Four-day conference ends
Poor security, lack of teachers major problems - Toshaos
Stabroek News
February 14, 2004

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Some Amerindian village captains would like to see government spend more money on security, transportation and education in hinterland communities.

Speaking at the end of their four-day conference at the Hotel Tower yesterday, Toshaos Winbert Benjamin of Hururu, Austin Isaacs of Rupununi Central and Geraldine Pedro of South Pakaraima put security, lack of school teachers, transportation and their small stipends high on the list of problems in their communities.

Benjamin of Hururu, Berbice River said he had been a Toshao for eight months and there were several things he had set out to do or at least initiate during his tenure as village captain, but these could not be done because of a lack of funds.

Benjamin told this newspaper that the population of the village was 200 with some 85 being schoolchildren. The community has one school with only two teachers. Benjamin said it was distressing for the two teachers who had to attend to three different classes. He urged that more attention be paid to his village, adding that in spite of its location they were many persons who were willing to work hard to develop the area.

Benjamin said one of the major projects in his community was the construction of a road from Kwakwani to Hururu. He said the road was due to be completed in the next four months. Benjamin said he receives a stipend of $6,000 per month from the government for his roles as a Justice of the Peace (JP), Rural Constable (RC) and village leader and did farming to supplement his family's income because the money was not enough.

Asked how he was able to perform his role as JP and RC without the training, Benja-min confessed that now that he had been formally trained he realised that he had been doing a number of things incorrectly. He said this would change.

Elections for village captains are usually held every two years. Benjamin's tenure expires in April 2005 but he wants another term in office. He told Stabroek News that even if he were not re-elected he would stay around to advise his successor. He said the workload was not great, but the job carried serious responsibilities.

The 40-year-old Toshao agreed that the just concluded conference was a learning experience for him.

Isaacs, 51, Toshao of Rupununi Central, said his community's biggest challenge at the moment was the invasion of Brazilians. The man said there was no police or army patrol along the Guyana/Brazil border.

"The Brazilians would come over and do whatever they want. They would hunt, set up business, drive their vehicles... The police and army ranks are stagnant. They do not move from where they are," Isaacs said. Both the police and army have camps at Lethem.

According to Isaacs, last year a few Toshaos came together and decided to perform patrol duties along the border. He said they could not continue, since they had no horses to ride or any vehicle. He said apart from that there were no other matters affecting his community at the moment.

Isaacs' monthly stipend is $7,000, while senior village councillors earn $5,000. Though it was inadequate, the Toshao said, he was thankful for it. Isaacs' term in office expires this year and he hopes to be re-elected.

He described the four-day conference as an historic event, noting that never in history had so many Toshaos met for a conference.

Pedro, 49, is one of the few female Toshaos. She hails from the South Pakaraimas in Region Nine.

She added that her community's main crisis was the lack of transportation. This situation, Pedro said, forces villagers to walk 24 miles from Tiperu to Karasabai in order to attend a school-feeding programme. The area has a population of 265 persons, 82 of whom are school children. There are only four teachers in the area all of whom are Amerindians. Pedro said she hoped the government would look into their situation and provide some amount of relief, noting that their problems were many.

Pedro completes her tenure next month and apart from allowing her to perform the duties of a JP and RC, it also afforded her her first trip to the city.

"I never left the place where I live. I was really happy to come in Georgetown," Pedro commented.

Minister of Amerindian Affairs Carolyn Rodrigues told Stabroek News that her ministry had a system whereby graduates from the University of Guyana who took student loans to complete their studies could have their loans wiped off if they spent a few years teaching in the hinterland.

Rodrigues said government was aware of the lack of teachers in the hinterland communities. However, she said a number of hinterland residents who benefited from the scholarship programme to study in Georgetown did not return to their communities to work.

Rodrigues is appealing to teachers to take up some of these positions and stressed that citizens need to have a greater appreciation for their whole country.

The Toshaos were sworn in as Justices of the Peace and Rural Constables on Wednes-day at the Hotel Tower. They were also expected to nominate three persons to sit on the Indigenous Peoples Commis-sion.

(Nigel Williams)