My decision to run for Toshao was influenced by the support of my elders – teen Jason Caitan
By Lakhram Bhagirat
Jason Caitan came into the spotlight just a few days ago when he was elected Toshao of Shea Village at just the age of 19.
Shea Village is located just about 100 miles from the township of Lethem in the Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo Region. It is accessible by dirt road and is approximately 9 miles from the picturesque Kanuku Mountains.
With a population of just over 450 persons, Shea Village is a primarily farming community and home of the Wapichan tribe.
It held its elections for Toshao on Tuesday and elected Caitan – a simple young man raised by his single mother – to be its leader for the next three years.
Caitan is the third child of teacher Vilma Caitan and lived his entire life in Shea Village. There, he learned the value of community and being together despite differences. He was educated, until primary, in Shea and then secondary in the village of Aishalton.
“I went to secondary school in Aishalton. I wrote CXC there and I succeeded with 7 subjects. I have 6 brothers and 1 sister and I graduated so now I am back here in my village again helping and leading the people of Shea here,” he said.
In a recent conversation with the Sunday Times, Caitan spoke about life in Shea and outlined his plans to further develop the village so that the residents can have an enhanced quality of life.
Recounting his childhood, the young Toshao said that growing up in Shea is the best experience one can hope to have. The entire village comes together and cares for each other without expecting anything in return.
However, in spite of being in a village that cared, his mother still struggled to raise him and his siblings.
“It wasn’t an easy task for my mother to raise 7 children in the family. We had challenges growing up and although it wasn’t entirely financial because she is a teacher at the school here there was always others. My brothers attended different schools and it was difficult for her to handle all of her work and then the responsibilities of raising us,” he explained.
The decision to throw his hat in the ring for the leadership of the village was one he did not make easily. Caitan thought about what being Toshao meant and the responsibilities attached to that position.
“I was involved in most of the activities here in the village and most of the people said that you should run for Toshao so they encourage me. I had to make the decision to take that position and it was successful. It was not an easy task to think about running for the post. I wanted to make sure that I understand everything about what it is about to be Toshao,” he said.
He ran against one of the elders in the village and secured 76 votes.
Caitan is taking over the village at a time when COVID-19 further complicates things but according to him, it is a challenge he is ready to take up. The young man said that thus far, Shea has been COVID-free and he intends to keep it that way.
“Here we didn’t have any cases so far and we are very happy about that and most of our villagers have taken the COVID vaccines and we are waiting on the second dose. I am very glad that SRDC (South Rupununi District Council) and the organisations are helping with COVID hampers,” he said.
When asked to outline some of the things he and his Council hope to achieve for the three years, Caitan said that first they can put forward plans but the village need to collectively agree on how those plans should be executed.
However, he said that there are some things he hopes to see happening immediately and explained: “For Shea Village, I look at the elderly persons and my plans are to help them immediately. We need to provide what they need because, for example, some of them are unable to [do] hard work because of various reasons and they have no one to help around. They cannot go to the farm or to look for food so we need to focus on helping them and providing them with the things they may need at home. We also need to work on better access to the pension for the pensioners because they need that money as well.
“I looked at the farmers also because all of us here in this village are farmers and we depend on our products to provide a living from that. I looked at the road to the farm, the water and the bridges needed to be put in place.
We will be clearing out some road to the farms so that farmers can have a proper way of going to the farm because sometimes they have a hard time to get to the farm due to the road or the water being high. We will be clearing out some bushes and putting up bridges as well.”
Toshao Caitan also had some advice for Indigenous youth on taking up leadership roles: “Take up the responsibility to be a leader of yourself first. Attend meetings and workshops that can develop your skills and self confidence and once you are confident in yourself then you can be in a good position to take up those leadership roles.”