Maintaining a sanctuary for the children of Buxton
– Yvette Herod is a ‘Special Person
By Neil Marks
When Yvette Herod talks about the Toucan II Multi-Purpose Club being a sanctuary for “hundreds” of children from the twin villages of Buxton/Friendship and other nearby communities, she is not exaggerating.
Literally hundreds have passed through the club and have gone on to make something good of their lives – and Herod is justly proud. For the record, she can easily name them.
It is exactly the reason she thought of the idea to set up the club some 15 years ago – to serve as an escape for youths who would have otherwise had nothing to do, and would end up, at best, “idling.”
Her interest in developing the community’s youth springs from her own strong, well-rounded background in music, community involvement and education. And it is all grounded in a village which was once highly regarded as a cradle for academic high achievers.
The Buxton community, which has since merged with Friendship village, was classified as a haven for criminals during one of the most violent periods in Guyana’s history, after five dangerous men escaped from the country’s main jail in February 2002. The Army would move in to “take over” the village, and it was gunfire “day and night” as Herod remembers it.
However, amidst that prolonged period of turmoil, she kept the Toucan II Multi-Purpose Club going, and indeed, her long involvement in community development activities would lead to her become one of the facilitators of peace talks to restore order in the community.
Indeed, the club’s facilities would also be used to assist other members of community when one of the worst floods in recent history would engulf the coastland.
For Herod, the club has achieved much and she aspires to see it play a greater role in helping the community’s youth.
She was born Yvette Veronica Alison Herod, to parents George and Sybil Herod, just over 60 years ago at Friendship. Her father was a porkknocker who would often head out to the interior to seek gold and diamonds. But George was also an avid farmer. So, no matter where he went, he would set up a farm and it came in handy for periods when heavy rainfall did not allow seeking for precious minerals.
Sybil, meantime, took care of the children, and also tended a garden. A thrifty woman, Sybil also got involved in craft making as part of the Buxton Women’s Institute. It was one of many such institutes in the village geared at providing a means of livelihood for women and girls. Yvette was one of 12 children born to George and Sybil.
She grew up in disciplined surroundings, where children were expected to be respectful to their elders as almost a matter of ritual.
Something else that also seemed a ritual was for young people to gainfully occupy their time. There were all manner of clubs, groups and institutes that one could join – and you had to.
Yvette grew up hearing of the legend about Buxton people stopping a train. But she is quick to add some clarification, as told by village elders, that it was the women of the nearby village of Friendship who organized the protest, and others from Buxton then joined in. The story goes back to 1862 when villagers, armed with varying weapons – such as cutlasses and axes – laid on the railway tracks to stop a locomotive. The intention was to petition the governor, who was on the train, to abolish a repressive tax that was imposed on the properties of several villagers.
The story is held up as the one that has given Buxton the face of courage, and Yvette was ever cognizant of that. She was proud to be part of such a village.
In her time, Buxton was regarded as the educational capital of Guyana, with three secondary schools – Buxton Government, County High School and Smith’s College.
After her early schooling – attending Ms McKinnon’s Nursery and St Anthony RC (now Friendship Primary) – Yvette was enrolled at the County High School, which was founded in 1956 by Sydney Evanson King, more familiarly known today as Eusi Kwayana, one of the most respected village leaders in Buxton, and who was also the school’s
As a young girl, after school, Yvette could not be seen idling. Indeed, it was the case with most if not all of the community’s youth. There were too many activities for them not to get involved in any.
Apart from helping with the family’s garden, Yvette got involved in sewing, but one day her mother asked her if she would like to get involved in music. Yvette was very interested. Over time, she took lessons at various music lessons held in the village and developed a love for classical and folk music, as well as the singing of national songs. She also learnt to play the piano.
But besides music lessons after school, music was also taught in school. She remembers that at the St Anthony’s RC, the principal, Fred Seaforth, would get the teachers to remove all the “screens” or teaching boards, so he could have the attention of the entire school when he taught music on Friday afternoons. The teachers would stand guard to make sure that all the children were involved.
After high school, Yvette continued with music classes, and benefitted from the tutelage of the iconic Edith Pieters, the Music Coordinator at the Ministry of Education.
Yvette would join the Cyril Potter College of Education and graduated as a trained teacher in the nursery programme. She would then go on to teach between 1977 until retirement in September 2005. She eventually became the acting Head Teacher of the Friendship Nursery School.
During her teaching career, she was one of the persons roped in by Pieters to serve as a regional music coordinator, to facilitate vibrant music programmes in schools across the country.
Part of the responsibility included coordinating music festivals. While she enjoys singing, Yvette finds more joy in conducting choirs.
She has transferred her love for music to her children. Two of her three daughters, Abidemi and Asha, get involved in music from time to time.
CREATING A SANCTUARY FOR YOUNG PEOPLE
Yvette grew up as someone who was also deeply involved in cultural activities, and so ever since she was a teen she was involved in the First of August Movement for the celebration of African emancipation.
It was just after the celebrations of 1996 that she pitched the idea to Eusi Kwayana of doing “something” for the young people of the village.
