Unconventional beauties confront serious issues

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AS part of the Indigenous Peoples Heritage Month, young Amerindian women from across the country’s ten regions are participating in a heritage pageant, to showcase the Amerindian way of life in their respective regions. But as Shivanie Sugrim found out, they are also taking on serious issues.
From Region One (Barima Waini), is 18-year-old, Marcelina Welcome. She is one of the 800 residents of Mabaruma, one of the areas identified to be developed into a town. She wants to see greater Indigenous people’s participation in national decision making to fight suicide. Specifically, Marcelina would like to see awareness seminars in each Amerindian village across Guyana. “The Indigenous people are not known to be suicidal,” she says, and believes that they can teach others about how to cope with life’s challenges. Marcelina would like to become a broadcast journalist.
Areeka Ramnarine, 17, is representing Region Two. She lives in the Mainstay/Wayaka village and hopes one day to become a teacher there. She strongly believes in the education of young Amerindians. “The majority of the youths dwelling in indigenous villages do not finish school mainly because of financial issues.” Areeka hopes her advocacy will lead to government intervention that will reduce the number of school dropouts in Amerindian communities.
Chryssanti Brown, who is an acting teacher at the Santa Primary School in the tiny village of Santa Mission, is representing Region Three. This 20-year-old is advocating for the rights of children in her community. “Children in Santa Mission are too quiet and are not allowed to speak mainly because their parents and guardians do not allow them to speak out.” She believes that if children are allowed to voice their concerns, effective programmes could be put in place to address their needs.
From St. Cuthbert Mission comes Athina Andrews, 20, the contestant for Region Four (Demerara-Mahaica). She is worried about the effects of school dropouts in Ameridnian communities. “The dropout rate in the Indigenous communities is terrible because of the financial situation when it comes to parents sending their children to schools, especially on the coast,” she says. She would like to see seminars on the importance of education so as to enlighten parents of the need to keep their children in school and at the same time, solutions need to be found to address financial difficulties. Athina enjoys volleyball competitions. She hopes to one day become a nurse.
Seventeen- year-old Marisa Clinton is this year’s delegate from Region Five (Mahaica-Berbice). She hails from the village of Moraikobai and hopes one day to become the leader of her village. No surprise, she is using the pageant to speak about the need for good governance in Indigenous communities. “I would like for one day, to become the Toshao of my village and I will ensure…that every decision made is transparent and accountable,” said the 17-year-old delegate.
From the Orealla village in Region Six (East Berbice-Corentyne) is another 17-year-old , Sarah Daw. Her platform surrounds the protection of agriculture in the Hinterland communities. “Agriculture in these Hinterland communities is not that bad, but what I would like to see is large-scale agriculture. So if I win, I would pen a proposal to the relevant agencies, seeking help for those farmers that are in dire need of machinery, seedlings and pesticides, among other necessities that are required to develop large scale farming.” But Sarah is not thinking of getting into agriculture herself; she hopes to become a doctor.
Twenty-two-year-old Candacy Williams is the delegate representing Region Seven (Cuyuni-Mazaruni). From Batavia in the lower Cuyuni River, three miles from Bartica, she is ware of the impact of mining on indigenous communities and so she would like to see changes. “Region 7 is known for its precious gold mining and in today’s society we have pollution of water. So if I win, I will host workshops with miners and teach them how important gold mining is for our country (but that they need to carry out their activities in a way that does not hinder our way of life), the aspiring teacher says.
From the Paramakatoi village in Region Eight (Potaro-Siparuni) is the youngest contestant for this year’s Indigenous pageant, 16-year-old Surujani Williams. Her advocacy during the pageant is on preserving the customs and traditions of the Patamona people. “In most villages in my region, persons cannot speak their native language and are not aware of their culture. So with this platform, if the victory is mine, I will endeavour to revive the customs and traditions of the Region.” Surujani aspires to become a doctor.
Twenty-one- year-old Sherica Ambrose is Region’s Nine (Upper Takutu-Upper Esequibo) delegate this year and holds a Diploma in Accountancy from the University of Guyana. Her platform is on cultural preservation of Indigenous craft in the Rupununi. “There are talented persons who are involved in making cotton, leather and balata products in the Rupununi,” she says, but she belives they can improve.
University of Guyana student Gracelin Campbell is the delegate from Region Ten (Upper Demerara-Berbice. She is pursing studies in English Literature and Communications. She resides in the Hururu Village that has a population of 500 people and where teenage pregnancy is relatively high. Hence, her speaking platform is the prevention of teenage pregnancy among Indigenous groups. “Teenage pregnancy is an on-going epidemic and I chose it because teenage pregnancy is relatively high not only in Region 10, but in almost every region. Like everyone, I will be hosting workshops for teenagers, beginning with my region, on the ills of teenage pregnancy.”