By car, plane and boat: Reaching the most remote communities in Guyana

The Guyana Red Cross team delivers hygiene kits to communities living on the river near Mabaruma, Guyana.

The Guyana Red Cross team delivers hygiene kits to communities living on the river near Mabaruma, Guyana.

Story and photos by Angela Hill / IFRC

For the field team of the Guyana Red Cross, responding to COVID-19 has meant time away from families, thousands of miles by car, plane and boat, and arranging logistics for tons of cleaning and hygiene supplies destined for people living in remote corners of the country.

“We have a lot of small communities that do not necessarily have internet, they are usually reached by radio or by people travelling into the community themselves to share information,” said Andrea Phillips, Guyana Red Cross COVID-19 project manager and the team lead.

So that is what the Guyana Red Cross does. They work with indigenous communities, in migrant settlements, and at the markets in transportation hubs, sharing information about COVID-19 and how to stay safe and healthy.

Helping people stay safe


[caption id="attachment_72483" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] The Guyana Red Cross team hangs posters about proper mask use and the importance of regular handwashing, in the town of Mabaruma.[/caption]

For some people their interaction with the four women that make up the team will be their only opportunity to ask questions about the disease that they have been hearing about from others.

“We have found that communities are very receptive to people who take the time to come into the community, share the information … give time for them to ask questions to ensure they are clearly able to understand,” Phillips said.

In St. Aslems, in Region 1, Joan Webber asked about how she would know if she or her family had come in contact with the virus.

The team had come to her community by power boat and Webber sat in her small dugout canoe as she learned about symptoms. She then received a bag with hand sanitizer, soap, laundry detergent, bleach, and other supplies she could use to protect herself and her family.

[caption id="attachment_72513" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Joan Webber paddles away from the Red Cross distribution boat and towards home after receiving a hygiene kit and information about staying safe and healthy during COVID-19.[/caption]

“People are pretty thankful for the activity and the fact that Red Cross is coming to the [river-based] communities to assist them,” said Samesta Martin-Forde, a Guyana Red Cross field officer.

“It has gone far, especially in these communities where, you have a lockdown, so they cannot access [sanitation supplies], or you have poor communities where they may not be able to supply themselves,” Phillips said.

Leaving no one behind


Getting to St. Aslems was no easy task. Alana Prescod, who handles logistics, oversaw moving everything from toothpaste to toilet paper from Guyana’s capital Georgetown, to Mabaruma about 250 kilometers away. But there are no roads, the tons of equipment had to be flown on two separate charter flights, before being trucked to the motel room where the team slept and that served as a temporary warehouse.

In the small, hot, and humid room the team worked with their masks on to pack the bags that would be given away.

“I am very happy with the team that we have. It’s a small team, but a hard-working team. Each person has a role on the team and we have been able to complement each other in a way that we’ve been able to deliver the service that’s required by working together,” said Phillips.

[caption id="attachment_72503" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] The Guyana Red Cross team loads hygiene kits on to a boat for delivery to people living along the Aruka River near Mabaruma.[/caption]

The bags were trucked to the docks to be loaded on to the boat that would take the team upriver. Over a two-day period, the team reached 80 families, moving up and down along a river. A community leader and a boat captain guided them in and out of the tight mangroves to people’s homes. The mornings were hot and sunny, but on the trip back to town the first day, it began to pour rain. The drops were hitting like needles as the speedboat raced to get them back and off the water.

When they completed the work, the immediately starting meeting with other leaders in the area, to see what was needed next and by who.

[caption id="attachment_72491" align="aligncenter" width="5753"] Melissa Lewis talks about staying safe and healthy during COVID-19, while the Guyana Red Cross team delivers hygiene kits to communities along the rivers.[/caption]

“I love helping persons, it always puts a smile on my face when you can give something to someone and they appreciate it, whether it is something big or something small and it makes me feel happy and I would say that’s why I am doing what I am today,” Prescod said.

Featured image: The Guyana Red Cross team delivers hygiene kits to communities living on the river near Mabaruma, Guyana.