Iwokrama celebrates International Indigenous Peoples Day 2020

International Day of World’s Indigenous Peoples is observed on August 9 annually and gives the opportunity to celebrate the achievements of Indigenous peoples globally.

Former Fair View Village Toshao and Iwokrama Assistant Operations Manager Bradford Allicock with Iwokrama Director, Dr Raquel Thomas

Comprising six per cent of the world’s global population and spaces that occupy a major share of the world’s global biodiversity, Indigenous peoples’ contributions have been immense especially in areas of conservation, natural resource use, traditional knowledge innovations, local medicines and architecture, and rich cultural heritage to name a few.
This year, the theme “COVID-19 and Indigenous Peoples’ Resilience” also has a focus on traditional knowledge and practices to deal with such health pandemics.
Several of Guyana’s Indigenous communities have been hit by coronavirus and many have since March been putting systems in place to deal with it. The Moruca communities have been commended on how they have managed to get their situation under control which shows their tenacity and discipline as a community.
The Rupununi is now facing this challenge and having a culture of persons who live and work on both sides of the border has posed major risks, along with illegal entry of persons from Brazil.

Toshao Jacqueline Allicock being interviewed in Surama

Since 1996, Iwokrama and the North Rupununi District Development Board (NRDDB), which comprises leaders of the Indigenous communities (currently 20) that are linked to the one-million-acre Iwokrama Forest, have cemented a firm relationship via a collaborative management agreement that the conversation ensures that the communities have a say in how the Iwokrama Protected Areas is managed.
The two organisations have been working together to support as much as possible communities in the area by providing information, masks, and sanitation supplies, etc, though the kind contributions of Rotary and ExxonMobil.
Current NRDDB Chairman and Surama Village Toshao Jacqueline Allicock stated that the key to successful containment of this virus included community buy-in and support, educational awareness on a house-to- house basis and also honesty and responsibility.

Former Toka Village Toshao and Iwokrama Operations Manager Michael DeMendonca on Radio Paiwomak

Since March, Surama has put systems in place to deal with the virus and has also worked with the Public Health Ministry in installing a Community Task Force and Community Policing Group. Surama Village is a top destination for community tourism and this business has been hard hit; however, Allicock believes that we must ensure that Guyana is safe before we open up our borders and open up for tourism.
From an NRDDB perspective, she further would like to see strong support for strategic checkpoints set up and active in Lethem and along the main road by Toka Village, Annai and Kurupukari (in Iwokrama).

Former Annai Toshao and NRDDB Chair Michael Williams on Radio Paiwomak

The NRDDB remains concerned about the porous borders and, like Iwokrama, believes that if this is not controlled, infected persons will continue to enter the region. Surama Village’s strict protocols allows it to remain COVID-19 free.
Former Annai Toshao and NRDDB Chair, Michael Williams shared that on behalf of the residents of the North Rupununi, they joined with the United Nations to celebrate this special day and indicated that the importance of use of all communication means to spread the word of COVID-19 guidelines on prevention. Information is given in Makushi, Patamona, Arecuna, and Wapichan languages on Guyana’s first community radio station Radio Paiwomak located in Annai. The radio station will be celebrating 20 years of broadcasting on September 19, 2020. Radio Paiwokak became a reality owing to many partnerships including one with Iwokrama.
He urged all Indigenous peoples of the world to keep safe and wished them all the best for the remainder of 2020. Annai Central has been one of the communities impacted by the COVID-19 virus.
Former Fair View Village Toshao and Iwokrama Assistant Operations Manager Bradford Allicock spoke about some of the local medicines the village used to strengthen immune systems including a concoction of broad-thyme leaf, lemon grass, and lime along with ginger. Also, there is a native plant used to deal with mucous build-up. The village had set plans in place since March, but with the outbreak in the Annai area, established a Task Force and Policing Group. A gate has been installed at the village entrance and is monitored by community persons and the Community Health Worker is also involved. Fair View has recorded no cases of COVID-19 to date.
Former Toka Village Toshao and Iwokrama Operations Manager (Forestry) Michael DeMendonca, indicated that the e-Governance wifi set up in the village was helpful in updating and informing villagers about the virus. Toka Village also established a Task Force and implemented at one point, a 14-day lockdown for the entire village when it was realised that there may have been access by persons coming from border areas.
As DeMendonca indicated, “What is crucial now is how do we move on from here as it’s going into six months dealing with this situation. This pandemic has also impacted our economic ability as one of our key 2020 projects will have to be put on hold and that is the launching of our Toka Eco-Tourism business. To this end, I would recommend an outreach exercise with key stakeholders and Government to plan the way forward as we see this pandemic now quickly narrowing in over the recent weeks and people are beginning to go in panic mode.”
He noted that Toka Village remains COVID-19 free.
Iwokrama and the NRDDB are grateful for the support of donors of supplies, the Guyana Police Force and the Public Health Ministry, and acknowledge that this pandemic can only be fought through active team-work.