Guyana is aptly named “the land of many waters”. As we enter this land, the sound of a soft silence embraces us. We are entering the ancient land of the Amerindian people, who have lived here since the beginning of time.
Amerindian people are quiet and incredibly gentle. They are also suspicious of foreigners.
“We don’t open our doors to everyone who decides to come here. We are very protective of our culture and land. This is our home”, says Priscilla Torres, a community leader who was a central figure when it came to developing the housing project in the Hinterland. She was the bond between the Amerindians, the Ministry of Housing, and Gabriel Arboleda, a housing expert from the Inter-American Development Bank.
Around 80% percent of Guyana’s population lives in the coastal areas, where most of the services like water, electricity or quality housing are located. The rest of the country lies in the deep Amazon forest and is known as the Hinterland.
A tiny little woman with very strong steps, Priscilla would ride her motorcycle to go from one side of the land to the other and kept everyone informed of what was going on with the housing project, for which the IDB allocated US$2,600,000.
Her commitment to her people was unbreakable as well as her huge desire to help the communities develop.
“Just because we are the forest people doesn’t mean we have to stay underdeveloped”, she says.
Nine tribes, one goal
Amerindians total approximately 9.1% of Guyana’s population. They are concentrated approximately 14% of Guyana’s territory. They suffer from poverty levels as high as 78%.
When it comes to development, the Amerindians, a collection of nine different tribes have a very clear idea of what they want for their communities. They are happy to get all the help that’s available, but they don’t want to be imposed with a model of development that won’t respect their bonds with their land and their traditions.
Convincing them that the key for the housing development project was in their own hand was the first step.
Very paradoxical, you find families where mom and dad don’t know how to read or write, however they speak five languages, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Creole and their indigenous native dialects.
Within the design of their houses they interestingly included two kitchens, a family one and a social one. They also made sure there was an open space where to handle their hammocks.
Family is a strong word for the Amerindians. Community is the strongest.
They have two kitchens to make sure everyone eats while at their house. They handle hammocks for all those friends and people who come from remote areas and need a place to sleep.