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Guyana Diaspora Project Helps Nationals Connect with Homeland

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t was a freezing, rainy evening in Washington, D.C., yet more than 100 Guyanese-Americans living in Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey and New York showed up anyway for the Feb. 22 inauguration of the Guyanese government’s ambitious Guyana Diaspora Project.

“You have to be quite patriotic to brave this weather and be here tonight,” said the country’s ambassador to the United States, Bayney Karran, speaking under a huge white tent set up in the backyard of the Guyanese Embassy. “The size of this crowd is a symbol of your commitment to Guyana.” Karran, addressing his compatriots on the eve of Guyana’s 43rd anniversary as a republic, was joined on the podium by Foreign Minister Carolyn RodriguesBirkett and by Rui Oliveira Reis of the International Organization for Migration (IOM). “For decades now,” said the ambassador, “our primary resource, our people, have engaged in a pattern of steady migration which has adversely affected our development. Guyana must extend the pool of our human resources beyond the perimeters of our national territory by compiling a guideline of the skills, resources and level of interest available in the Diaspora. This will give both the government and the private sector a reliable means of reaching Guyanese overseas for our nation’s development.” While the same could be said for any number of Central American, Caribbean or African countries working to improve living standards, in Guyana’s case this migration is profound: With only 750,000 people inhabiting a remote territory the size of Great Britain — its former colonizer — more Guyanese today live outside the country than in it, giving Guyana one of the highest migration rates in the world. Karran said one of the goals of the Guyana Diaspora Project (GUYD) is to minimize the practice of different Diaspora groups undertaking missions that sometimes overlap with each other. “This,” he said, “will help to dispel the notion among some in the Diaspora that their desire to help is being met with indifference.” GUYD is a partnership between the Guyanese government and Geneva-based IOM, which has 9,000 staffers working at nearly 500 offices in 150 countries. Reis, a Portuguese citizen who’s spent the last three years in Georgetown, said such endeavors are a good fit with his organization. “Migration and development is of great importance for IOM. It’s something we have years of experience with,” he said. “In Guyana, the Diaspora has played an important and positive role regarding direct investment, human capital transfer, philanthropic contributions, remittances, capital markets and tourism.” In fact, he said, 80 percent of all visitors to Guyana are Guyanese citizens who live abroad. “However, this role can be expanded to include transferrable skills and networks that are integral to the development of the basic economy,” Reis told his

April • May 2013

Photo: Larry Luxner

One thing will never change, and that is where you’re from. So our government has taken a different approach to this issue of migration.

— Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, foreign minister of Guyana

audience. “We live in an era of unprecedented mobility. It’s very common that you live in one country, and your children live and study in another country. But that doesn’t mean you’re not attached to your country.” Reis said GUYD is the first serious effort “to build a constructive relationship with the Diaspora” since Guyana’s independence in 1966. “But the magnitude of this engagement cannot be the sole responsibility of government alone,” he said. “We, the IOM, are already on board, providing guidance and technical expertise. Now we invite you to come on board.” Rodrigues-Birkett, Guyana’s former minister of Amerindian affairs, said she laments the “brain drain” so prevalent throughout the English-speaking Caribbean — but has no desire to criticize her fellow Guyanese who left for better opportunities in the United States, Canada or England. “The reality is that with the advancement of technology and so many people having access to the Internet, people will see where opportunities exist,” said Rodrigues-Birkett, speaking at her first official function at the Guyanese Embassy in Washington since her appointment as foreign minister. “They will probably live in several countries over their lifetimes. So we have to see migration through a different lens now. How can we Sponsored Report

benefit from their skills and other resources regardless of where they’re living?” Guyana needs to improve its infrastructure, she said, and even though they may no longer live there, Guyanese émigrés are still eager to build up their homeland and see it prosper. “In my travels to several countries, I have met Guyanese from all walks of life, and of course some of them have given me a good tongue-lashing about what we need to fix in Guyana. All of them have said they’re interested in Guyana’s development, and that to me is what matters,” said Rodrigues-Birkett. “One thing will never change, and that is where you’re from. So our government has taken a different approach to this issue of migration,” she added. “I’m not here to tell you to come back to Guyana, that our streets are paved with gold. But I know people in the Diaspora who just want to help a child. Other people are already helping hospitals. Some of you might send remittances to your relatives.” The Guyanese Embassy already has more than 2,000 names and email addresses on its mailing list, but it urges any member of the Guyanese Diaspora who hasn’t yet signed up to do so. Opportunities for investment are plentiful, the foreign Continued on Page 14

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