Like many other organizations and individuals, GBTI welcomes Indigenous Heritage Month—celebrated in Guyana every September—as an important opportunity to honor and support Guyana’s Amerindian peoples, and to work towards greater equality between Guyana’s indigenous and non-indigenous populations.
How does GBTI support indigenous communities?
As Guyana’s first and largest indigenous bank, GBTI has a long history of proudly serving and supporting Amerindian people and communities all over the country. Some of GBTI’s initiatives that have had the biggest impact on indigenous communities include:
Operating branches in remote regions.
About four in five indigenous people in Guyana live in what are known as the hinterland regions, which are forested and mountainous areas in Guyana’s interior. However, most of the country’s infrastructure, services, and amenities, as well as the vast majority of its population, are concentrated along the coastland. This means that it is often very difficult for indigenous people to access banks and financial services. This obstacle then affects the economic health of Amerindian individuals, families, and entire villages.
In response to this, GBTI became the first bank in Guyana to open branches with the specific aim of serving more remote indigenous populations. For example, GBTI now operates branches in Rupununi, the largest indigenous region in Guyana; in the Port Kaituma sub region, where it was and remains the only operating bank; and in Corriverton, where it serves the Orealla and Siparutu indigenous communities.
As a result of this support and increased access to financial services, many indigenous-led cottage industries and small businesses have sprung up in these hinterland regions, improving the livelihoods of entire communities.
Offering loans geared toward indigenous women.
One of GBTI’s most important programs is its Women of Worth Loan Facility (WOW). Geared towards single mothers and indigenous women, the WOW initiative helps women in difficult economic circumstances to access the financing they need to start their own businesses.
A collaborative venture with the Ministry of Social Protection, WOW has helped many single mothers become dressmakers, fabric designers, hairdressers, floral arrangers, childcare providers, craftswomen, and more. To apply for a WOW loan, applicants must be listed on the Single Parent Registry at the Ministry of Social Protection.
Successful applicants receive 100 percent of their requested amount (between $100,000 and $250,000) with no equity required. Again, this program is all about removing the barriers to financial support that affect so many indigenous people around Guyana.
Supporting small businesses.
In recent years, small and micro enterprises have seen tremendous growth in indigenous communities all over Guyana. More and more Amerindian entrepreneurs are taking their futures into their own hands and launching a wide array of businesses.
Often, they are drawing on the knowledge, skills, and traditions of their people. For example, at the Indigenous Heritage Village exhibition that opened this year’s Indigenous Heritage Month celebrations, there were many offerings from indigenous-operated arts, crafts, and catering businesses.
GBTI helps support the growth and development of these small and micro businesses through its accessible Small Business Loan program. The program can help small-scale projects and ventures get off the ground successfully.
Participating in Indigenous Heritage Month celebrations.
GBTI organizes and hosts a number of different events at various branches during Indigenous Heritage Month. This helps build awareness among Guyana’s non-indigenous population of the importance and contributions of its Amerindian peoples.
This year, for example, visitors to the Bartica branch can enjoy a display of indigenous arts and crafts; heritage celebrations organized by residents of Rupununi will receive donations from GBTI; and school groups from indigenous communities around Guyana will have the opportunity to tour GBTI’s Water Street branch in Georgetown.
Why is supporting Guyana’s indigenous communities important?
GBTI is strongly committed to supporting Amerindian peoples in Guyana. In recent years, the entire country has become more aware of the gap that exists between the country’s indigenous and non-indigenous populations.
According to a 2017 UNICEF study on women and children in Guyana, the country’s indigenous population experience poverty rates between two and five times that of the non-indigenous population. They also lack access to quality health, education, and other services. Not surprisingly, these factors take a tremendous toll on the lives of indigenous people and the progress of their communities.
With this awareness has come a growing dedication to action. GBTI, like many other organizations and individuals in Guyana, is heeding the call of leaders like president David Granger, who has spoken out during previous Indigenous Heritage Month celebrations about the many difficulties that Amerindian communities in Guyana face.
These include slow economic growth, migration, environmental degradation, and limited access to education. To address this situation, all of Guyana, including its banks, will have to work together. As the bank that serves all Guyanese, regardless of where or who they are, GBTI is ready to take on this challenge.