For close to six years now reporters attached to this newspaper have gone to various communities in all ten regions of Guyana, seeking to shed light on their customs, way of life and issues in a series of features called ‘The World Beyond Georgetown’, recognising that for a very long time, many of the far-to-reach places were out of sight and in several instances out of mind as well.
Traditionally and to date, our national newspapers have operated in Georgetown. It made sense years ago and still does today as it is where the major ports are; where electricity, water and transportation are likely to be less of an issue; and also where the seat of government is. Covering the news in areas outside of the city must be of importance to any national newspaper, hence it is also important to deal with the issues that residents of rural communities see as relevant to them; after all, Georgetown is not Guyana.
A recent visit to Silver Hill brought that concept forcefully home. This is a community on the Linden-Soesdyke Highway, some 13 miles from Linden, which is a town, and some 30 miles from the capital. It is accessible by land transportation—car, bus, or other such vehicle—though the roads are so bad that it might be advisable to utilise a four-wheel drive at this time.
But it’s not just the roads that are the issue in this community, it’s nearly everything. So much so that rather than being 30 miles away from the city, Silver Hill could well be 30 years away. It’s a place where much has been promised, but very little has been done. And the little that has been done has been so poorly executed that it is clearly an insult to the 300-odd people who live there.
The village has a well with a pump station, which is supposed to be powered by solar panels. Yet, no water reaches any of the villagers’ homes; they still must resort to the nearby creeks and to storing rainwater for daily use. Villagers were clearly upset that it had been reported that they were benefiting from potable water.
Silver Hill is an unserved area as regards power supply. It is just not on the national grid. The few residents who can afford it have generators, others use flambeaux or lanterns. There is a school in the village and a health centre and they both were fitted with solar panels, which to date are white elephants. Villagers in the know said the school’s solar system has inverters but no batteries and the health centre has neither inverters nor batteries. So while at some point in the past it might have been reported that these two government-run institutions would have benefited from solar systems, scratch that. They received, so far, useless parts of those systems.
While it places the primary-age children at a distinct disadvantage when compared with their peers in the city as well as those some 13 miles away in Linden, the situation is much worse where health care is concerned.
As was related to the reporter who visited, the health centre is unable to store vaccines, which must be held in cold storage in order to maintain their efficacy. Therefore, residents whose children have to be immunised must make a decision to travel to Linden, where they may or may not be accommodated, or take the 60-mile return trip to the city. But vaccines aside, there are several other medications which need to be kept cool and which clearly, the health centre dares not stock. Villagers did not say but obviously many of Silver Hill’s aged residents would also have to choose between Linden and Georgetown to replenish prescriptions and so on. While having a health centre in a village could be viewed as a good thing, is it still good if residents cannot make full use of it?
Rural life around Guyana is largely still a good step away from modernity. And this is understandable where communities are in riverain areas or can only be reached quickly by plane or an arduous trek across land and water. However, even in some of these far-flung areas, the population is served by wells that work as they should and alternate forms of power where electricity is an issue. There should be some explanation as to why Silver Hill, which is commutable both to the city and to Linden, has a well but no potable water and solar panels but no electricity. Were these projects ticked off as completed? If yes, then both the contractor and the government agency involved have some explaining to do. Was there an attempt to dupe the villagers and the rest of the population? If no, then they should say when these projects will be completed so that the obvious promises to Silver Hill will be fulfilled.