Day one consisted of leaving the convenient city I’m accustomed to on my way to a very different living space I am not acquainted with in the company of my classmates and our tutor. But as exciting as this new adventure might have been, starting off we faced a few challenges. We did not receive the hoped-for financing from the university, consequently some students had to abandon hopes of being on this trip. Transportation was also a bit of an issue because the university’s bus was already booked. Nevertheless, with the help of Miss Wilkinson and the determination of a fellow classmate, Tamesh, who was unable to make it on the trip, getting the trip off the ground was successful.
Arriving safely at the Parika Stelling, we all got aboard a ferry on the Essequibo River to sights we town people don’t normally have the privilege of seeing: this vast river system littered with islands… To me it was quite a relaxing view on the hour-long ferry ride. My classmates and I got to know each other a little better, sharing our different expectations of this trip. Students of the civil, mechanical, architectural and electrical engineering classes with a lot of ideas for this new place they were about to venture on to, playing a few games to pass the time. We all had a good laugh as we slowly approached the Charity stelling, which seemed very quiet as we got closer and closer to it.
From Charity we travelled along a very slim road, passing the Damon 1988 monument found in Anna Regina, and a little further up the road there was a jaguar, one of the national animals of my country, kept captive by some local resident. It was quite exciting to get that close to the creature, but I think it should be released back into nature where it belongs.
On the next leg of our travelling, the team split in half, moving up the Pomeroon River. Transporting us were the village of Wakapoa’s very own Toshao, Howard Cornelius, and his brother, David, moving skilfully on the river. We diverted into a smaller waterway, getting directly to the landing at the foot of St. Lucian Mission, one of the many islands found in the village of Wakapoa, where we would be lodging for our trip.
Right after leaving the boat the Toshao introduced himself to us and welcomed us to his village, giving us advice, educating us about the village and finally asking for our views on things that could be done to enhance the village over time. After the Toshao’s presentation, we met a woman called Skeitha or Samantha, who gave us a general run down of where we would be sleeping for the time that we would be there. We also were introduced to the woman that would be cooking for us, after which we got unpacked and settled in. Miss Charlene, our tutor, briefed us on the goals we needed to attain: the completion of the questionnaires we had brought with us, targeting the community’s desires for development.
On our second day, we set out to make kites for the village children. I knew that I was not a very good kite maker, but I was still willing to give it a try. All of the supplies that Tamesh and his family had donated were put to very good use. I started about three frames and completed one. It was not my best work but still I thought my kite was air worthy. Each and every person did a very good job in getting their kites to be air worthy, after which the Toshao came and took us to the island of Myrie, where we began to gather information for our questionnaires.
When the Toshao stated that he would like for his community to become self-reliant, I saw an opportunity to suggest a project. The discussion had hinged on the need for funding to make signs for the individual islands. We were informed that the signs were estimated at $15,000 each. Seeing that there was an abundance of logs in the area I suggested making the signs out of the logs would be a good idea. My point was that if you have a renewable resource and the needed manpower, simple things like this would be a step in the right direction to becoming self-reliant.
The Toshao then took us along a makeshift roadway that was made by the community with the help of foreign volunteers. He explained that this roadway would take us directly to Whypakqua. We were shown the medical centre and told that it was currently vacant due to the last medical person leaving the community to work in Charity. He explained that she had encountered issues that caused her to leave. This was sad news to us because in the case of any emergency there was no immediate first aid response or medical or public (village) boat service to rush someone that might need help to Charity Hospital.
On our way back to Myrie, we came across one of the wells where the community members would get their water from, because on most of these islands there is no potable water or direct electricity to power homes.
On returning to St. Lucian Mission I found a long-time friend of mine that I did not know lived there. It was a pleasant surprise. We got to catch up and I decided to take his views on the issues of the community and how he thinks the village is being managed. For the most part he confirmed what the other villagers had previously told me, and went on to tell me about idea the Toshao had: to build another school to make easier access for the children on other islands. He thought that this was a good idea, but added that the current secondary school is still underdeveloped so further renovations and expansions could be done to better the system they have and then move on to better systems for now and expand later. He noted that Wakapoa needs jobs on the islands for its people to make a better living.
One interesting point to note is that, while filling out the questionnaire, a lot of people disagreed about keeping their culture alive. When asked why, they responded by saying they wish for where they live to be more like Georgetown because “Georgetown got everything.” But essentially what we were trying to get out of the respondents was if they wanted to continue the Lokono language. A few older folks know the language and even fewer are willing to teach it. I was told by one of the villagers that it’s good for the young people to learn and keep the Arawak language alive, but in the minds of some of the villagers there is a separation between culture and language.
The father of one of our newly found friends was explaining to us that, from his understanding, some people were not very happy about certain parts of their culture, such as like heavy drinking and some spiritual practices. But in essence he said that the culture and language are together as one thing.
Coming to the end of the day we were well taken care of. Our cook, Ms. Janet, turned out to be the mother of my friend. She had a lovely fried rice and chicken, and I made it clear that the only thing I did not eat was “lil bit”. Even though there are a lot of issues in the village, there are good community relations. It’s just that people are not willing to work with the Toshao.
My experience was great, even though later that night my friends and I kept Miss Charlene up for the entire night with our loud conversations. It wasn’t intentional but at the same time she didn’t stop us. She probably thought this was a good bonding experience for each of us getting to know each other a lot better and form bonds that would last throughout university life.
Continuing our journey among these beautiful different islands, it came to my mind how beautiful my country is; this land where most of the coastlanders fly to other lands for betterment instead of bettering using what we have been blessed with right in our own land. Continuing on to Massarie we were greeted with even more lush forest and scattered houses along the island. We continued to meet people to complete our questionnaires. While doing this, a few others and I strayed a bit from the group but caught them up back and found a little house amidst the trees where we met a man introduced to us as Father. I can’t remember his name but he lives there with his wife. They are both elderly people. His wife was more than happy to sit with us and teach us a few words in her mother tongue. She told us in Lokono that she was a proud Arawak and some other phrases.
Father then took us on a tour on of the land that he himself had cultivated. The sheer size of land that had been cleared and shared was quite amazing. He shared with us his hopes of having a resort in that serene place. Miss Charlene stopped us for a while to reinforce the responsibility that we have as young engineers and to see this as a way we can begin to impact communities meaningfully with projects and experiences such as this. That day felt as though it time was against us as it finished quite quickly in my opinion.
Later that night we built a bonfire and learned a cultural dance taught by Trevis’s father, and we in turn shared some stories of our own and I did an outstanding kata for the entertainment of my peers, something thing I know none of them knew I had knowledge of. The night ended even better because I got cassava bread to eat. And we allowed Miss to have some well-deserved rest for all the work she had done in making sure her students were well taken care of.
Leaving Wakapoa the following morning with a head full of ideas, hopes and plans to execute projects to help better the entire village for the years to come. As much as none of us wanted to leave, the experience of actually being there will stay with us. We now have a place and people who are now very close to our hearts and a mission to fulfil.