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 and is working in collaboration with partners – other NGOs, businesses, socially conscious individuals, the media and various ministries in Guyana. Check out our website at www.caribvoice.org
The Caribbean Voice and its partners welcome the announcement by Police Commissioner Seelall Persaud, that the police force will be launching suicide help lines, especially given that we have been calling for this for quite a while. If our understanding is correct, these help lines would be located at every police station and manned 24/7 by trained personnel. Indeed that is how it should be as a single centralized help line has already proven to be an exercise in futility. However, we must emphasize that personnel manning these help lines must be trained to employ empathetic communication to ensure that callers feel comfortable and connected. They must also display basic knowledge of warning signs in order to quickly and easily pin down the factors that may have led to a call.
With respect to faith based counselors being the first line of response in the counseling process, we very strongly urge that such counselors must be provided with basic clinical training and not be left to fall back only on the faith based approach as there is enough evidence to show that this can sometimes be disastrous. And we strongly suggest that faith based counselors must be drawn from all three major faiths – Christianity, Hinduism and Islam – as it is critically important not to impose faith based counselors of one religion on those who subscribe to other religions, especially given that in their moments of abject desperation a ray of familiarity has a far greater probability of shining through. Also, in areas where priests/pandits/imams/moulvis are not available and/or easily accessible, institutional faith leaders or professionals such teachers for example, can also be provided this training. The point is that the gap between receipt of a call on the help line and access to a counselor must be as short as possible and thus every area should have counselors available and accessible within minutes.
Given that the police station personnel would “…go pick up a counselor, either from the Ministry of Social Cohesion or a member of the faith-based organization and take them to the location, let them take over the cases and the process,” the Police Commissioner and line minister must ensure that vehicles for this purpose are always available, for in these situations time could be critical.
The Commissioner also stated that, ”.. the force would have had the input of doctors providing training to the pastors and police ranks who will be involved in the project.” We sincerely hope that the esteemed Commissioner means psychologists and counselors and not medical doctors, unless the latter are professionally equipped to provide training in counseling and suicide prevention strategies.
The Commissioner also revealed that he has been having discussions with the Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan, regarding legislation to control access to pesticides and weedicides. However, may we suggest that there is really no need to reinvent the wheel? The Caribbean Voice has been advocating employment of the Sri Lankan Model of Hazard Reduction, which helped to reduce suicides in that nation by 50% in a decade or so, and, in fact, along with a number of other stakeholders, including the Rights of the Child Commission and the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha, had met with the Pesticide Board, which had indicated that it would have rolled out an adaptation of the Sri Lankan Model in May this year. We do understand that elections and its aftermath may have resulted in the May deadline not being kept, but now surely the esteemed Commissioner and the Hon. Minister of Public Security can reach out to the Pesticide Board and get this process up and running?
We also commend this collaborative approach outlined by the Police Commissioner and we suggest that the Cops and Faith Initiative and the Gatekeepers Program (which the Hon. Minister of Health indicated would be brought back) can also become critical collaborators in the help lines initiative, along with community organizations and NGOs.
The Caribbean Voice and other stakeholders have also pointed out the nexus between suicide on the one hand and other pathologies such as abuse, (especially domestic and child abuse), rape, incest, alcoholism and drugs, and we strongly suggest that help lines would be more effective, as a suicide prevention tool, if the collaborative process engages relevant stakeholders to address these other issues as well. In this regards also, may we suggest that the establishment of a registry of sex offenders be placed on the agenda and rolled out ASAP? Additionally, we urge also that a process be set in motion to decriminalize attempted suicide.
Also, in an attempt to enhance the collaborative and holistic processes, The Caribbean Voice is organizing an all day National Stakeholders’ Conference on suicide and related issues on August 21, in collaboration with Cara Hotel, Save Abee Foundation, Office Resources Inc, CADVA, Monique’s Helping Hands and a number of other entities. We are also extending an open invitation to NGO’s and activists on the social landscape to contact us to be involved in the conference. Because we want the conference to be truly national in representation, we may not be able to accommodate more than one representative per organization and, in fact will have to operate on a first come basis since seating is limited. Also, because it is a catered conference pre-registration is mandatory. There is no registration fee and we are exploring the possibility of helping organizations in outlying areas with transportation.
Meanwhile, we are delighted that Hon. Minister Khemraj Ramjattan has indicated that, barring an emergency or unforeseen circumstance, he will be attending the conference and that Hon. Minister Volda Lawrence would be delivering the charge. We have, in fact, also extended an invitation to the Police Commissioner, but thus far our invitation has not been acknowledged. We humbly take this opportunity to urge the esteemed Commissioner to accept our invitation and use this forum to inform all about the initiatives planned to address suicide and other pathologies such as abuse (especially domestic and child abuse), rape, incest, alcoholism and drug abuse.
Meanwhile our invitations to the Ministers of Education, Health and Agriculture, all critical stakeholders with respect to suicide prevention, are yet to be acknowledged.
In August, The Caribbean Voice will be launching a Billboard Campaign and a Walk & Rally Campaign, both of which will be taken throughout Guyana over the next few years. The first two Billboards are to be erected at Anna Regina and Black Bush Polder and the first walk and rally to be held in Region Two. Region Two has been selected because, based on empirical and anecdotal evidence and media content analysis, that region has indicated a suicide rate surpassing any other area of Guyana over the last year or so.
And on August 22, in collaboration with Cara Hotel, The Caribbean Voice is launching the El Dorado Awards to honour advocates, activists and affirmation agents, while extending the conversation on suicide and related issues to embrace the business and professional communities. The awards include a cocktail reception and a cultural interlude and honorees are drawn from throughout Guyana – individuals and organizations that have been making a difference. Tickets are G$7,000 each and only 50 tickets are being sold. For tickets please call Bibi at 621-6111 or 223-2637. Email can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or gtposse72.com.
Finally The Caribbean Voice cannot help but lament the increase in suicides over the last few months or so and we sincerely hope that soon the talk thus far, will translate into action, so that a process can be set on stream to tackle this scourge and its mates – abuse, rape, drugs, alcoholism and the like. In like manner we sincerely hope that the August 21 conference will lead to a collaborative, holistic process so that redress can be concerted, involving all and sundry in a national, sustained effort. The band-aid approach can no longer work. Finally we urge the powers that be to ensure that scarce resources are employed in a manner that brings the maximum relief directly to the people as the time for talk shops, studies, reports, consultants et al are long past gone. The crisis is here and now and concrete redress needs to also be here and now.