Amerindian communities have not been forgotten - Nokta Story by Jaime Hall
Guyana Chronicle
February 29, 2004

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AMERINDIAN communities of the remote mountainous Pakaraimas district in (Region Eight) have been assured that they have not been forgotten although it is common that mountain people often find themselves marginalised, excluded from politics, power and decision-making.

Physical distance and poor communication, for example, are among the main factors that may make participation in national affairs difficult for these populations.

But there are other difficulties too. The high cost of getting goods and particularly health services to such remote communities is one of the problems directly linked to human development.

Government officials have said before that the cost to serve those communities puts tremendous strain on the region’s administrative financial resources available to meet the needs of these people.

However, recognising the many problems affecting the Region Eight communities, the government, in its development drive over a decade or so, worked towards improving the lives of people in the Pakaraimas.

Regional Development Minister, Mr. Harripersaud Nokta, who visited several communities in Region Eight two weeks ago as preparations were underway to celebrate Mashramani had told the Amerindians there that they should be “counting their blessings”.

The achievements those communities have realised, he said, are related to what Guyanese in general could boast of since the country gained Republican status 34 years ago.

Mr. Nokta, in addressing more than 300 residents from various communities who travelled long distances to join in the celebrations at Kato, drew to their attention the many improved facilities government has provided to make life better for them.

He said government saw the importance of human development in the region, and therefore priority was given to key social services such as health and education.

For last year, the Region’s capital budget was $63 million and a big chunk of this went towards health and education.

Today, education and health is a success story for the people of the Pakaraimas.

The building of schools and health centres and upgrading of others across the Region have provided a better quality of life for them, he pointed out.

Before health posts were built and hospitals upgraded in the region, government had been spending significant amounts of money to charter aircraft to fly patients out of the district for medical attention in Georgetown.

And not many of those cases were for emergency treatment, but because of inadequate facilities and trained medical personnel, there was no alternative.

This way of attending to the sick usually incurs additional cost which includes feeding and housing those patients after they would have received medical attention while on the coastland.

Additionally, in cases where the patient is a child, he or she would have to be accompanied by a parent or guardian, all at the government’s expense.

But things are now changing, Nokta noted, as the hinterland people become more involved in the development of their own communities by acquiring the necessary training to care for and treat the sick right there.

Government has provided training for many Amerindians selected by their communities to serve as health workers and has also provided the facilities from which they could operate.

While in the region, Minister Nokta commissioned a Guest House, a Medex and Dentist Residence and Policlinic at Kato. These three buildings altogether cost $17M.

The policlinic would be able to serve a population of about 4 000 in the Region Eight (sub-district one). Currently, there is a medex who runs the clinic and there are plans to have a resident doctor stationed there.

With this development,, the cost to charter aircraft to fly out the sick would be significantly reduced. A resident doctor and upgraded medical facilities would better address the medical needs of the North Pakaraimas.

The other significant plus for the Pakaraimas that has positively impacted on communities there is education.

Since government built and upgraded schools in the Region there has been a marked increase in attendance.

There are now proper buildings to house the children along with the provision of text books and other educational aids that were previously not accessible to them.

Two secondary schools have been built in the Region, one at Mahdia and the other at Paramakatoi.

These two secondary schools were built to cater for the increased number of children getting access to primary education and who have written the Secondary School Entrance Examination (SSEE).

Before these developments, attendance at schools was poor. Parents preferred to take the children to work on the farms with them in the absence of adequate educational facilities.

Nokta, during his visit to schools in the Region last year, said education officials commented on the tremendous response they are now getting in terms of attendance.

Teachers are now saying that some of the schools need upgrading. The dormitories are beginning to get overcrowded and the kitchens need expanding to cater for the number of students for whom meals must be provided.

The communities will now be able to better access social services and develop their agriculture potential with the opening up of road links between the villages.

During last year, a main road starting from Karasabai in Region Nine leading to the Pakaraimas was opened up, and already, communities have begun to benefit from it.

This means that farmers could now take out their produce to find market at Lethem or even to the coastland.

The salvation for these communities lies in going back to the land. Agriculture can make them food self-sufficient, and earn additional revenue, the Minister told the people of the Pakaraimas.