Leomie Willis of Mabaruma

School had just let out for lunch when the World Beyond Georgetown arrived in Mabaruma, one of this country’s newest towns. The Mabaruma Primary School, which sits opposite St Joseph’s Catholic Church at the first junction, had pupils spilling out of the building into the compound and beyond the fence.

A bit further down the road, it was the same at the Mabaruma Nursery School, except that parents were there to collect these younger ones.

Mabaruma, with a population of a little over 2,000, is a true melting pot, with its mixture of ethnicities. Its red road stains your feet the minute you set them down. One of the town’s landmarks is a huge heart-shaped rock on which someone has boldly painted the words, “Jesus Saves” on one side and “Jesus Loves You” on the other.

The road is shaded with gigantic pine trees on both sides. Its bumps only allow vehicles to travel at a certain speed.

Mabaruma has most of the public buildings in Region One (Barima/Waini) and when the World Beyond Georgetown visited, the majority appeared to be short of residents needing services. The Mabaruma Hospital looked scarce of patients. At the Mabaruma Police Station just obliquely opposite, policemen stood around outside; two of them using a long stick, were knocking avocados off a tree. A little further on was the Nurses Hostel, the Mabaruma Post office, the Lands and Surveys Department and just on the bend, the North West Secondary School, the highest rated school in Region One.

Houses, which are behind the public buildings, could not be seen easily from the road.

At the back of the hospital compound is the dental department. There were no patients here either.

Neil Chu, is a Dental Technician (referred to as a dentex) and he runs the department. Just about everyone knows him and most call him “Dento”. He grew up in Wauna, but moved to Mabaruma 14 years ago, a little less than half his age now.

“Mabaruma is the central part in the region and was recently officially named a town,” he said. “Fourteen years ago when I came here, I met the old hospital. They offered basic medical care and dental care. Now it’s better. We offer more services now. We even do surgeries here. My son was the first CS [Caesarean-section] baby. He was born on the 8th of June, 2013 marking a record for the region.”

Chu sees an average of 250 patients on a monthly basis. “People come from places within most parts of the region,” he said, adding that he also sees patients from “Venezuela and even Georgetown.” This is so, he said, because many believe in him for the quality of care he provides.

“An advantage of living here is that it’s a quiet and fresh atmosphere. You don’t have all that noise and pollution compared to Georgetown; and you don’t have to worry about thieves,” he said.

However, he added, one of the biggest disadvantages is education, especially tertiary education. The low employment rate is another disadvantage as well. “The majority of the population around here depends on government employment, and well, their businesses,” he said.

The people of Mabaruma and also others around Region One depend on the public ferry, but are affected because the boats that are available to them are hardly on time and the private boats are costly.

The town, he said, has five churches of different denominations, but no temples or mosques. Most of the residents are Christian and a large percentage are Roman Catholics.

“I’d like for education to develop. The roads are in a terrible state also. The roads destroy a lot of vehicles and they become very hard to maintain. Electricity and [potable] water 24/7 would be welcomed also since we only get access to electricity from six to eleven at nights and only recently have they started giving us electricity from five to seven in the mornings. When it comes to water [potable], we only get every other day,” Chu said.

Zelena Fernandes, who has been living in Mabaruma for some 25 years, came all the way from Aruka River, some distance away. She was enjoying the afternoon with her two daughters and their pet monkey, named Troy Bolton, after the fictional character (played by Zac Efron) in the movie High School Musical. They showed him off a bit before she mentioned that they actually got the little thing for her grandson who lives in Georgetown and would be shipping him out on the next boat to Georgetown scheduled to leave Kumaka in a few days.

Speaking of life before Mabaruma, Fernandes said, “In Aruka you can paddle with boats. Here you can catch a bus or car or you can walk to Kumaka [a village away and also the market area]. When I come here, Mabaruma Hospital was really old; and was board top and bottom. The Mabaruma Primary was St Joseph’s Primary then and the nursery school used to keep under a bottom house.

“We had two ponds. We used one for drinking and cooking and the other one for washing. That was a long time ago, now we getting water but only every other day. The water comes from the reservoir and is clean.

“Some of the good things about living here: the school is nearby, the hospital is a walk-over, the police station is nearby and the market place in Kumaka is not so far away. Every Tuesday and Saturday I go to the market. From there I get my ration, my meat, fish and greens.”

She also enjoys the quiet atmosphere, but what she doesn’t like is the low employment rate. “It hard to get jobs here,” she said.

This reporter was urged to speak to Leomie Willis. She was at the North West Secondary School announcing the winners of a heritage competition they just had, to the students assembled on the tarmac. When she was finished, she was more than eager to share what she knew.

“I live here for 14 years now,” she said. “I moved from Wauna. I find here better. You’re next to the hospital, next to the police station, post office, the admin office and next to the secondary school which is better for my son.”

She too gets her groceries and vegetables from the market at Kumaka, just a five minutes’ drive away.

Her move came after she got a job at one of the administration buildings and “I was provided with living quarters,” she said. However, after some time, Willis got her own place. She is now a shopkeeper and sells groceries, clothing and snacks from her little shop.

The place was “bushy” compared to what it looks like today but one thing remains the same, she said, the people are still reserved.

“I would like to see street lights sometime in the near future and plans are already said to be in place when it comes to the fixing of the road,” she stated.

One very important thing to her, she said, although it’s just about the same everywhere in Region One, “Here I can sleep with my windows and doors open. I feel safe.”

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