NGO Activity in Guyana: Canadian Crossroads International
By Cecilia McAlmont
Stabroek News
December 12, 2002

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In just over twenty four hours, the country representative of Canadian Crossroads International Guyana (CCI) and members of its country committee including its first and longest serving country representative, and the four CCI volunteers currently working in Guyana will join members of the CCI committee in Bartica for a closing ceremony. This ceremony will bring to an end over three decades of activity during which, quietly but consistently, CCI has made a contribution towards the development of our human resources. But who is CCI? What it is and the work it has been doing in Guyana and other countries of the South are the focus of this article.

Origins, goals and objectives of CCI

More than three decades ago, during the turmoil and trauma of the civil rights era, a black American, Rev. Dr. James H. Robinson, scarred and disillusioned by the racial prejudice in his own country envisioned “One World” in which people of different races could live in harmony because they understood and appreciated human diversity. He believed that this understanding would only come if people from the North actually went to live and work side by side with people from the South. These cross-cultural contacts, it was hoped, would help to break down racial prejudice and make for a better world. Not surprisingly, it was not his native America, but Canada which, during the era of slavery had been the end of the Underground Railroad for runaway slaves from the plantations of Southern United States that his ideas ultimately came to fruition. The initial idea was to send white volunteers to live in the homes of Africans, share their family life and learn about their culture while working with them on development projects that would help to improve their lives. This is how Canadian Crossroads International was born. Endorsed and supported by the Canadian authorities, the idea soon spread. Within a short period “Crossroaders” of all ages were volunteering not only in Africa, but also in Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean to demonstrate the Reverend’s firm conviction that “colour is only skin deep; character, ethics, culture and decency are more significant.”

CCI has three basic programmes. An Overseas programme under which Canadian volunteers are placed in Southern partner countries. A To-Canada programme under which volunteers from Southern partner countries are placed with Canadian organisations and an Interflow programme which allows for the exchange of volunteers between Southern partner countries. These programmes are run by CCI’S four offices - Atlantic, Quebec, Ontario - under which Guyana falls - and Western. Over the decades, the number of volunteers has increased and CCI now places 200 volunteers annually. Also, the nature and scope of its programmes and placements have changed. These changes have been partly in response to the changing needs of CCI’s Southern partners. More specifically however, they reflect the changing priorities of its principal funder, CIDA whose mandate is to ensure the achievement of Canada’s Official Development Assistance goal - “to support sustainable development in developing countries in order to reduce poverty and to contribute to a more secure, equitable and prosperous world.” To this end, over the past six years CCI’s programmes in its partner countries have worked towards sustainable development, poverty reduction, building civil society, and gender and development. Using a capacity building approach, its priority sectors are health, education, social services with emphasis on Women in Development and Children at Risk, economic development with the emphasis on micro entrepreneurs and national resources.

The CCI Guyana Programme

Guyana was the first country in the Caribbean where CCI commenced its activities in 1970. For the first three years, volunteers were sent directly to NGOS like the YMCA. However with a view to coordinating the work of the volunteers in a more efficient manner, in 1974, the first country representative, Mr. Nelson Bakker, president of the Linden YMCA was appointed. He held that position for 18 years and remains one of CCI’s longest serving country representatives. In the early years, volunteers were attached to NGOS, educational institutions, some private sector and several public sector organisations, where, depending on their skills, they assisted in the development and delivery of the organisations’ programmes. However, the emphasis was on ensuring that, while assisting the organisations, the volunteers, in keeping with Rev. Johnson’s ideals, were exposed to maximum cross- cultural contacts. Some six Guyanese went to Canada as “To Canada” volunteers where, like the volunteers in Guyana, they spent some twelve weeks living with a Canadian family and working with mainly private sector organisations.

It was soon realised that many of the volunteers who were sent to Guyana and other Southern countries for a primarily cross-cultural experience often had skills which were not needed by Southern partner organizations. Many were therefore not making the contribution they were capable of. Southern partners began requesting skills based placements. Guyana hosted CCI’S International Consultation in April 1996. It was decided that CCI’S human resources contribution to building Guyana’s capacity would be more meaningful if all volunteers were sent to one particular community where the impacts of their contribution would be easily observable. Bartica was chosen and in September 1997 a CCI sub committee was set up under the leadership of Ms. Rita Brouet, a returned To Canada Crossroader.

Since September 1996, Bartica has hosted 20 volunteers. They have worked in education at both the primary and secondary level as teachers in Art, Mathematics, Drama, English and Information Technology among others.

They have also worked with the Region Seven Agricultural Station and Lands and Surveys and Education Departments, the Neighbourhood Democratic Council, and the Bartica Hospital and with the CRY of AIDS Project - Bartica now the Hope Foundation. As a result of CCI’s human resource interventions, Bartica has grown as a community. CCI Bartica has set the pace in many ways - in providing youths with leadership skills, and training Barticians as counsellors. As a result, many have been able to find employment.

Additionally, the technique used in hosting volunteers has been copied and is now being used by other NGOs in the community. Its input into Cry of AIDS Project has been significant. Growth and development of individuals are evident. Latent skills have been unearthed and have led to the empowerment of individuals in the community. During the same period, Bartica has sent eleven volunteers to Canada. They worked in various social and educational sectors e.g. Day Care Centres, Shelters for Abused Women and HIV/AIDS Centres. Their training has contributed to the development of the programme planning skills of Barticians, and the identification of projects for various age groups in Bartica.

In 1999, CCI embarked on developing a new Strategic Plan with a view to changing the articulation of its programmes to be more in keeping with CIDA’S stated priorities. It re-examined its mission, values and vision statements and developed a programme to work more directly with likeminded NGOS in its partner countries.

However, by far the most important decision taken was that in order to maximise its development impact in each partner country, provide substantive support and address current capacity, CCI must focus its programming in fewer countries and significantly reduce the number of partner countries in a transition period.

Among the several criteria used to determine the countries to be reduced were the - country’s position on the United Nation’s Human Development Index, the country’s level of need, long term security and stability of the country and the number of other Volunteer Sending Agencies (VSA) operating in the country. In addition to Guyana, the Ontario cluster also includes Ghana, Togo, India, and Kenya. At 103 this year on that Index, Guyana is the highest of the countries in that cluster. More importantly, there are significant numbers of VSAS operating in Guyana. As the programme officer remarked, after the decision to reduce Guyana was taken, “while Guyana continues to need capacity building, there are other countries which need CCI’s resources more.” And so we go to Bartica this Friday to bid farewell. As Guyana leaves the CCI family, we wish CCI well in its endeavours and hope that it strives to include more Southern voices in its decision making process and to work towards improving its communication not only between it and its partner countries but among its partner countries as well.

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