Hard life in Mahdia, residents say
-communications, drugs pose problems
By Gaulbert Sutherland
Stabroek News
April 23, 2007

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"It very hard and we facing a lot of difficulties here," was one of many similar comments made to Stabroek News when this newspaper visited the Region Eight (Potaro/Siparuni) mining community of Mahdia two weeks ago.

"I got them two so I ain't got nothing to worry about," declared one woman in a contrasting view, referring to her husband and son.

Living in an isolated mining community is definitely not easy, residents said.

Mahdia is a mainly mining community located some six hours from Georgetown by minibus on a laterite road. Mahdia is the base from which large numbers of miners begin their forays into the jungles in their quest for minerals, notably gold.

Though surrounded by the spectacularly scenic Pakaraima Mountains and encircled by the jungle, the community itself is not particularly beautiful as a large number of the houses are mostly wooden, unpainted buildings little more than shacks. Whenever it rains, as it did when Stabroek News visited, the one main red laterite road gets muddy.
The Guyana Telephone and Telegraph (GT&T) company site in Mahdia, Region Eight.

Communication is by way of two-way radios, and calls cost an exorbitant sum: a one-minute call to Georgetown is $100 while an international call costs $500 per minute. There is a Guyana Telephone and Telegraph (GT&T) site there but it is incomplete and residents said that work had stalled sometime ago.

Regional Executive Officer (REO) of the region, Ishwar Dass declared that communication is one of the major problems faced in the community. He noted that work had started on the GT&T site some time ago, but it had since stopped, and residents did not know why.

When contacted, however, GT&T's Assistant Public Relations Officer, Oscar Clarke declared that work had not "stalled". He stated that the civil works component had been completed and the company was awaiting the availability of "tower riggers" who were currently working on various company projects on the coast. He said that the work that needs to be done is the engineering component and includes the erecting of the tower and the installation of software. He noted that while it is not certain, it is hoped that work would restart before the end of the third quarter of this year.

Meanwhile, Dass said that it was imperative that a proper communication system be established. Residents concurred and noted that they had relatives living elsewhere, and whenever they need to call them it is very expensive.

VAT impact

Additionally, residents said, since the introduction of the Value Added Tax (VAT) the price of almost everything had gone up. They told this newspaper that even prices of items that were zero-rated had been raised. Furthermore, while there is a sub-treasury office located there, employees of the region are paid by cheques. "Mahdia is a hard place to live and every lil dollar count," one employee said as she explained that to cash the cheque, she has to pay a percentage at the post office or otherwise buy a certain amount from the local shops. She stated that unless one travels to Georgetown, which costs $5,000 or $6,000 one way depending on the bus you travel in, there is no other way to change the cheques and the shops that usually cash them sell items at higher prices. However, it was explained to Stabroek News that because of the lack of communication and because the "area is not too safe" cash for payment of employees was not transported to the region.

Drugs and prostitution

Residents also called attention to the prevalence of drugs and prostitution in the mining community. They acknowledged that while this was prevalent in Mahdia before, it was much worse now. They noted that the women and very young girls were often abused and raped and it had become a big problem in the community, though incidents were often swept under the rug. They also noted the increase in drug use in the community. This reporter was able to observe this first-hand as in broad daylight some miners were seen smoking marijuana, the aroma of the drug filling the air. Also, during the night in this reporter's hotel, the pungent smell of the drug emanating from the adjoining room pervaded the air. Residents said that there should be a welfare officer stationed in the area, especially since young girls were getting involved in such activities.

When Stabroek News arrived in the area last week, the community was in the midst of a water shortage. Although the problem has since been rectified, residents said that they were severely affected especially when the rain stopped. The problem, when eventually identified after more than a week, was found to be a valve that was shut off. Staff from the region turned it on again. Dass stated that the system, which brings water from a river some distance away, experienced recurring problems with water flow as miners would often break into the system to take water for their operations. He noted that because the region lacked technical personnel, such problems took a while to identify.

Meanwhile, a single-parent mother of five, who worked as a security guard for $23,000 per month, told Stabroek News of the difficulties of getting by on such a sum. With tears brimming in her eyes she stated that the company she worked for only paid her every three months and she found it very difficult. She said with the high price of basic items in the community it was a struggle to survive. "You can't even afford to buy clothes for your children," the woman lamented as her young, thin, shabbily dressed children played, oblivious to their mother's tears.


Meanwhile, a number of women, most of them single mothers, lamented the steps involved in accessing education for their children. Mahdia has a secondary school that was established five years ago but it does not facilitate the writing of the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations. A few parents had children, who, after doing well in the previously written Secondary Schools Entrance Examination, were selected to attend the secondary school in Paramakatoi. They noted that the cost to bring them home for a visit was prohibitive; Paramakatoi is only accessible by air and it costs $22,000 for a one-way passage. They said considering the situation they should at least have merited some assistance from the regional administration or government. They also complained that regional officials were not in contact with the citizens about issues concerning them.

Dass, speaking about the transportation concerns of the parents, asserted that the region did assist albeit on a small scale. However, acknowledging that there were "lots and lots of single parents" in the community, he said that they could not expect the administration to do much. He said that there were a few local businessmen who assisted them. He noted too that vacancies for cooks, supervisors, and security guards for the dormitories when they would be opened, were advertised but the region had only received one application. He declared that next month there would be a meeting with residents for them to air their concerns.

The residents, meantime, were loud in their praise of a local businessman, who they said assisted them. They said that he was the only one who did so and he willingly helps the community in a number of ways. They declared that the man, who supplies the community with electricity, was a "good" man.