Questions on how to combat trafficking of children from Guyana to the United States, were posed to newly appointed Guyana Consul General to New York, Barbara Atherly, who held the consulate’s first town hall meeting on Friday, Oct. 21, at the Shri Lakshmi Narayan Mandir on Liberty Avenue, in Richmond Hill, Queens.
The diplomat promised swift action in addressing this issue, as she addressed other questions such as exorbitant airfares to Guyana.
Citizens also called on the consul general to re-evaluate the high cost of obtaining a Guyana passport at the New York office.
During the two-hour meeting, Consul General Atherly explained the difference between ‘old age pension’ — an entitlement given to citizens reaching the age of 65, and the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) Pension, in which employees paid into.
She defended the government’s policy to disqualify citizens from receiving the entitlement if they live overseas.
In response to the upcoming observances of the 100-year anniversary of the End of Indian Indentureship in Guyana, raised during a heated exchange in the mostly Indo-Guyanese community, the diplomat promised to seek information from the Guyana government and get back to the community to satisfy their concerns.
She thanked the small gathering for taking the time to attend the meeting, while outlining her push to engage citizens, understand their challenges and their expectations of the consulate.
She said she wants to bring integrity, professionalism and teamwork to the community and will focus on respect for diversity while serving all Guyanese.
While some residents lauded the consul general for the wonderful effort she is making to reach out to Guyanese, stating that she brings her warm personality to the job, others felt she should attend more of the programs offered to the elderly in the community while bridging the gap between the two main races of Guyana.
Atherly who took office last August, thanked former Consul General Brentnold Evans for his contribution to the community over the last 20 years, and assured compatriots that their concerns would be addressed in a timely manner as the consulate continues its regular outreach programs to serve shut-ins, the elderly, and other citizens in the tri-state and further afield.
Moderated by Vishnu R. Mahadeo of the Richmond Hill Economic Development Council and attended by Deputy Consul General Jacquelyn Hamer and staff of the consulate, the consul general promised to promote the social and economic agenda of Guyana, while serving the diaspora.
In her introduction as the new consul general, Atherly reminded the gathering of her international experiences while working with UNICEF for 20 years, at times, the only female, and only Afro in places such as India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal, and war-torn Syria where she served as an education specialist.
“Living in these places taught me a lot, and how we should work and live together with each other. It is important to respect each other’s culture and religion,” she said.
“I would like to see this during my tenure. As Guyanese, we must see our selves as rich in what we do, and rich in diversity,” said the diplomat, adding, “the difference between us is what makes us a great nation.”
Atherly said she is committed to holding regular town hall meetings so she can get to know communities and address the many concerns residents have.
“It is heartening to know that the consulate has already embarked on an outreach program that provided services to citizens in Queens, Brooklyn, New Jersey.”
The consulate will travel to Connecticut on October 29, for another outreach, said the Consul General who looked back on Guyana’s 50th Independence Anniversary celebration earlier this year, and its theme – Reflect, Celebrate Inspire while calling on Guyanese to inspire young Americans of Guyanese heritage to embrace the Guyanese culture, as she works to serve them in her various capacities at the consulate.
The consul general thanked Rishi Prashad for facilitating the meeting, and Mahadio for encouraging the consulate to meet with the community at the Mandir.
Attorney at Law Andrea S. Ogle, Police Officer Khyume Khan, CEO of Bena Institute of Vocational Training, Inc. B. Angelini and Azeez Rau Ramroop of A-Zee Solutions also attened the meeting.