(By H.E. David Granger at the launch of Indigenous Heritage Month on September 1, 2018)
Guyana’s multicultural heritage is a national treasure. Chinese Arrival Day was celebrated on 12th January. Portuguese Arrival Day was observed on 3rd May. Indian Arrival Day was observed on 5th May. Emancipation Day, 1st August, celebrates the struggles and freedom of Africans.
Indigenous heritage is celebrated not for a day or a week but an entire month! Our culture is a national treasure which we all prize and enjoy.
Guyanese citizenship guarantees equal rights and equal opportunities for all. The elimination of inequality, particularly between residents of the coastland and the hinterland, is essential to ensuring first-class citizenship for everyone.
The Plan of Action for Hinterland Development which I laid out in my address to the Conference of the National Toshaos’ Council three years ago on 28th August 2015 is still valid and relevant.
The ‘Plan of Action’ aims at reducing inequality between the indigenous peoples and the rest of population by eradicating poverty, promoting employment and economic prosperity and by enhancing access to public services.
The Plan of Action has guided government’s actions to empower the indigenous peoples through education, employment, economic enterprises, energy, infrastructure, land rights, poverty-reduction, public services and cultural development.
Education is the surest and swiftest way to reduce inequality. The government, therefore, is taking steps to improve hinterland educational access, attendance and attainment.
Access to hinterland education is evidenced in the construction, extension, repairs and renovation to schools and dormitories at Assakata, Bartica, Bina Hill, Itabac, Kato, Kaibarupai, Kamarang, Kamwatta, Katoka, Nappi, Port Kaituma, Santa Rosa, Waramadong and Warapoka.
School attendance has increased as a result of the hinterland schools’ feeding programme and transportation. Daily school meals were provided to 25,843 students from 204 primary and nursery schools in 2017.
The Public Education Transport Service (PETS) –popularly known as the 3Bs Initiative – has distributed 28 buses, 7 boats and 1,111 bicycles to provide free transportation, countrywide.
The performance gap between coastland and hinterland regions is being closed. Five hundred and sixty six (566) students won scholarships in 2017. Seventy-three of them have been able to pursue studies at the Guyana School of Agriculture, Government Technical Institute, Guyana Industrial Training Centre and Carnegie School of Home Economics.
Teachers’ training is being intensified; a Mathematics Intervention Programme has been initiated and literacy coordinators are providing on-the-spot guidance to hinterland teachers.
Village administration, stimulating employment and investing in infrastructure, is being improved. Presidential grants, valued at more than $200M, were disbursed to support community projects. These included the construction and renovation of village guest houses, community buildings, multi-purpose centres, village markets, roads, wharves, bridges and walkways; agriculture, livestock and farming projects; sports, education and small business development.
Village economies have been revitalized. Government has provided financing – under the Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund (GRIF) – for 161 community development projects aimed at stimulating village economies especially in agriculture, fisheries, forest-products, hospitality, livestock-development and transportation.
Village enterprise has been strengthened by economic initiatives in value-added processing of cassava flour, coffee, fish and crab meat. Village entrepreneurs are now producing bottled, labelled and packaged products. These include body lotions, cashew nuts, cassava bread, creams, crab oil, essences, farine, honey, dried peppers, peanut-butter, salad-dressing, soaps, sun-dried tomatoes, tapioca, tomato ketchup and virgin coconut oil.
Employment is essential to eliminating poverty. The Hinterland Employment and Youth Service (HEYS) is providing training and seed capital to engage in economic enterprises. Grants have been provided to 3,795 young persons, stimulating 2,000 small businesses, including partnerships.
Village infrastructure is the backbone of the economy. The Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs is supporting improvements in the hinterland road transportation system – including at Annai, Kabakaburi to Akawini, Karasabai, Kariako to Kokerite, Masakenari and Tiger Pond.
The availability of all-terrain vehicles, boats, outboard engines and mini-buses has made life easier for more than 5,000 persons, including school children and the elderly.
Bridges are being constructed at Rupanau, Tuseneng and on the Kako-Waramadong road. Aerodromes – at Bimichi, Eteringbang, Iwokrama, Kamana, Kurupung and Paramakatoi – are being rehabilitated to support the movement of people and goods.
Access to public services, particularly those relating to energy, health, information and water supply, has been made easier. Language classes in Arawak, Carib and Warrau have so far benefitted 280 students in Kwebanna and Waramuri. This programme will be expanded to Wakapoa and Mainstay and eventually to other communities.
Energy is vital to hinterland communities. A mix of sustainable energy solutions – hydro, solar and wind – is being examined to meet the energy demands of hinterland communities. A pioneer 400 Kw solar power system Mabaruma is spearheading government’s drive to establish solar farms.
Primary health care has been expanded. The construction of doctors’ quarters, maternity waiting rooms, health posts, x-ray rooms and sanitary blocks and the deployment of medical personnel to hinterland communities attest to our government’s commitment to improve the health and well-being of indigenous communities.
The Regional Public Broadcasting Service (RPBS) is providing information to four new regional capital towns – Bartica, Lethem, Mabaruma and Mahdia – and other satellites. Remote rural and hinterland communities, for the first time, can now rely on regular news from their capitals and elsewhere. Public telecommunications are expanding internet connectivity to indigenous communities.
Government is improving hinterland water supply. Water improvement projects are ongoing in Oronoque, Kako, Kamwatta, Koberimo, Chinoweng, Paramakatoi, Mabaruma and Port Kaituma.
A ‘frontline village policy’ has been enunciated for the security of villages in light of the influx of migrants from the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
The ‘frontline policy’ strengthens border villages by enhancing access to public services – citizenship, registration and immigration, education, human safety, public information and public telecommunication, national defence, public health, public infrastructure, social cohesion and social protection.
The newly-elected National Toshaos’ Council can expect the fullest cooperation from the central government. We have urged the development of village improvement plans (VIPS) to ensure the integrated development of indigenous communities.
The groundwork is being laid to ensure that inequalities in public education, incomes and access to public services between hinterland communities and the rest of the country are eliminated. Indigenous peoples are now assured of a government which aims at eradicating their impoverishment.
Indigenous Heritage Month celebrates the rich customs and traditions of our indigenous peoples. These customs and traditions are valued by all and are a national treasure that benefits the nation. This month is an opportunity for us all to look to the future with confidence.
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