Youth are already taking the lead

The Caribbean Voice

The Caribbean Voice is a New York-based

NGO that has been involved in social

activism since its launch in 1998

While the Caribbean Voice (TCV) leaves the debate about youth leadership in politics to others, we must point out that on the social landscape young people are stepping up and making a significant difference. For example, most of the activists in TCV are young people who fully volunteer their time, efforts and resources to ensure that our suicide and abuse prevention mission is ongoing and extensive. To this end they give their afternoons, evenings and weekends to deliver workshops, do outreaches, foster advocacy, disseminate information, enhance collaboration for social empowerment and build institutional capacity. Why did these young people choose volunteerism?

“After attending a workshop at the Diamond Food Court, I remember thinking that I want to be a part of something this phenomenal. I have learnt so much in my one year of involvement and I have recognized that volunteerism isn’t as easy as it seems, but with the TEAM we have everything is possible,” said Surendra Bipiah, a working student.

“Volunteering has helped me to grow both personally and professionally. Most importantly it helps to keep me grounded. To want to do more for others and to know you are making a difference in someone’s life is worth more than material gains. At one point I was going through a rough phase and thanks to The Caribbean Voice I was able to overcome that phase,” noted Kamene Seepaul, an accountant.

Rajkumar Khemraj, an educator, added: “I attended a workshop in August last year where I learnt a lot and was introduced to the team. I said to myself that whatever I had learnt there, I cannot keep to myself; I have to share it to others to help the people in my community and country as a whole. I want a change, that’s why I’m part of this team.’

Keshni Rooplall, community and social activist and Deputy National Coordinator of The Caribbean Voice pointed out that “Volunteering for TCV allows me to spread my wings, from helping people to developing leadership skills….one passion I have been working on is giving back to my country.”

Other young people involved with The Caribbean Voice in Guyana include, Lothoya Mckenzie (educator), Ashley Scotland (media personality), Dan Ali (medical student), Adeola Edwards-Simon (psychologist, information technologist), Sunaina Boodhoo (student), Mahendra Phagwah (social activist), Carol Ann Lovell (student), Ann-Marie Bess (trained social worker) and our newest change agents, Jenelle Evelyn and Farah Khan. The members of The Caribbean Voice are but a few of the many, many young people who are leading the charge to make a critical difference in the quality of life of Guyanese.

One such is Pandit Deodat Persaud, head, Golden Om Dharmic Youth in Canje, one the most successful youth organizations in Guyana. With Masters degree from UG, Pandit Deodat is a 2015 honoree of the El Dorado Awards and a recently appointed member of the Ethnic Relations Committee. Another is Akola Thompson, UG student, journalist and women’s and social activist. In addition to volunteering with a number of NGOs Akola has initiated the establishment of a website that allows Guyanese to confidentially report abuse and indicate what level of support they are seeking. She and her team are in the process of setting up a mechanism to facilitate the requested help.

A third is Samantha Sheoprashad, UG graduate, head of the Enterprise Youth Development Group, the 2017 Queen’s Young Leader and a 2016 honoree of the El Dorado Awards. She’s creating a mental health app that will enable users to connect with counselors and therapists and will provide tips for mental wellness. Samantha is in need of funding to complete the app and is appealing to the public to help. She can be reached at 653-1567 or 643-3119. Samantha is one of a number of Guyanese youth taking the lead in apps creation to connect Guyanese everywhere with access to services at their fingertips, saving time, money and headache. App creation is time consuming, challenging and expensive. Thus TCV sincerely hopes that all these young people will be assisted to bring their creations to fruition and easily accessible to citizens across Guyana.

Then there is Marva Langevine, 2018 Queen’s Young Leader, founder of the Guyana Golden Lives Organization, which provides financial and psychosocial support services for bereaved children, job opportunities for widows, and food hampers and building materials for low-income families. She has created Camp Golden for bereaved young people, which provides counseling, food, shelter and educational opportunities. Marva is also a founding member of Den-Amstel Dynamic Network, a youth group focused on restoring the cultural art forms for which her home village of Den-Amstel was once famous.

