Social cohesion ministry taking lead on hinterland youth programme

Valerie Garrido-Lowe

The Ministry of Social Cohesion, which has responsibility for youth, will be taking control of the Hinterland Employment and Youth Service (HEYS) programme, according to Junior Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs Valerie Garrido-Lowe.

Although Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs Sydney Allicock was reported by the Department of Public Information (DPI) as saying that the HEYS was being replaced with a programme that offers more “holistic training,” Garrido-Lowe, who has direct responsibility for it, said it will not be replaced but would instead be handled by the Ministry of Social Cohesion since youth now falls under its remit.

“HEYS, so far as I know, would not be replaced, at least not yet. As with other youth projects/programmes, it will be under the umbrella of the Ministry of Social Cohesion since youth is now under that ministry,” Garrido-Lowe told Stabroek News.

She also noted that all current staff employed by the HEYS programme will be absorbed by the subject ministry.

Commenting on the role of her ministry in the project going forward, Garrido-Lowe added that there will be some “tweaking,” but only to strengthen the programme, which is where the Ministry of Education would be involved. “[The Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs] will continue to play an important role since HEYS is a village buy-in programme, where the Toshaos and councillors and residents select the participants and recommend the community facilitators and also provide the venue for the classes. They also play a monitoring role,” she said.

Additionally, Garrido-Lowe said that she is satisfied that the majority of youths have benefited in a real way from the programme since the start. “Many have businesses that support their families while some have chosen to further their education. Some have also gone into the army,” she noted. “They had an opportunity to develop themselves and the majority grabbed that opportunity. The drop out percentage was low and a few businesses did not survive but we will work with them to get the businesses going again and they are happy about this. I am happy every time I visit a village and see a HEYS business or businesses. HEYS is focused on building capacity and giving every youth in the project a chance to develop themselves. In this second cohort, the village of Red Creek in Region 8 had youths that could not write their names and now they can and are learning further… HEYS in Kwakwani, Great Falls, Coomaka, Kairuni and other villages is doing such wonderful things and I am so very proud of them,” she added.

In the past, Garrido-Lowe has spoken fervently about the achievements of the programme but on two separate occasions last year the ministry disclosed that its continuation beyond 2018 would depend on a review of its output or success.

In July, 2017, when he addressed Indigenous village leaders present at the North Rupununi District Development Board (NRDDB) meeting in Apoteri, North Rupununi, Region Nine, Allicock had noted that while the ministry saw some great results, it was still to determine whether the programme should be continued beyond its August, 2018 deadline.

“We are going to do an analysis, a check on what has been done to see what benefits or failure. We know that we have a lot of young people across the region who are really doing it and, I always talk about this young lady in region two who wanted to give up, she said that on about three occasions she wanted to chuck in and today she is the breadwinner of her family,” the DPI had quoted him as saying.

He went on to explain that the intention is to ensure that the programme achieved the desired results, and, therefore, the Village Councils, beneficiaries and parents/guardians would be engaged to ascertain their reaction. “We want to get a feedback from the communities to see if it is viable because we are spending millions of dollars and we want to see results. We are investing it in our young people and we would want to see results,” the minister emphasised.

Allicock, during his recent interview with the DPI, explained that the while the HEYS initiative had accomplished much, it would be restructured to incorporate other training programmes for youths in the various sectors. This will be achieved through a collaboration between the ministries of Education and Social Cohesion, he added. “…This will be done to create a more holistic training package for youths throughout Guyana. Currently, the first cohort of the HEYS programme is being reviewed and from that information, we will be guided. The aim is to incorporate all the other programmes and to create an aggressive package for the youths in Guyana,” he said.

According to the report, the Ministry of Education has now been tasked with developing a paper for the new programme.

The HEYS programme was first rolled out in the Region Eight village of Paramakatoi in 2015 by Garrido-Lowe to replace the Peoples Progressive Party government’s Youth Entrepreneurship and Apprenticeship Programme, under which almost 2,000 Indigenous youth were recruited as Community Support Officers.

At the time of the launch, the Minister noted that while APNU+AFC had supported the programme on the basis of having understood the problems that hinterland communities face, she that that more could have been done.

As a result, the HEYS programme was implemented with the aim of providing indigenous youth across Guyana with an opportunity to benefit from in-house and practical training in areas such as plumbing, joinery, auto mechanic, carpentry, cookery, sewing, eco-tourism and hospitality, among others.

In addition to this, participants were eligible for a small cash grant to establish a business of their choice upon completion of the one year programme.

Meanwhile, Allicock also told the DPI that the Green Enterprise Development Centre that will be established at Bina Hill, Region Nine, will further prepare indigenous youths for the anticipated developments expected to accrue from the oil and gas sector.

“In preparations for the anticipated good that oil will bring, not the direct but indirect benefits when the roads start, the hydro start, we will need our technical people, this is the workforce that we need, so it is helping them to prepare and get in readiness for this. Their communities will also have that economic strength to get them through and jobs will be created,” he said.

The initiative is expected to benefit 120 students from regions One, Seven, Eight, Nine and Ten. A sum of $79 million has been allocated in 2018 budget to commence the construction of the facility.

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