Min­is­ters say ‘long road’ ahead but some suc­cesses seen in Baramita

-gov’t to sup­port rum ban if re­quested

Stabroek News Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - By Mi­randa La Rose

Govern­ment will sup­port a ban on rum in the Carib com­mu­nity of Baramita, in Re­gion One, if re­quested, ac­cord­ing to high rank­ing of­fi­cials of the Min­istry of In­dige­nous Peo­ples’ Af­fairs (MoIPA), who say that in­ter­ven­tions to ad­dress some of the so­cial ills plagu­ing the com­mu­nity have yielded some suc­cess, such as fewer re­ports of rape.

“With im­me­di­ate in­ter­ven­tions you wouldn’t see an im­me­di­ate turn­around. It is a long road and we are in for the long haul,” Min­is­ter within the Min­istry of In­dige­nous Peo­ples’ Af­fairs Va­lerie Gar­rido-Lowe told Sun­day Stabroek.

Toshao Shar­main Ram­ba­jue re­cently lamented that vis­its by high-rank­ing govern­ment of­fi­cials to the com­mu­nity have largely failed to re­sult in tan­gi­ble ac­tion to ad­dress the com­mu­nity’s prob­lems, which in­clude wide­spread al­co­hol abuse, sex­ual abuse and a high rate of sui­cide.

Re­cently, at a vil­lage meet­ing, res­i­dents sug­gested a ban on the sell­ing of rum in the com­mu­nity. Be­fore a de­ci­sion is taken on this sug­ges­tion, Ram­ba­jue said, the vil­lage coun­cil will have to meet with the dif­fer­ent satel­lite com­mu­ni­ties.

Ban­ning the sale of rum in the vil­lage, Min­is­ter of In­dige­nous Peo­ples’ Af­fairs Syd­ney Al­lic­ock says, will have to be the vil­lage’s de­ci­sion. If such a de­ci­sion is taken, it will have to be gazetted as a by­law for en­force­ment.

Al­lic­ock, Gar­rido-Lowe and Per­ma­nent Sec­re­tary Al­fred King spoke with Sun­day Stabroek on Fri­day on the sit­u­a­tion in Baramita and how govern­ment has been ad­dress­ing some of the is­sues fac­ing the com­mu­nity.

Gar­rido-Lowe said Baramita does not have a drink­ing prob­lem. “The prob­lem is al­co­holism among men and women. It has be­come a way of life,” she noted, while ob­serv­ing that this has fu­eled other so­cial ills, such as sex­ual abuse and in­cest.

“They drink them­selves into a stu­por, then fa­ther ly­ing with daugh­ter, brother ly­ing with sis­ter and right there for every­body to see,” she added, hav­ing pointed out that sex­ual ex­ploita­tion of the peo­ple is not only be­ing com­mit­ted by non-res­i­dents. “It is hap­pen­ing among the peo­ple them­selves,” she said.

Gar­rido-Lowe re­counted a meet­ing with the busi­ness­peo­ple of the com­mu­nity, who sug­gested that it is the “cul­ture” of the vil­lagers to drink them­selves into a stu­por to com­mit in­cest. She said she told them, “How could you call al­co­holism their cul­ture when you brought in all the al­co­hol and keep sell­ing it and get­ting them ad­dicted? And you call­ing it cul­ture?”

‘No or­der’

On tak­ing of­fice at MoIPA in 2015, Al­lic­ock ex­plained, the is­sues which were fes­ter­ing in Baramita for decades were brought to their at­ten­tion in re­ports pre­pared by the In­dige­nous Peo­ples Com­mis­sion, the Amerindian Peo­ples As­so­ci­a­tion and Guyana Hu­man Rights As­so­ci­a­tion.

“We paid a visit and found a very chal­leng­ing sit­u­a­tion that needed at­ten­tion. There was no or­der. While Baramita sits on gold - a place there is called Golden City - you do not see the returns. We took our ob­ser­va­tions and rec­om­men­da­tions to Cab­i­net and the In­ter Min­is­te­rial Task Force was set up in late 2015,” he said.

He noted that the task force’s first visit found many rum shops op­er­at­ing il­le­gally; the ab­sence of teach­ers, and the pri­mary school be­ing too small for the school pop­u­la­tion, re­sult­ing in many chil­dren not go­ing to school; po­lice of­fi­cers who had be­come per­ma­nent res­i­dents; and no proper in­fra­struc­ture, health and other so­cial ser­vices. He noted, too, that the vil­lage coun­cil was not ac­count­able.

