As Baramita, in Region One, continues to grapple with the effects of widespread alcohol abuse, it is considering a ban on the sale of rum in the community, according to Toshao Sharmain Rambajue, who says that visits by high-ranking government officials to the community have largely failed to result in tangible action to address its problems.
Rambajue told Stabroek News yesterday that she can only recall one public meeting being held by the Inter-Ministerial Task Force, set up by government to address alcoholism, domestic violence, including sexual abuse, and teenage pregnancy, to hear the views of the community’s people.
The task force includes the Ministers of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, Communities, Social Protection, Public Security, Health, and Natural Resources.
Officials fly in and fly out, they know of the problems, they promise to help with mentoring and counselling but to date no solid help in the form of seminars or workshops have taken place, Rambajue said.
Since she was elected to office in May, she said, the village has had “about six or seven suicides,” with the youngest being that of a 14-year-old.
“Maybe they see suicide as the way out to deal with their problems. I don’t know. Most times they do it under the influence of alcohol,” she suggested. The majority of those ending their lives are young people.
Last week, at the village council’s meeting with the community, she added, residents suggested a ban on the selling of rum in the community. Before a decision is taken on this suggestion, she said, the council will have to meet with the different satellite communities.
In March, President David Granger visited Baramita and he told the people that government wanted the community to be safe, stable and strong as it is one of the frontline communities with neighbouring Venezuela, which has laid claim to five-eighths of Guyana’s territory.
Since she took office, Rambajue said, Minister of Indigenous Peoples Affairs’ Sydney Allicock and Junior Minister Valerie Garrido-Lowe along with the Police Commander of ‘F’ Division held a meeting with the community and there they promised to do whatever they could to assist the community to overcome its problems.
Last year August, representatives of the Task Force visited. The task force, which was led by Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples Affairs’ Alfred King, met with the village council, teachers, health workers and the police. They laid out their plans, which include improved quality of education through more scholarships at both secondary and tertiary levels.
The community is waiting for action since much talking has taken place, Rambajue said.
In recent times, she said, some young men have started to play football as a team through the efforts of the police stationed in the community.
Another positive, she said, is the upgrading of the road from Matthews Ridge. On Monday, a car from Matthews Ridge reached Baramita.
A week ago, she said, a commissioner from the Women and Gender Equality Commission visited the community and held a meeting with the village council to see how the commission could assist with the social issues.
Rambajue is hoping that the commission could provide much needed counselling to women and girls and men and boys as well on the issues of domestic violence, sexual abuse and teenage pregnancy.
The Civil Defence Commission, she said, is also doing some work in the community in terms of mapping for security reasons.
On the health issues, Rambajue noted that the health centre is staffed with two doctors, but their movement is limited to Central Baramita as they cannot access the 23 satellite communities that comprise the Baramita community.
“They still cannot go out to the satellite communities where malaria is found,” she said.
The health centre has access to a four-wheel ATV which cannot cover the terrain that requires four-wheel drive vehicles, Rambajue said.
When Dr Narash Torres, who was stationed in the community, wrote publicly about his frustration that the health service could not reach to people in the satellite communities because of the absence of a vehicle to reach the outlying communities, he was transferred. “The situation is no better than when he left and he was telling the truth,” she said.
The community, particularly the health centre, Rambajue said, is in dire need of a reliable source of potable water.
She noted that during the dry season, which just ended, the health centre experienced a shortage of water and it was difficult, especially when babies had to be delivered. The rainy season has started so the situation will not be so dire now, she said, however, as soon as the rainy season is over the problem will resurface. As a result, she appealed to authorities to assist in ensuring that a reliable supply of water is made available for the health centre.
Recently, PAHO/WHO representative to Guyana Dr. William Adu-Krow said combatting the many social ills affecting Baramita requires a national effort, while noting that government cannot take on the enormous task alone.
During a recent interview with Sunday Stabroek, Adu-Krow said PAHO decided to intervene after hearing horrifying stories of girls being raped and in some cases being offered to men as gifts by their families.
A report released by the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) last year painted a horrifying picture of the community, where it was said that the incidence of sexual and physical violence is so high that young girls are forced to walk with broken bottles in their bosoms as a form of protection. “Sexual abuse of young girls and women is rampant, beyond anything the GHRA has learnt about in other parts of the interior…,” the report stated.
“Sexual abuse of young teenage girls… by adult miners, police and others is rampant, with parents permitting sexual abuse of daughters in exchange for liquor,” it added.
The report noted that the idea of linking up with coastlanders as the way to a better life was ingrained and often encouraged by mothers, but it also paved the way for exploitation becoming a way of life.
Frighteningly, the report said, girls as young as 14 were being raped and this rampant abuse has caused girls to walk with the “tops of broken bottles in their bras, which they pull out to defend themselves.”
Government, in response, had said that it is aware of the many ills in the community and had started an urgent intervention that has already seen a reduction in suicides and gang rapes.