A team from the Iwokrama International Centre this week held an interactive session with
members of the Guyana Society for the Blind and other disability groups. The encounter was part of a goal to ensure that the model of sustainable use of the rainforest is understood by all Guyanese.
The engagement, held last Thursday at the Guyana Society for the Blind on High Street, Werk-en-Rust, Georgetown, was historic in that it was the first such event with the blind, disability community in Guyana, Iwokrama said.
Using tactile and auditory methods, the Iwokrama team – led by tropical forest ecologist Dr. Raquel Thomas – helped participants understand the vision of the Iwokrama Centre. It allowed them to be aware of some of the animals and trees found in the Iwokrama Forest.
Said Dr. Thomas: “We would like to spread awareness about Iwokrama and by extension other environmental issues affecting Guyana, to people from all walks of life. I hope I live to see the day when people with disabilities, especially children, can integrate with other persons in learning about the environment in and out of school.”
She added: “If there is some level of integration of learning, it teaches children, and even adults, compassion and an understanding that diversity is an important element in any normal society and all should be respected, no matter who they are.”
Ganesh Singh, Public Relations Officer and Programme Coordinator for the Guyana Council of Organisations for People with Disabilities, which organised the workshop, praised Iwokrama for being willing to reach out almost immediately once the need was realised.
“During a leadership capacity building workshop we had, it dawned on us that persons with disabilities have little or no knowledge of conservation and what is happening with our environment. Many times they are neglected when it comes to those areas,” said Singh.
“That was Wednesday, and Thursday Raquel and her team were here.”
Mr. Singh, who is blind, also serves as a Board Member and Coordinator of the CXC Programme with the Guyana Society for the Blind.
“Iwokrama is a significant gift to the world,” Dr. Thomas told the lively group of participants. She explained that the Iwokrama forest of one million acres at the heart of Guyana was offered to the international community in 1989 by then President Desmond Hoyte, to be used to demonstrate that the forest could be used beneficially without destroying it.
Dr. Thomas also highlighted that the forest is co-managed between Iwokrama and 20 indigenous communities surrounding the forest, because the indigenous people are the real owners of the forest and their traditional knowledge, together with that of the scientific community, is what will lead to Iwokrama fulfilling its mandate.
“The indigenous people in this country own their land. Once you own something, you care it. The forests and their savannahs is their supermarket, their hospital, their air-condition and the source of clean water. It is their life,” she noted.
Those who attended the workshop were between the ages of 15 and 55. They included persons who are blind, visually impaired or have other physical disabilities.
Diane Singh, 22, who became blind when she was 11-years-old due to meningitis, was one of those present and found the workshop very interesting.
“Although we have a disability, we should know about what is going on around us and in our environment,” she said.
Ms. Singh wrote CXC through the Guyana Society for the Blind and is currently pursuing a degree in social work at the University of Guyana.
Iwokrama plans to reach out to other groups and school which work with people with disabilities; and expressed appreciation to Conservation International-Guyana and Protected Areas Commission for providing some of the educational aids for the exercise.
The Iwokrama International Centre (IIC) was established in 1996 under a joint mandate from the Government of Guyana and the Commonwealth Secretariat to manage the Iwokrama forest, a unique reserve of 371,000 hectares of rainforest “in a manner that will lead to lasting ecological, economic and social benefits to the people of Guyana and to the world in general”.
The forest is zoned into a Sustainable Utilization Area (SUA) and a Wilderness Preserve (WP) in which to test the concept of a truly sustainable forest where conservation, environmental balance and economic use can be mutually reinforcing.
The IIC collaborates with the Government of Guyana, the Commonwealth and other international partners and donors to develop new approaches and forest management models to enable countries with rainforests to market their ecosystem services whilst carefully managing their resources through innovative and creative conservation practices.
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