One of the first things done, Al­lic­ock said, was trans­fer­ring the po­lice of­fi­cers. “When we went there first, we could not recog­nise who were the pork­knock­ers and who were the po­lice. The po­lice of­fi­cers were wear­ing the big gold chains and were with­out shirt. They were there in the pit,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to Gar­ri­doLowe, “The po­lice of­fi­cers were trans­ferred based on al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual ac­tiv­i­ties, in which they were turn­ing a blind eye or get­ting in­volved them­selves. There are now fewer re­ports of sex­ual of­fences.”

Pre­vi­ously, no fe­male rank was posted to the com­mu­nity. Two women of­fi­cers, in­clud­ing a sergeant who is now the of­fi­cer-in-charge at the po­lice sta­tion.

One of the fe­male ranks who made school uni­forms for some of the chil­dren who were not go­ing to school, she added, is teach­ing a few in­ter­ested peo­ple to sew.

The Guyana Ge­ol­ogy and Mines Com­mis­sion (GGMC), Al­lic­ock said, dis­man­tled all the il­le­gal busi­nesses that were sell­ing al­co­hol and ap­pointed a res­i­dent Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment Of­fi­cer (CDO) to work with the vil­lage coun­cil. The min­istry has also as­signed a se­nior tech­ni­cal of­fi­cer to sup­port the CDO in ar­eas of ac­count­ing, so as to strengthen gov­er­nance and ad­min­is­tra­tion while em­pow­er­ing the vil­lage coun­cil. The tech­ni­cal of­fi­cer vis­its the com­mu­nity each quar­ter.

“Baramita is the only vil­lage that has a CDO by it­self be­cause of its sit­u­a­tion. A CDO is gen­er­ally re­spon­si­ble for a clus­ter of vil­lages,” Gar­rido-Lowe said.

To ad­dress the com­mu­nity’s high sui­cide rate, Gar­rido-Lowe said, the Min­istry of So­cial Pro­tec­tion sent in per­son­nel to meet with the peo­ple, but she added that not much could be done in one-off meet­ings. As a re­sult, that min­istry re­cently ap­pointed a res­i­dent coun­sel­lor, who is a re­tired teacher who had worked in Baramita for over 20 years and is flu­ent in the Carib lan­guage.

“We can­not keep send­ing peo­ple from out­side the vil­lage and ex­pect to get any proper re­sults be­cause they can­not speak the Carib lan­guage,” she said.

In terms of ed­u­ca­tion, new build­ings to ac­com­mo­date the pri­mary and nurs­ery schools, and teach­ers quar­ters, were built by the Re­gion One ad­min­is­tra­tion as a re­sult of the task force’s plan­ning. A schol­ar­ship pro­gramme was in­sti­tuted in 2016. Two stu­dents ob­tained places at the Govern­ment Tech­ni­cal In­sti­tute, one at the Guyana In­dus­trial Train­ing Cen­tre and one at Carnegie School of Home Eco­nom­ics. Fif­teen sec­ondary school schol­ar­ships were awarded which fa­cil­i­tated two stu­dents at schools in the city and 13 at Port Kai­tuma Sec­ondary.

While the hin­ter­land schol­ar­ship pro­gramme has been in place even be­fore Guyana gained its in­de­pen­dence, Gar­ri­doLowe said, “Some­thing like this never hap­pened be­fore.”

It was not easy to get the stu­dents out, she noted, be­cause the church in the com­mu­nity has been dis­suad­ing par­ents from send­ing their chil­dren for fear of what awaits them in the out­side world.

The Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion has also pro­vided a 15-seater school bus to trans­port chil­dren who could not go to school be­cause of the dis­tance and the fear of be­ing raped on their way to and from school. How­ever, due to the state of the main road, the bus can only go as far as the road al­lows.

An­other in­ter­ven­tion, Gar­rido-Lowe said, was the al­lo­ca­tion of $10 mil­lion to up­grade Aranka Road.

Al­lic­ock said, “When we first went in 2015, even the ATVs were get­ting stuck on Aranka Road. The fo­cus is on mak­ing the road and trails pass­able in the com­mu­nity, while the Min­istry of In­fra­struc­ture is fo­cus­ing on main roads.”

