Written By Leroy Smith
HUNDREDS of school children, dozens of adults and other persons from the Amerindian community of Mabaruma in Region 1, yesterday, lined the roadways to welcome President Donald Ramotar, Housing Minister Irfaan Ali and officials of the Central Housing and Planning Authority as they arrived at the hinterland location for the commissioning of a housing project.
Yesterday fifty households benefitted from a pilot hinterland housing project by the Government of Guyana and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in the community of Whitewater, Mabaruma. The project is part of the Second Low income Settlement Programme, Hinterland Housing Pilot.
The project saw the construction of twenty three houses and the roof replacement of twenty seven houses,comprising 50 households.
In his address yesterday afternoon to the residents, President Ramotar told them that because of his upbringing in another Amerindian community, he, and by extension his government, holds dearly and views very strongly the need for development in hinterland communities, allowing equal opportunities for all citizens and not just those living along the Coast.
He said that the question is – how the hinterland communities would be able to access the services as the people on the Coast? As such there was the establishment by the current administration of new schools and health centres and other social facilities across the hinterland.
The president said that the PPP/C believes that the quality of life of all Guyanese and their ability to improve their capacity will afford them the opportunity to become more productive and have a better quality of life.
The housing project had its genesis in a study which was conducted and which determined that it was feasible to develop a housing programme, in the hinterland given the high level of poverty in those areas and the fact that there seemed to be great need for housing in the communities.
The study also showed that many of the families in the hinterland, including, were living in homes which were not suitable, and many were so small that they could not accommodate a family comfortably.
The project primarily focused on the construction of homes but during the study it was determined that some houses in the areas needed a change of roof and the project was redesigned to accommodate the refurbishing of several houses.
It was determined that if the project was to work, it would require the involvement of the village council and the beneficiaries to be integrally involved in the design and implementation of the project, and that is exactly what was done.
The residents of Whitewater who were to benefit from the project were not in a position to pay financially for the homes and the renovations, so they paid for the service in providing labour. All the Central Housing and Planning Authority did was dictate the size of the homes and the residents came up with the designs and the specifications, including a verandah seven feet above ground level, wooden structures with four bedrooms.
It was also noted that the materials for the construction of the homes and the renovations to the roof were provided from within the community. Also gaining the attention of the IDB and the Government of Guyana in the project was the issue of water for the community, where residents were forced to use water from the creeks and ponds for drinking and which caused health problems.
The community of Whitewater is said to have a population of just under 1,200 and based on the calculation of the households some 600 benefited from the initiative. Because of the involvement of the residents, the cost of the project was reduced by $40M.
Speaking at the commissioning yesterday, Housing and Water Minister Irfaan Ali vowed to take up the charge of the president for a small business development fund which he said will work very well for the community of Whitewater.
The minister reiterated that it is the wish of the president for the fund to be administered throughout the country, and as such hinterland communities will not be left out. He urged the residents of water to form themselves into a small contracting group and they will be able to tap into the fund.
The minister also urged members of the community to get involved in various agricultural activities which will help build the community.
He assured the Amerindian community that they have a partner in development and that is the PPP Government.
Speaking on behalf of the Amerindians in the community of Whitewater was Toshao Ernest Samuels, who used his time at the podium to congratulate the President and his Government for the initiative they embarked on with the IDB that saw the betterment of the lives of the residents in the community.
He said that the visit of President Ramotar created history in Whitewater, since it was the first time that a president of Guyana visited the community. For Mr. Ramotar it was his first visit as president, and second visit, with the first visit being in the 1980s.
He applauded the project which also provided employment for residents of the community who serviced the construction with materials from their own back yard.
Also speaking yesterday was the Regional Chairman of Region 2, Mr. Paul Pierre, who echoed the sentiments of the village Toshao by acknowledging the use of resources from the community.
He used the opportunity to call on residents to be prepared to have good accountability practices embedded in them since the recently concluded project will see the government pumping resources, both financial and otherwise into the community, with the expectation that the community will be able to manage its affairs in a transparent and effective manner.
One woman, June Williams, who said that she could not spell her name, was very appreciative of her new home and offered a very touching appreciation speech after receiving the keys.
“I thank God for sparing my life and my government’s life, where the president can represent me, because I was punishing; I did not have a good home to comfort me and my children. When the night come, my house use to leak bad, I cut troolie leaves far down at the back in the swamp, till when I weary cut after that I got pregnant, till I can’t able to go in the swamp, and my grandson Darren use to go and cut wild banana leaf and just give me and say mom block up the hole. So I am happy to know what my government done for we and I will always deh at my government side to represent he when his time come to put him back in his seat.”