By The Caribbean Voice
The Caribbean Voice is a New York-based NGO that has been involved in social activism since its launch in 1998. Currently it is focusing on suicide prevention and related issues in Guyana and the Diaspora.
In an attempt to get communities across Guyana involved in anti-violence, The Caribbean Voice is exploring initiatives that are inexpensive and that bring people together. The March 27 anti-violence candle light vigil fits the bill; each participant simply needs a candle or can even use their cell phones. Thus vigils can be organized by religious institutions, local businesses, schools, sports and youth clubs…just about any entity or set of individuals. Each vigil can select routes around the community, end at a central point or any other selected place where the participants can be accommodated and hold a rally where preselected individuals from within or without the community can speak on the theme of anti-violence and, if desired, inter faith prayers can be conducted. During the walk about anti-violence slogans can be chanted.
Given that The Caribbean Voice is involved in suicide prevention, one may be tempted to ask ‘why anti-violence’? We believe that suicide and related issues are acts of violence against self or others and some of these may also spur acts of violence against others. In fact, we consider all of the following to be acts of violence: trafficking, suicide, drug and alcohol addiction, domestic and child abuse, rape, incest, teenage pregnancy, road carnage, dysfunctional relationships, neglect of the elderly, homophobia, abuse of the mentally and physically challenged.
We also believe that relationship violence and dysfunctional socialization spawn, can and do shape personalities that easily gravitate towards crime and attending violence. On the other hand we believe that violence should be addressed holistically and that when communities come together they can begin to become more caring and build more togetherness. Thus we are convinced that anti-violence can and should be addressed through the involvement of communities throughout the entire nation in myriad ways, for example:
Businesses and entities that set up billboards can incorporate antiviolence messages. Similar messages can also be added to signposts, including those indicating locations of villages, institutions, sports arenas and so on.
PSAs in the media can feature leading personalities who can be prevailed upon to donate their time and efforts: sports stars such as Sarwan, Shiv and others; local performing stars; Guyana Ms. World and Ms. Universe; the President, the First Lady, PNC leader Granger, AFC’s Khemraj Ramjattan and other politicians and civil service influentials such as Stanley Ming, Eric Phillips, Ravi Dev, Syeada Manbodh; young people such as toppers at the CXC/CSEC and the University of Guyana. Media can donate time slots and/space and ad agencies, photographers and related personnel can donate services to produce the PSAs.
Umbrella religious organizations can work with their churches, mosques and mandirs to regularly propagate anti-violence messages and set up intervention and support mechanisms. Priests, pandits and moulvis can be instrumental in this respect, especially if requisite training is provided and they can initiate discussions on a regular basis.
School curricula should incorporate anti-violence, and utilize many media to bring this out – debates, essays, poetry, art, posters, drama, role-playing, focus groups, class discussions. In addition to teachers, resource personnel can include police, community leaders, members of the legal fraternity and so on. Special parents day on the theme of anti violence can be organized and this theme can be highlighted at special school activities such as sports days and PTA meetings. Hopefully the Ministry of Education will soon be able to appoint counselors/social workers for every school.
Guyanese websites and other Internet presence can place anti-violence banner ads on their sites/pages. This should include websites of all political parties, businesses, NGOs and so on. Maybe the government can set up a webpage with all sizes of banner ads that can be used. We’re pretty certain many Diaspora sites would also be persuaded to follow suit.
Sports clubs, through umbrella sports organizations and the Ministry of Sports, can create anti-violence banners, which can be prominently displayed at all sporting activities and each time there is an activity, the anti-violence message can be spread. In fact, the same can be done by organizations of all sorts – social, business, youth, women, business, professional and other NGOs.
Government agencies should regularly propagate anti-violence messages via emails, flyers on bulletin boards, announcements at meetings, social occasions and so on. Human resource personnel can be sensitized to spot warning signs and set up interventions and their doors should be open for adults to enter and discuss issues relating to violence – actual or pending. The private sector and professionals can implement similar strategies.
Political parties, at all gatherings, including public meetings, can make sure that the anti-violence message is put out. In fact, each political party can set up mechanisms that can reach into their grassroots support and help with identifying warning signs and intervention. Ditto for trade unions and other mass-based organizations.
Police sensitization must be continual and ongoing at every level to ensure that laws are complied with and that police apply same, in a timely and incisive manner. There should be no tolerance for violence of any kind. Community-policing groups can be provided with some training to play a role in anti-violence prevention, intervention and action. Importantly, the police should step up training of its members with respect to suicide, domestic violence, drug and alcohol addiction, child abuse and related issues and trained officers should be deployed in all police stations throughout the nation.
