The new APNU+AFC government is reviewing the controversial hinterland Community Support Offi-cers (CSO) programme amid concerns that it is not providing youth with skills that they need.
The Minister of Indi-genous People’s Affairs, Sydney Allicock made this disclosure when he hosted his first ministerial outreach to Region Six engaging residents where a team discussed plans for economic empowerment and skills training, particularly for youth.
The outreach team also included Minister within the Ministry, Valerie Garrido- Lowe, and Advisor on Youth, Sport and Cultural Development, Mervyn Williams who met with residents of Orealla and Siparuta, the adjoining Amerindian communities along the Corentyne River.
At Orealla, Allicock assured the residents that the government is there to serve all the people, regardless of their political persuasion. The ministry is currently in the process of developing a strategy to ensure that the indigenous population, particularly youth, women and children, fulfil their potential. While the ministry is still in its transition process, it has assembled a team to review and implement plans, he explained, according to a report from the Government Informa-tion Agency (GINA). New units will be created within the ministry and staffed with skilled personnel to ensure that plans come to fruition, he said, adding that “for too long we have been having officers who are sitting in their air conditioned rooms and imagining the needs of the community.”
At Siparuta the women have a thriving organisation and plan to open a food processing factory to utilise the pineapples and papaw that they produce. According to the junior minister, government aims to empower indigenous women across the country by providing opportunities for them to engage in agro-processing, catering, craft and jewellery making and tourism-related activities.
Further, Garrido-Lowe noted that women will be trained to prepare Amerindian dishes with the aim of including them on the menu at restaurants that serve local cuisine. Amerindian ladies fashions will also be promoted. “The intention, she said, “is to create an environment where Amerindians can explore their talents, and at the same time, help the rest of Guyana to have a greater appreciation of their way of life.”
Residents also voiced concerns about youths dropping out of school and engaging in illegal activities. Allicock revealed that the ministry is currently looking at creating programmes to help youth to develop their academic and other potential. He noted too that the Community Support Officers programme implemented under the Youth Entrepreneurship and Apprenticeship Project (YEAP) is currently being reviewed as it failed to provide students with a skill certificate.
While in opposition, APNU and the AFC had accused the PPP/C of using the CSO and YEAP programmes to campaign and to gather votes.
One of government’s immediate priorities is to revitalise the Bina Hill Institute in Region Nine which will offer youths six months to two-year courses in around eight skill areas. Later, the ministry will build technical training centres in highly populated districts.
Meanwhile, the youth advisor to the minister said there is need for a situational analysis which will soon start. In the interim, Williams said the ministry has taken a consultative approach to address critical issues; tapping into the skills of persons who have the capacity to develop sports in indigenous communities. “A concept has been drafted, and the fundamental points crystallised,” he said.
Among the several sporting disciplines, football has been one of the stronger areas of interest in indigenous communities. Williams pointed out that the quality of football players in the hinterland is a source of pride and he expects that within three years a significant number of youths from these areas will be included on the national football team. The ministry is also consulting with the Guyana Scouts Association to ensure that hinterland youths are given the opportunity to interact with their peers countrywide.
Residents also petitioned the team for a secondary school to be built in the area. The nearest secondary school is at Skeldon which is several miles away from the community, and creates a burden on parents. The minister advised them that an inventory will first have to be performed before a decision is taken.
According to GINA, Principal Regional Development Officer, Anil Roberts; Regional Vice Chairman, Bhupaul Jhagroo and legal advisor designate to the minister David James also attended the meetings.