Group intends to return ‘city within a city’ to its former glory days

A group has taken up the challenge of returning Festival City to its glory days with the ultimate aim of making it self-sustainable. This is what was originally intended when it was built over forty years ago to host the delegates of the first ever Caribbean Festival of Arts (Carifesta) in 1972.

Chairman of the Festival City Youth & Parent Organisation Richard Taylor, who founded the group, told the Sunday Stabroek that he has been living in the community for many years and it is now a far cry from what it was back in 1972 because the current generation is not taking care of what is theirs. He recalled that during the run-up to the last elections both the major political parties  ‒ PPP/C and PNC ‒ said that residents should table back the ‘city’ and improve it.

The volunteers from the Builders Beyond Borders who assisted in the construction of the community centre.
The volunteers from the Builders Beyond Borders who assisted in the construction of the community centre.

Taylor, who is businessman but also a social and cultural activist, said that early last year he decided that the time was right to do something, and he began discussions with like-minded persons in the community. The group became a reality in July of last year. He said they found that the youths of the community were not meaningfully occupied and it is hoped the group can help to chart a course for them that could improve their lives.

“I decided that I am going to take a stand and go around…the community has all the necessary resources, and I talked to certain people…throw out the idea to them and we come together and had a conversation and decided to go ahead,” he said about the formation of the group.

While a major focus was on the beautifying of the community through major clean-up campaigns, Taylor said they realised that the real problem centered around social and economic issues in the community as the youths needed to be taken off of the street corners and their energies channelled in a positive direction.

He pointed out that over the years the community had lost what it was meant to be, even though it is unique as it is the “only city in a city.” When it first started Festival City had its supermarket and other facilities but today the only thing that remains from the past is the library.

“We want to put back the glory into Festival City; it is a historical city with a rich history and we hope to one day make it a tourist attraction,” he said.

According to Holly Maxwell, secretary of the group, they also want to be able to identify with what the city was all about in the past, as many of them are unaware of this.

“So it was our desire to embrace our history while empowering the youths,” she said, and they would use persons from within the community in the process.

Children during last year’s summer class held by the organization
Children during last year’s summer class held by the organization

She said since the launch they held a summer class in August for children who were about to enter secondary school and it was deemed a success.

They also cleaned the area every Sunday, and while they started with the drains they soon realised that the task was beyond them since these needed desilting. They also partnered with the US Embassy through the Guyana Shine programme, which collaborated with them in a huge one-day clean up.

The group also recognized that they needed to have a space to work with the youths, and the idea of a community centre was born. A US-based organization, Builders Beyond Borders, in collaboration with Habitat for Humanity is helping them to realize this dream with a centre being built on community land. Builders Beyond Borders also provided volunteers to help construct the building which is now 75% complete, and according to Maxwell it will also accommodate the activities of various groups from neighbouring communities.

She explained that because the organization was not registered at the time construction was to start on the centre, it was Habitat for Humanity which initiated the process, but at the end of it the centre will belong to the community.

At the centre they plan to focus on education and also give teenage mothers a second chance with an emphasis being placed on the elderly who will also be engaged to teach youths.  Habitat also plans to have a disaster management programmes at the centre.

Residents during one of the organisation’s many clean-up exercises.
Residents during one of the organisation’s many clean-up exercises.

Treasurer of the group, Joslyn Frank, said they would like to make the younger generation more computer literate many are forced to pay to have their assignments typed or else have to visit internet cafés. He said with computers at the centre the youths could be taught how to use them and could also complete their assignments.

The organisation’s intention, said Maxwell, is to reach out to the parents to get to the young people, as at meetings they had attracted more parents than youths. At the meetings they discussed some of the issues parents wanted to have addressed as it pertains to the youths.

She explained that her interest in the organisation has been driven by the fact that she was fortunate to have opportunities available to her which were not available to many of her peers in the community, and she wants to be part of the process that provides some opportunities for the youths.

Unfortunately, she said the group is not getting the kind of support that it needs to drive it, as while many persons have suggestions on the direction it should take and what areas need addressing they are not coming out to assist.

The commencement of the construction of the community centre.
The commencement of the construction of the community centre.

“We would like people to understand that this is something we are doing for the community; we could have found other things to do with our time, and this is voluntary work we are doing, but instead we choose to dedicate it to the community…” she said.

As it is right now the organisation has work in progress and is preparing proposals for various organisations to collaborate with them. They also plan to collaborate with the entities which use biodegradable material to work with the youths on recycling their waste.

Also in the pipeline is the building of a business centre which would be used as a practical training ground for the theoretical work that would have been done with the youths at the community centre. She said they plan to provide the youths with entrepreneurship training. They are also encouraging residents to have kitchen gardens and she said many persons have been growing their vegetables, but the issue is that whenever it rains the place is flooded and the gardens become difficult to maintain.

The members of the organization said it is here to stay and that it will make a
positive impact on the ‘city in a city.’

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