Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : February 15th 2016 Contents A8
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Monday, February 15, 2016
6.1000 6.3380 6.5044
4.3093 4.5361 4.8537
8.7061 9.1643 9.8248
6.7812 7.1381 7.6635
****** 0.0563 0.0603
2.1370 2.3228 2.5109
* 2.5987 ******
for FEBRUARY 12TH, 2016
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Lenin Thomas, 30, is a member of
a unique Amerindian tribe living in a
part of Guyana s rainforests so remote
it is accessible only by airplane.
He is also a final year theology stu-
dent at the University of Southern
Caribbean (USC) in Maracas Valley, a
fairly normal achievement for many
but a significant accomplishment for
Thomas has survived major envi-
ronmental, social, financial, personal
battles which threatened his very exis-
tence to make it to university.
He comes from the Akawaio tribe of
the Mazaruni region on the border
between Guyana and Venezuela. There,
eagles fly overhead, jaguars roam the
forests and anacondas swim in the rivers
and anger and violence is censored
among the tribe. However, the love for
gold and diamonds, which is abundant
in Mazaruni, is threatening the complete
obliteration of Thomas village.
Thomas, son of an Akawaio school-
teacher and education officer, was one
of the more fortunate children in his
tribe, although like them he grew up
without basic amenities like pipe borne
water and electricity.
As a young man, he battled alcohol
and suicide after his mother died and
his common-law wife left him with
their two children, all in one month.
When he survived that personal war
and decided to enrol at USC in Trinidad,
Thomas did not have a single cent.
Now, he is on his way to successfully
completing his degree and already con-
fidently planning to do his Masters.
"I don t know how," he said.
Thomas mission is to take the
knowledge he gained to his village and
share it with Akawaio s youth in par-
ticular, many of whom are bright but
don t know how to move forward.
Recounting his journey, he said the
Akawaio has had "some modernisation"
with a government station, schools and
regular air contact between the mining
village and Georgetown, Digicel cell
phones and Internet. Traditional
thatched-roofed Akawaio houses are
being replaced by concrete ones and
villagers own motorbikes and all terrain
But Akawaio women still wash
clothes by the river and the men fish
with bows and arrows, as the tribe has
been doing for generations.
Thomas said some villagers are now
pumping water from wells using solar
energy and almost everyone has a gen-
erator for electricity.
He said a special time in the village
for him is when all generators are off
at night and he sits on the bare earth
gazing at millions of stars in the dark
"It s cold and silent and really beau-
tiful. When you wake up in the morn-
ing, it s all misty."
Thomas tribe and others nearby
protested the building of a
hydraulic dam to provide energy
for miners that would have com-
pletely inundated their village. That
matter is in court.
Mining has brought daily flights
between Georgetown and
Mazaruni but the Akawaio still
remain largely isolated.
"The flight costs about $700
one way. Because of this, the
majority of villagers don t get to
come out," he said.
The Akawaio are nearly self
sufficient, Thomas revealed: "We
plant red beans, black-eyed peas,
onions, peanuts, cassava, plan-
tains and hunt and fish. The only
thing we bring in from the city
(Georgetown) is flour, rice, oil,
Women make cotton. Up until
seven or eight years ago they wore
traditional beaded skirts and the
men wore aprons.
Akawaio young men, like
Alvern Austin who got 11 passes
in the Caribbean Secondary Edu-
cation Certificate (CSEC), rarely
leave the village to further their
"It s really difficult to get out.
Many have no relatives outside
and nowhere to stay if they want
to further their education," Thomas
Thomas nearly didn t get out.
"When my mother died and my
common-law wife left me with
our children, I became depressed
and suicidal. I was drinking a lot,"
He was teaching biology at the
Akawaio s secondary school on a
teacher s training certificate, at the
time. But Thomas met mission-
aries and he got baptised and went
to Georgetown and taught for five
He set his heart on doing the-
ology but it was not being offered
at Georgetown s university.
"A friend told me about USC
and I came to Trinidad and
enrolled. I did not have money to
pay for tuition but USC allowed
me study for a whole semester
without paying, stay in the dorm
and have two meals a day. God
has been good to me."
Thomas eventually got a loan
and, with part time work, was able
to pay for his education.
When he s done with education,
Thomas plans to go back to his
"The air is cleaner up there," he
Akawaio student in T&T on a mission
Lenin Thomas at USC in Trinidad.
Young members of the Akawaio
tribe don traditional wear for a
heritage festival in their village.
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