“When I was young, you had to be involved in doing something productive; that was the way of the village,” Yvette recounts. As a result, she wanted to create the same opportunities for young people of today.
Another village leader who she pitched the idea to was Kwame Apata. He asked her what she really intended to do, and when she mentioned more than one activity, he asked her if she meant a “multi-purpose centre.” And that is how the club got its name.
The numeral “II” was added to its name to make a distinction, since there was a “Club Toucan” a few decades ago in Buxton. The club has a uniform of gold shirt and navy blue skirt/trousers, a theme song and a motto; “together we build, together we share, we are one.” Any activity for the benefit of youths is welcomed into the curriculum.
The club started functioning from the home of Apata, who was a Buxtonian, but lived overseas. Apata willingly offered a small cottage at the front of his yard at Friendship for the organization to conduct meetings, after uttering the words, “you have your work cut out for you.”
Club meetings are held every week.
The membership grew very rapidly and members were forced to move to the bottom of a bigger house owned by the same resident in the same yard.
Approximately six months after, the club was offered another meeting place at the Seaforth’s residence at 51 Middle Walk, Buxton, where it operated for approximately two years, but could not continue since the building needed repairs.
Timely approval was granted by the Chairman and Councilors of the Buxton Foulis NDC for the use of the Village Hall in 2002, so the club operated there until it finally relocated to the Buxton/Friendship Primary School in 2003. There, it occupies two classrooms with the approval of the Education Ministry up until present.
Toucan II has grown tremendously over the years and continues to give back to the Buxton/Friendship community where it operates.
Youths are offered a secure place where they can take advantage of all the services offered. The club currently has hundreds of members on roll, and regular attendance of over 150, whose ages range from six to adult.
Members come from Buxton/Friendship and other surrounding communities such as Annandale, Strathspey/Vigilance and Melanie.
Activities on the Clubs’ curriculum include; academic studies, public speaking, basic skills, and reading – skills training sessions which help to strengthen and enhance the youth’s abilities. Short courses in craft (tie dying, cookery, knitting, handmade toys and ornaments), karate, and majorette training are provided.
In addition, there is drama, poetry, debating, educational tours, community volunteering, and
developmental projects, such as painting of pedestrian signs, fencing and maintenance of the village. The club has also got involved in fencing the African Emancipation Monument, coordinating summer day camp programmess, the mounting of road signs, physical education classes, clean up campaigns, church visits, as well as visiting the sick and those who are shut in.
Not surprisingly, the club offers classes in music and fine arts, playing of musical instruments, dancing and sponsoring of club members to pageants.
Members can only participate in these programmess if they are part of the literacy programme which is taught by volunteers in a room that doubles as a small library.
Over the years, the club successfully managed to make meaningful contributions to various parts of Guyana through its hard work and dedication. It is used as a community-based organization to execute programmes/projects and has worked with Ministries such as the Ministry of Youth Culture and Sport, The National School of Dance, Ministry of Labour and Human Services and the Ministry of Education, to help to execute their programmes. Some organizations include the First of August Movement, the African Cultural and Development Association (ACDA) and the Neighbourhood Democratic Council.
The club assisted ACDA and the NDC to execute a United Nations Development Programme chicken project where 40 farmers were given 10 chickens each, feed for seven weeks, and a chicken pen.
It also assisted to execute a special two-week camp held by the Toucan II multi-purpose club in collaboration with the Guyana Defence Force in the troubled times (2002-2004) for 100 youths living in the community at the club’s headquarters.
An IDB representative made contact with members of the club and as a result the club facilitated the training of 12 youths from three communities (Buxton, Agricola and Albouystown) in leadership skills to help at-risk young males and females.
A six-month training programme was also held by the club in which there were courses such as HIV/Aids life cycle management and counseling, entrepreneurship and leadership, for 87 Buxtonians.
Toucan II offers computer literacy classes weekly to parents, teachers and students using computers donated by various organizations.
The Club has a unique structure if compared to the typical youth clubs. It has an Executive body as well as a Board of Elders who are tasked with the overall functioning of the organization.
The Body of Elders oversees the club’s day to day functions in collaboration with its executive and offers advice when necessary. Many are of the opinion that this is the reason for its many years of existence.
Toucan II is a not-for-profit organization and executes its mandate by way of donations from public/community spirited individuals or other agencies and fundraisers.
The Club’s most recent undertaking is a Youth and Community centre. This project which commenced approximately two (4) years ago is currently on hold because of lack of financial resources.
It is Yvette’s desire that the Club could attract funds from government and/or the business community to complete construction.
For all these years she has worked with the Club without any material gain, but she sees the satisfaction from making a difference in the lives of the community’s youth far outweighing anything she could have done.
“The club is a sanctuary for young people,” Yvette says. “We are training youth not only to be gainfully occupied but also to become future leaders and examples to their peers and others.”
That was Yvette’s goal when she first thought o setting up the club, and that remains its driving force to this day.
“If I can help in some small way to have a positive impact on a child’s life, to make them ‘somebody’ then that is enough reward for any hard work I might have put in.”