Not­ing that the road is be­ing re­built from Port Kai­tuma through Arakaka Va­lerie Gar­rido-Lowe

to Matthews Ridge and to Baramita, he said, the is­sue of se­cu­rity is again a sub­ject of dis­cus­sion. The busi­ness peo­ple in the past sup­ported the vil­lage with a check­point about ten miles be­fore reach­ing the vil­lage but there is need for po­lice pres­ence. In its vil­lage im­prove­ment plan, he said, is a plan to form a com­mu­nity polic­ing group, which is sup­posed to take

over the man­age­ment of the check­point.

In the mines

Through the Hin­ter­land Em­ploy­ment and Youth Ser­vice, Gar­rido-Lowe said, fund­ing has been al­lo­cated since 2016 for a to­tal of 26 youths of the com­mu­nity be­cause of their sit­u­a­tion. Apart from the $30,000 a month stipend, they were also given a $50,000 small busi­ness start-up grant.

“I know of four small busi­nesses. Two young women have started small farms, an­other is rear­ing ducks and the fourth has a gro­cery,” she added.

The ab­sence of an agri­cul­tural base, Gar­rido-Lowe said, was noted by the com­mu­nity and the Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture came on board through the Na­tional Agri­cul­tural Re­search and Ex­ten­sion In­sti­tute (NAREI) and the Guyana Live­stock De­vel­op­ment Au­thor­ity (GLDA) to pro­mote agri­cul­ture as an eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity and for food se­cu­rity.

After NAREI gave the peo­ple seeds to plant and they did not, she said, 10 house­holds were cho­sen and pro­vided with land to cul­ti­vate fruits and veg­eta­bles as a pi­lot. NAREI ap­pointed a res­i­dent agri­cul­tural ex­ten­sion of­fi­cer to over­see the project.

In terms of live­stock, she said, the GLDA has com­mit­ted to work with ten house­holds as well in the rear­ing of the black gi­ant chicken.

“When we first went into the com­mu­nity, only one or two fam­i­lies were farm­ing. The rest of them were in the mines. They carry their chil­dren into the mines. I never see women look so hun­gry and wild. There was a child, a guy told us. She is 12years-old and she liv­ing with she man over there,” Gar­rido-Lowe said.

Al­lic­ock said he saw about five women. “I don’t know if they were old or young, with ba­tels, go­ing in the mines where the waste is. In the af­ter­noon, they go to the busi­ness­man, weigh off their gold, take ra­tion that in­cluded high wine. That ra­tion would last for the week, and then they could go back to the pit the next week, and they are liv­ing in tar­pau­lins with their fam­i­lies.”

The min­istry sug­gested to the peo­ple, he said, to join the min­ing syn­di­cate with their own gold min­ing op­er­a­tions.

“That could help in their econ­omy. In­stead of rent­ing it out to out­siders, they could take it into their hands. That is what we were sell­ing to them—that the GGMC could help them to de­velop their project un­til they could man­age it them­selves,” he said.

On peo­ple liv­ing in tar­pau­lins, he said, many logs, felled by min­ers are in the com­mu­nity are left to rot. “Here are peo­ple liv­ing in tents, in a gold-rich area and you have lum­ber ly­ing there with which peo­ple could build proper struc­ture. That is not be­ing done be­cause plan­ning is not there. The man­age­ment of the vil­lage is not there. These are ar­eas that we have been dis­cussing with them,” he said, while sug­gest­ing that a saw mill or board mill could be set up to cut the logs and give them to the peo­ple for hous­ing.

Since 2015, Gar­rido-Lowe said, 20 fam­i­lies have been added to the pub­lic as­sis­tance pro­gramme due to the ef­forts of the So­cial Pro­tec­tion Min­istry.

A new build­ing to house the health cen­tre has also been built and is so­lar pow­ered but it is yet to be fully equipped and fur­nished. The Min­istry of Pub­lic Health has as­signed two doc­tors to the health cen­tre and has sent in an ATV so that the staff could do out­reaches.

A sum of $1 mil­lion was also spent for the up­grad­ing of a play­ground, which had not been in use for many years.

Mean­while, the Min­istry of Cit­i­zen­ship, she said, has com­pleted the reg­is­tra­tion of births of 800 res­i­dents who were with­out birth cer­tifi­cates and half of them have re­ceived their birth cer­tifi­cates. With­out the birth cer­tifi­cates, chil­dren could not write ex­ams.

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