By The Caribbean Voice
The Caribbean Voice comprises thirty suicide-prevention advocates/activist, drawn from the USA, Canada, the UK and the Caribbean, including Guyana, among whom there are three pastors and three pandits, along with educators, youth activists, women’s activists, social activists, community activists, media personnel and individuals of varied skills and experiences. This grouping includes a technical team of five highly credentialed and experienced counselors/social workers. Additionally there is a board of directors of eight highly successful businesspersons and professionals and a team of five spokespersons drawn from the media and performing arts world. We engage with more than 20 strategic partners – other NGOs and businesses from North America and Guyana – as well as bunch of other stakeholders in Guyana.
Since the launch of our suicide prevention campaign in May, we have effected 70 interventions in ten countries (UK, Canada, India, Sri Lanka, China, France, Guyana, USA, Trinidad & Tobago, New Zealand) and six states in the US, and have dealt with people of all ages, varied ethnicity, both genders, a range of statuses, social standing and religious persuasions and ideological outlooks. Not all of the individuals were suicidal or indicated that they wanted to harm themselves. Some needed a person to listen to them and/or wanted the opportunity to vent pent up emotions due to whatever was currently going on in their personal lives. Also, some individuals were facing physical pain, financial stress, relationship issues or some other difficulty and were depressed, confused, frustrated and/or wanted to know how to manage their circumstances. Suicide aside, we dealt with domestic violence, sexual abuse (including incest and rape), dysfunctional relationships, alcoholism, drug abuse, teenage pregnancy, the generational gap, potential school drop out, issues of discrimination – real or perceived – and sexual orientation.
Also we have been privy to information and cases that never made the news in Guyana. For example, a housewife was brutally beaten by her husband. Feeling ashamed and helpless she became suicidal and rejected suggestions to go to the police or get counseling. An NGO was called in and she was taken to hospital. Two days later, after leaving the hospital, she did, in fact, commit suicide, and was survived by a teenaged son who seems lost and forlorn, a mother who refuses to get counseling for the child claiming she would deal with child her own way and an abuser against whom no legal action has been taken. To compound matters, the deceased woman’s mother is emotionally overwrought and this means there are two other lives at risk of suicide – the son and his grandmother.
Then there was a thirteen-year girl who was being raped by her stepfather, when the mother/wife walked in on them. Rejecting the child’s assertion that she was forced into the act, the mother beat the child who then committed suicide. When questioned by an interested outsider, the police stated that they knew nothing about rape. Based on his own knowledge of the family’s situation and his own investigations, that interested outsider concluded that the stepfather, who is a businessman, bribed the police.
In another case a teenager expressed the desire to commit suicide because of some issue with the parent. The parent’s response? “Come, me go gie you de poison.” Situations like these indicate many needs: that suicidal mindsets including verbal warning signs, must never be responded to flippantly; that parent/children communication is hugely problematic and that family dysfunction is a growing problem. As a matter of fact we have even heard many allegations that rapes and incest are completely disregarded by the police once money changes hands. We have also received reports of suicides not being recorded by police because of bribes being offered and this is one reason why we strongly believe that as high as the numbers are, suicide is still somewhat under reported in Guyana. This desire to hide ‘suicides’ stems from ‘shame’ and ‘family dishonor’, which are still prevailing responses to suicide in Guyana as well as in the Diaspora.
Since The Caribbean Voice launched its suicide prevention campaign in Guyana, stories like this abound. In fact a recent visit to a trade school in Georgetown revealed significant depression with quite a number of students exhibiting suicidal tendencies. In one on one chats, young people revealed that their depression was brought on mostly by family problems: living with abusive step-fathers; mothers not having time for them; being abused by parents and living with relatives who ill treat them. The upshot is that young people feel disenfranchised, lost and a burden.
In fact we have found that many young people make the same confessions online. Naturally, many act out because they feel that today is all they have. And some teenaged females are pushed into situations because some parents feel that ‘after 12 is lunch”, which means “she is old enough to take a man so let someone else take care of her”.
