Meeting with executives of the Islamic Development Bank (IDB), Minister of Social Protection Volda Lawrence on Thursday made a proposal to rebuild the Palms Geriatric Home and construct a shelter for survivors of abuse.
She told the four-member IDB delegation, who journeyed from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, that her ministry would like to transform the 142-year-old Palms Geriatric Home on Brickdam to a modern facility, which is estimated to cost some $450 to $500M. She spoke too about the construction of a shelter for survivors of gender-based violence, which can accommodate 20 families at once and is estimated to cost $275M.
After listening keenly to both proposals at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre at Lillendaal, East Coast Demerara on Thursday, Vice President of the IDB Syed Aqa said they could work with the ministry to see what is possible.
“I think that we can work with you, without again promising, we can see how we can accommodate that,” Aqa said.
He said too that there are a number of options that the Bank’s technical team can explore with the ministry, while noting that the issues she raised are indeed pressing.
Guyana became the 57th member of the IDB in March this year and it was seen as a signal for development. There have been attempts to join the bank ever since Guyana became a member of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) in 1998, which is a requirement.
Lawrence said the visit was “most timely because we are elevating to the status of middle income and it has resulted in the scaling back of many NGOs and the government in areas of social programmes.”
Minister Lawrence said her ministry is the main institution mandated to implement laws, policies, programmes and initiatives to improve the social well-being of Guyanese through poverty alleviation schemes, social safety nets, preventative and care programmes and the promotion of decent work conditions.
The Palms Geriatric Home, she said, is in a deplorable state and the minister is proposing to construct and furnish a modern facility to house 300 disadvantaged elderly residents.
The building would also include “ground level shared living quarters for 200 persons,” a library, a fitness area, a kitchen, office space, fencing and landscaping, she said.
It would also be equipped with “single room apartments provided for 100 persons, on a cost recovery basis,” she added.
The Ministry of Social Protection, which oversees all elderly care facilities in Guyana, has direct responsibility for the management and administration of the current three-storied wooden facility. The Palms was established under British rule in 1874 and has been the final home of thousands of Guyanese senior citizens.
“We believe that the time has come to provide better services for them,” the minister told the IDB executives.
She pointed out that her ministry has land space available in Region 4 and would be happy to have the elderly relocated to a new and improved facility.
With regards to the shelter for domestic violence survivors, Lawrence said it will be open 24/7 for victims/survivors of domestic violence and their children fleeing abusive situations.
She said it is hoped that they would be able to house approximately 20 families at once at the facility, which would consist of, among other things, shared accommodation and single room apartments, a kitchen, library and counseling rooms.
She noted that the unavailability of accommodation for victims of domestic violence has been one of the principal reasons for abusive relationships continuing in Guyana.
Lawrence noted that the services to be offered at the facility would include daily 24-hour access to staff, case management services, clothing, food, hygiene products, crisis intervention and therapeutic counselling. She said it would also provide associated services, such as counseling and skills training.
Lawrence also informed the bank’s executives that between 2011 and 2013, the Crime and Social Observatory Unit of her ministry, through the Ministry of Public Security, recorded more than 9,200 different types of domestic violence cases in Guyana.
Of that, 65 percent of the cases involved assault and between January and October of 2015, 17 women were murdered by their partners. This has put a strain on the ministry, which has to care for the victims’ children, she said.
She also highlighted reports in the media which indicated that 10 women were killed by their partners in five months this year. Recently, she said, not just the partners are being attacked but other family members.
In 2013, 29 domestic related murders took place and in January 2012, 50 percent of women experienced domestic violence in relationships.
Presently, the ministry partners with a non-governmental organisation to provide housing for the human trafficking victims. When the accommodation is exhausted, the house for victims of sexual and domestic violence is also used. “We have a crisis on our hands in terms of domestic violence, sexual violence and trafficking in persons. We are trying our best with our limited resources and with the help of NGOs to address these issues but I believe that this kind of team that is here today will understand that there are some things that we cannot do on our own,” she said, while adding that the ministry is not sitting by idly and has already acquired a plot of land to construct the shelter. “We already have the plans and all we need now are the finances to get that building up. Help us to save our women and our children,” she implored.
Meanwhile, Special Advisor to the bank’s Vice President, Muhammad Alsaati, told the gathering that job creation is a way to address the issue of domestic violence.