Stories by Daniel DaCosta
October 21, 2000
Scottsburg, Corriverton - on the frontline
Twenty-five years ago in January 1975 a group of residents between Numbers 75 and 79 villages, which formed part of the Corriverton township on the Upper Corentyne, took the first step towards acquiring their own homes after being tenants for several years.
The initial step included registering members for a housing co-operative and identifying a 3-mile square plot of land then described as "savannah" as the site for a scheme. By February, the multi-ethnic membership numbered 55.
Society chairman, Francis Austin recalled that then housing Minister Steve Narine had suggested the establishment of the scheme to counter a major housing problem in the township.
The co-operative was subsequently named the Scottsburg Housing Co-operative after the Mayor Joseph Nataniel Scott who was instrumental in making the land available to the society.
The area which comprised 99 house lots was cleared and irrigated and streets were built entirely by self-help.
By December 1976 the first group of six members from the batch of 55 had moved into their new homes also built by self-help. The first phase of the scheme which involved the construction of 55 houses was completed by December 1976.
Phase Two which was launched in 1992 to construct 40-odd houses is still being developed.
Scottsburg is located some 44 miles from New Amsterdam on the left bank of the Corentyne River and approximately one and one-half miles from the Corriverton Town Hall and Municipal market.
It is bordered to the north by Number 75 village and the south by Dukestown - with a population of approximately 700 persons.
On August 25 last, the tranquility of this riverside community was rocked by the sounds of gunfire from two Surinamese Coast Guard vessels which were chasing a Guyanese passenger boat returning from the neighbouring republic to the Scottsburg beach.
The Surinamese soldiers then launched a dinghy and pursued the small craft in an effort to apprehend it and arrest its occupants. They had earlier fired shots in the air while chasing the boat along the coastline. Following the landing of the soldiers on the beach, a struggle ensued between the crew members of the small craft and the invaders.
The shots which were fired earlier brought residents from Scottsburg and other adjoining districts to the beach. Within minutes a crowd of some 70-odd residents had converged on the beach, vociferously protesting the flagrant incursion by the Surinamese and their attempt to apprehend the vessel.
The invaders apparently fearful of a possible violent confrontation departed the Guyana shores, but not before firing several shots in the air to disperse the advancing crowd.
The two patrol boats, however, again tried to take custody of the small craft as it journeyed to its base at Shereema Landing but the craft was able escape the clutches of the hostile invaders.
Sixty-three-year-old Francis Austin, a retired shift manager from GUYSUCO's Skeldon estate, says: "People saw the incursion by the Surinamese soldiers as an affront. We must, however, show the Surinamese that they cannot repeat such incursions in future. People, unfortunately, still look out for the patrol boats to return."
"There is need," he insists, "for the Guyana Defence Force to be equipped with patrol boats to conduct regular patrols on the river and to move its base from No.63 to Scottsburg."
Austin was one of the first six members to move into his self-help home on December 16, 1976, and according to him, some 70 of the 99 houselots in the scheme are occupied today.
The sight of hostile foreign soldiers armed to the teeth in two naval boats pursuing unarmed Guyanese civilians, including an elderly woman, is still as vivid as ever in the minds of those who witnessed the aggression.
The forgotten ex-Mayor
Joseph Nataniel Scott at 76 is now a frail man in the twilight of his long and distinguished life, not now enjoying the best of health. Today he lives almost like a recluse with his wife and daughter in a small cottage at Lot 12, Trinity Avenue, Daunty City, Linepath "C" Corriverton, among rank and file sugar workers.
The cottage is a stone's throw from Guysuco's Skeldon Estate and across the road from its canefields and the canals that are used to transport canes to the factory. Between 1974 and 1976 Joseph Scott served as the `chief citizen' of the Corentyne River town, Corriverton.
Today, 26 years later he is a forgotten ex-Mayor, silently bearing the hurt of not receiving recognition for his contributions towards the development of the town he once administered.
His name will however remain etched in the annals of the town on Guyana's eastern border - and on the nameplate of a housing scheme named after him.
Scottsburg Co-operative Housing Scheme was named after him following its establishment in 1975 in recognition of his role in making the dreams of scores a reality.
When Stabroek News caught up with the diminutive ex-Mayor at his home about 400 metres from the public road he was sitting under the cottage alone and in a pensive mood. During our conversation he experienced difficulty in recalling details of his term as Mayor.
He, however, calls to mind that the area now called Scottsburg was once covered with bush and overgrowth. Asked about the naming of the scheme, he said "the people in the area decided to name it after me probably because they thought I had made a meaningful contribution towards its development."
During his tenure, several streets were built, a launch service was introduced to Orealla, a number of self-help activities were undertaken and a municipal education bursary award scheme was introduced for SSEE students. He was also instrumental in the opening of two nursery schools at Linepath and Number 79 Village.
Joseph Nataniel Scott, the father of four boys and two girls, recounts nostalgically attending Suriname's Independence celebrations as Mayor in 1975, and the visits of African leaders Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia to the township of approximately 30,000.
As J.N. Scott, J.P. and Commissioner of Oaths and Affidavits sits out his last days in the solitude of his Linepath home he will no doubt continue to yearn for that recognition and respect he justly deserves.
Potable water after two decades
Beach is recreation ground
A small multi-ethnic community, Scottsburg on the edge of Guyana's eastern coastline is one where its people live in peace and harmony, flowing from the self-help spirit that built the scheme twenty-five years ago.
A relatively recent self-help exercise was the ditching and laying of pipelines in 1998 to bring potable water to their homes for the first time in two decades.
In 1978 the well at No. 73 village which supplied the area broke down and left some 700 residents without water for the next 20 years.
