The 13th National Toshaos Council (NTC) Conference opened Monday at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre with over 200 Indigenous village leaders in attendance.
Over the next five days, the village leaders will interact with government ministers and other officials to find solutions to issues in their communities.
Some of the Toshaos pointed out that their concerns include access to transportation, healthcare and educational facilities in the hinterland since the villages are far apart.
“My people [has been suffering] from Kaibarupai coming up to Kato Secondary School –they have to walk there for approximately three days –so we need transportation over there, school bus or ATVs or tractors” to assist, said Viola Melville, Toshao of Kurukubaru, Region One.
Toshao of Warapoka in Region one, Allan Henry, said the residents have begun doing eco-tourism to generate jobs and revenue in the community. However, he noted that he wants to see secondary education being offered in his community.
“I want to see my teachers be trained. Also, I want to see my community get a health centre, not a health post anymore, so midwives, nurses and doctors can be there,” he said.
Henry said patients currently have to travel to the Moruca District Hospital. He thanked the government for providing a boat and engine to transport patients.
In Region Nine, Former Toshao of Nappi Village, John Alfred, said in his village there has been some developments in recent years but the residents still grapple with several social issues.
“We have teenage pregnancies, domestic violence issues affecting our community members,” Alfred, who is also a Welfare Officer, told the News Room.
Russian Dorrick, Toshao of Yupukari which is also in Region Nine, said there is need for more recreational facilities in the region as well as better access to healthcare.
“The health facility is not adequate. Sometimes there is shortage of drugs, we only have health workers and it is really remote.
“The pregnant women have to travel 65miles to the Lethem Hospital and then they are still transferred to the Georgetown Public Hospital…and then when they have to go back, they will not go back until two months after the delivery because of the lack of finance,” he told the News Room.
The Toshaos hope to raise these issues at the five-day conference and have them addressed.
President David Granger in his address pointed to plans to improve education, health, livelihood and social protection to ensure the “good life” promised by his Government.
He noted that the APNU+AFC Government has invested $170 B in public education over the last four years and committed $52.2B this year.
He pointed to the investments in learning resource centres, school-feeding programmes, bicycles, boats and buses to transport hinterland children to school and scholarships, upgrading regional health facilities among others.
“I am confident that we will make a real and lasting positive impact in ensuring that the essentials of human development – education, health, decent standards of living and social protection – are realised within the next ten years.,” the President said.
Chairman of the NTC, Nicholas Fredericks called for unity between the Government and Opposition.
“I call on the Government, the Opposition – let us unify ourselves so we shall not be torn apart, especially you my Indigenous brothers and sisters,” he said.
His remarks were followed by that of Minister within the Ministry of Indigenous People’s Affairs, Valerie Garrido-Lowe. She asked the village leaders to also guard against ploys to divide them.
The Minister also noted that $74M was given to the NTC in 2019 and this will be further increased in 2020.
In attendance were Presidential Candidate of the Liberty and Justice Party, Lenox Shuman, Opposition executives including former Amerindian Affairs Minister Pauline Sukhai and several Government Ministers.
The 13th National Toshaos Council Conference is being held under the theme ““Guyana’s First Peoples United in the Promotion of the Green Economy through Preservation of our Languages, Lands and Rights.”