At the village level efforts must be made by any and all – religious institutions, political party cells, sports and other clubs, schools and so on – that have the scope and capacity to build an anti-violence culture and an outlook that makes intervention everybody’s business, whether it is to preempt violence, to prevent it from becoming fatal or to provide support and advice as well as to ensure help and intervention.
All of this calls for a coordinated approach through which responsibility must be shouldered at many levels, by individuals and entities across all various divides. Done on a regular and continual basis this can surely yield the expected results over time with minimal financial outlay. All that is needed is a start. Why not ask the Amazon Warriors to take the lead? The media can quickly and easily jump in followed by sports and political parties and then others can begin to play their parts as coordination evolves.
Meanwhile there are already local institutions that can become both resource and coordination points, Red Thread, Help and Shelter, Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association, Monique’s Helping Hands, Dharmic Sabha, CIOG being some of the most recognizable. Perhaps the private sector and the Diaspora can chip in to help these entities set up offices in outlying areas. While this is evolving, other entities can offer space sharing wherever that is possible – business and professional organizations, political parties, and even private citizens.
Culture too can be a powerful anti-violence tool. In fact, in response to a facebook posting by The Caribbean Voice, it was revealed that there are already a number of anti-violence songs by a variety of Guyanese artists focusing on the carnage on the road, suicide, violence against women and children and so on. We are pretty certain that the artistes would most willingly allow the Ministry of Culture to compile these songs on a CD that can be used for advocacy including being made available to the broadcast media. Also Nirvana Humanitarian Foundation, based in New York City, with a branch in Guyana, has already started incorporating social issues – suicide, domestic violence, child abuse – in their drama. This is year another way to go, especially with grass roots theatre at the community level via schools, religious and youth groups.
Within the context of the above suggestions The Caribbean Voice is prepared to become involved wherever and whenever possible. We will continue with our outreach campaign that was started last year in collaboration with a number of other partners. This year we will also launch our training program and again would be willing to partner with whoever and whatever entities are so willing. We already engage in advocacy online through our facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/groups/suicideepidemic/), our twitter account (https://twitter.com/ caribvoice), our YouTube channel (https://www.youtube. com/user/ab10460/feed?view_as=public), our pinterest page (https://www.pinterest.com/caribbean3425/) and our website (www.caribvoice.org), which is currently being redesigned. Additionally we are exploring other social media outlets as well as seeking to partner with local media to launch public service announcements.
And we hope the Minister of Agriculture would seriously consider the Sri Lankan model (which we had mentioned in a letter to local media) to keep dangerous agri-chemicals safely secured.
At the same time we look forward to finalizing arrangements with the Ministry of Education to launch the national schools essay competition on suicide, as well as to implement proposals endorsed by the Honorable Minister of Education to allow all schools to have their students placard and rally one day a year on anti-violence including but not limited to suicide, drug and alcohol addictions, domestic and child abuse and teenage pregnancy; to have fourth formers conduct surveys within their communities on these same issues as well as others as this kind of endeavour will drive home the reality and set them on a course to become anti-violence advocates from an early age and to have schools include anti-violence discussions at PTA meetings, again focusing on the same issues. Additionally we are willing to conduct training programmes on classroom management without corporal punishment for teachers for which we would cover our own costs.
Anti-violence must become everybody’s business and immediately so! The candle light vigil, held in communities throughout the nation, is a step in this direction. So we appeal to local and community leaders, businessmen and other influentials as well as community organizations, including religious institutions and sports club, and government agencies to please help to bring off this activity by ensuring that a vigil is organized in every community, collaboratively where possible. For the March 27 vigil we hope to have one contact for each community whom we can keep updated. We want to map all the vigils so we can seek pre and post publicity. So please contact us to let us know that a vigil is planned in your community: email via firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org, call or text 718-542-4454 or 317-414-9076 (USA) or 621-6111 or 223-2637 (Guyana). Also send us IM via our facebook page, The Suicide Epidemic.
Guyana is small enough for it not to be an eminently doable task to collaboratively work to save lives and perhaps transform the society in the process, especially given that most of what needs to be harnessed is already in place. After all, our history tells us that politics, race, religion are never obstacles in the face of people’s willpower and resolve. In fact there was a time in the not too distant past, when the village actually raised the child and everyone was each other’s keeper. Surely Guyanese can gradually imbibe those traits again?
May we also take this opportunity to express our deep sadness at the sudden and tragic loss of our board member, Dr. Faith Harding, one of those rare individuals who was able to rise above the divides of politics and ethnicity and advance the lives of Guyanese one community at a time, while exuding care and compassion to all who were fortunate to enter her embrace. She will be sorely missed.