A commitment to a dying friend to always be there for her two sons opened 25-year-old Marva Langevine to the pain and trauma bereaved children endure and she was so moved that she decided to do something not just for them but for other hurting children who would have lost a parent.
The Uitvlugt Secondary School teacher who has a degree in Education and majored in Spanish wanted to do more for the children but knew she could not do it alone as even with her good intentions she felt at times she was hitting the proverbial brick wall.
“I was desperate. I felt I was not getting the help in Guyana. I tried networking with persons, but it didn’t work out. That language of collaboration is not spoken in this country,” she told the Sunday Stabroek during an interview.
She cried out for help as she wanted to know how to get people onboard who really wanted to work and make an impact on children’s lives.
In desperation, she applied for Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II Young Leaders Award and became one of the 240 youth leaders from 38 Commonwealth countries to receive it. She was recently handed the award by the Queen herself at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace in London.
But it all started when Langevine visited her friend Mikesha in the Georgetown Public Hospital. Mikesha was diagnosed with Leiomyosarcoma, a rare type of cancer that affects smooth muscle tissue, while she was pregnant. She was advised to abort the child so that urgent treatment could could commence but she opted to bring her baby to full term.
“I saw how she really fought to live for her children. She loved her boys. After she gave birth to her second child, she was admitted for treatment, so she did not get to really hold him and bond with him,” Langevine shared.
Mikesha underwent chemotherapy but Langevine said she believes by then the cancer was too far gone and her friend was not given long to live even though she did live past the time given by her doctor.
As she spoke of Mikesha, it was obviously difficult for her even though she must have told the story over and over. She recalled that one occasion her friend got the opportunity to see and hold her baby boy and how she put aside the agonizing pain she was in at time to do so. She was also concerned that he was not well and had to be taken to the hospital.
“It was really heartbreaking…,” she lamented.
“She died eventually, and I made a commitment to be in the children’s lives,” Langevine said.
Mikesha’s parents had also made a commitment to care for the boys but three months after her death her father died in a freak accident when a steel rod fell on him while he was at work at Gafoors.
“After he died, things turned upside down,” Langevine shared, adding that her friend’s
mother had never worked outside the home as her husband had taken good care of the family, but with the breadwinner gone, things got tough.
Langevine battled with what she saw and during this struggle a friend encouraged her to enter the Miss World Guyana pageant. It was not her desire, but when she read of the pageant’s ‘beauty with a purpose’ aspect she felt it was something she could be interested in.
She had difficulty choosing a project and prayed about it and her friend’s name came up.
“I remember going online and typing in ‘what happens to children after their parents die’. And I found out about child bereavement awareness. I then read about various charities in the US and the UK and that was the first time I was reading about all of that,” she told this newspaper.
She started to think of Mikesha’s children and children in her school, relatives too as even her grandparents were bereaved as children.
Things started to come together, and she used it as her project for the pageant; while she did not win the crown, she won the ‘beauty with a purpose’ segment.
Following the pageant, Langevine said she held workshops and along with others, sensitized persons to the fact that children grieve and the way they can be assisted through the process.
She also launched a bereavement camp and held three one-day retreats the following year with assistance from Youth with a Mission in Parika. It was during the camps that she received referrals for other children and various needs for families. Apart from the youth group, her friends who are teachers and social workers also pitched in to help with the camps.
“Some needed financial support and counselling and I wanted to provide all kinds of support for children,” she stated and revealed she worked with children who would have lost their parents to murder, road fatalities, mining accidents and suicides. She also worked with widows in the process.
The camps included play therapy and art therapy, the stages of grief and how the children can cope in healthy ways. Many of them had never heard of grief before and could not put a word to certain emotions. She recalled a teenager at the camp who had lost her father but did not know how to deal with the grief and as result had begun to self-harm, but the camp helped her to understand and find a coping mechanism.
Eventually Langevine became so involved that her studies at the University of Guyana suffered since she was often forced to work alone. So, in 2017, she took some time out to focus on her studies. She completed university and graduated last year. While she was studying she still kept in contact with the children, visited many of them and would hold birthday parties, but faced struggles as she was still relatively inexperienced.
