International Women's Day
'A woman must be more than just a pretty face' - Yvonne Hinds By Edlyn Mason
Stabroek News
March 8, 2007

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It is not everyday that you meet a woman who performs the roles of wife of the Prime Minister, homemaker, mother and full-time volunteer at the same time almost as if it were second nature.

Mrs Yvonne Hinds, the wife of Guyana's Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, is exactly such a person.

She has simultaneously juggled these roles since 1994, when she accepted the position of Chairman of Guyana Relief Council (GRC) at the request of then president Cheddi B. Jagan, with the smooth efficiency that only someone who possesses her undying devotion and tenacity could accomplish.

"I think that to be successful, women must be more than a pretty face. They must have depth, character and substance, and not be blind to the issues of the world," she declares.

The National Relief Committee, as the GRC had previously been called, had been a division of the Ministry of Human Services when her husband became Prime Minister in 1992, Mrs Hinds remembers. It then became a part of the Office of the Prime Minister up until she became Chairman in 1994.

"I recognized that I was being asked to take over the reigns and operate it as a non-governmental organization (NGO), autonomous from the government and that is what I did. I believe Dr Jagan asked me to do so because he thought of me as a fair person, and I think I have lived up to that reputation."

She relates that the GRC today receives a small subvention from the government and helps the people of Guyana regardless of race, religion and political affiliation in circumstances of disaster, particularly fire.

The GRC raises its own funds to assist people who are facing different difficulties including senior citizens, the less fortunate, people from the hinterland communities and children in orphanages.

She explains: "Once we are aware that a disaster has occurred, the Social Department of the GRC visits the disaster site, the family and the persons, if any, who may have been hospitalized as a result. We even assist with funeral expenses for the families who lose loved ones in these disasters. We also try to send clothing, books, medical supplies and so on, to the hinterland communities via road and air transportation."

Ultimately, Mrs Hinds says she feels rewarded just knowing that she is making a positive difference in the life of someone else. It is her motivation for all the hard work she puts into volunteering at the GRC.

"It is important to treat people with dignity. When you help someone, two persons receive help - the person you are helping and you. And it feels good. I've always considered myself to be fortunate, and this has been a great way to give back," she asserts.

Besides, she points out, the efforts of the GRC have not gone unnoticed. She recollects that during the El Nino disaster, the GRC's work in the hinterland communities was mentioned in a report in the international magazine The Economist.

"We supplied brand new farming equipment of the best quality as well as food stuff and medical supplies to the hinterland communities during El Nino crisis," she recalls.

Mrs Hinds relates that her main challenge is time considering that she has to volunteer while still meeting her obligations to her husband and family, and this is no easy feat, especially since she believes in giving no less than her very best all around.

The GRC has in excess of 30 members, a full-time staff of four and two part-time employees at the new GRC shelter, which was built in 2001 and opened a year later at Ruimveldt opposite Thirst Park. However, in large disasters more volunteers usually need to be recruited.

The new shelter, which was built with the assistance of members of the Diplomatic Community, other donations and the GRC's savings, is regarded by her as a dream come true. It provides an oasis of comfort for persons who unexpectedly become homeless as a result of such disaster, especially fire.

She is hoping to streamline the GRC in a manner aimed at sustaining and strengthening its accountability in order to allow herself additional time to work with women living with and children who have been orphaned by AIDS nationwide. "I would like to be able to immerse myself in the work that I do and I want to work with the women and children affected by AIDS."

She strongly recommends that every family educates its daughters noting that Guyana has more women in parliament than in many other countries and hailing this fact as an advantage for the country. "Our female parliamentarians have the opportunity to be advocates for making reality legislation for the betterment of women."