Great River rafters to benefit from Gov’t’s rural development thrust
THIRTY RAFT captains located in the rural community of Lethe, Hanover, are to benefit from 100 lifeguard vests, as part of a Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development programme in rural communities across the island.
Paul Barrett, a senior raft captain who spoke on behalf of the rafters, said they have been providing rafting services for both locals and tourists on the Great River, with little or no help from central or local government over the years.
“We are happy to know that someone sees that something needs to be done and has come and help us. We appreciate what the minister is doing for us,” he said.
“We do all this by ourselves. We buy the bamboo and make our rafts, creating our own employment by providing rafting services to our guests,” the raft captain added.
However, he was happy to see Desmond McKenzie, the minister of local government and rural development, on Wednesday touring their community in search of projects to develop.
When asked about the challenges that rafters are facing, Barrett was quick to point out the need for safety gear such as life vests, to protect raft captains and their guests.
“We would love to get the life vests, that’s the main thing because they are expensive and we want everybody to have a pair of life vests on their raft, so we know the guests are safe when they have on a vest,” Barrett pleaded. “Sometimes the river gets really rough when it rains heavily.”
Responding to the needs of the rafters, McKenzie said the rural development agenda of the Government is not just the physical infrastructure, but ‘soft’ issues such as helping to develop the skills of individuals.
“They have said clearly that one of the things that they need to enhance what they are doing is life vests. We are going to be providing 100 life vests for the rafters here so that they can do that. And that will be done through the Social Development Commission (SDC) and we are committed to supporting this effort,” McKenzie said in a Gleaner interview while on a tour of several rural communities in Hanover, including Lethe.
“I believe that when you find young people who are willing to go out and work to make a honest living, you must at all cost support them,” the local government minister stated.
He noted that providing these life vests forms part of the Government’s thrust on rural development, and that this group of young entrepreneurs fit into the profile of the SDC programme.
With that commitment, Barrett expressed gratitude to McKenzie for promising to provide a lifeline to their trade so that they can make themselves and their guests safer while rafting on the Great River.
According to Barrett, the initiative has come at an opportune time and is a step in the right direction.
With the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lethe, a rural community that is tucked away in the hills of Hanover, is being faced with unemployment challenges, which has been listed as a cause for concern by the community profile compiled by the SDC.
Already, the SDC has promised to mitigate the unemployment challenges through several programmes it plans to roll out, following consultations with residents in the area.
“Based on the data, we recognise that the livelihood of the residence is significantly impacted and as a result, the minister (McKenzie) on the tour has given us an instruction to meet with the rafters and to develop a programme to enhance their skills,” Tova-Malka Trench Anderson, the SDC Hanover parish manager, said.