The Caribbean Voice is a New York-based NGO that has been involved in social activism since its launch in 1998
Recently The Caribbean Voice received the following message from Dr. Leslie Ramsammy, former PPP/C Minister of Health, “When I was Minister of Health, I openly disagreed with them (WHO) on suicide…We have averaged between 140 and 170 deaths in my time as minister (2001 to 2011). The rate was between 18 and 25 per 100,000. I have argued that while Guyana has a troubling high rate, our rate is not nearly as high as what WHO used to say – 44 per 100,000. I used to challenge them to find the extra 100 to 150 deaths they were claiming. Their justification is that they made adjustments to cater for the underreporting, which they could not verify. It is interesting that when our actual deaths in the 1980 were over 250 they were actually reporting less than 150.”
So The Caribbean Voice did some digging and this is what emerged:
Clearly the 2012 figure is an anomaly, especially given that the only adjustment actually made by the WHO is from crude rate to age-standardized suicide rate, to eliminate the effect of differences in population age structures when comparing crude rates for different periods of time, different geographic areas and/or different population sub-groups. Thus the 2015 crude rate of 29.0 was adjusted to 30.6.
Whatever led to this apparent anomaly, it presents a skewed picture that makes the work of suicide prevention NGOs and activists that much more difficult, besides seeming to imply that with such a significant rate reduction, the government does not need to amp up resources to tackle suicide. That PAHO rep Dr. William Adu-Krow was quoted a number of times in certain sections of the media as stating that the 2015 rate was 20.6 is even more puzzling and despite The Caribbean Voice’s suggestion that Dr. Adu-Krow, may have been misquoted, he has not, to date, provided any public clarifying statement.
Thus it is important to factor out the underreporting (estimated as 25% by WHO). That leaves an actual rate of 32.15 per 100,000, which would then mean that the reduction from 2012 to 2015 was 2.07 per 100,00 and not 11.4 per 100,000.
Now regardless whether the 2012 anomaly had a political motive as implied in some quarters, TCV can testify to the fact that politics and ethnicity have been interwoven into officialdom’s response or lack thereof to our suicide prevention and anti-abuse campaign. Just after the National Stakeholders Conference on Suicide & Related Issues, in August 2015, a cabinet minister told us that President Granger was happy about our work in Guyana and that the Prime Minister and himself were tasked with providing TCV with all necessary support for our campaign. Almost three years later we are still waiting for that support to kick in. However a rationale of sorts for that not happening emerged when we learnt through a number of very reliable sources that suicide was allegedly identified as a problem specific to one ethnic group and TCV as an NGO reflective of that same ethnic group. While both of these assertions are inaccurate, is the implication that there exists a policy of different treatment for different ethnic groups?
In 2015 the army approached us to help with suicide, which they indicated was a significant issue within its ranks. Subsequent efforts to set up a planning meeting elicited no response. Then we learnt that another NGO, with political connections, had been contracted to provide assistance. Also, in 2015 Minister Ramjattan set up a meeting between TCV and the Police Commissioner to explore collaboration. Subsequently, the meeting was postponed by the Commissioner’s Office and to date requests to reschedule that meeting have met with silence.
As well, we had a meeting with the General Manager (GM) of the Guyana Chronicle to discuss non-publication of our letters. The upshot was a promise made to ensure publication of our letters, as well as a weekly column by TCV. Subsequent efforts to realize these promises were unsuccessful in spite of numerous emails sent to the GM and the Editor. More recently, our request to use the government guesthouse during a two-day outreach in one of the regions was rejected by that region’s Chief Executive Officer who incorrectly claimed that TCV ‘is PPP’. So is it only pro-government organizations and personnel that are entitled to access to such state resources?
There are many more examples like these. Yet, the reality is that TCV is neither politically affiliated nor ethnocentric. Our 70 plus volunteers and support specialists, with a range of skills and expertise, including psychologists, clinical counselors, researchers, pollsters, sociologists, medical personnel and social and community activists, reflect the ethno and political gamut of Guyana. And those who take our training, attend our workshops and outreaches, appeal for help or are proactively provided assistance, are not screened for ethnicity, political affiliation or anything else. In short no one has ever been, is ever or ever will be turned away by TCV, on the basis of age, ethnicity, political affiliation, gender, sexual orientation, status or any other indicator.
