Enmore used to be a village in the Demerara-Mahaica region of the Guyana coastal belt but is now described as a town. It is about two square miles (5.1 km2) in size and protected from the Atlantic Ocean by a large concrete wall. Enmore has a population of around 3,000 (Census 2012). Currently 90% are Indo-Guyanese but it is gradually becoming more multi-ethnic with the introduction of Chinese and Indigenous groups.
Enmore was the third community studied as part of the ARCLIGHT project. I spent two days here visiting places of interest and collecting data by interviewing medical and nursing staff in the Polyclinic and the headmistress of the nursery school. As I reflect on my experiences of meeting and having conversations with different members of this community, I recognised a once thriving community was going through change that was impacting on their health and mental health. The sugar estate provided well paid employment for many of the community’s inhabitants and the estate compound provided social facilities that kept them engaged and interested. Closure of the estate impacted on all of them as family income was reduced with many experiencing personal distress and hardship as they sought new ways of obtaining an income.
The crime rate increased amongst the young because they felt there were limited social and recreational activities available to them. I was surprised to hear about crime as the police station occupies a central position in the town, yet there were reports that the police failed to respond to the many crimes.
As I walked around the town there were still pockets of affluent living and several shops lined the main street including supermarkets and internet café. There is also a selection of places to worship for example church, mandir and mosque as the various religious practices are well represented.
The polyclinic has been described as one of the best examples in Guyana. I was heartened by the positive healthcare staff who gave me their valuable time to discuss the health and social issues in the community. One of the nurses highlighted the plight that many families faced as they relied on the sugar estate for ‘their survival’. Patients come to the clinic depressed but failing to recognise the symptoms. As a consequence, they turn to alcohol or suicide without getting treatment. From the dialogue with health care staff, it was evident that more health care resources were sorely needed. A social worker has been employed to work with families but the team realised they needed more members of staff to meet the changing needs of the community.
Yet there were examples of positive changes in the community. Families were taking on various jobs regardless of type and income in order to provide for their children. Women were becoming more assertive and roles were changing as they too sought jobs to contribute to the family’s finance. Families were still considered to be ‘traditional’ where the wives were expected to stay at home to care for their children.
Education was considered key as families recognised that it was a route out of their poverty situation. The headmistress at the Gandhi’s nursery school described the modern techniques used with the children by offering IPADs and other tablets to disadvantaged children who could not get these at home. I found this to be a very positive environment that showed displays of the children’s work on the walls and enthusiastic teachers who use a blended approach with children who have mixed abilities.
As I reflect on my experiences with this community, they were resourceful, friendly, approachable and willing to share their stories with me. As a community they showed resilience as they strived to not only improve their current lives but those whom they cared for. They all identified the need for more resources in all aspects of the community but they work with what little they have to make a difference to their lives. I feel humbled when considering what we have available in the UK and Europe. These communities are coping with very difficult circumstances and showing great resilience when they have so little compared to us. Many in this community believe the discovery of oil in Guyana will bring prosperity for all but that itself will bring new challenges.
Dr Helena Ann Mitchell