Wednesday, 20 May 2015


"Besides all the GREAT POSITIVES that are listed below  we will FINALLY have a Minister of Amerindian Affairs who is ALSO married to a fellow Amerindian, not the usual mascots who used to be controlled via their spouses who were of the dominant ethnic group of the racial political party in power." Damon Gerard Corrie 
Video of Sidney Allicock explaining how Eco tourism provides jobs for native peoples

By Neil Marks
Sydney Allicock has been called a hero; some have even suggested he run for President. The respect he commands is no pretence. He has earned it.
Even if his work wasn’t done silently – since there was always some recognition of what he was doing in the North Rupununi for the advancement of his people – it was his being named the Public & Civic Contributions 2010 Laureate of the Anthony N. Sabga Awards, that catapulted Sydney into the limelight.
He has been hailed as the pioneer of community tourism in Guyana and is held as a visionary Amerindian leader who is not only interested in the economic development of the Amerindian people of the North Rupununi, but he is also deeply involved in ensuring that the Amerindian culture stays alive.

Dr Anthony N. Sabga (left) receives the gift of a Makushi bow-and-arrow from Mr Allicock during a reception in G/town for the 2010 Caribbean Awards Laureate in Public & Civic Contributions.
He led the Surama community in implementing a sustainable tourism project that has been copied by other Amerindian communities in Guyana and is considered a model for development of the country’s interior.
Surama is located a 30-minute land-rover ride away from Annai, the central administrative district of the communities of the North Rupununi, itself some 420 kilometres (261 miles) from the capital Georgetown.
The village of 42 families is as beautiful and impressive as the efforts of the villagers to keep their community intact through tourism, offering visitors an awe-inspiring insight into the jungle and savannah, its wildlife, and their primeval Macushi culture.
“The finest park that England boasts falls short of this delightful scene” is how Englishman Charles Waterton described the village writing in “Wanderings in South America” after his stumble upon Surama in 1812.
Today, Surama, with its thatched roof cottage houses, sits in a basin circled by the foothills of the imposing Pakaraima Mountains, remaining true to Waterton’s idyllic portrayal.
Modern day Surama had its beginning a mere 40 years ago, and just about 15 years after it offered to take care of some college students from Iowa, USA, the village today has emerged as a model for community tourism in Guyana with its conservation efforts drawing considerable attention. And the credit goes to Sydney.
Allicock serves as the Executive Director of Surama Eco-Tourism, which employs 70 members of the community as hospitality staff, guides, cooks, artisans, and drivers, or indirectly as farmers, hunters, fishermen, tailors, and maintenance workers. Approximately 60 per cent of the community’s income is now generated through sustainable tourism-related activities, and 75 per cent of Surama’s households derive income from tourism.
Sydney relates that when the two groups of students visited in 1996, they asked if the village could prepare meals for them and could find places for them to sleepover. The humble people of Surama agreed, not expecting to be paid for their hospitality, but they were.
“You mean you’re paying us?” Sydney remembered the villagers saying, surprised.
“They (the visitors) loved the river (Burro Burro) and the forests. They looked at fungi, animals and insects. They loved the jungle walks,” he added.
From the two trips of the Iowa students, the community had enough money to set up a guest house.
“We didn’t know how to make a guest house. When the visitors came we had them guessing,” Sydney said, laughing.
At first, the community only pays its skilled workers, with all other work being done by the villagers voluntarily.
Every Monday villagers “volunteer” to work as a village rule and anyone who fails to show up without a reasonable excuse has to pay a fine of $500!
Born in the 1950s, Sydney Allicock went to Primary School in the village of Surama but since no secondary school existed, that was the end of his education.
This is one of the main reasons he fashioned the innovative Bina Hill Institute and its Youth Training/Youth Learning Centre, which takes in out-of-school youths from the Rupununi region, offering them the kind of opportunity Sydney never had himself.