Residents recalled having to travel almost one mile to Springlands to fetch the vital commodity. However, a project funded by the Government of Guyana in collaboration with the British government eventually brought relief to the folks.
The population is largely one of young people whose main problems are unemployment and the absence of recreational facilities.
Recently work began on a plot of land long identified for a playground and, according to Civic Councillor and Deputy Mayor Arthur Corlette, the land has been cleared and ploughed.
"The area will eventually be fenced with assistance from the Town Council and residents and will accommodate several sports including football, volleyball, cricket and basketball. Mayor Roy Baijnauth who is also president of the Berbice Cricket Board of Control and myself are working assiduously to develop the area for the benefit of the community," he told Stabroek News recently.
In the absence of a playground, the nearby one-mile long Scottsburg Beach has become a football and cricket field for the youths of the housing scheme and a number of youths can be seen on a daily basis "kicking ball" and playing softball cricket.
What residents say
Doris Mangal referred to Scottsburg as "a quiet area where you can leave your doors open without fear of anyone stealing from you. I enjoy living in Scottsburg, but there is need for a daycare centre, a play-school and employment opportunities for qualified young people. Jobs are not available in Corriverton or Berbice for our young people and this is very depressing."
The housewife is calling on the council to clean and maintain the inter-lot drains and to clear the area of bush and overgrowth. Concern has also been expressed over the dumping of garbage on the beach by businessmen from nearby villages and areas. The residents of Scottsburg are calling on those responsible to desist from such practices since they would like to keep their environment clean.
Sixteen-year-old Charles Felix is one of about six teenagers who sat this year's Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) exams and he is one among scores with an uncertain future.
"I plan to enter a SIMAP training programme and later seek a job." He bemoaned the fact that youths in the area are unwilling to assist in the development of the playground even though they need the facilities. Echoing the concern of all the residents, the young man suggested the establishment of small industries in the area to create jobs for young people.
His parents own one of three shops in the area, but according to Charles "business is slow because most people do their shopping at the Corriverton market and central shopping area."
Does the former Skeldon High student remember the incursion?
"I was afraid when I heard the shots and what was going on. A lot of people were scared. People are still afraid that it might happen again." He is of the view that "government should provide boats to the GDF to patrol the river and ensure the Surinamese do not venture onto Guyana's territory with guns and boats again."
Fifty-one-year-old Blossom Phillips' grandmother, mother and daughter were all born in Suriname. "The incursion was wrong, but the Surinamese have been indoctrinating their young people by telling them the Corentyne River is theirs. I think they will always repeat such acts because they feel no one will oppose them. They will only stop if the Guyana government does something to prevent such acts in the future."
Natasha Corlette at 18 is one of the few fortunate teenagers in Scottsburg who secured employment with the Guyana Revenue Authority (Corriverton branch) after writing the CXC exams last year. She shares the concerns of the community about unemployment and the absence of recreational facilities.
"Transportation to get to work in the mornings is also a big problem since I have to wait for long periods to get a Tapir (van) or car to take me to work."
Asked about the incursion on August 25, she recalls "a lot of people were scared and worried. Today they are scared it might happen again," and she too is urging the GDF to undertake regular patrols after government provides them with patrol boats.
There are no public institutions in Scottsburg - no church, market, or health clinic. These are all found within a mile of the scheme in the heart of the town.
However, Kampta Persaud, a former public school teacher runs a private school at Scottsburg with a student population of 200. The Berbice Educational College (BEC) was opened in 1995 as an "all-age" school catering for secondary level students from forms one to five leading up to the CXC. The small one-flat concrete school has a staff of three. Fees vary according to the different levels - students in forms one to three pay $1,000 per month; students in form four pay $1,500, and those in form five pay $1,700 per month.
Some parents of students attending the school have expressed concern over the quality of tuition contending that there is only one trained teacher on the staff. They are also concerned over the curriculum and are requesting the Region Six department of education to examine the quality of education being delivered at the school.
Aftermath of August 25 incursion
For almost one hour, a crowd of brave and angry Berbicians had defied the aggression of Surinamese soldiers who on the morning of August 25 tried desperately to apprehend a Guyanese passenger boat with five passengers aboard.
The early morning silence was shattered by the sound of at least seven rounds of gunshots as the two gunboats, PO1 and PO6, pursued the passenger boat across the Corentyne River. The chase ended on the Scottsburg beach as four armed soldiers tried to push the boat back into the water bent on taking it back to Suriname. But the crowd of Corriverton residents was also equally determined to prevent the aggressive Surinamese from succeeding.
Despite being notified the police at Springlands and the GDF Coast Guard failed to respond to the incursion.
Instead it was those brave, patriotic, multi-ethnic Berbicians who repelled the invaders and protected the crew members of the passenger boat.
Today, nearly two months after the incursion, while some Scottsburg residents say they are still fearful, others say they are prepared to defy any future attempts to violate Guyana's territorial integrity.
The general consensus is that the GDF must be equipped immediately to deter any such intentions by the Surinamese navy.
Some point to the cordial relations at the people to people level on one hand and the obvious aggressive posture of the Surinamese army and police towards Guyanese on the other hand.
Others who lived in the former Dutch colony also refer to the "open secret" of the involvement of some members of the Suriname national leger (army) in drug trafficking and abuse, and this could be a likely reason for such aggression by members of the Suriname army.
While the serenity has once again returned to Scottsburg, the fears remain below the surface. The big question on the minds of all is: "Will they try it again?"
As the illegal passenger trade continues on a daily basis, many Scottsburg residents are still living in fear of the aftermath of the August 25 incursion.
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