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Delve into ASM: Interview with Urica Primus, Knowledge Exchange Coordinator for the Caribbean, Delve Exchange

Urica Primus
 Delve  by Delve

Delve into ASM is a new interview series presenting voices of artisanal and small-scale mining professionals and experts as they reflect on data, trends, and the future of the sector.

Who is Urica Primus and how did you get involved in the artisanal and small-scale (ASM) mining sector?

I grew up in a family of mostly miners in Bartica (known as the gateway to the interior), Guyana. Following the passing of my mother shortly after my birth, I and my two siblings were raised by my aunt, supported by my other aunt and uncle. My aunt and uncle were miners. Growing up I was my uncle’s shadow. I went wherever he was going and he taught me about the mining industry, engines, loading trucks, managing operations, among other core skills. He confidently assigned responsibilities to me, and his confidence in my abilities built my self-confidence.

While in primary school, I was loading trucks and paying staff coming out of the interior. During high school I was sourcing parts and sending them into the interior. By the time I got to 6th form (final year of secondary school), I was coordinating human resources and procurement for my aunt and uncle’s operations, my brother’s operation, and my own.

Put simply, like many children of miners, mining is a part of our upbringing and we have always been involved.

You’ve had to overcome the double challenge of starting out very young in ASM and being a woman in the mining sector. How did you deal with gender discrimination and what lessons learned shaped your career?

In my early twenties I was elected president of the Guyana Women Miners Organisation (GWMO) and later joined the Board of Directors of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC). During my first term on the GGMC’s Board I was elected Vice Chairperson. My colleagues on the board knew that I was young, but they didn’t know how young until my 26th birthday rolled around.

In my experience, there are passive and active expressions of sexism and ageism. Those who express themselves outright and those who support your cause publicly and undermine your efforts privately, those who will be crude and those who will be diplomatic. Not to mention those who limit your participation in decision making processes through unfounded claims that you lack experience, then attempt to revert to you for advice. It has been an interesting journey, each experience unlocked lessons, some include:

1. There isn’t one single path to creating a positive impact in the mining industry. When you’re restricted locally, increase your reach, and influence positive change globally.

2. In board settings it's useful to analyze before you react. Is this person saying something offensive to simply offend or are they trying to impair my judgment or distract from the discussion.

3. Be strategic about which battles you intend to fight.

4. If you’re more concerned about shifting the status quo or challenging the decisions of people perceived to be powerful than representing your memberships and issues, then representing others is not the role for you.

5. There will be times when you don’t feel motivated, burnout is real - in those times, taking a step back to replenish and regroup and remembering why you do what you’re doing are critical.

You’ve held many impressive positions in mining including being President of Guyana Women Miners Org (GWMO) and Vice Chair on the Board of Directors of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission. Where do you feel your work has had the greatest impact on sustainable and responsible mining efforts?

Please allow me to respond to this question in sections:

Women in mining and social responsibility: The work that myself, our executives, committee members and memberships have undertaken through the Guyana Women Miners Org has been phenomenal. From increasing women’s voices and participation in decision making processes to various efforts to support women in mining and protect and rehabilitate women and children who are survivors of horrific crimes in mining districts and across Guyana. I often reflect on the challenges that we have been able to overcome together and look forward to handing over the mantle to the next leader to continue this effort.

Global sustainable mining efforts: At the same time, I believe that the greatest impact on sustainable and responsible mining efforts is through the Delve Exchange, contributing to the efforts within the Caribbean region and being able to play an active role in the global development of the mining industry through supporting my fellow Knowledge Exchange Coordinators and their efforts during the uncertain times of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sustainable contribution to mining regulatory agencies: To date, I've either written or revised all of the existing BoDs approved policies of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission. Ensuring that mine regulators are structured to efficiently and ethically execute their duties to a pillar in the foundation of the industry.

Sustainable and responsible gold mining: In the early 2000s I served as a member of the Alliance for Responsible Mining's committee that developed the CRAFT Code, one of the most practical due diligence mechanisms in ASM.

Currently, the CRAFT Standards Committee is preparing to commence the formulation of CRAFT 2.1, the continued commitment by ARM to ensure that miners are fully involved and consulted is commendable. As due diligence reporting becomes more mainstream, CRAFT will have a pivotal role to play in removing the due diligence barriers that the ASM sector undoubtedly faces.

In addition to your active leadership in ASM in Guyana, you are also currently the Delve Exchange Knowledge Exchange Coordinator for the Caribbean. Can you tell us more about your work there and how knowledge exchange networks can be of help to ASM miners?

I support the Delve Exchange in the Caribbean which created a growing hub for miners, quarry operators and mining associations within the region and was built virtually through Delve from the ground up. I facilitate the WhatsApp group and coordinate monthly forums on topics that are selected by our participants - the real value to addressing the needs of miners.

The Delve Exchange created the first peer-to-peer responsive mining network, by miners for miners. Wherever miners are working, they can connect with the click of a button on WhatsApp.

My involvement with the Delve Exchange has recently been amplified. I am currently leading the Knowledge Exchange Coordinators’ execution of the global consultation process of miners as the World Bank develops their position paper on the artisanal and small-scale mining sector, a collaborative effort between the World Bank and the Delve Exchange. Reviewing tools, proposing interventions and approaches, and being a liaison between the World Bank and the Delve Exchange’s Knowledge Exchange Coordinators are some of my core roles.

As we prepare to execute the second phase of the Delve Exchange program, I am eager to share more on how the initiative will be expanding its support for the industry.

What unique potential do you see in the ASM sector?

The mining industry provides people from varying educational and socio-economic backgrounds the opportunity to support their families, increase their standard of living and elevate the opportunities for the next generation of their family. Most miners work from 6 AM to 6 PM- in the unforgiving sun- motivated by the fact that their work is allowing their children to fully realize their potential, which their parents couldn’t afford due to financial hardships.

From the GWMO, we have many parents visit us seeking support to get their children registered at local and international educational institutions. While they can afford the costs, they are unaware of the registration processes. In those cases we provide support. We have witnessed those kids go on to be pilots, lawyers, doctors and so many other professions.

If you had to describe the ASM sector in 3 words, what would those be?

A picture is worth a thousand words. What ASM graphic best conveys the sector’s potential/ challenges?

© Urica Primus

I took this picture back in 2009 in middle Mazaruni, Guyana. At first glance it's simply three men at a small-scale mine site. Beyond that the men in the photo represent their three immediate families and extended families who may be heavily dependent on the income those individuals accrue from mining - possibly for generations. The core challenge is sustaining the operations of small miners in the current realities of the Minamata convention, due diligence commitments and sustainable efforts.

Miners and mining stakeholders are globally testing mercury free and due diligence solutions which we all trust to support the continued development of the mining sector, respecting the environment and the neighboring communities in the process. Through successful projects and best practice information sharing we can potentially learn from each other's efforts, as well as save time and resources - especially for initiatives that are time sensitive. The Delve Exchange has already removed the geographic barriers of miners being able to access information and learning opportunities. Delve Exchange programs will continue to build on the established pillars of miner education. I trust that year three will expand to the Delve Exchange mobile app that will amplify education, miner support, and global collaborations on areas of synergy.

As we plan the future of mining, we have to always consider the men and women in mining, like those seen in the photo - whose lives and families rely on the continuance of the industry.


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