His work in community development, the empowerment of young people and Amerindian women in particular, is unparalleled. The North Rupununi District Development Board, which manages 16 Amerindian communities inhabited by 10% of the country’s total Amerindian population, finding economic opportunities and investing in cultural revival of indigenous languages, is his brainchild. For years, he voluntarily served as the board chairman, and continues to do so today.
As Toshao of Annai, Sydney started celebrations for Amerindian Heritage Day which were later adopted as a national event by the Guyana government. Now Amerindian Heritage Day is celebrated in a different village each year, bringing both investment and national attention to indigenous communities around Guyana.
His accomplishments are firmly rooted in his concept of partnerships, and he has consistently promoted the three-legged stool model – that of partnership between the authorities, the Amerindians, and investors.
Through his work in Surama, Sydney has stressed conservation.
Through community consensus, a 20 square kilometre (12.5 sq. mile) protected area was created by the village. Wildlife trapping and harvesting of endangered tree species are banned, and reforestation and monitoring programmes were introduced. Anecdotal indications show wildlife populations and endangered tree species are rebounding and expanding as a result.
Under Sydney Allicock’s leadership, the Surama Cultural Group has been set up. The group motivates and preserves the Makushi culture, especially among the youth. The group composes and performs dances, songs, poems and skits about the Makushi way of life. The cultural group has just released an album of Makushi songs – the first such venture by any Amerindian group in Guyana.
In Surama, a women’s cassava-making project supports and showcases the local industry, and the Women’s Activity Centre is a place for craft-making, sewing, embroidery, and for selling the items.
Sydney’s contributions to the development of the Makushi people of the Rupununi is unmatched, and he is now a leading voice in Guyana, the Caribbean and internationally for his advocacy in the protection of Amerindian rights and the sustainable use of the natural resources.
His professional training has been in the living laboratory of the Guyana rainforest in which his village Surama is nested. His qualifications are expertise in traditional knowledge, affirmation of traditional skills, pride in his ancestry, and turning into contemporary value this rich, centuries-old wisdom and knowledge passed on to him by his ancestors.
Today, Sydney serves as one of Iwokrama’s key lecturers and tutors for its Training Services Centre where he has helped train hundreds of young Guyanese, mostly from the local communities in leadership, survival skills and eco-tourism development.
He is also one of the Directors of the company that manages Iwokrama’s famous rainforest Canopy Walkway. He has accompanied Mr. Suzuki – of Canadian First Peoples fame – on a speaking tour to various Canadian universities and colleges, and was hosted by Professor Swaminathan of South India, (Iwokrama’s first Director-General) to his world famous programme in the sub-continent where he saw firsthand community institutions and women in particular, who were researching and producing a range of non-timber forest products from their own forests and natural resources, giving him the impetus to weave into the Bina Hill Institute similar efforts.
A major contribution has been his leadership in founding and supporting the establishment of the North Rupununi District Development Board (NRDDB). This non-governmental organisation is a milestone in Amerindian social history. The NRDDB serves as the forum for decision-making, information and communication and benefit-sharing for sixteen villages and communities of the North Rupununi.
Sydney Allicock currently serves as a member on the Multi-Stakeholder Committee of Guyana’s innovative Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) – where he represents the NRDDB’s sixteen North Rupununi communities. He is committed to the vision of the LCDS and has spearheaded a series of community low carbon consultations.
Sydney’s work has been recognised through awards, with notable recognition including: (i) The Guyana Medal of Service for work in community development in the North Rupununi in 1994; (ii) The ‘Tourism for Tomorrow’ Award from the Tourism and Hospitality Association of Guyana in 1999; (iii) Awards from the Guyana Ministry of Amerindian Affairs for community
development in 2003 and 2006; (iv) The Community Tourism Award from the Tourism and Hospitality Association of Guyana in 2006; (v) The Community Tourism Award from the Guyana Tourism Authority in 2008; and (vi) The Responsible Tourism Showcase Award from the US Educational Travel Conference (ETC), New Orleans, USA in 2009.
Mr Allicock’s contributions and achievements have been hailed by his colleagues.  Among them is the Director of Resource Management and Training at Iwokrama, who says: “Sydney Allicock is clearly recognised as one of the most respected and dedicated leaders in Guyana and this is clearly seen in the vast number of meetings (nationally and internationally) that he is called on to represent the Indigenous point of view and also the application of the many, many lessons he has been learning over the years in the North Rupununi. An outstanding attribute of Sydney is his absolute willingness to share his knowledge at all levels — always with great humility, and also his wonderful sense of humour which he is well known for.”
Sydney’s legacy is firmly rooted in the Rupununi and his example and inspiration is for all Guyana.

By Raymond Ramcharitar

Allicock delivers a speech after receiving his award. Photograph Courtesy JCD Productions

