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SIL International Media Release


SIL Completes Work in Suriname

On March 23, 2001 SIL closed its doors in Suriname. For 34 years SIL members conducted linguistic, translation and literacy activities in seven of Suriname's 16 languages, including Saramaccan, Aukan, Carib, Arawak, Sarnami Hindustani, Sranan Tongo and Suriname Javanese.

"At its peak the branch had about 55 members from the Netherlands, Canada and the United States," according to Nico Doelman, branch director.

Personnel, trained in basic linguistic analysis and translation techniques, learned the language of the group with which they worked, then created dictionaries, calendars, primers and other materials to use in teaching people to read and write their own language. They also translated portions of the Bible and agricultural and health bulletins. With the branch closing, SIL turned these activities over to a national organization.

At the closing ceremonies, Mr. Walter Sandriman, Suriname's Minister of Education, recognized SIL's contribution to the understanding and development of the languages of his country. National translators who had helped in the projects expressed their appreciation as well: "SIL helped us and encouraged us to esteem our heritage highly. Thank you, SIL, for helping us to rediscover, learn to appreciate and use our own mother tongue. You are departing, but you are leaving behind something that is beautiful and precious."

SIL's involvement in Suriname began in 1964 when Dr. Lou Lichtveld, a delegate of the Suriname government, and Suriname linguist Dr. Hein Eerssel met with SIL's Dr. Joseph Grimes to discuss the possibility of establishing a contract with the government. This agreement was signed two years later, resulting in more than three decades of cooperation between Suriname's government and SIL.

By training Suriname nationals from the beginning in translation and literacy, SIL laid the foundation to turn the work over to them.

In addition to overseeing the work in Suriname, the branch expanded to include the Wapishana language (in the early '70s) and Akawaio (in the mid-'90s), both in neighboring Guyana. Work continues in these two languages under SIL's Americas Group, which assumed leadership in 1999 in anticipation of closure of the branch. SIL translators also worked in St. Lucia's Patwa/Kweyol language. Although most SIL members have already left the country, six will stay behind to help complete the two remaining projects in Suriname - Sranan Tongo and Carib.

During the branch's active years, it provided support services to its members in a number of areas, including audio-visual, computers, publication and finance. It also recruited teachers and staff for the American Cooperative School owned and operated by a group of missions. This school provided education for SIL members' children as well as others in the community.