Almost two weeks after she became the first woman toshao of the Pakuri Village (formerly St Cuthbert’s Mission) on the Linden-Soesdyke Highway, Beverley Clenkian is on a mission to improve educational opportunities for the youth and develop the community socially.
While she does not have it all clearly mapped out, she is determined to pull together the expertise of her 12 council members, three of whom are also women, to achieve the agenda.
The abuse of alcohol among youths in the village is also a heavy burden on the heart of the 45-year-old mother of three and that is another issue she plans to tackle during her three-year term. Unemployment is high, and this results in many young people leaving, often for the interior, particularly since many of them would have dropped out of school at an early age to assist their struggling families financially.
Now that the novelty of the win has worn off, the primary school teacher knows it is time to get down and get the work done. In order to do this, she plans to take a year’s sabbatical from her studies at the University of Guyana, which will engineer her return to the primary school in the village. Because of her studies, she had been seconded to Peter’s Hall Primary, but with the leave of absence she hopes to return to the village primary school from September.
“I want to be able to serve my people,” Clenkian told the Sunday Stabroek in an interview. “I have been around a long time and have served with previous toshao as secretary, treasurer and council member. I did not serve on the immediate past council, but I am around for a long time and I think it is time to lead.”
The new toshao is not alone in her thinking as 122 villagers supported her in the election, against the 100 and 90 who voted for the other two candidates. Some years back, another woman had contested the elections, but was defeated.
Clenkian recalled that prior to the elections she traversed the village and spoke to residents finding out about the various issues that affected them and now believes she is armed with the knowledge needed to inform the direction of the council. In the run up to the elections both men and women supported her, but there were a few who opposed her because of her gender. Others questioned her commitment since she was teaching outside of the village, hence her decision to take time off from her studies. Her husband Usiel was one of her biggest supporters. “He said, ‘you can do it,’” she recalled.
Clenkian is encouraging more women in Amerindian villages to vie for leadership roles, even though as she was contesting, she was not confident of winning as her competitors were competent persons. But it was not a bitter contest and Clenkian said she plans to work closely with them.
‘Will be different’
Clenkian’s immediate predecessor Lennox Shuman was very outspoken and had at times called out the government publicly over various issues. However, she said she would be doing things differently and hoped to liaise with the government as she attempts to fix things in her community.
“My approach will be different because they are our leaders and I think we should have some respect for them. We have to set the example as leaders and if someone disrespects me as a leader how would I feel?” she reasoned. “… All in all, I want unity,” she continued, adding that at times you have to “know where and when to do some things.” She also pointed out that it is a village council and not a “one man or woman show” and that leaders should be careful how they speak to people, even their own villagers.
“Every councillor must have a say and that is how I intend it to be,” she said, adding that some of the councillors on the previous council had complained that this was not afforded to them.
She plans to designate duties to each councillor so that at the end of the term they all would have contributed to whatever successes would be achieved.
That being said, Clenkian said Shuman did “a good job” since he brought with him innovative ideas and some of the councillors were able to learn from this. While Shuman was born in the village, he had spent a number of years living in Canada, before returning with his family to serve the community. He has since announced that he would be returning to that country on the completion of his term.
Clenkian believes Shuman might not have been au fait with all of the cultural aspects of the village. “He created a lot of new ideas, but I guess it was the approach,” she concluded.
She wants to attract more visitors the community and to push some of the ideas Shuman had attempted to implement, especially as regards tourism. The previous council had started to build a lodge that could see tourists visiting the community and overnighting and she hopes that this new council can complete same and get the initiative up and running.
Clenkian said she was born in the village and has not lived anywhere else. She recalled when she was a child the village was not as populated as it is today; children attended school in whatever clothes they had and wore no shoes.
“My bookbag was a bread bag. When my mother went to town and bought bread, I used to be happy because I would get a new bookbag,” the school teacher said with a small laugh.
Following her primary education, Clenkian said, she attended the then Hindu College located on the East Coast Demerara. However, one year before she completed her secondary education, her father died, and she was forced to discontinue her schooling. She joined the primary school as an assistant teacher at the age of 17 and later attended the Cyril Potter College of Education on the hinterland programme.
To improve the education delivered in the village Clenkian said she hopes to have more of the school’s teachers trained, because while they do try their best they need to be formally trained.