It was at that point that she decided to apply for the Queen’s award because she realised it was an excellent programme to support young people with a passion and not one where you get a plaque that says you have done well, but rather one that says, ‘we see you have done well and we want to get you to the next level.’
The award entails a one-year online programme, Leading Change, which has various modules and is done through Cambridge University. The awardees are also paired with mentors and Langevine has two: Lyndell Danzie-Black, the Managing Director of Cerulean Inc, a consultancy firm right here in Guyana and Mica Allan from Ireland.
“They have been of great help to me, guiding me; it is what I really wanted. They have been able to guide me in the right direction, listen to my frustration and concerns, listen to my ideas and help me to plan accordingly,” she recounted.
The structure she always wanted has been formed but is not yet up and running; she also needs to start much needed networking.
She does have good stories about networking as she has done some with Women’s Wednesdays, a monthly web-based broadcast on conversations surrounding the experiences of women, which was created by Akola Thompson. Langevine is one of the trustees.
She works along with Covenant Home for Children, a United States-based charity, which is registered in California and focuses on the homeless, runaway, abandoned, abused, trafficked, or exploited youth of Guyana.
“I have been getting somewhere even though at first it was difficult. I was so confused. I am still confused, I don’t know. Maybe real networking is something that was never done… there are so many organisations for cancer, mental health and other issues but they don’t come together and do something together. We can all share resources and expertise and get there one day,” she said.
Marva has now formed Guyana Golden Lives Organisation and she said her aim is to let children know they are valued and that they have a future. With the assistance of friends, she is getting the right structure but for now with Covenant Home they are visiting existing homes and helping to meet the needs of the children.
International Children Grief awareness week and day are observed in November and Langevine said they are working on projects to have a big launch during that observance. She hopes to start classroom sessions for teachers and also in the public health system so that nurses and doctors can be more empathetic when it comes to death and loss.
In the meantime, the Queen’s programme is helping her to embrace small changes. She has big ideas and goals but the programme helps her to move strategically to get there.
She has since met with Ministers Joseph Harmon and Dr George Norton who have both expressed the willingness to assist her drive.
“Grief is a part of life and we need to normalize the conversation, we need to understand and don’t be afraid to talk about it,” Langevine said.
Her motto is ‘Be a mentor: Make a difference’ and she pointed out that through such a process people can empower others who they come in contact with.
She recalled that a young woman on FB messaged her when her mother was diagnosed with cancer and when her mother passed away the young woman said she was prepared to deal with the pain even though it was difficult. “But she said I helped prepare her for the loss…”
Langevine has also worked with children who are diagnosed with cancer and are hospitalized; she would visit them on Sundays after church. Once she realized that the children were not being taught during the months they were hospitalized, she got into action and wrote to Chief Education Officer Marcel Hutson. The Ministry of Education later employed two retired teachers to teach children at the hospital.
Asked if in the process of helping others she takes cares of herself, Langevine said there is a danger of not doing this as according to her she is naturally an altruist (a person who is unselfishly concerned for or devoted to the welfare of others). “I am a giver and I am always giving. I am working on that. I am practicing self-care. I am not accustomed to it, but I am getting there,” she said adding that her mentors are assisting her in this process as well.
She is also currently studying for a diploma in psychology.
Langevine is the first of three children and she said her family is very supportive of her work especially her father who is her unofficial public relation officer. So proud is he that he tells the world about his daughter and gives her number to persons who need help.
At present, Langevine is working on getting a toilet and bathroom built for a widow in Zeelugt, a woman who is self-driven and takes good care of her children.
She has approached persons for assistance and hopes the project can be completed shortly. Over time Forester Lumber Yard, Newland Lumber Yard on the West Demerara along with businessman Charles Ceres and Slingerz have been very supportive towards her work. Dr. Varswyk, the Chief Executive Officer of the Georgetown American University has also support Marva’s initiative and went as far as giving a scholarship to one the children she worked with and the child is now in his third year at the university.
“I want to teach for the rest of my life,” she said when asked if she would remain in the profession, but she added that she does not know where God will lead.
“I have a passion for young people generally in Guyana, the education system needs a lot of work and I am one teacher who is dedicated to making an impact,” she said. “I am just passionate about education, bereaved children and cultural awareness.”