Celine Tschirhart

Royal Holloway University of London
Egham, United Kingdom

From Guyana to Suriname: sharing North Rupununi best practices in Kwamalsamutu

Field Report n°13.

October 29, 2013

This is an account from Dr Céline Tschirhart and Dr Jay Mistry, researchers in the COBRA project, who traveled to the village of Kwamalasamutu (in the south of Suriname) from 30 September to 14 October 2013.

After two years of hard work, a very exciting stage of the project started a month ago: communities of the North Rupununi (Guyana) began sharing their best community owned solutions for sustainability with other indigenous communities of the Guiana Shield.

Interested in our approach, the Surinamese NGO Attune Development suggested carrying out this exchange within the community of Kwamalasamutu, a Trio community in the deep south of Suriname. So at the beginning of October, after getting the community’s consent, COBRA team members from the North Rupununi (Ryan Benjamin, Rebecca Xavier, Bernie Robertson), from IUCN Netherlands (Caspar Verwer), from Attune Development-Suriname (Rachelle Bong A Jan) and from Royal Holloway University of London (Jay Mistry and Céline Tschirhart) hopped on a tiny plane that would take them to Kwamalasamutu.


Project COBRA – Creative Commons

We had two weeks to achieve two main objectives: (1) to introduce the new community to the methods and approaches used in COBRA. This step ensures that the new community (Kwamalasamutu) identifies its own strengths and weaknesses following similar steps to the North Rupununi; (2) to facilitate a process through which Kwamalasamutu selects a best practice from the North Rupununi that could support their own sustainability, and then plan its implementation. In this process, four women and five men joined the COBRA team and they will work with us for the next 6 to 8 months. Over this period, they will be making films and photostories of their community’s best practice, but also documenting the implementation of the North Rupununi’s best practice within Kwamalasamutu.

The two weeks spent in Kwamalasamutu were as interesting as they were challenging. Challenging, mainly because of the major language issues we faced. All the meetings and workshops needed to be translated from English to Dutch and/or Surinamese, and then from Dutch/Surinamese to Trio. This significantly impacted the dynamics of the workshops and slowed down the whole process. We have developed a Practitioner Handbook that outlines a series of activities to facilitate community engagement. But we quickly realised that there are two guidelines that we really needed to follow: adapt the activities to the context, and learn from your experiences to improve your methods and approaches. Well, we did, and a team of six people thinking on their feet works like magic. Some activities were merged, others were squeezed; some were skipped and others were added; some were transformed … and fortunately some worked very well without changing much!

Project COBRA – Creative Commons

This was our first experience of exchanging best practices within the COBRA project and, although we have had to significantly review our initial programme, we have also managed to reach our objectives. Firstly, the local Kwamalasamutu team will be documenting how their farming practices constitute a best practice for them. Secondly, after having discussed all the North Rupununi best practices, the Kwamalasamutu community chose “community self-help” to implement in their village. This is a system by which a community comes together to carry out a local project (e.g. village maintenance work or building new infrastructure) without external support. Indeed, in Kwamalasamutu it was felt that the recent influx of a cash economy had brought about new local governance challenges and had broken down traditional communal values and systems of practice. The local COBRA team will be documenting the implementation of self-help for specific community projects.

We are looking forward to go back to Kwamalasamutu in February to follow up on the activities! But before that, we have got some work to do to improve the organisation of our proposed activities within the Handbook and getting ready to share best practices with another community of the Guiana Shield: Kavanayen, in Venezuela.



QUICK DOWNLOAD: Check out the English version of the COBRA Handbook for Practitioners.