As he stood before the large audience at the main ballroom at Hilton Trinidad in April, Sydney Allicock, clad in a simple white shirt with matching trousers, and a bright Amerindian chieftain’s ceremonial collar, seemed overcome by the moment. “I feel like singing a song,” he said, with a wide grin, to the audience.
The moment was when he was presented with the Anthony N Sabga 2010 Caribbean Award for Excellence in the area of public and civic contributions, for his work in environmental conservation, and advocacy for the Guyanese First Peoples. The self-deprecating gesture was typical of Allicock: to appear to be overwhelmed by the gravity and formality of the occasion – but to firmly say his piece anyway. At the function, as in life, he wasn’t at a loss for the right words. In his village, Allicock is known as a raconteur of some skill, and those who know him, like Dr Raquel Thomas of the Iwokrama Rainforest Centre in Guyana, on whose board of trustees he sits, speak of his humility and unfailing good nature. His poems have been published in the journal Kyk Over Al, and he has performed at the Guyana Cultural Centre.
But Allicock, 55, confesses that he is more at home in the Guyanese interior, where he was born, and has lived all his life, as a member of the Makushi Nation of First Peoples. The nine surviving nations of the First, or Indigenous Peoples of Guyana, have traditionally been at the bottom of the political and social ladder, and, until relatively recently, off the developmental agenda. Allicock remembers that in his childhood, when the church ran the schools, attitudes were practically medieval. “We used to play a game,” he recalled. “The name of the game was wirao, meaning ‘last touch’. When the teacher heard this, he called us and asked, ‘What did I hear you say?’ So I told him.
“‘That is not a language,’ he said. ‘You have to stop talking that gibberish’ – and whipped me.”
This was not an unusual experience for a child from such a background. But it had a profound effect on the way Allicock saw the world. He was the eldest of 12 children, and from an early age, was a kind of surrogate parent. He started working young, married young, and had nine children of his own (and 25 grandchildren), while working as a cattle herder, a balata (tree-gum) trapper, and with the military. His work took him across Guyana, and what he saw was not encouraging. The Indigenous Peoples “were in a bowl of stagnation, and we were waiting for the government to do everything,” he said. To do anything about it, he knew he would have to become involved in politics, and he was elected Toshao (chief) of the Annai, in Region No. Nine, the North Rupununi in 1989. He is also today the chairman of the North Rupununi District Development Board.
It was around the time of Allicock’s entry into politics, the early 1990s, that environmental conservation began to become an issue of global importance. The Iwokrama Centre in Guyana is a nature reserve which was established in 1996 for the purpose of developing “methods and techniques for sustainable management and utilisation of the multiple resources of the tropical forest”. The reserved areas were traditionally the territory of 18 communities of Makushis, who partnered with the Iwokrama project.
Before Iwokrama and the new paradigm of development, Allicock remembers, the life of the native people was “hard but sweet”. They derived a living from the forest, but did not destroy the forest to do it. With the growing interest in a sustainable lifestyle, and the non-invasive exploitation of natural resources, it became clear to Allicock that some mutual benefit could be derived from those who wanted to find out about conservation, and those who knew and lived it.
But even with the native regard for the environment, there were other signs of impending change from within the community. The need for a change in the way of life became apparent, he says, when “we missed the golden parakeet” – a previously common bird, which had disappeared as a result of excessive hunting. The same applied to over-fishing: indigenous species of fish were close to disappearing as human populations increased and outside interests encroached.
The tourism thrust began with an experiment in Allicock’s native village of Surama. Now, there are tours, nature-watching, jungle-survival courses, boat trips. They started in 1998 with 38 people. In 2009, reports Allicock, there were more than 500 visitors, and next year is already booked out. Some 70 per cent of the villagers derive incomes from the tourism effort, known as “community-based tourism”. They are able to operate largely without the native/expatriate frissons that come with the “resort” model of tourism development, where large hotels are placed in the middle of a pristine area, and create a separate ecology and sociology.
Allicock’s advocacy is not limited to the environment, and extends to the people who live in it. “When I was in school,” he recalls, “there was this little girl who could not learn English, and every day she got licks. That stayed with me.” When he became Toshao, he saw an opportunity, in 1991, via a UNDP initiative, to record and preserve the Makushi language. He found Makushi women to participate and today, there is a Makushi dictionary, books on the Makushis’ traditional way of life, and books written in Makushi dealing with health and lifestyle issues.
Education is an important part of Allicock’s agenda. In 2002, he was one of the key parties in setting up the Amerindian Institute, now called the Bina Hill Institute for Research, Development and Training. The institute provides training in the areas of natural resource management, cultural preservation, economic development, locally relevant research. The institute runs solar-powered computers, provides Internet access, and hosts a radio station which broadcasts part of the time in the Makushi language. Training is provided in effective agriculture, financial management, computer skills, survey techniques, map-making skills, and animal husbandry.
But as admirable as this was and is, Allicock is still more ambitious. He never had the opportunity to attend secondary school, but has been instrumental in setting up a secondary school in the North Rupununi. The school started eight years ago with 43 children, and today, more than 300 are enrolled.
The secondary school has produced some students who have gone on to tertiary education. The worry with all this, as with everywhere else, is how to keep the educated people in the region. Indeed, the clash of worldviews is one of the more pressing issues facing traditional communities who try to keep their children interested in their own way of life.
Allicock is one of those rare people who can reconcile tradition and modernity. In his acceptance statement at the Sabga awards ceremony, he said: “This evening is opening up a way for us to meet the demands of change and development. We [indigenous peoples] cannot remain in the same old ways. For us to survive, we need to get on board.”
This pragmatism is reflected in a statement attributed to him about the road that now connects Guyana and Brazil. Reacting to concerns that the road would bring the outside world in to displace the indigenous communities, Allicock responded, “The question is, do we use the road, or do we let the road use us?”
Recently, with the help of Conservation Guyana, the first Indigenous Peoples’ lawyer began working with the communities. And Allicock plans to use some of his Sabga award to help some promising young people in Guyana to attend medical and law school. The benefits of modern life to these communities are evident. But what is becoming more evident, through the efforts of Allicock, and the few people like him, is the benefits that these communities bring to modern life.

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