Pull Quote: “I don’t say you have to. I don’t say I have the power to change anybody’s life. But I am here as an encouragement… to show people the options, to make the referrals, and with that kind of enlightenment, I hope I can make a difference in somebody’s life.”
By Leon Suseran
Women are very active forces at work in our society today. Compared with the past, they are refreshingly
in the forefront in almost every sphere of life in Guyana. The Guyanese woman is creating an indelible mark with her contributions to society.
Our ‘Special Person’ this week is one such woman. She is a well- known figure on the Corentyne Coast. She has joined other prominent women in the Berbice area and has been using her life for the betterment of others. She understands the vulnerability of women and the relative shaky ground on which we stand today.
Like other ‘Special Persons’ featured in this publication, Mrs Yetrawatee ‘Nalin’ Katryan of Skeldon, Corriverton, an outstanding role model for Guyanese women, had her own unique story to tell.
Born on June 24, 1952, at Skeldon, Yetrawatee grew up at Line Path ‘D’. Her mother was Flora and her father, Beck, was employed with the sugar industry, before he was laid off and was forced to open a little shop from which the family garnered finances.
Yetrawatee attended Skeldon Primary School, which was then called ‘Skeldon Scots School’, and Line Path Secondary. She subsequently entered teaching and tutored at Skeldon Scots in 1969 for just over a year – later moving on to Skeldon High as a Spanish Teacher in 1971.
She met her husband, Almond, a Baptist Pastor, when he came to Line Path ‘D’ as a young missionary.
”I didn’t know him before, until he came into the area, and I met him in the mission field as he was inviting people to church.”
Almond rented a house not too far from where young Yetrawatee lived. And guess what? She was a staunch Hindu and her parents hailed from a strong Hindu background. So, what happens when a pastor falls in love with the Hindu girl?
“That was challenging because my father has always been a strong Hindu, the president of his mandir, and he didn’t like the idea (of her getting married to a pastor),” she reflected. But her father respected his daughter’s decision since “he knew when I said this is the man I
love— he knew I was serious (at age 19). He knew my mind was made up and made up it was. ”
The two got married on September 19, 1971, shortly after she became “saved” and became a Baptist. The marriage produced their only child, Mitchell Katryan, who works with the Louisiana Sugar Company in the USA.
Yetrawatee entered the Teachers’ Training College in September 1976. Being a teacher in those days meant fulfilling the need for teachers “and people were encouraging you to get into the teaching profession since it was the ‘reputable profession’”.
While attending the college, she taught Spanish and English at Berbice High. Upon completing Training College, she returned to the Corentyne in 1978 where she taught at Skeldon High, “and I worked there until 1991 when I resigned from the teaching profession”.
Then after 22 years as a teacher, she wanted to call it quits. She was not getting the satisfaction she desired as a teacher.
Having left that profession, her work with children did not end. She assisted children on one afternoon per week “those who were doing the CXC levels”. Then the societal problems which women were facing began to take centre stage in Katryan’s life.
“So many women were out there, who were going through a lot of abuse, they didn’t have a skill, they were not functionally literate, they didn’t know where to turn to, so I decided I am out of teaching, why not get involved in helping women, and that is how we ended up doing what we’re doing here [at the Roadside Baptist Centre]”, she noted.
Women were coming to her with a lot of problems with their husbands, and she began to work with them. She acquired her Justice of the Peace licence as well.
Based on needs assessment, Yetrawatee began to focus on home-making skills with the women, initially those from the church.
“Women from the church also have problems, they are not exempted [from those outside of the church], and they need assistance,” she noted.
“We decided to put in a skills training centre and started a library so that they [they women] could come and have a place to sit, talk, have some counseling, read a book and totally relax.”
The Institute of Distance and Continuing Education (IDCE) in Berbice needed a coordinator and since she was at home, Katryan volunteered for the part- time position in 1993 where she worked for a number of years, but eventually left that as well, since she wanted to move on to the next chapter of her life, which was to be the most important.
She and her husband used their own life-savings to start up the Roadside Baptist Skills Training Centre, at #68 Village, Corentyne.
The facility was opened by the former Minister of Education, the Rev Dr Dale Bisnauth in September 1995 and started with cake decoration and sewing classes, and over 50 women rushed in.
“It was not easy to get someone to do the training because “in those days we had very few senior people (age-wise), experts and specialists in the fields”. Her determination did bear fruit after one ‘Neighbour Florry’ opted to assist with the classes.
“People kept coming, they wanted an expanded programme and year by year, we started to add to our programmes,” she noted. It was just as she expected. The community was feeling the pulse beat of the centre and wanted it to cater to other needs, which it began to do. An Information Technology programme was launched in 2000, funded by a Grassroots Grant from the Japanese Government.
“It was the only IT (information technology) training centre in those days on the Corentyne, so it used to be crowded and jam-packed. To date, we have trained thousands in IT, nurses, teachers, you name it,” she stated.
Later on, other funded projects were launched including Electrical Installation, Plumbing, Mechanic, etc.
