"We are poor, but we are the richest people because we keep this forest standing."


Is it possible to build a bridge between the two seemingly incompatible worlds of theory and practice, especially when it comes to community participation? Architect Gabriel Arboleda asked himself this question constantly, and had a chance to build this metaphorical bridge when developing a new indigenous housing model in Guyana. “There had been two approaches when it comes to indigenous housing, one is modernization and the other is maintaining tradition” Gabriel explains. However, the problem with both approaches is that they have normally been conceptualized and discussed without the direct participation of indigenous families themselves. Discovering that these indigenous communities were living halfway between modernization and their traditional culture became the guiding principle behind his approach.

Through comprehensive community participation, empowerment, and taking the time to listen, indigenous Amerindian communities were given the opportunity to conceptualize their new housing developments. An innovative program has put Guyana at the forefront of housing policies for Amerindian communities in the Caribbean, Gabriel cautions: “the idea isn’t to replicate the model, but to replicate the spirit”.



Guyana is known as ‘The Land of Many Waters’ and is the third smallest country in the South America mainland. With 90% of its natural forests remaining intact, Guyana has one of the lowest rates of deforestation in the world. The country abounds with natural resources, fertile agricultural land, extensive tropical forests, and rich bauxite and gold deposits.


  • • Population: 750,000
  • • 43% of the population lives below the poverty line; 29% live in extreme poverty.
  • • Most of the country’s indigenous population lives in forests on which they depend for their livelihood.
  • • Guyana has a deficit of 19,400 homes for households earning less than $300 per month, which constitute 26% of all low-income households in the country.
  • • 50% of families in Amerindian communities do not have access to a stable source of income and 74% live in inadequate and overcrowded housing.