Residents in the neglected area of Friendship/Buxton backdam are crying out that for too long their human rights have been violated and they have been left to believe their cries and entreaties are not taken seriously.Help is more than a hill away for those living in the dungeons of a place once called ‘The Gully’, from where strangers and non-supporters of an imported prison escape gang were once prohibited.
Guyana Chronicle visited and spoke with a few men – young and middle-aged – within the community Tuesday, and their main concern was that they were being treated less than Guyanese,
though the days are over when they were receiving the brunt of the bestial handling by other criminals and the Joint Services, in a hostile society to which they had fallen victim.
In an emotional plea, Courtney McFarlane told this newspaper that the backdam area of Friendship had been totally neglected. “We’re being excluded from the past government, on to now. We would like to know when things will go down for us in terms of new opportunities.”
Visibly frustrated, the man stated, “We need a proper playground at the back here. We need help. There is so much we need. We need some stuff man! We need a whole lot of things!”
He was surrounded by just four other men, ages ranging from early 40s to teens, and as he pointed to the make-shift football ground, a single lot, which they had made into a recreation ground, he pointed out, “This place belong to people who abandoned their lands”.
In Friendship backdam, scenes of infrastructural rags and missing vitality are evident with its citizens scattered in various yards, and under a rugged make-shift shed, a scene that could parallel an abandoned refugee zone where war was once alive.
Lecturer of Arizona State University, USA and Political Activist David Hinds told Guyana Chronicle that the ‘backdam’ sections of Friendship/Buxton were in deep crises, being denied their human rights to education, work and leisure and he has called on government and human rights activists to empower the impoverished.
Hinds said certain rights of citizens had been denied because of a criminal stain which has been left there by criminals, strangers to the area, who moved in and took up residence after the infamous jail break in 2002, when five notorious criminals broke free.
“Often when we talk about human rights we talk about these high-flung things – denial of people the right to free speech and all those things – poor people are being denied their human right to work, human right to leisure, human right to education. And I think this human rights day is a good time to put a lot of emphasis on the empowerment of the least among us, the empowerment of the poor.”
A walk into Friendship/Buxton beyond the old train line road transfers one into a world which reveals poverty, but Hinds believe that the neglected residents should have a major share of the good life Guyana talks about.
“When you go down to Buxton backdam side what you’re seeing is really poverty, intense poverty. When we think about human rights now we have to think about human rights within the context of the ordinary people, the poor people, and to talk about their human rights. Here we talk about the good life for all Guyanese and the people who need that good life the most are the people at the back of Buxton, or at the back of Plaisance, or Ann’s Grove, or Queenstown on the Essequibo, or Fyrish on the Corentyne.”
When a community of hundreds of people have no place to host sporting activities, no school, and have been violently robbed of its main source of income its living becomes a state of emergency.
“It’s a real human rights violation that in this 21st century young people still have to be kicking ball in a small space in a private yard; that we don’t have a playground at the back there for those
young poor people to engage in sports. We don’t know who could be the next Carl Hooper, we don’t know who could be the next Brian Lara coming out from the back there if we give them the facilities.”
“How about education? It is time that we put one of the schools at the back there. All the schools are at the front of the village and none is at the back of the village. This has always been like that. It’s about giving them opportunity for education, opportunity to play sports and leisure, opportunities to earn a living and also the revitalisation of agriculture.”
Buxton was known for high production in agriculture, which had been disrupted over the years after the last government’ security operations to flush out dangerous criminals who were allegedly hiding out there. Their farms were bulldozed, resulting in major economic disturbances, and no action was taken for the villagers to be recompensed for their massive loss.
“It is a human rights issue … poor people in African villages, East Indian villages, Amerindian villages that we see their plight as a human right,” Hinds said.
Meanwhile, social activist Vincent Alexander said despite ugly events within the community in the past, residents of Friendship/Buxton are Guyanese and deserve rights of attention, as government should be responsive to all Guyanese.
“To the end of the day they are citizens of this country and they deserve the rights of attention. Attention is given by various sectors of the society and I rather suspect that the elements of the civil society sector may be those who have more than anyone else, stigmatised them and therefore may be unresponsive to them, but certainly the government should be responsive to all Guyanese in all circumstances in reaching out to them and giving them assistance.”
Residents themselves should also “be cognitive of the fact that they are living in a very competitive environment and that whilst the government has an obligation to reach out to them, that they also have a responsibility to themselves to ‘shout out’ at the relevant arms of government in whatever they wish to do,” he stated.
He said though government officials may be hard to reach, the ‘backdam’ villagers should have a list of proposed ideas as to “what is it that you want some assistance with” as they call on officials.
Not only should they depend totally on hand-outs from government but should seek empowerment to rise out of the slums and be included in Guyana’s development and in enjoying the goodness enjoyed by wider society. Residents of Friendship/Buxton backdam should form community development groups and approach government for the help they need.
“What government should be doing is assisting people in empowerment and not just merely giving them handouts for subsistence purposes… they should of their own accord have some kind of formation so that when they interact with the government they have a clear vision of what is it they want and a vision which entails empowerment and self-development rather than merely getting handouts from government,” Alexander advised.
After decades of being labelled as one of the worst places in Guyana and the door of inclusion into the society slammed in their faces, Buxton/Friendship men and youths will not give up this time, until they are recognised as true citizens of Guyana.
Residents believe it is time for the labels of notoriety to be torn away from the geographic space and government, donors and developers to walk home to youths and old alike and make them feel at home while they still abide at the only place they know as home.
Their needs far outweigh their faults, and as a people struggling to rise out of a Lazarus condition, they believe it is possible for them too to be loosed and let go.
By Shauna Jemmott