Every school should have a trained counsellor or team of counsellors

Dear Editor,

I am a youth volunteer with the Guyana Responsible Parenthood association (GRPA). This year I was one of 17 facilitators and peer counsellors trained to conduct in-school sessions on Gender Based Violence GBV), through the GRPA, a project sponsored by the Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI)

This was our final week of a two-months schedule of conducting in-school sessions in six secondary schools in the Georgetown area. Everyone keeps asking, “Did you enjoy conducting these sessions? What were your findings?”  I enjoyed doing these sessions that came with their challenges and other experiences. I have conducted sessions on child abuse (sexual, physical and emotional), street harassment, bullying, healthy and unhealthy relationships, to name a few. I have deduced that the main form of gender based violence that our children suffer from is sexual abuse. The stories I heard were sickening and agonizing. I was deeply saddened to know that in almost every class that I visited, there was a child who was being sexually abused, with the perpetrator most often being someone in their family: cousins, brothers, uncles and fathers. These are persons who ought to protect, love and nurture the children in their households and families. Instead they are the ones to be feared for they hurt and take advantage of children under their care. Editor, where does this put us as a nation? Who really cares about our children in Guyana? This question reverberates in my mind.

During our work with the schools, my GRPA colleagues and I provided peer counselling for the students we worked with, but there is so much more that is needed to address the pain that our children are going through.

Our support from CFLI will soon end and we will be looking for further support to continue our work. But the Ministry of Education needs to seriously look into this issue of the pain and suffering that adolescents are facing. When we began the sessions on GBV, the teachers from these various schools expressed their appreciation and support for our work because there was no one else to do it, and the teachers themselves are often times overwhelmed with work and are not trained to counsel students suffering from abuse.

My question is why is it that when there is a problem in a particular school only then are counsellors called in? We as a country should be more proactive, instead of reactive when a bizarre incident is made public. Every school should have a trained counsellor or a team of counsellors to help identify and counsel students who are suffering from abuse or any other form of gender based violence. Our children are being taken advantage of in the worst way possible and there need to be serious interventions. If we are to combat child sexual abuse a good place to start is in the schools. It is important to provide counselling and CSE (Comprehensive Sexuality Education). Many students we spoke with are unaware that they are being abused, as this kind of behaviour seems so normal in their households. Those who are aware do not know how to get help to stop the abuse. They fear that worse will come if they reveal what is happening to them.

Editor, one thing that was very evident with all of the sessions with the six schools visited, is that children just want to be asked. They want to know that someone is there listening and trying to help them.

I would like to make an open call to the Minister of Education and all other education officials to get counsellors into schools and to have age appropriate Comprehensive Sexuality Education in schools. This is very important.  They need to exhaust every option and come up with new ones so as to salvage a system that is failing our children. If children are the future, by all means, let’s start acting as if it is so, and protect them.

Yours faithfully,

Jasmin Cort

GRPA Youth Volunteer

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