My first community visit as a researcher

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Ena George joined the North Rupununi District Development Board (NRDDB) as a community researcher for the Darwin traditional knowledge project at the start of the year. As a young community researcher, here she reflects on her first community engagement visit.

It was a day I will always remember – 20th May 2019. I had been in anticipation of this day because it would be the first time that I would travel to Crashwater village as a researcher. That morning, as the team and I busied ourselves with packing for our trip before we departed, I must admit I felt a bit anxious. I had been working with the Darwin project for a few months and it had been great. This trip though would be my first trip with the team to actually visit and engage in discussions with a community. Up until this trip, I had only seen photos that gave me an idea of what a community visit is like and why this is an important aspect of our project’s work. So I was rightfully anxious but at the same time excited!

In the days leading up to this trip we had meetings about the objective we wanted to meet and discussed the activities to be executed once we arrived at Crashwater. I was really impressed as I realized how much work and planning goes into a community visit. It was nice to be apart of the team – each of us being assigned tasks – and as everyone completed their tasks we got more and more prepared for our trip.

Crashwater village is located just a little way down the Rupununi River, 30 minutes by boat from Kwatamang Landing in the Annai District. On our arrival each team member took hold of a bag to take up since we were walking from the landing to the village centre. Team work is so important! I am happy to say we do not have any lazy team members. As we walked more and more into the village, the team shared some funny stories from their previous visits with me.

Once we were settled, our first order of business was to meet the Toshao. This is important as it shows respect for the Village Council. Plus we wanted to confirm they had agreed the meeting with the community members. Thankfully, the Toshao was waiting for us and had already reminded  the community members about the meeting time. That morning the Toshao and some other woman were processing the crabwood seed to make crabwood oil. I have never seen this and it was interesting to watch them sort the seeds. They gave us a quick rundown of the process they follow to get the oil. I wish I could have seen it all, but we had a meeting to prepare for!

The meeting was in the village benab, and once we had a good audience present the Toshao welcomed everyone and introduced our team, before inviting us to proceed with discussions. Being on this community visit really helped me to appreciate some of the things the team had agreed on as part of the planning. For example, even though a team member was speaking and explaining things in simple terms, it was clear to me that not all persons understood. We had anticpated this and so Bernie did a great job in translating from English to Makushi. Bernie and I were assigned this task. This was my first time engaging with commnunity members so I must admit that I was very nervous. Bernie and the others were encouraging though and told me I would build more confidence as I did more community outreach on the project.

We screened and gathered feedback on the videos related to managing the Iwokrama Forest and how traditional knowledge could help, and we also looked at the videos related to the relationship between Iwokrama, the communities and the NRDDB. We also presented results from working with the other communities looking at the challenges to maintaining and transmitting traditional knowledge. The discussions that followed were great – eeven in those brief interactions it was clear to me that community members do have some good ideas and just need to be given the chance to talk about it.  For example, someone thought the village should interact more at heritage celebrations and that would allow them to keep certain practices alive.

The meeting was a great success and we all left Crashwater feeling that we had accomplished our objectives. As we were leaving, zig-zagging our way out the creek and into the Rupununi River, I looked back towards Crashwater and thought to myself – ‘my first community visit with the team – check. I can’t wait for the next one’.

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Rebecca Xavier is a proud Amerindian woman, a descendant of the Wapishana nation. She has a sound primary school education, followed by experiences in the Wowetta Youth Environmental Club, and then further education at the Bina Hill Institute, Annai where she trained in ICT, agriculture, basic maths, English and leadership skills. She is fluent in Wapishana, Makushi and English, and has worked for the North Rupununi District Development Board (NRDDB), a local Indigenous community-based organization, in different roles over the last twelve years.