PARAMARIBO--Elviera Sandie is the new Permanent Secretary (PS) for Culture at Suriname’s Ministry of Education; entrusted with the department that charts a path for cultural expression in a country with a diverse ethnic mix, she said she is ready to do what has been coming to her. “The way I see it, everything I did prior to getting here was part of the ripening process for this job. That’s the way it is in life: everything you do comes back to you, so it’s best to do good. I was chosen for this job because the people who do the choosing knew me,” she said.

She was sitting down at a “tropical restaurant” in Amsterdam for an interview with The Daily Herald, wrapping up her extended vacation in the Netherlands, just a few days before her appointment. “I am excited about this next challenge in my life.”

Sandie holds a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the Anton de Kom University and a Master’s degree in Governance from the Lim A Po institutes, both in Suriname. Before her new Government position, she held managerial positions at the Post Office, the Cultural Centre Suriname library and the Suriname branch of the Red Cross.

“All these jobs prepared me for this one. I am a descendant of enslaved Africans from a plantation in District Para, and as a board member of the Federation of African Surinamers, I am very deeply involved in afro-cultural matters. But I have always been deeply interested in other cultures. Then, at the Cultural Centre I worked with people who come from all the ethnic backgrounds that make Suriname so rich. I could never favour one ethnic group over another. You cannot hold the positions that have held if you are not able to operate [in a – Ed.] multi-ethnic [environment – Ed.], especially at Red Cross. It is the largest non-aligned institute in the world that brings relief to people who live in war zones. I take that experience with me. Our multi-ethnic blend is our strongest selling point and as Permanent Secretary I will explore it,” she said.

Sandie took over at the Culture Department from Stanley Sidoel who was sacked in May after more than 10 years at the helm of culture matters in Suriname. She stresses that there is no beef between her and her predecessor. “It was he who asked me personally to head a Governmental Committee for the [United Nations – Ed.] UN Year for the African Diaspora. I don’t know what he will do next, but he has gained a lot of experience over the year that should be valuable in helping him find a new exciting challenge.”

She said that as the new PS she will try to focus on the ongoing Decade for People of African Descent. “Back in 2011 we organised an African Cultural Awareness activity for afro youth and a ‘Blakaman Dey’ (Black People’s Day), but there is so much more we can do. And the UN has afforded us 10 years [from 2014 on – Ed.].”

As she was installed into her new position in late July, Sandie said her first task at hand would be to determine the strategic direction of the Culture Department. Two of the pillars of her plan are culture tourism and culture industries. “We have to become better at positioning our unique culture product. We have some amazing arts and crafts people – think of theatre producer Sharda Ganga and jewellery artist Warda Marica who keep on winning prizes regionally and internationally. The department has to cooperate more with people like this; we should focus on facilitating [their work – Ed.] so that they can focus more on becoming even better at their craft. Vocalist Liesbeth Peroti should be assisted so she does not have to focus on selling tickets for shows.”

Sandie said she wants to develop eco-culture. “We should think of setting up a bureau, an institute that facilitates these [people’s creativity – Ed.]. It should have enough funds to allow it to be proactive instead of reactive. We should be able to initiate activities that will allow us to link up with international programmes that develop cultural expression. And there are funds that we can apply for to make it a reality. Suriname has ratified so many international, bilateral and multilateral agreements on culture over the years. There are opportunities out there that we should go after.”

Sandy said she was ready. “I am heading head straight into an area that is not strange to me, but I am taking over a department that was being headed by someone else – and in a time of economic crisis. Luckily I know that I have the backing of [Education – Ed.] Minister Robbert Peneux and that I will be working with people there who are creative and culturally aware at heart – who relish new wind under their wings.”

She pushed on: “My past has determined my present. I am a sociologist, I have the background in cultural matters and I know that nothing is achieved without proper preparation. And I have prepared properly for this.” (By Marvin Hokstam )