POTS making a difference in Berbice

Lisa Punch and Wil Campbell

Prevention of Teenage Suicide (POTS) Guyana has some dynamic and dedicated young people in the country who are currently engaged in an outreach called ‘Be The One To’ campaign, targeting the Berbice county for its high suicide rates.

The non-governmental organisation (NGO) was initially founded by its president and Guyanese artiste, Lisa Punch in 2014 and became her platform for the Miss World ‘Beauty with a Purpose’ segment when she represented Guyana in 2015 at the international leg.

In an interview, Lisa shared some of her concerns that led to the outreach. The group which travelled to Berbice this past Wednesday evening started the campaign on Thursday and continued on Friday before their departure later that day for Georgetown.

“Through the ‘Be The One To’ campaign we will be reaching families and touching on some of the schools. It’s all about being the one to ask, the one to be there, be the one to help, to assist, be the one to give whatever it is you can, just be there for that person, be your brother’s keeper.

“We’re taking the campaign to Berbice because we understand the need for it there especially with the rise in suicide attempts and completed suicide there as well as domestic violence,” Lisa said.

Twice a week, every week the group will be in Berbice conducting the outreach. According to Lisa, the goal is to touch as many homes as possible in Berbice through a door-to-door strategy. She added that this seems a better method in reaching people since although there may be interviews done on radio and television personal contact can make a difference.

“When you go to homes and talk with people, they know exactly what to look for, who they can call, who they can speak with and learn to recognise the warning signs so they can help their love ones, their friends and family.

“Being a rural area, not much is being done and kids are turning to alcohol and tobacco and other drugs. We want to establish our presence there so that they know there’s a group of people who care and is willing to help them to get on the right track. Some of us can’t help where we came from but we can determine where go,” said the POTS president.

POTS Guyana has partnered with New Jersey Humanity Mission in Berbice which is helping children in computer science, mathematics and in other areas. The POTS group volunteers time to teach children in these after-school programmes. At the end of these programmes they’re awarded certificates.

The NGO is currently awaiting the Ministry of Education to approve its policy to work in schools. Once approved, the policy can be implemented through mini-clubs and run through the student bodies. Since children are more prone to sharing their feelings and circumstances with their peers, POTS feels the policy will be effective if it is allowed. However, the student counsellors would report back to the POTS members whenever a problem is detected.

Though the group is targeting Region Six, East Berbice, once all schools have been touched in this area, it will then move on to Region Five and continue this throughout Guyana. For now Berbice remains top priority. In 2015 to 2016, POTS was able to meet with the students of sixty schools.

Lisa, a Berbician, is saddened with what is happening as Berbice is close to her heart. “I want to give back and for many of us seeing their plight, we want to help. It’s not just suicide but domestic violence as well; we’re all about empowering our women and our men too who probably grew up in a home where they saw their fathers hitting their mothers and think it is okay so we need to break this cycle,” she said.

She shared the story of a mixed race couple in love, adding that the young lady’s parents opposed the relationship and would confine her.

“We got the police involved and the Minister of Social Protection at the time (Volda Lawrence). It’s been over a year since that has happened and now the couple is preparing to get married and the family now accepts him cause they’ve been getting the help they need,” said a very proud and elated Lisa.

She added, “We want to bring families together, we want to bring Guyana together because we’ve been divided for too long.”

She mentioned that POTS Guyana members are currently training new volunteers and added that its members have been trained by the Ministry of Public Health, Mental Health Unit before later travelling to the US where they were again trained by Safe Talk. Lisa did a training programme in the UK as well so this makes them qualified to train persons on suicide awareness.

However, it is difficult and she urged sponsors to come on board, whether they wish to help with transportation to and from Berbice, or refreshments; whatever little help, they will be grateful.

Although, the group consists of 80 volunteers and members not all of them are always available; some may make it once a week, others maybe once a month. Punch is inviting volunteers to join the group and be a part of its mission.  Persons can contact a readily available POTS Guyana team through hotline number which is connected with the police’s hotline numbers at 227-TALK (8255) or on Facebook at Prevention of Teenage Suicide, Guyana or through email ptsgorganization@gmail.com or call or Whatsapp Lisa on telephone number #622-0387 between the hours of 9 am to 6 pm.

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