Rev. Geoffrey Dolphin knows all about brain drain.
The Anglican priest from Guyana says his country is desperately short of priests and is often unable to keep the ones it trains. Fr. Dolphin and his wife, Thelma, spent three months in Canada this summer, mostly in B.C. They were guests of Bishop Barry Jenks of B.C. who hosted them and organized a full itinerary. They know the bishop from the three years he spent in Guyana.
The Dolphins came partly because they had always wished to visit Canada but also to try to convince Canadian priests – retired or considering sabbaticals – to work in Guyana for a time.
Just 52 priests, many of whom are elderly and of retirement age, are currently responsible for 200 Guyanese churches, Fr. Dolphin said during an interview in Toronto.
In comparison to the pace he often led during his 25 years as a priest, Fr. Dolphin is now living a fairly relaxed life with just two congregations to minister to. He once had as many as 13.
“To cope, I had to do six services on a Sunday – three in the morning and three in the afternoon,” he said.
People are not flocking to work as priests in Guyana largely because of the poor pay, Fr. Dolphin believes. Priests – no matter how many years of experience – earn the equivalent of about $210 Cdn a month. That doesn’t go very far, Fr. Dolphin said.
But parishioners can’t afford to contribute any more to their churches and that means the churches can’t pay their priests any more.
“We have to be very realistic in terms of saving the soul and feeding the soul,” Fr. Dolphin said. “We also need to feed the bodies.”
Guyana’s other professions are suffering from a brain drain as well, he said. Many of the better trained are leaving for Caribbean countries or further afield.
Canadian priests who volunteer to come to Guyana would receive the same $210 stipend as everyone else, Fr. Dolphin said. In return, the diocese would offer a comfortable, furnished house with basic, modern amenities. Being located close to the Equator, Guyana has a tropical climate with a wet season lasting from April through August. A former British territory, English is the main language spoken in Guyana.
Fr. Dolphin said the diocese would prefer to have priests who will commit to staying for a term of four years. But, in the present situation, he said, they will accept priests who can stay for as little as a month. Guyana does not ordain women so Canadian women priests are not invited to apply for the positions.
As for their trip to Canada, the Dolphins said they had a good time and found the people very friendly. But they were disappointed that one of their beliefs about Canda was shattered.
“One thing I had learned is that B.C. is the Caribbean of Canada,” Fr. Dolphin said.
Did it live up to its reputation this past summer? Definitely not, Fr. Dolphin said. “I found it cold.”