Guyana’s Christine Samwaroo walks the path to #InspireInclusion

Guyana’s Christine Samwaroo walks the path to #InspireInclusion

You never know what experience would lead someone to find their calling in life. For Christine Samwaroo, it was her childhood experience of witnessing injustices that led her to choose a career path that allows her to inspire others and encourage inclusion. 

Samwaroo, who has a Master’s Degree in Environmental Policy and Sustainability Management from The New School, is an Intersectional Climate Feminist, and is the Founder and Managing Director of The Breadfruit Collective, a Gender and Environmental Justice organisation based in Guyana.   

In an interview with Loop News for International Women’s Day 2024, Samwaroo says she believes in making her work intergenerational and inclusive, so she intentionally works with grassroots groups with persons from all walks of life.  

The Breadfruit Collective has programming that is open to all persons, there is a children’s programme, a mentorship for young women and intentional partnerships with civil society groups doing similar intersectional work in Guyana and the Caribbean. 

Christine Samwaroo

Samwaroo chose her career path after her childhood experiences of witnessing injustices and generational traumas. While the work of the The Breadfruit Collective became public in July 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, she says the idea to create this space started long before she was even qualified enough to do this work. As a teenager, a close family member who was a domestic violence survivor got her involved with Red Thread, a women’s development organisation.  

Having witnessed various forms of gender-based violence, Samwaroo says she was aware of gender injustice long before knowing what it meant. Her background in environmental justice came through university where she was able to see a direct connection between climate justice and gender justice.  

Samwaroo says having returned to Guyana in 2018 from the United States, she would read weekly about the murdering of women by their intimate partner. She thought that after being away for 10 years, this must have changed. However, after reading that globally 1 in every 3 women experience intimate partner violence, but in Guyana 1 in every 2 women will experience some form of violence from an intimate partner, she knew needed to do something, anything to remember these women being killed.  

At that time, Samwaroo didn’t have the community to discuss how she was feeling and in an effort to highlight what was happening in Guyana, the genesis of The Breadfruit Collective’s mission and work became public.  

“The Breadfruit Collective believes that we cannot have a functioning society until it forms a healthy, positive relationship with its women, girls, and the environment. I believe that women and girls must be able to participate fully and live freely in society for there to be justice.” 

Samwaroo believes one of the biggest challenges facing women in Guyana is the normalisation of gender-based violence and rape culture.  

“We experience violence every time women and girls are catcalled on the streets, the societal norms that people are expected to follow. The failure of our state to protect our young people. The lack of safe spaces and outlets for persons to process their pain.  

More broadly, another major challenge is being committed to community work and partnerships but experiencing that sometimes groups are still stuck in scarcity thinking instead of thinking in abundance and knowing that they are enough resources for all of us to do this work collectively.” 

Walking her path has not been without challenges as Samwaroo says she has faced barriers.  

“Yes, despite being qualified to do this work with a track record of getting things done, I am still underestimated and experience bullyism. I have to constantly remind myself that it is okay to be misunderstood and to remember the reason I am involved in this work, it very much has to do with my life experience and what I witnessed growing up in neighbourhoods that lack resources with grassroots who are doing the best they can with what they have to survive.  

There are also class struggles, I do not belong nor do I associate myself with Guyana’s wealthy and privileged class. I have been called out in the newspaper, social media for my advocacy and for speaking out against injustices by older men.  

Knowing that I have the privilege to do this work compared to my parents and ancestors gives me confidence to keep going, I get to pick my career paths. I get to shift the paradigm. I get to share my wisdom with young people. I can help change the narrative of what it means to be an activist. I get to tell my history and story and to encourage others to share so that we can find synergies.”  

Christine Samwaroo and others gather for a chat.

This year’s International Women’s Day campaign theme #InspireInclusion, resonates with Samwaroo as it summarises her work. Samwaroo explains she cannot do justice work unless she’s being inclusive and asks herself often how she can make her work more inclusive for other persons who have different lived experiences and realities than her own.  

She notes that similarly when speaking on her work, she lets others know that this work can’t be done unless they are inspiring others to join their causes and to always look at solutions with an intersectional lens of centring those most marginalised.   

To promote the theme of #InspireInclusion to the next generation, Samwaroo believes more people should be inclusive with their work, allow younger persons to lead, encourage them to take up roles and share their realities.  

“Share the spotlight. Take time to mentor, listen and remember this work is meant to be sustainable. We are not gate keepers but agents of change who must think in abundance and who are working to create for others what we did not have and what we wish we had.” 

In her message on International Women’s Day, Samwaroo wants society to know that gender justice is necessary for a functioning society. “We must look intentionally at how we do our work and the effects it has on the people we serve and who may not look like you. Interrogate the work you do and measure its impacts on the next generation. Gender Justice is Climate Justice. For those in power, let those who face the issues lead with the solutions, listen more and speak less. Women’s Day is one day to amplify our collective voices but we are dealing with these real issues in everyday life.” 

Samwaroo says the women who she looks up to or inspires her the most includes her late grandmother, a grassroot woman who worked for justice, all the women in the Caribbean who are taking up environmental and gender justice activist work, Angela Davis, bell hooks and Audre Lorde. 

She also has this message to share: “This work is my prayer, speaking about better ways to get this work done that would serve the masses of people does not mean I am against those in power. It means I believe that they can do more to serve the most vulnerable. I believe that as leaders they have the abilities to lead with justice.” 

In 2021, Samwaroo co-authored a children’s book on climate change and health called ‘The Sprouts and the Mystery of the Flood’. Currently, Samwaroo is the Programme Coordinator and Mentor under the GirlsCARE Jamaica Young Women’s Climate Change Programme. Additionally, she is the Co-Chair for the Gender Working Group as part of the Caribbean Natural Resources Institute – CANARI’s Caribbean Climate Justice Alliance, and annually, coordinates the Caribbean Women for Climate Justice (CW4CJ) conference. 

  • PublishedMarch 15, 2024

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