Photos by Shabna Ullah
Most of the residents of No 29/Trafalgar Village, West Coast Berbice, located about 48 miles from Georgetown are engaged farming. The village, bordered by No 28/Onverwagt Village to the east and No 30 Village to the west has a population of over 3,000.
The younger students attend the No 29 Primary and the nearby No 28 Nursery schools while the older ones attend school at Bush Lot, Belladrum or Fort Wellington Secondary.
A few residents operate grocery shops for a living while the village also has a disco, rum shops, a stationery shop as well as the Hurricane Harbour Banquet Hall where weddings and other events are held.
Some residents are also employed as nurses, teachers, cane-harvesters, construction workers and clerks at the MMA, the FW Hospital and the Trafalgar/Union Community Development Committee (TUCDC), which is involved in economic ventures.
The village is known for having what residents refer to as “a beautiful beach” and they said it used to attract a lot of visitors, especially foreigners in the afternoons. They would like the authorities to develop the beach so that West Berbicians and others could have somewhere relaxing to go to with their families. Some sections of the beach are lined with huge boulders to strengthen the sea defences and prevent erosion. It is also located close to the sluice as well as the large pumps which are supposed to go into operation during heavy rainfall to prevent flooding. Residents have noticed that the sluice is operating without lights and said that this is hazardous, especially for the operators.
The area also has a mangrove forest that has recently been restored by the Trafalgar/Union Community Development Community (TUCDC) through the Mangrove Restoration Project.
Meanwhile, residents showed this newspaper a section of the public road that has started to sink because the culvert was not repaired properly. They said the “deep drop” has even resulted in accidents at night. A resident said she had written letters about the problem to Minister of Public Works Robeson Benn as well as to the former regional chairman who had promised fix it.
She lamented that the vibrations from vehicles going into the ‘drop’ would cause ornaments on the walls to fall and break, and called on officials at least to put up a sign to warn drivers until the problem is rectified.
Down in the village, five small snackettes line the road in front of the primary school. The lunch break was in session and students flocked to the stalls to purchase icicles, sugar-cakes and other goodies. Some of the students were playing in the schoolyard and others who had gone home for lunch were returning to classes.
The vendors start selling in the mornings and leave when school is dismissed. Annez Stephens started operating her snackette at the school only last year. She said after she resigned from her job as a secretary at the Mahaica-Mahaicony-Abary (MMA) office owing to an accident, she had to find another means of earning an income.
Another vendor, George Robins, 60, of the nearby No 30 Village was concerned about the lack of electricity in the third street where he resides. He said the people are suffering as a result, and he hopes the authorities do something about it urgently. They had made several complaints, he said, but nothing was being done. The drainage also needs to be cleared, he said.
This newspaper also caught up with 77-year-old Caroline Robin who was walking briskly around her yard as she tended to her Creole fowls around 1.45 pm. Her sheep, goats, pigs and other livestock had gone out to graze. The woman’s age does not stop her from waking up at 4 am every day to start her devotions, cook and then get down to looking after her livestock. This would continue until late in the evening.
Robin who “grew up in the village” said it is “quiet and the people are hardworking; everybody finding something to do.” Being a single mother for a number of years, Robin was accustomed to working hard, noting, “It wasn’t easy, I had it rough. But thank God I am still on my feet and can do anything.”
She raised her eight children by working as a pump operator and also owned a small shop.
She took care of her livestock before leaving for work and in the evenings she would bake a cake, pastries, salara and other goodies to pack in the glass-case in the shop before 6 am. One of her daughters helped her to “run the shop” until she returned home.
Across the road, 79-year-old Rowena Blair declared proudly that she does all of her household chores and takes care of her livestock as well. She likes to keep herself active because it is “good exercise” for her. Some of her young goats and fowls died during a flood but she started rearing again. The woman was happy to share stories of her early life with this newspaper.
Life for her was not easy too; being the eldest of six siblings she started working at a young age when her mother became sick and subsequently died at age 39.
Blair’s life continued to be a struggle, even after she married and when her husband went to work away from home. In the meantime, she had to find money to manage the home and take care of her seven daughters. She would catch fish to cook for her children. Some of the fish would also be given to the neighbours who also shared whatever they had with her.