In focusing on the leadership role undertaken by youth in volunteerism, we also suggest that all secondary schools follow the example of The School of Nations, where fourth to sixth formers have been utilizing their free time between classes and after school to become active agents for social action in their communities. Also, peer mediation should also be introduced in all secondary schools. The benefits of peer mediation are many, including increased self-esteem, conflict resolution and prevention, life skills acquisition and leadership building. And a mechanism for training should be provided for parents through Parent-Teacher Associations, community and faith-based organizations. This is essential, given that the 15-25 age group has the highest suicide rate in Guyana, Guyana has the second highest teenage pregnancy rate in the Caribbean, and there is growing child abuse and increasing use of drugs and alcohol among the young. The recently released findings of a 2012 study done by Keith King and Rebecca Viodurek, of the University of Cincinnati, concluded that, “Teenagers who feel their parents rarely express interest in their emotional well-being are far more likely to consider suicide than youths who say their parents are involved and proud of them.” And this concept, underpinned by emphatic communication, is significantly absent from the parenting landscape in Guyana.

Some time ago students in Black Bush Polder, New Amsterdam and Anna Regina came out on the streets to focus on suicide. We urge the Ministry of Education to declare one day a year as ‘Students’ Social Activism Day,’ whereby students nationally can come out in marches and rallies, to be addressed by informed personnel on suicide, domestic abuse, teenage pregnancy and related issues. Parents and the school communities can be invited to participate and collaborate with schools to plan related activities. Socially active youth or youth oriented NGOs have been springing up across Guyana as young people strive to play a significant role in every arena of life in Guyana. TCV urges maximum support for these entities everywhere, given that we are privy to information that implies that fairness and equity across the board is not being dispensed.

Furthermore, The Caribbean Voice strongly supports efforts by the government to make Guyana compliant with The Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in respect of Inter-country Adoption. We hope this will fall in place sooner than later. We endorse the call by children activists for the charge of wandering to be taken off the books and for the tabling in the National Assembly of the Juvenile Justice Bill, which has a provision to ensure that juveniles should no longer be charged with wandering. We support calls for police to stop placing minors in lockups unless they are charged with actual crimes. Cell phone addiction, for example, needs counseling rather than placement in the lockups. And we applaud the stringent sentences handed down in two cases of child rapist convictions. We strongly urge that this level of stringency be consistently and continuously applied across the board and that rape be made a non-bailable offense.

Recently, Ms. Ann Greene, head of the Childcare & Protection Agency, appealed to the media to make “deliberate efforts to ensure that the vulnerability of children is not amplified” in coverage of missing children”.  Counseling should be included in the curriculum for the National Cadet Corps Programme, and be made part of training for the Youth Innovation Project, Youth Entrepreneurial Skills Training, Sustainable Livelihood and Entrepreneurial Development and the holistic programme to replace the Hinterland Employment and Youth Scheme. Self-esteem and coping skills should be emphasized to ensure that those trained are armed with the mental and psychological wherewithal to face challenges as they use their training for self advancement.

Our Youth and Student workshop is set to expand its delivery to all public schools through collaboration with the Guyana Teachers Union and the Child Care and Protection Agency. Meanwhile we call on the Ministry of Education to include responsible social media use as a regular part of the school curriculum.

Our Teachers’ Workshop is also being taken nationally again through collaboration with the Guyana Teachers Union and the Child Care and Protection Agency. This process started on January 17 at Canje Secondary School, in Region Six with 120 teachers. Another workshop, with an attendance of 101, was held at Berbice High School in New Amsterdam on January 26 and a third one will be held on the West Coast of Demerara on January 30. Meanwhile we reiterate our call for the placement of counselors in schools nationwide. This can start with the 30 recent psychology graduates from the American University of Peace Studies, who can be added to, especially since the University of Guyana is also set to launch a Psychology programme

Our petition for the establishment of a Registry of Sex Offenders is ongoing even as we await the two planned registries – one for sexual predators of children and another one for sexual predators of adults – expected to come on stream this year. There is an urgent need to raise the age of consent to 18 years to match the legal adult age. In fact, a 2017 Meeting of Caribbean Youth Leaders on sexual and reproductive health and HIV/AIDS called for this alignment to enable young people to access sexual and reproductive health services. TCV currently has a petition calling for this. We urge readers to log on to our website (www.caribvoice.org) click on the petitions link and support both petitions by signing and sharing as widely as possible. Printed forms are also available by request.

Finally, the Caribbean Voice once again indicates our willingness to provide a pro bono workshop to train selected teachers (who can turnkey the training to their colleagues nationwide) to tackle violence and address the needs of challenged students.  Our trainers include classroom management experts, counselors/psychologists and experts on special needs students.

For information about or to become a TCV member, please call Nazim at 644-1150, Chandanie at 697-9968 or Ibi at 694-7433. Send email to caribvoice@aol.com, feedback via the feedback form on our website or contact any member of TCV on Facebook.

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