Cancer survivor breaking glass ceilings …says women are resilient despite stereotypes

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Belina Charlie

It is considered a ‘man’s world’ but there are several women who continue to champion this field and they are doing it in a sustainable way. The field, is the mining sector.

Belina Charlie has built a livelihood through mining. She has been in the field for 18 years. It was sometime in 2006, while working as a receptionist at a local guest house in the city that she met a Brazilian, who would later become her partner.

“He was just like me, we were just the same level, we had nothing but, he was into mining before, he came to Guyana. So, he wanted to work here,” Belina said.

She took a week off from work to travel into the interior. That week marked her entrance into the mining industry.

However, the first week in the interior, according to Belina, was “really rough”. Along with her partner, Belina said, they opened a taxi service and also purchased a dragger (gold mining equipment), sometime later. In 2012, Belina was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The diagnosis and illness curtailed her movements between the interior and the coast where she lives. Belina would commence treatment for the cancer.

“I did my first session here in Guyana then I went abroad, I went to Brazil to do the other chemo, I wasn’t finding medication because I have to buy my own medication. And I run everywhere, every pharmacy, every hospital to see, if I could get, even public, they didn’t had chemo, I had to go to Brazil. After the chemo…..I….I lost my memory, even my sight, I lost. I couldn’t (watch) television, I wasn’t seeing (the) television, it was blurred, I didn’t remember that I had family, I didn’t even know where I came from but the only thing I know was that I was right here”.

She added that if she was never diagnosed with cancer, things would have been different. Belina is most passionate about the production aspect of her business. She reiterated that to be a miner, one has to be strong.

Belina is a mother of one; a son, and does not want him to take up a career in mining because according to her, it’s really hard work. Her son is in Miami, USA, at the moment, pursuing studies in the aeronautical field.

“……I want him to go higher, that is my dream for my son. Not because I got sick or I run brucks, I just want my son to stay away but I tell him to go. I told him you do not worry about what happening here, you worry about what you have to achieve,” she said.

She had battles with at least one Indigenous community. She had 72 legal river claims that were being challenged in the courts by the community.

Going back to mining, Belina noted that as a woman, she has faced discrimination, but noted that, “as a woman, you don’t have to bother with what people say about you, you have to go on and you have to be strong”.

Presently, in a male-dominated field, she has between 30 and 40 men working with her and so far, she has earned her respect in that field.

For women wanting to get into mining, Belina advises that, the Guyana Women Miners’ Organisation (GWMO) is willing to assists in the process.

Belina and some of her workers underwent a number of mining related training programmes relative to sustainable mining. This is an area that her operation adheres to.

Along the way she has received support from the GWMO and her partner. In 2017, Belina was sponsored by Rio Tinto Group, an Anglo-Australian multinational and one of the world’s largest metals and mining corporations to be a part of the International Women in Resources Mentorship Programme that was organised by the International Women in Mining.

Balancing work and family life has its challenges but Belina does it all well. She is hopeful though, that one day she can become a rancher and get into farming. She also remains an active member of the GWMO. (Michael Younge)

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