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The Gatekeepers of Batavia

– Making representation for the vulnerable

By Shaniya Harding

“As Gatekeepers, we are the ones to overlook our neighbours and even those in our home circle. Because sometimes there may be somebody going through a problem, and they don’t know who to tell it to.” These are the words of Sharon Prince, who is part of a small group of people called the Gatekeepers in Batavia. This group of people work tirelessly and wholeheartedly in the fight against domestic and sexual violence.

Located along the banks of the Cuyuni River is the beautiful village of Batavia. The community on the water is home to more than six hundred villagers and has a culture that is as strong as its people. With its beautiful waterfalls, peaceful atmosphere and hospitable people who live on the water, Batavia is a fully intrinsic experience. And just like anywhere else in Guyana and the rest of the world, the community has its struggles.

One of the most significant issues the village faces is the problem of violence against women and children. Sharon is the chairman of the community’s policing group. She, the other Gatekeepers, and the village’s council receive regular reports of domestic and sexual abuse. The reports are most often resolved within the community with the occasional help from Bartica authorities. The Gatekeepers serve as a bridge, linking those who feel trapped to the people, places and resources which can help.

“We are the ones to tell somebody like the those who are working at Bartica. To assist and what advice they would give us or what they would do to solve the problem,” Sharon said. Although the Gatekeepers do their absolute best, Sharon admits that there are instances and cases just too big for them to handle. As she stated, “There are problems that we face. We have the Toshao and the village council, and I work along with them. But sometimes, whenever the Toshao gets a report he talks to them. But sometimes, when there are problems, we cannot solve, we take it out to the police station.”

A woman of Batavia

Sharon explained that many victims of abuse, prominently women and children, are not always open to addressing ongoing abuse along legal lines. She explained many women would rather their abusive partners have a talk with village leaders and councillors rather than take real legal action, as they would say, “Because it’s my husband”.

Children, Sharon are among the particular demographic they are trying desperately to protect. Because as Sharon sees it, if the adults don’t change, then at least they can help the children. As she emphasised, “I’m asking for more support for the child care agency. They need strong support, not only that family, there are other children going through it, and they can’t talk.” The Gatekeepers of the village at present are only 15 members strong, and they are facing a variety of difficulties in getting to those who need help. As Sharon stated, “We are finding it difficult. Because to go around, we need gasoline, we need boats. I have a policing group boat. And sometimes I take my money and buy gasoline to assist people in whatever problem.”

Batavia is one of the target communities of the EU/UN Spotlight Initiative which aims to combat violence against women and girls. The community works with local NGOs and receives sensitisation and other resources and efforts towards this goal. The Gatekeepers group was formed while working with Blossom Inc. under the Spotlight Initiative.

The harsh reality is that Sharon, the Gatekeepers and many of her fellow villagers are waging a war on violence. A war that is not specific to their village, the region or even Guyana. Today, with the help of the Batavia Gatekeepers, and similar organisations like the Batavia Mountain Movers, survivors have an avenue to seek help and support. Violence and crimes of a sexual and domestic nature exist is many places, making cases in Batavia no different than those that happen anywhere else.