Indigenous population disadvantaged economically-UNICEF

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…most children depend on warm meals served at school

By Lakhram Bhagirat

The recent study on Indigenous Women and Children in 12 communities in Guyana, found that the Indigenous population is seriously disadvantaged economically, hence accounting for their high poverty rate when compared to the rest of Guyana. Additionally, it found that most primary aged students, in the 12 communities, depend on the school feeding programme for one proper meal per day.

Guyana has the largest number of Indigenous peoples in a single country in the entire Caribbean and according to the last census, they account for 10.3 per cent of the population.

The Indigenous population is settled mainly in Regions One (Barima-Waini), Seven (Cuyuni-Mazaruni), Eight (Potaro-Siparuni) and Nine (Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo), which serves as the home to approximately 80 per cent of the population.

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The study was conducted by UNICEF in Region One, Region Seven, Region Eight, Region Nine and Indigenous communities in coastal communities in Region Two – Akawini (Pomeroon-Supenaam), Region Three – Santa Mission (Essequibo Islands-West Demerara), Region Four – St Cuthbert Mission/Pakuri (Demerara-Mahaica), Region Five – Moraikobai (Mahaica-Berbice), Region Six – Orealla and Siparuta (East Berbice-Corentyne) and Region 10 – River View (Upper Demerara-Berbice).

It also found that although the Indigenous population is culturally rich, they are among the most materially poor and socially excluded people. They experience poverty at twice and sometimes even five times more than non-Indigenous populations, the study found.

The report stated that Guyana does not have a recent measure of monetary poverty, identifying that the most recent was from 2015 with data from 2006 but it identified that the Indigenous population continued to exhibit the highest level of poverty in Guyana.

The qualitative assessment showed that lack of money is not the only contributing factor to the level of poverty experienced by Indigenous communities; rather it is coupled with access to land, culture, medicine, food, education and safety. It was also discovered that most of the villagers depend on the help of their neighbours and religious organisations for assistance to deal with their situation.

“It was reported that some would use traditional medicines not because it was part of their culture, but because the drug was not available in the health facility, and they did not have money to buy in the local shops. Many adolescents would say that they knew other people their age that would come to school without having eaten, and/or without money to buy something at the canteen. For some teachers, and a considerable group of students, the warm meal served in some of the primary schools would constitute the main meal for the day,” part of the report read.

In the 12 communities assessed, it was found that Indigenous women and children are seriously disadvantaged with it comes to accessing good quality education, health and social services due to the lack of access to infrastructural and modern life facilities. That was coupled with the lack of employment opportunities resulting in male migration, which quite often ends up with the male counterpart leaving their families to fend for themselves.

The Indigenous People’s Affairs Ministry in collaboration with UNICEF conducted the study. The aim of the study was to contribute to a greater understanding of Indigenous women and children regarding cultural/traditional practices as it relates to medicines; sexual and reproductive health issues; build or strengthen the resilience of children, families, communities and systems to natural disasters, conflicts chronic systemic crises and social conflicts.

Additionally, it sought to examine decision-making processes on health and protection issues; strengthen the provision of equitable prevention and response to different forms of child violence, including gender-based violence; inform the development of a robust, sustained, early childhood development and equitable and inclusive education programmes for Amerindian children.

It also sought to explore women’s leadership skills and their capacity building needs at the community level; explore livelihood and, empowerment opportunities; provide evidence for national and sub-national planning and developmental processes to contribute to an enabling environment, for Indigenous women and children, and determine the knowledge, perceptions and roles that were played by Indigenous peoples in the preservation of the environment and climate change and what are their current roles.

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