Clement Henry: fulfilling a call to be of service to people

Clement Henry

As Project Manager of the Citizens’ Security Strengthening Program-me (CSSP) some may say that Clement Henry has come a long way from being a minister of the gospel. But he sees it as fulfilling a role he saw himself in since he was a teenager — helping people; this is how he caters to the needs of the most disadvantaged in a multidimensional manner.

Whether it is facilitating assistance to at-risk youth to close the revolving door to prison, assisting ranks in the Guyana Police Force to understand that they need to work through and with communities, or creating a better environment for victims of domestic violence to make reports, Henry believes he is fulfilling that purpose. Families and communities are also involved in the work of CSSP.

The CSSP is an Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) funded project under the Ministry of Public Security which hopes to reform and transform the police force “from an incident-driven reactive institution to one that relies on analysis of patterns, incidents and problems.” It is based on the SARA (Scan, Analyze, Respond and  Assess) public health model. 

Worldwide drug abuse, crime and violence are now being seen as diseases rather than just problems for the criminal justice system, and this is where Henry believes he fits in — fulfilling his passion to help. The CSSP offers young people vocational skills training and economic opportunities which can help in their personal security.

Known as Pastor Henry in the past one might say he was better equipped to minister personally to those he encounters, but while he believes in slaking the spiritual needs of people his experience has taught him that people need more than that to exist and because of what he saw then as his inadequacies he made a diversion.

This does not mean that he no longer has personal interactions as he did when he was a pastor, but he believes the work he is doing now is touching the lives of many more and in a more holistic manner.

His drive to better equip himself led to him recently becoming the first Guyanese to graduate with a PhD in International Relations with emphasis on human security from the Institute of International Relations of the University of the West Indies, St Augustine Campus, Trinidad.  But before this he studied theology and was a Seventh-Day Adventist pastor.

“I longed to be a medical missionary, whereby I could help people, particularly in the area of health and help them to gain a strong spiritual foundation. So my undergrad studies was in theology with emphasis on health…,” he told the Sunday Stabroek in an interview. This was done at the extension campus of Andrews University in Trinidad now the University of the Southern Caribbean.

That programme covered history, religion, theology and health to give the foundation to work in diverse communities and his focus was on indigenous communities. “… As a minister of religion, however, armed and equipped with the knowledge in the area of personal, family and community health,” he noted.

Multidimensional challenges 

He graduated in 1994 and while not given the immediate opportunity to do so immediately, he eventually worked in indigenous communities such as Orealla where he found that there were multidimensional challenges. While spiritual challenges were present there were also health and developmental challenges.

“I felt that the level of human deprivation that I saw in some of those communities required a stronger knowledge background and so I said I don’t think I am serving these communities enough,” he said.

A man on a mission, Henry decided to further equip himself to better make an impact and read for a Masters Degree in Developmental Studies as he felt that curriculum would help him to respond adequately to some of the challenges.

While it started with him taking a study leave from sharing the gospel, Henry eventually had to make the painful decision of diverting from his pastoral path.

“It was indeed difficult because you are battling whether are you deviating from the call. Are you deviating from your spiritual vocation? And so it took a couple of painstaking nights… But whenever I really considered the challenges out there I felt that we needed more people to be equipped with the skill set and at no point did I think I was departing from my original purpose, which was to really offer help to persons and communities…,” Henry said, adding that he can still respond to people’s spiritual needs. His studies have armed him with problem-solving abilities such as analyzing same, solving, monitoring and evaluating the intervention.

He worked for a number of years in the administration department of UG before moving to the then Ministry of Home Affairs, where he headed the Policy Research Unit as he was always interested in research.

While there, he quickly adopted his training in public and community health and utilised the public health model in addressing the issues of citizens’ security. In this position he helped to develop the first crime observatory in Guyana which saw the collection of various crime and violence events, analyzing those and making recommendations in terms of strategies and policies to improve citizens’ security.

His work also saw him interfacing with victims of human trafficking and this helped him to understand that security issues are as multidimensional as developmental issues and that the two are interlocked.

Police stations 

The CSSP, Henry said, is working on making police stations more comfortable and gender inclusive and as a result attention is being paid to the accommodation available for women.

Importantly, this would allow for the taking of sensitive reports in a confidential environment, and includes a domestic violence reporting room. Other functions would involve reducing trauma and re-victimisation of persons by not having them confront the perpetrators and as such one-way mirrors are being installed to lessen the possibility of face-to-face contact between victims and perpetrators.

Some 12 police stations have been so equipped, according to Henry, and under the programme another six are slated to be configured and these are spread across the country.

“It is quite a change in paradigm because we want citizens to see every police station as a place of rescue, a place that when they have challenges they can go there and report their problems and those problems being tackled,” Henry said.

The programme also focuses on improving police-community engagement and helping the ranks to see themselves as problem solvers.

As is known, the Guyana Police Force continues to fail in its response to domestic violence and this is an issue the CSSP is tackling, according to Henry.

“Not only are we putting the systems in place for them to report but we are working with the police… to standardize their SOPs (Standard Operational Procedures) when it comes to responding to domestic violence,” he shared.

At the end of this, there should be a standard way in terms of how the police respond to domestic violence reports, while an inter-agency protocol will also be developed so that every agency involved in the process understands its role.

While he stated that it is still too early to assess the success of this particular aspect of the programme, Henry believes there is need for the approaches because of the continued problems arising from the police’s response to domestic violence.

The case of Rohanie Lakhan, the Corentyne woman who was killed in August after the police officers who accompanied her to collect her belongings left her alone with  her abusive husband, was pointed out to Henry as another lapse by the force. He said such issues are being followed by the programme as it moves to have a holistic response.

“From my understanding of interaction with the police is that they work by SOPs. You have to clearly outline those directions in terms of how they operate…,” Henry noted adding that at the end of the process there will be an established protocol and training in implementing those protocols.

A survey has also just been completed in collaboration with the United Nations that focused on women’s health and life experiences and the interviewers were women. Crime and violence in indigenous communities will also be in focus to understand some of the nuances.

  Human well-being 

Speaking about his recent studies, Henry, a married father of one, said he is already working on turning his thesis into a one chapter book which focuses on poverty and human security measures.

He noted that human security looks at economic, food, health, personal, environmental, societal and political security as it is recognised that these encompass the true nature of human well-being

His PhD was not a walk in the park. His supervisor was Dr Mark Kirton and he noted that it took six years, as he had started with an M Phil which is an advanced research degree with the prerequisites required for a Master of Philosophy degree making it the most advanced research degree before the Doctor of Philosophy.

Henry praised his supervisor who was supportive and responsive and ensured he kept his deadlines and Dr Kirton described Henry as a pioneer based on the fact that he is the first Guyanese to graduate with a PhD from the institute but also because of the intense and in-depth research he did, and agrees that a book should be published.

As to his religious life, Henry said he still takes the pulpit from time to time when he is given the opportunity; he also heads the local chapter of Adventist-Laymen’s Services and Industries (ASI), which works with professionals and their children in helping with their professional and spiritual well-being

Guyana can expect to continue benefit from Henry’s commitment as he said he has little inclination to leave the country of his birth since it has “quite a few prospects”.

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