Mia Ritchie: Seeking to improve teenagers’ social skills

After twenty-one years in the US Mia Ritchie returned to live in Guyana and soon realized that something was seriously amiss with the manner in which employees communicated with customers. What was even more disconcerting, however, was the behaviour of young people.

It has been less than a year since she returned to this country and Ritchie, who describes herself as an entrepreneur although she also worked in the US as a nurse for several years, has been propelled into action and has formulated what she calls and an “awareness programme” designed to target young people between the ages of 14 and 18.

Ritchie has big plans to start what she describes as an etiquette school, but initially she will embark on a more limited six-week programme targeting young girls, later holding a seminar for young men.

The mother of five, who had owned a business in the US and worked with children in New Jersey, said that she is concerned about the manners of many Guyanese. It had become the norm everywhere, even in the banks, to address people of any age in a very nonchalant fashion, Ritchie told Sunday Stabroek recently.

She recalled ordering a cake from a business entity and when it was delivered it was not what she had ordered. On pointing this out to an employee she was asked what she wanted her to do. Ritchie said those are some of the attitudes that prompted her to take action, adding that people even refused to say ‘good morning.’

Mia Ritchie
Mia Ritchie

Ritchie said she chose the age-group 14 to18 because these teenagers are more impressionable and also  more adaptable than the older girls, while the younger children are not mature enough to take on such responsibilities.

She said she has noticed that the manners, etiquette, social skills and job skills in Guyana “have deteriorated tremendously.”

She feels that it is a lack of reading that contributes to young people failing to communicate effectively, and in some cases a lack of education. “So I decided to come up with a programme; it is a five steps programme, [and we would be teaching] hygiene, communication skills for trade and industry, speech projection, dress code, etc,” Ritchie said.

Speech projection was included because she has found whenever she engages young people ‒ even those who have done well in school ‒ there is shyness about them, while there are others who do not know what to say because of lack of knowledge. Building their self-confidence and esteem is very important.

Also of concern to Ritchie is the manner in which persons dress for work, which is sometimes inappropriate.

So far there have been over ten persons who have expressed a desire to be part of the programme, which is open to girls initially and is free. It is hoped that it will run for the six weeks leading up to August 4th.

Asked why the programme is designed just for women, Ritchie responded: “My thing is I am trying to see where I can go with it and how far I can go; I also have a men’s seminar planned and from next year I can start a group [for both girls and boys].”

She further stated that the shyness is more evident in young women, and while men may not come over the right way they are not as shy, so she chose young women to help them to become aware and strong. “They are not strong, they don’t know how to speak, even for an interview,” she said, adding that a young woman attended the interview with her cleavage exposed, and when she insisted that it be covered the young woman did not return.

She stressed that ladies need to understand that being confident or being sexy is not just about the way they look, but also about their minds.

The classes are expected to be held at Book Land in Thomas Lands and the classes will be conducted by Ritchie and her sister, who lives in the US, and hopefully a few other persons who are willing to volunteer.

She decided that the first classes should be free, because she does not want persons to feel they can’t come because they cannot afford it; she will be accepting as many girls as she can.

From this year’s programme the Miss Guyana Teen Excellent pageant will emerge and before the actual pageant on August 4th an intelligence segment will be held.

Asked pointedly if the programme is just a recruiting process for girls to enter the pageant, Ritchie quickly dismissed the notion, stating that no girl will be coerced into entering the pageant since it will be their choice. According to her the programme comes first and it will be ongoing, and there will be no more pageants after this one.

And Ritchie wants it known that they are into serious business and that she is collaborating with the Ministry of Culture, Youth & Sport. “We are a body; it is not just a street-side attraction, you know a show for me as most of these pageants have become,” she said, going on to explain that because they are associated with the ministry they have to uphold a certain standard and there will be no bikini segment in the pageant.

According to Ritchie the pageant will be about the teenagers working their minds and not their bodies, and she recalled that she interviewed a young woman who did very well at CXC English but yet could not write an application.  She pointed out that the children are the future leaders and they must be equipped with the requisite skills to be effective.

“If you graduate with a Grade Two in English and you can’t write a simple application that tells me something …” Ritchie said, acknowledging that many of the students lack respect and are not disciplined in school.

Additionally, while parents work long hours in an effort to provide for their children they most times leave those children unattended to practically take care of themselves, which Ritchie said also leads to the child taking the wrong path.

She recalled that when she attended school there was a very strict environment at home and in school, and she recalled one time being beaten because her book was not covered. That being said, Ritchie does not support corporal punishment since there are different methods of disciplining a child, but she expressed the view that the word ‘discipline’ should be used instead of ‘punishment’ since it is not a case of punishing the child who is growing and learning. She opposes corporal punishment mainly because some persons “go overboard” and injure children.

“I am totally, totally against beating…” she emphasized, suggesting that parents can have “time-out” for the younger children and take away the privileges of the older ones.

It is hoped that the second programme will start during the Easter holidays next year but there will be no pageant and young men will also be participants. However, an intelligence competition is planned for the end of each programme.

Also she hopes that when the school is properly established at the end of their course students would form a club with certain standards which they would have to maintain in order to remain members.

Ritchie has also opened a business called Prestige Business Consultant located in Mon Repos, which does business planning and promotion, and assists overseas persons with land issues in Guyana.

She also hopes to start working with employees of business firms and she said from the discussions she has had some business persons are anxious to send their employees to have their social skills sharpened.

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