When I first visited Lethem in 2013, I was amazed by what I saw: a peaceful, fun loving community with lots of music and partying in the nights. As I walked along the main commercial highway – Barrack Retreat, I saw a sign that read, “this way to the St. Ignatius Women’s Helping Hand Peanut Factory.”
Being an investigative journalist at the time as I still am, I decided to pay a visit to the factory. So I walked along the airport road, crossed a bridge and entered into St. Ignatius Village. As I walked along the road in St. Ignatius, against a backdrop of the majestic Kanuku Mountains I saw a sign that read “this way to Kumu Falls.” Kumu Falls, by the way, is a beautiful tourist attraction about 15 miles away from Lethem.
I kept walking down the road that led to the St. Ignatius Secondary School and took a detour to reach the St. Igantius Women’s Helping Hand Factory. I was amazed at what I saw. The factory produced some of the most amazing Rupununi Products: peanut butter, farine, pepper sauce, casareep, cashew nuts and much more. In addition to producing and marketing their own products, the Rupununi Women’s Helping Hand served as a marketing agent for other producers in more remote locations of the Rupununi.
I was then told by one of the managers of the factory, Kim, that the Guyana Defense Force was one of their major purchasers of the peanut butter they produced. They also marketed to buyers in Georgetown, Guyana, such as supermarkets. I listened to their stories and took note of the challenges that they faced. The overall impression was that the factory was doing well and looking to expand.
I visited the factory on several other occasions in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 to purchase peanuts and other products. I did a little bit to help market the factory’s products and I even gave the managers advice on areas for improvement and expansion.
However, in early February 2020, I went back to the factory and found that it was closed. I was very sad and disappointed to learn about this development. When I asked the manager why the factory was closed, she gave several non-defining answers.
From an observer’s standpoint however, I could glean that the factory was closed because of several factors which include a declining market due to a stagnated economy and poor or none governmental support.
I do hope that the next government that takes office will help not just to revive the St. Ignatius Women’s Helping Hand Factory, but to take it to a whole new level, as well as the numerous other failing industries across Guyana, South America.