“The response from the public was overwhelming, especially a lot of requests from school dropouts.”
Mrs. Katryan found her calling in life, working with vulnerable women and school drop-outs, empowering women just like herself. She loved it.
“We’re really thankful to the different agencies that have helped us to empower people, to help them get back on their feet, to get out there, to make a living and a difference. I’ve worked with children, women, men, faith-based organizations and religious leaders, across the board, and we have an affiliated club, the East Berbice Life-Savers’ Club too.
We work with the Berbice Male Action Network, a group of men trained here to work in different fields in various areas to work with boys, etc., and we also network with Help & Shelter, Red Thread, the Ministry of Human Services and the Education Ministry, which gives us a subvention for the Library each year.”
Mrs. Katryan said that she did not believe that her little idea for empowering women would have grown to such a magnitude – the Roadside Baptist Skills Training Centre has become a national organization in the forefront of tackling issues pertaining to vulnerable women in society.
“It wasn’t in our plans…but because of the need, we just ended up doing what we are doing. The women out there needed help and skills and a place where they could feel safe and over the years we’ve had the satisfaction of seeing that happen.”
She has also worked with the Police over the years and trained them in social issues, domestic violence, matters with the law, etc.
When Yetrawatee is not at the office, she sees herself as the “perfect full-time housewife”. Sometimes, also, persons turn up at her home when they have problems, and being the kind and generous person that she is, she would deal with them and give them advice.
She enjoys travelling and her husband being a pastor, travels a lot to Bible Conferences. The couple enjoyed a Caribbean Cruise last year to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary.
“That was nice, really nice, a one-week cruise,” she reflected.
“When I’m not in office, I am busy with some work-related meeting, workshop, and I have a very committed staff, trained to do what they’re doing and always willing to go that extra step.”
When asked if she ever gets tired of the humanitarian work that she does, she replied, “No. Discouraged at times….as would any other normal human being. God has blessed me with good health and strength and I can work until very late hours. I can just go, go, go without feeling tired. ”
“I do get discouraged, especially when I feel I am not successful at what I am doing. For example if an abused woman was in a situation for over 10 years, it is not my business to tell you to leave your husband, but I will give you the options, but some women do not have the time for educating themselves. They’re always busy cooking, cleaning, and their value system is different, whereby the TV shows and television are more important.
They cannot come out of the house for training because they cannot get permission, but they can go to a show at 8 o’ clock in the night, and these things discourage me, because these are the people who most need the help”, she stated.
She admitted that many times she wanted to give up, but “at the back of my mind, I knew somebody else would do it and thought how I would feel, so I don’t give up. I am not here to change the world. I can’t. But if I can make a difference in one person’s life, I would be happy, because that one person would move ahead”.
There are always challenging times within the organization since there is always a need for volunteers, “but volunteers need to live too, and people need money to live so the most I can do is pay the travelling and provide something for them to eat”.
Mrs. Katryan has a special talent for cooking as well as singing. She sings a lot in church. She is also an extrovert. She loves interacting with people.
“I find myself getting along easy with people. I like humble people and humility in people… not boastful and proud, puffed-up people, I stay far from them. I treat everyone as a human being. I understand people are different and they are products of experiences and environment, so it’s not for me to judge and condemn but we talk and negotiate and discuss, and we see how best we can move you from where you are to where you would like to go, if you want to move.
I don’t say you have to. I don’t say I have the power to change anybody’s life. But I am here as an encouragement, to show people the options, to make the referrals and with that kind of enlightenment, I hope I can make a difference in somebody’s life.”
“I don’t like to wait on people and I don’t like people to wait on me, and my husband is the same”, she said. “I like sincerity and commitment”. Her favorite film star from long ago, “Shashi (Kapoor) and then later I switched to Amitabh [Bachchan], because he is so versatile, you name it and he will do it, and with the younger ones, I like Shakrukh and Salman.”
She adores Jim Reeves and Country and Western music as well as Indian songs.
For enjoyment, she enjoys going out and sightseeing, “driving up to Moleson Creek, to New Amsterdam, reading a book”. “I enjoy doing things in my house. I might see a strange recipe, I will cut it out and try my hand and I will enjoy doing it.” She loves preparing a nice home- cooked meal for her husband “and if he is there, he will come and give me a hand”.
She also spends a lot of time with her 8-month-old pet dog, Rico. “Before I go home and go upstairs I go and talk with him.”
It is very important that we love whatever we do in life and do it with a deep commitment and passion, notwithstanding the challenges and difficulties that may come our way. Nalin Katryan demonstrated her ability to work with the women in her midst that there powerless. She showed them the path to access power and skills that made them useful and have a purpose in society. She watched the Roadside Baptist Skills Training Centre grow beyond her wildest dreams from a small community- based facility to one of the largest Non-Governmental Organizations in the country today that has touched lives and continues to touch lives, including those of children.
What more satisfaction can one get out of life than to play an integral part in changing society for the better? Mrs Yetrawatee ‘Nalin’ Katryan is just one of those persons, as Oprah Winfrey would say, “using their lives to build others”. What a special person!
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