Overcoming obstacles… 

– Michael Atkinson – an entrepreneur with a disability

DPI. Guyana, Friday, October 4, 2019

Michael Atkinson of Santa Rosa, Moruca, lives a full life surrounded by the love and support from his family, friends and the entire community despite being in a wheelchair all his life.

The  Region One resident said he was never pitied or treated any differently from the other children during his school years. His classmates were always helpful and polite to him. However, he was saddened by the fact that he was not able to partake in recreational activities like the other children.

“Sometimes, you see children enjoying themselves and you have to stay in one place. That was the hard part for me because during recreational hours I had to stay in,” Atkinson related to the Department of Public Information (DPI). Nevertheless, he did not allow this to break him, he said.

Atkinson is the last of four children; one of his siblings is currently studying at the University of Guyana and another at the Guyana School of Agriculture (GSA) and one lives at home and assists him to move around.

After completing his secondary education in 2015, Atkinson realised there were no jobs or training opportunities accessible to him in the Barima-Waini community. “I didn’t do so well at the CSEC [Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate] examination… After I completed school, there wasn’t much employment for persons with disabilities so I started selling cellphone cards,” he recalled.

When the opportunity presented itself, he was one of the first to enrol in the Hinterland Employment and Youth Service (HEYS) programme and pursued his dreams of becoming an entrepreneur. After completing the one-year course in entrepreneurship and business management, Atkinson established a small venture selling ice-cream, beverages, ice and icicles from his home.

“It was a bit challenging when I first started… my family helped me and I was able to get my business up and running. So far, it has been doing great. When it rains, I sell from inside but when it’s sunny I put a table outside with my cooler and sell. I get a lot of support from the people in the community especially during school sports and other activities,” Atkinson said.

Atkinson was one of 274 young entrepreneurs, from 24 communities within the Moruca sub-District, who were the recipients of Stimulus Grants disbursed under the HEYS programme today, at the Santa Rosa Secondary School. The youths received $50,000 each to support their businesses from Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, Hon. Sydney Allicock and Minister within the Ministry, Hon. Valerie Garrido-Lowe. Ministerial Advisor and Member of Parliament (MP), Hon. Mervyn Williams was also at the event.

Atkinson explained that he plans to use the grant to expand his business by adding more local fruit juices and traditional snacks such as coconut pone and biscuits. He said the HEYS programme was ‘life-changing’ as it helped him to build his confidence and self-esteem and taught him not to limit himself. Atkinson commended the government for implementing such the initiative that targets hinterland youths.

“The programme helped me a lot, especially the capacity building sessions, and the remedial English language… for me, the sky is the limit,” he remarked.

Launched in October 2015, HEYS initiative is a flagship programme that provided training for 4,000 hinterland youths and would lead to the creation of almost 2,000 small businesses. Over the last three years, the APNU+AFC Government invested more than $2Billion in the programme; $1Billion in 2016, $991M in 2017 and $982M in 2018.

In Region 1, 1378 persons benefitted from the programme along with 196 facilitators. This amount to over $650Million being invested. In Moruca alone, 203M was invested in 419 youths; and to date, 274 businesses are operational.

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