WAY UP NORTH

ON Friday last, as I watched folks coming uphill to attend the Government Outreach at the Community Ground, my mind raced many years back into the past when I last visited as a Minister in a previous government.

Port Kaituma was a rustic, shanty town with a cluster of shacks running on both sides of what used to be a red-looking, muddied dam. It had looked like a scene in an old John Wayne frontier film, Way up North, “where the river is windin’, big nuggets findin’”.

From the air, I saw the many mining pits like dots of baldness on an otherwise fully covered, green landscape. Having landed on an expanded, asphalted runway, I journeyed along freshly-graded road, part of which were rigid concrete pavements, in on-going works in this transformed hinterland community.

President David Granger arrived shortly afterwards to a big welcome by residents and pupils, many of whom waved Guyana flags and held up posters with slogans in support of their government.

GREAT CHANGES
Among them were Indigenous peoples, some of whom came from Baramita, Arakaka, Sebai and Matthew’s Ridge, which formed part of Matarkai, a sub-region of Barima-Waini (Region 1). This region is “way up north”, bordering Venezuela which lies west of our border.

President Granger took, up north, the message of the great changes under his government in far-off, hinterland communities, and held out assurances that much more would be done during the “decade of development” (2020-2029). Again, he assured free education from nursery to university, and equitable distribution of oil revenues to benefit our indigenous peoples and other hinterland communities.

As President Granger emphasized, the integration of these nations could best be guaranteed by high-quality education. Towards this end, government has been giving scholarships for free education at the university of Guyana, and stipend-paid places at teacher-training colleges, though these are still very limited. There are approximately 270 schools spread across the hinterland regions – 116 nursery, 141 primary, and 13 secondary.

Of equal importance is the health of hinterland communities, where there are some 151 health centres/health post in Barima-Waini, Mazaruni-Cuyuni, Potaro-Siparuta and Upper-Takatu/Upper Rupununi (Regions 1, 7, 8 and 9 respectively).

SERMON ON THE MOUNT
The Outreach was not exactly a vignette from the “Sermon on the Mount”, but everyone seemed to have left with something. I watched an aged man whose legs are amputated, and who was fetched to the community centre, leaving in a wheelchair; children with exercise books and backpacks; youth with sports gears; community police with an ATV; riverine folks with an outboard engine and funds for a new boat; and the community with a spanking new and modern ambulance. Underway, is the construction of a $800 million modern hospital.

Residents also benefited from reintroduction of reliable ferry service between Barima-Waini and Georgetown. They will soon get improved potable water and electricity services.

The Toshao of Sebai expressed the gratitude of his people for 25 houses which were distributed in his village under a Sustainable Housing project. Soon, they will also benefit from a US$3.1M roof replacement project, for families in Barima-Waini and the Rupununi (Regions 1 and 9), who live in sub-standard homes.

Similar changes have recently taken place at the Moruca sub-region, notably the completion of the Bemichi airstrip, the modern bridge at Moruca, and a Cassava flour factory at Kwebanna.

Confronted with the large flow of goodwill towards the government officials, a tiny pocket of PPP protesters beat a hasty retreat. They were fetched to the Outreach in two aged “bush-master” trucks, but a few of them discarded their ready-made placards and came over to the Outreach. Ironically, in the background, a music-box was playing Bob Marley’s “One Love”.

They later intermingled with their indigenous leaders, including Vice-President Sydney Allicock, Ministers Dawn Hasting-Williams and Valerie Garido-Lowe; and Raymond James, Toshao of Sebai.

POIGNANT DISPLAY
A poignant display of the comradeship at the Outreach was the free distribution by a couple of freshly-picked oranges and juicy water-melons. The couple told me that they came with their produce from the Pomeroon River, as they wanted to share their fruits to all who wanted them, out of “coalition love”.

I left Port Kaituma with a deep feeling of satisfaction that our indigenous peoples are waking up to the new reality that life for them has improved, and that with continued Coalition leadership, the north would be fully integrated with the rest of Guyana.

They also understand that increasingly they are a political factor of importance, in a multi-ethnic country with several other minorities. According to the 2012 census, our Indigenous peoples make up 10.51% of Guyana’s population, and they populate some 13% of the country’s territory. They constitute about 6% of voters.

Organised under 116 village councils, the indigenous population consists of the Akawaio, Arekuna, Arawak, Macushi, Wapichan, Patamuna, Wai Wai, Warrau and Carib nations. Their customs and culture are presently being showcased during this September’s Indigenous Heritage Month, including a high-profiled Indigenous Heritage Queen pageantry.

MUCH TO CELEBRATE
As I noted in my previous article, there is much to celebrate. Between 2015 and 2018, the coalition government invested $48 billion expanding, maintaining and constructing roads and bridges in the hinterland. An additional $38.5 billion was approved to continue this process this year, and the changes are becoming evident, even in the Barima-Waini in projects such as:

* New reinforced Concrete Bridge on Falls Top to Port Kaituma main road
* New of Reinforced Concrete Bridge on Falls Top to Port Kaituma Main Road
* New Road from Oronoque Junction to Port Kaituma District Hospital
* New Road from Kumaka to Kwebana Main Access Road, Moruca
* New Culverts at Matthew’s Ridge Airstrip Road
* New Wharf at Kumaka, Moruca
* Electricity Distribution Network at Arakaka
* Procurement of 250 Kva power plant for Moruca
* Radio stations at Lethem, Mahdia, Aishlaton, Mabaruma, Paiwomak, Orealla, Bartica (and Radio Essequibo and Radio Port Kaitumas)
* Four new Towns at Bartica, Mabaruma, Mahdia and Lethem

I look forward to the next outreaches in the Rupununi and at Mabaruma. For me, it is sometimes a healthy political tonic to withdraw from the putrid politics on the coast, where the shaky opposition has re-entered its old “cuss-down” mode. So far, our indigenous peoples have protected the hinterland from hooligans!

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