ON Sunday September 19, 2010 the Amerindian Heritage Month celebrations reached the village of Annai.
The second day of the celebrations was devoted to marking the 10th anniversary of the establishment of Radio Paiwomak.
The management and staff of the National Communications Networks Inc. (NCN) travelled to the village of Annai and joined Minister of Amerindian Affairs, Ms. Pauline Sukhai and her delegation at the largest benab in the region to commemorate this event.
As the Chief Executive Officer of NCN, I was privileged to make the following presentation:
On Friday March 31, 2000, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the Guyana Broadcasting Corporation and the Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development to facilitate the establishment of a public broadcasting service for the North Rupununi.
The MOU was signed by Mr. Fazil Azeez, the then General Manager of the Guyana Broadcasting Corporation and Mr. David Cassells, then Director General of the Iwokrama International Centre.
Witnessing the signing of the MOU were Mr. Moses Nagamootoo, Senior Minister of Information at the time; Mr. Navin Chandarpal, then Presidential Advisor on Science, Environment and Technology; and Ms. Carmen Jarvis, UNESCO Representative in Guyana.
Also at the signing were Mr. Martin Goolsarran, General Manager of GTV, Mr. M. Z. Ali, Director of the Guyana Information Services and Dr. Prem Misir, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Chairman of the GBC Board of Directors.
This was the agreement which resulted in the establishment of Radio Paiwomak. The station commenced broadcast on September 19, 2000.
The name Paiwomak was derived from the names of the three communities it was set up to serve — the Pakarimas, Iwokrama and Makrapan. It was mandated to provide the local communities access to:
1. National news and current affairs
2. School broadcasts and other education and/or training programmes
3. Programmes on the environment and sustainable development, including public information programmes prepared by agencies such as the EPA and other relevant agencies and organisations
4. Information on agricultural innovations and extension advice
5. Information on health, well being, family life and personal development
6. Local village notices as well as news and information from the North Rupununi District Development Board, regional and local authority bodies, other community-based development agencies operating projects and programmes in the area
7. Information on Iwokrama’s programmes and activities
8. Cultural promotion and dissemination in keeping with UNESCO’s policy of building a culture of peace through communications
9. Other relevant information on sustainable livelihoods, social and economic issues and hinterland development
10. Opportunities for 21st century advancement
Iwokrama provided technical support for the procurement and installation of the basic radio studio and transmitter with funding provided by the International Development Research Centre of Canada (IDRC) through UNESCO. Funding was also provided for the training of community volunteers to manage the facility. GBC provided support in the management of the facility in collaboration with the North Rupununi District Development Board (NRDDB) and Iwokrama.
The initial configuration of the station provided for a 10 watt radio transmitter, a transmitting antenna which was mounted on a wooden post, a solar power system and a basic studio with a microphone and a playback tape recorder.
As provided for in the agreement, the station was built and then handed over to GBC subject to the provisos that the unit will continue to be located within the Annai Amerindian District at the training and development centre adjacent to the secondary school compound and that the station will be used to provide a radio service to the communities located in and around the Iwokrama Rainforest Project Area and represented by the North Rupununi Development Board.
On August 4, 2002, Coordinator of Radio Paiwomak, Ms. Ellen Davis, reported that the station was broadcasting regularly daily and was reaching 12 of the 13 communities in the North Rupununi. The signal was sometimes interrupted by adverse weather patterns and the capacity of the solar power system which resulted in distorted and muffled reception. Communities in the immediate vicinity of Radio Paiwomak indicated a clear reception.
It was reported that members of the riverine and other outlying communities developed the habit of visiting the homes of those persons in the communities who own radios to discuss current affairs and keep abreast of developments in the North Rupununi.
In March 2004, Radio Paiwomak was handed over to the newly-formed National Communications Networks Inc. by way of a Presidential Vesting Order which effected a merger of the state-owned radio and television networks.
On September 13, 2005, a report from a visit by the newly-formed NCN said that since the resignation of the coordinator in September 2004, Mr. Virgil Harding, Headmaster of the Aranaputa Primary School, was operating the station with the aid of three volunteers, Paul Nash, Norbert Salty and Rocky Van Long, and they managed to keep the station on air.
The station was broadcasting 29 hours weekly, seven days a week. UNESCO had by then provided the station with two computers and access to the internet via broadband. It was agreed to appoint Mr. Harding the Coordinator of the radio station and I am happy to say that he is still here and is still providing strong support in keeping this community station on the air along with Michael Williams, Toashao of Annai, Grace Albert and Bernie Robertson, all of whom work on a voluntary basis.
Over the years, NCN has worked with UNESCO to upgrade the capacity of this station and by the end of the year 2007 we managed to secure a 100 watt transmitter with a set of 2 FM antennas and two computers from UNESCO.
By May 2009, NCN was able to re-launch Radio Paiwomak with the addition of a new 100 foot tower, a modern studio with audio recorders, microphones and computer software to permit online production and editing of audio content.
We also provided a wind turbine and a 3000 watt portable gasoline generator to recharge and back up the solar power system which was refurbished by UINESCO. These improvements brought the station up to digital standards and permitted computer interface with NCN’s website thus making it possible for the station to download and rebroadcast our live radio streams.
The reach of the station and clarity of its signal has improved considerably and I know that as many as 25 hinterland communities look forward to hearing the wide assortment of music, news and current affairs being broadcast 12 hours each day, two hours of which are in the language of the indigenous tribes of Guyana.
We are happy to say that NCN is proud of this project as it demonstrates the effectiveness of community partnerships which can produce results not normally achievable. This station could not have been in operation today if it were left up to UNESCO, Iwokrama, the NRDDB or NCN alone. It is through the strength of our partnership that we are able to accomplish this remarkable feat.
Radio Paiwomak is the only indigenous station in Guyana. It is the only station in the world which broadcasts in the Amerindian dialects of the Guyanese indigenous people.
We must all be proud of this achievement and we must continue to strive to improve this station so that we can pass it on to our next generation for their use and enjoyment.