Furthermore, over the past three years, The Caribbean Voice has invested about five and half million dollars in suicide prevention and anti-abuse in Guyana. During this time we have engaged in over 300 successful counseling cases; held over 20 workshops that trained about 2,000 persons, including hundreds of students, and engaged in another 20 outreaches that networked with a few thousand persons. As well we held more than 50 meetings; attended over 25 different fora, widely disseminated information (articles, letters, interviews) across numerous media platforms, traditional (including international media such as New York City’s Daily News newspaper, the BBC, Vice News, ITV and Al Jazeera), and online posts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google, Linkedin, Pintserest, Tumblr, Youtube) reaching millions; engaged with other stakeholders, in lobbying for a range of measures, with the suicide helpline coming into being (promises to place counselors in schools and to develop a model to tackle pesticide suicide were made but not delivered); commissioned two surveys and held four press conferences. Also, we held the first and only truly National Stakeholders’ Conference on Suicide and Related Issues that was attended by over 70 stakeholders from across the nation, with transportation assistance provided where requested.
Additionally, TCV launched the Annual El Dorado Awards, which has, so far, honoured 34 social activists and change agents – individuals and organizations – with another 18 to be honoured this year. Among the 2017 honorees is an NGO working with children in the Amerindian community, an Amerindian artist who engages in tremendous social work, a few businesses that give back to the tune of millions of dollars, two community based organizations that do tremendous work within their communities, one youth activist and one youth organization that focuses on youth activism, a disability rights activist who is visually impaired, a women’s empowerment activist, an organization that works with autistic children, and an organization that provides relief supplies to families who face disasters such as fire and flood. The names will be publicized closer to the awards.
Also, TCV partners in Voices Against Violence, which organizes the Annual Anti-Violence Candlelight Vigil that, in two, years saw 500 plus candle light vigils held across Guyana. This year 59 partners organized vigils from Corriverton to Mabaruma and Charity. Partners were drawn from all ten administrative regions and included NGOs, Faith Based Organizations, Community Based Organizations, special interests groups (including youth and women’s groups), Regional Democratic Councils, Neighbourhood Democratic Councils, businesses, media, religious institutions and political parties. Thousands of person participated and many cultural programmes were held. Collaboration underpinned almost all the vigils, community togetherness was reinforced and social activism given a boost.
This year, like last year, letters were sent out to various cabinet ministers as well as the President, the Prime Minister and the First Lady, seeking meetings to discuss collaboration with and support for the vigil, but none of the communication was even acknowledged. Both the PNC and the AFC were invited to partner in the vigil but neither responded. However the PPP and the URP did. Hopefully, next year would be different since not only is the vigil here to stay; it keeps gaining more momentum, participation and support. In fact an event like this should be supported, promoted and fostered by the Ministries of Social Cohesion, Communities and Indigenous Affairs as it fits into their respective agendas.
In effect, our work has a national reach and TCV have established regional sub groups in seven regions with the remaining three to be set up next year. In recognition of our work we were invited to make a presentation at a special session of Guyana’s parliament. Interestingly, the invitation came from the local UN office in Guyana rather than parliament itself or the government. As well our work has been featured in the newsletter of the International Association for Suicide Prevention.
Meanwhile, regardless of what kinds of labels are thrown at TCV it will continue to educate, enlighten, advocate, lobby, train, counsel, network, engage in outreach, foster collaboration while debunking myths and misinformation, providing coping skills, developing self esteem, arming Guyanese with the wherewithal to face and overcome challenges/stress and to identify suicide and abuse warning signs and take action proactively, ensuring that all, who so request or are identified, do have access to counseling.
Meanwhile, we will continue to reach out to government at all levels with the hope that, among other things:
The promise made by Ministry of Education officials to ensure that our Youth & Student Workshops are offered to public schools, will be kept;
Our National Youth & Student Essay Contest will be facilitated in schools throughout the nation, having already been endorsed by the Ministry of Education;
We will be allowed access to schools for our workshops and outreaches and access to state guest houses especially in the hinterland where we plan to soon extend our activism starting with Region One later this year;
Both the Annual Anti-Violence Candlelight Vigil and El Dorado Awards will be endorsed and supported;
Chronicle will keep its promise to publish our letters and the weekly column that was agreed on.
Suicide and abuse are national scourges affecting all segments of our population. Thus, suicide prevention and anti-abuse should be everybody’s business and government at any level should not display ethnic, political or any other bias towards those who give selflessly of their time, efforts and resources to save lives and empower people.