurturing her child as a mother, a role all women should take seriously, she declared.
Returning to the classroom, she joined the staff at St. Joseph High School, where she spent 10 years serving exclusively in the English Department. Here, she noted, she was able to impact the lives of her female students, giving guidance and counselling in a variety of areas where they had domestic and personal struggles.
She said that, as a female teacher, “It was a privilege to relate to all the female students with inner struggles. The male students were helped in many ways, but the female students were able to overcome their lack of self-esteem and develop self-worth and confidence.
“If I notice a student gets withdrawn, or gets quiet, or not completing assignments, I will literally find time to talk to them away from the classroom; and that has proved to be an amazing approach that has benefitted so many of them, who are now great leaders all around the world,” she divulged.
She expressed that, beyond the classroom, it is essential to provide mentorship and guidance to young women, offering them support and encouragement as they navigate their educational and personal journeys. By serving as a positive example and educator, Goorsammy-Smith continues to inspire women, young and old, to strive for their full potential, instilling in them the belief that they are capable of achieving anything they set their hearts to achieve.
“Furthermore, as an educator, I have made it my mission to promote gender equality and advocate for the rights of women at all levels in life. I do not see any woman better than the other; we all have the ability and potential to be proficient in our respective choice of careers,” she explained.
As a national and international motivational speaker, Dr Goorsammy-Smith has participated in women’s conferences, panel discussions/conversations about gender stereotypes, discrimination, and the importance of equal opportunities. These encounters, she stated, have resulted in women revolutionizing their thinking.
She believes that a platform for dialogue and awareness must be opened up to women continuously. This, she profoundly stated, would empower our women in every walk of life to envision a future wherein they are valued and respected for their abilities and accomplishments. Further, she noted that this would bring a sense of contentment and fulfilment for all women.
Goorsammy-Smith has credited her strides of success and achievement to her firm belief in Jesus as her Lord and Saviour. She emphasized that her troubles were many, but trusting God daily for His wisdom has been the key factor in her being able to overcome and keep pressing to fulfil set goals, which should never be overlooked.
She currently serves as an Apostle/Pastor at the Healing Centre Ministry International – a church founded in 2000.
Women, as well as men and children globally, have been impacted by this ministry. This is where she can continue her mentorship beyond the classroom, since it is essential to guide women from any platform, offering them support and encouragement as they navigate their educational and personal journeys.
Asked how she overcame challenges in her work and personal life, she said, “Let there be space in your togetherness!” This is an adage she has followed for most of her life. “One needs to establish boundaries to protect personal space!”
Further, she said that, to get respect, one must be willing to give respect in return.
She believes that too many women place too great a dependence on men, not realizing that they were created with great potential and capacity to be powerful and productive, yet not domineering or manipulative.
As the mother of three boys, who are all successful businessmen, she reflected that it was never easy for her, since she spent most of the years with them as a single parent wanting the best for her boys. She said she did several jobs to make ends meet. “I sometimes would even do hairdressing – certainly not professionally, just making full use of an old blow dryer – to make ends meet, because I did not believe in depending on a male or anyone, but God, as a single parent.
“I understood that favours do come with expectations that can be costly! I believe that as I take up my responsibility as a woman, I need to work towards fulfilment”, she noted.
Goorsammy-Smith is a remarkable woman with a wealth of experience, having dedicated years of her life to various endeavours. One notable achievement in her journey was receiving an honorary doctorate from the Vice Chancellor of the University of Detroit in 2009 while on a trip to Barbados as a guest speaker. This recognition serves as a testament to her significant contributions and expertise.
She spent 20 years as a Lecturer at the University of Guyana, working in the Department of Language and Cultural Studies as one of the main lecturers in the Use of English programme. Here was where she was able to impact students’ lives from all the university faculties. Her dedication to education and commitment to shaping young minds are truly commendable. Throughout her teaching career, she imparted invaluable knowledge to countless students, leaving a lasting impact on their lives.
Goorsammy-Smith, upon retiring from the University of Guyana, has decided to embark on a new path as a business advisor, coach for public speaking, and trainer for managers and leaders in the private and public sectors in the area of language and communication.
This transition has allowed her to continue sharing her extensive knowledge and expertise with individuals and organizations seeking guidance in the business world. Her role as a female business advisor exemplifies her passion for helping others, especially women, succeed and achieve their goals.
Goorsammy-Smith’s journey as a woman with a wealth of experience is now marked with notable achievements, such as receiving an honorary doctorate and dedicating herself to the service of educating the children of our nation via the ‘Goorasammy Royal College’.
She shared that women should learn to cope and strive with whatever they have, using the little they have and investing it. As we observe this International Women’s Day, it is a time to encourage the championing of empowerment of women and girls through education. Investing in their potential and fostering an environment that promotes gender equality, paving the way for a future wherein all women and girls would have the opportunity to thrive and contribute to society in meaningful ways.
Dr Goorasammy-Smith noted very strongly and firmly that her journey has had many crises and challenges that can be identified with women who suffered emotionally, financially, and even physically; but she said that none of these experiences had thrown her into any state of depression or helplessness.
She ended this interview by saying, “I knew my worth as a woman. I knew my strengths. I was always able to rise above the storms and run again! When my enemies prepared for my fall, they had to gaze with disappointment; because, like the late great Maya Angelou said: ‘Still I rise’.”
She encourages everyone to take this moment to celebrate the strength, resilience and achievements of women in Guyana. Acknowledging their contributions, big and small, have made a significant impact.
And to women, she says, “Remember that your voice matters, your dreams are valid, and your potential is limitless.”