JONESTOWN SURVIVORS – Article in April 1, 2018 Stabroek News

Today's article in the Starbroek News, by Shabna Rahman. Here is the complete article:

Jonestown survivors in emotional trip to Port Kaituma
By Shabna Rahman 

Laura Johnston Kohl (left) and Jordan Vilchez at the tombstone in Jonestown that was built in honour of the victims
The two survivors of the Jonestown tragedy who recently revisited the scene and relived memories of what they once called home,’ are looking to have renewed a personal friendship with Guyana.

Laura Johnston Kohl, 70, and Jordan Vilchez, 60 of the USA are planning to return in December, along with some other survivors to conduct a “free book giveaway” in the Port Kaituma community as well as to libraries.

This is in memory of the 40th anniversary of the Jonestown massacre that took place on November 18, 1978. A ceremony would also be held at the Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland, California where most of the victims were buried.

A resident who was part of the setting up of Jonestown, guiding Laura Johnston Kohl and Jordan Vilchez through the jungle.

In a tragedy that shocked the world, preacher and leader of the Peoples Temple, James Warren ‘Jim’ Jones coerced over 900 members to drink cyanide-laced cool-aid and end their lives.

In March of 1977, Jones had asked Kohl if she would “come down to Guyana and help to get started for a big move. And in the summer of the same year, 400 people, including Jordan, came.

During their recent visit Kohl and Vilchez also donated about 15 books about the Peoples Temple, 12 of which were presented to the National Library.

The other three, written by Kohl’s close friend, Eusi Kwayana, were donated to the Walter Rodney National Archives.

She pointed out that one of Kwayana’s books is based on the Guyanese perspective of Jonestown. She had happily accepted his request to write the foreword for the book.

Vilchez, who has a passion for helping animals, is also establishing a clinic for the homeless dogs in Port Kaituma.

“The vision,” she said, “is to get them operated on so that they do not reproduce and create more homeless animals. Ideally they would also get treatment for other ailments.”

According to her, “Where I live this is an issue and headway is being made by the district and volunteer clinics.”

Adopted family

Apart from Vilchez losing her sisters and nephews at Jonestown, both women said it was devastating that they had lost their entire “adopted family.”

The women felt it was now time to have dialogue with the residents and to answer tough questions.

They had tried to put the tragedy behind and move on with their lives. But almost 40 years later they decided to make the trip after realizing that they were not the only survivors and that Guyana had also survived the horrors of Jonestown.

“It was not only my personal trauma, …thousands of Guyanese had been traumatized by the event,” Vilchez said. “I knew that heart-to-heart transparent conversations were and still are absolutely necessary.”

They traveled to the North West on March 5 and met with residents at the Port Kaituma Community Centre to “share information and feelings.”

The women also answered questions about what Jonestown was like and talked about “some of the rumours that had been circulating.”

Vilchez said it felt good to “hug people who were so kind and supportive. It was truly a homecoming.”

She recalled: “When the small plane landed in Port Kaituma, waves of emotions washed though me… It brought everything more vividly than ever into my awareness.”

Two elderly gentlemen who had been “instrumental in Jonestown’s early days of clearing bush and building structures,” guided them through the jungle.