Sharon Austin

Photo Credit: Margarita Mora

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May 1, 2021

Amazonia Team Spotlight: Meet Sharon Austin

By Margarita Mora

At Nia Tero we have the privilege of working with Indigenous leaders from all over the world. Sharon Austin, Nia Tero’s regional lead for the Amazon, is one of them.

Sharon is an Akawaio woman from Phillipai, an Indigenous village in the Upper Mazaruni River of Guyana. From the moment she was born, she got to know and love the land of her people. She learned how to grow casava with her mother and how to fish with her brothers.

At a young age Sharon’s parents sent her to school in Georgetown, the capital of Guyana. They wanted their three daughters to have a good education, so they could have better opportunities in the future. Life in Georgetown was very different than life in Phillipai. It was not only the issue of Georgetown being a city and Sharon missing her family. One of the main challenges was that no one spoke Akawaio or knew where Sharon came from. Sharon had to learn English and adapt quickly to life in the city.

After graduating from university, Sharon started working on Indigenous peoples’ issues. Through her work at Guyana’s Ministry of Amerindian Affairs she got to learn about the priorities of Indigenous peoples from different regions of the country. Afterwards, as the lead on Indigenous issues at the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization, she got to work with Indigenous peoples from the entire Amazon basin.

Indigenous village of Phillipai

Photo Credit: Sharon Austin

Currently, Sharon manages Nia Tero’s portfolio of projects in Suriname, Guyana, Northern Brazil and Colombia. Her technical knowledge and lived experience have enabled Nia Tero to build a strong program in the Amazon. It has also allowed us to respond better to the priorities of our partners in the region.

Sharon is thoughtful, tenacious, and patient. She cares deeply about her people and all Indigenous peoples. She is also a trailblazer, as she is one of the few Indigenous women, the only one that I know about, leading the work of an international organization in the Amazon. Sharon’s leadership has strengthened our work in the region and has made us a better organization.