Our investigations also revealed the existence of a ‘sex bus’ on which young people, mostly students, travel for a fee and anything goes during the time spent on the bus. Worse yet is that parents, schools and related officials seem unaware of this situation. We have also learnt that young people indulge in alcohol and drug use and casual sex to a far greater degree than is realized or acknowledged. In fact, drug use itself is far more widespread than reported and almost every community has its band of addicts and its ‘pushers’ who are well known to everyone in the community.
In effect what started out as a suicide prevention campaign, has morphed into a social activism campaign, highlighting the basic fact that violence – against self and against others – is at the center of all these ills and pathologies. This includes crimes, which are generally characterized by violence and road deaths usually resulting from road rage, drunk driving and/or speeding. And thus one cannot attempt to redress suicide without also focusing on the entire gamut of related issues. Yet regardless of how much is done by The Caribbean Voice, other NGOs and the band of selfless volunteers who dot Guyana’s social landscape, the expected impact would not be realized without the government doing its part. For far too long we have been hearing of plans, intentions and promises. For far too long we have seen consultation and meetings galore being held. For far too long large sums of money have been budgeted with little to show in actual results. And for far too long fear prevents those involved in social activism from speaking out: fear that they will be impeded in their work, fear that they may be sidelined by officialdom and that logistic or other required help may be withheld and fear that they may not even be allowed to engage in their activism.
It is our hope therefore that 2015 will see the following realized: the suicide hotlines; nationwide sensitivity training for the police; rigid application of the laws relating to domestic and sexual abuse; a campaign to train first responders to suicide, and all forms of abuse in every community; extension of all police/community programs nationwide; intensive trust building efforts on the part of the police; setting up of a national entity to redress drug and alcohol abuse; a network of counselors available nationwide, including in all schools; programs in all schools relating to domestic and sex abuse, suicide and alcohol and drug use; greater collaboration between government agencies and ministries on the one hand and NGOs and social activists on the other.
We of The Caribbean Voice are convinced that greater impact can be achieved in a shorter time span by intensive and extensive collaboration of all stakeholders. Thus we sincerely hope that early in the new-year, mechanisms would be in place to foster the launching of our national schools’ essay contest on suicide, the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Associations’ youth seminar in all high schools and requisite training for staff and parents in every school. We are also planning, with one of our partners to take a social issues seminar nationwide and we hope others will join with us as we continue our outreach. Later in the year there will be a national stakeholders’ conference focusing on all these issues.
We are also planning a national candlelight vigil in March or April. It is generally accepted that if enough individuals and families eschew violence, then communities can work to become violence free. And when enough communities become violence free, violence in the nation becomes drastically reduced. This candle light vigil is an effort that calls for minimal resources (a candle per person) and it is our hope that in every community a vigil will be organized, by one or more entities and individuals in leadership positions, whether business persons, professionals, faith based leaders, community elders or elected leaders. More information on this vigil will be forthcoming in the weeks and months ahead. Meanwhile we appeal, urge, beseech, beg, and implore all organizations and individuals with the capability, to organize vigils in your own localities. These vigils can simply be walks around the village culminating at a central point and addressed by one or more individuals, focusing on the message of anti-violence. This can be a start towards an ongoing campaign against violence.
In order to be able to track vigils planned, we request that you contact us so we can chart the vigils and help to provide publicity. Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Call 646-461-0574 or 317-414-9076 (US) or 621-6111 or 223-2637 (Guyana). Also, checkout our facebook page ‘The Suicide Epidemic’. And share your views on the vigil plans and any other related issues. As well check out, subscribe to and share our YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/ab10460/feed?view_as=public. If you’re on twitter, tweet about these issues using our hash tag #suicidepreventionsavelives.
Meanwhile we urge that you please never disregard a cry for help or a warning sign, especially during this festive season when depression becomes more pervasive. Take time to listen without judging and seek help for the person/persons sending out warning signs. Remember the greatest happiness comes from seva – service to others! And, as the great Mahatma, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi said, ‘Be the change you want to see’.
Finally do reach out to us, or others in the field of social activism; share your ideas; offer suggestions; encourage others to get involved. Remember suicide and abuse prevention is everybody’s business and suicide is not the answer. Let us all join hands to save lives, build healthy relationships, lift up others and create a caring and compassionate society.