The woman recalled that her husband who later built a house for his family with his earnings was a kind person, especially to old people, and he loved his children.
Another resident, Lloyda Angus, is trying her best to serve her community and is in fact, the President of the TUCDC. She was born and grew up in the village and after she completed her studies she worked at the Ministry of Agriculture and then at the Regional Democratic Council in the accounts department.
She got involved in community development work in 2001 when the TUCDC was formed.
She recalled that the Vice-president of the group, the late Irving Robertson, also encouraged the members to “be patient; you never plant a tree and get the fruit the next day. The fruit would come but you must wait for it.” Whenever members get frustrated she would encourage them with his words and tell them “patience is a virtue.”
When this newspaper visited the TUCDC, Angus, along with Vice-president Patsy Fraser and the Treasurer Arena London were busy supervising two women who were cutting and sewing school shirts. The sewing is part of a project that they had started that same day to supply uniforms to schools and stores where samples of the garments would be sent. The group has obtained six sewing machines along with electric irons and fabrics from the Guyana/America Trade Partners.
Four other seamstresses would also join the team and together they would be producing about 500 uniform items bearing the brand-name, ‘Supreme.’
Angus said they would focus mainly on shirts because “those would sell throughout the year.” Parents can also make purchases with school vouchers. The sewing would not be restricted to uniforms alone, but they would also take orders “for certain types of clothing.”
The TUCDC is also involved in an aqua-culture venture where 14,000 red tilapias are being reared to up to three pounds. Five of the 21 members of the TUCDC are involved in that project which is being funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
She said though, “It would soon come to an end because the donors [USAID] would be leaving on July 31. We are hoping to go over with DFID – the UK Department for International Development for about three or four years.”
Angus said they have secured a market for the fish in Antigua and Miami and are expected “to get the European market in Holland, but there is a lot of problems getting the fish there – a lot of rules with the certification.” However, she said that Minister of Agriculture Dr Leslie Ramsammy is “working with USAID to get that sorted out…”
They were also supplying the local market, “but that was a bit slow and we were asked to stop selling locally. The donors prefer that the CDC look for one buyer because the workers would be there the entire day and only sell a small amount of fish [locally] and that was not feasible.”
The group had also been involved in the Mangrove Restoration Project which came to an end in their community last year. At the moment they are working to preserve the mangrove forest and have commenced an apiculture project nearby. They have invested in a few hives while they have also gotten some more hives along with protective gear from the European Union.
Seven members have been trained to undertake the project which should see the group producing and bottling honey by next month.
The only problem, she said, is that they have “noticed that some of the bees swarm even though we put the solution to keep them there… We are hoping to get a nucleus box though, so the queen could be reared.”
Meanwhile, Minister Ramsammy also gave the TUCDC a “mill” and members will start processing green seasoning and pepper-sauce. Angus, who is quite enthusiastic about the projects, said they would be growing the seasoning to supply to the mill. According to her they have the land available for the farm because only a few acres out of the 25 that they obtained from MMA for the fish farm has been used up. “We would also use a portion of the land to establish a processing house for the honey, seasoning and pepper sauce.”
The TUCDC is part of an interim committee that was formed with four other women‘s groups – from No 64 Village, Wellington Park, Lichfield and Buxton. Together, they are aiming to process about 7,000 to 9,000 bottles per month.
She added that the TUCDC was operating a chicken farm with about 3,000 birds but that was condemned because of stunted growth. They would be converting the chicken pens to shade houses for the plants.
Seaton Downer, a retired mining supervisor with the bauxite company in Linden moved back to the village about 14 years ago. He lately became a member of the Community Support Group which is involved in examining projects to ensure that they are not going wrong. He is engaged in cash crop farming and said whenever it rains his garden would be flooded.
He along with other residents visited the MMA office at the nearby Onverwagt Village and asked that a small tube from the canal be removed. They also made a request for it to be replaced instead with a koker that has a self-acting door attached. He said they were promised that it would be done and are waiting patiently. He also said that he complained to other government officials that the dam was eroding and needs to be fixed urgently, but nothing is being done.
Residents said Trafalgar is the lowest area in West Berbice because it is known as the basin, and measures have to be taken to ensure that the pump is working when needed to prevent flooding.
They also called on the government to reactivate all the sluices and rehabilitate the streets.