I am a young British journalist, and I work for The Independent, one of Britain’s national newspapers. Primarily I cover stories on the subjects of education and the media in this country, and it was through this disconnected avenue that I became interested in visiting Jonestown.
In June 2007, a company which organises trips for British students to South America telephoned me. They wanted a young journalist to join their programme in Guyana for two weeks early in 2008. Of course I jumped at the chance of free flights to a continent I had never visited before. However, when I began doing some research about the country in my spare time, the familiar yet strange names of Jonestown and Peoples Temple began to crop up. Soon I had lost all interest in the original reason for my trip.
I had no prior knowledge of the events leading up to 1978, or indeed of the tragedy itself, being far too young to remember it. But my attention was caught, and eventually I found my way to the intimate and personal testimonies of people directly involved with Peoples Temple located on this page. Reading those writings was a profoundly moving experience, and as I learned more and more about the subject, I began to entertain the possibility of meeting some of the authors.
What better place to do this than in Guyana, in the year marking the 30 th anniversary of the tragedy? So the idea of my proposed trip was born. I’d like to visit the Jonestown site with any members of the Temple community who would like to come. I’m sure every one of you has a story to tell.
I cannot deny that I am a journalist. But I cannot stress enough that my aim is not to exploit anyone. I would like to tell others – and better understand myself – what it really meant to be a member of Peoples Temple, and to lose everything in so sudden and so shocking a way.
More than anything, I’d like to represent these intensely personal stories in a fair way, unclouded by conspiracy theories or bias. Many of the people I have spoken to seem to feel that their story has never been told properly. If I can, I’d like to rectify that. I would also like to make the Peoples Temple story accessible to a younger audience, for the benefit of those who are ignorant – as I was – about the scale of the tragedy that occurred in 1978.
So, to practicalities. I am aware that the Jonestown site is fairly inaccessible and overgrown; but there are ways around this. Port Kaituma can be reached in half an hour by air from Georgetown, and Jonestown is six miles from there. Expense might be a problem: I am unfortunately unable to pay anyone to take part, and flights from the US will undoubtedly be expensive. However, I do not anticipate a costly stay in Guyana itself, as the stay will be brief and the currency is weak. I can be in Georgetown to meet you on 9 February 2008, and the trip will probably be no longer than five days.