When Jocelyne Josiah retired from UNESCO and returned to Guyana after a career spanning some 30 years, she wanted to become involved in making a difference at the grassroots level. It did not take her long to choose the D’Urban Park Lions Club which she describes as being “hands-on” in making a difference in the lives of people, especially children.
When she joined the club nine years ago, she met persons like Mena Carto who has some 30 years of service as a Lioness under her belt. And for Carto, it all started when she graduated from university and wanted to be involved in community service.
So if one is to turn a critical eye to the club, which is celebrating some 25 years of existence, one would find women like Carto and Josiah pooling their resources to make a difference in the lives of others.
In the club, according to the women, there is no social status and regardless of what profession you are in when it comes to doing the club’s work everyone does it together no matter what the task is. A wide gamut of experience could be found in the club as there are academics, designers, decorators, caterers, restaurant owners, lawyers, doctors, pharmacists, judges and health educators among others who have all, over the years, been balancing their professional and domestic lives and giving back to society.
“You have to drop any airs and graces that you might have… We manage to convert the most introverted person into an extrovert through the element of camaraderie that exists within the club,” Carto said.
“We are a perfect blend in terms of skills sets,” was the way Josiah described it to the Sunday Stabroek during a recent interview.
According to Carto, when she came involved in the Lions Club, women were just associate members but in 1987 they began to become full-fledged members. It was a few years later in 1993 that 11 women, including Carto, left the Demerara Lions Club and formed the D’Urban Park Lions Club; their sponsor was the Ruimveldt Lions Club. All of the various clubs, of course, are part of the international body, which has over 1.7 million members worldwide.
Since joining the Lions Carto has held various positions inclusive of secretary, director, tail twister and vice-president. In 2006 she was elected the President of the D’ Urban Park Lions Club. Being a charter (initial) member of the club she also became the charter secretary under the presidency of the late Lion Debra Backer who was the first president of the club. But while she has held various positions locally, Carto said she has always declined to serve at the Lions District within the region and has turned down positions such as Zone and District Chair. Her refusal was rooted in the fact that she preferred to do service more at the club level rather than become involved in the hierarchal administrative structure of Lionism.
She was the thick of things, so to speak, when, at the age of 33, she had her first and only child and the dynamics changed somewhat but it did not prevent her from still giving of her service. But it was then she had to perform the balancing act as she had to find time for motherhood, managing a home and also dealing with a very challenging job as an admin officer in an international organisation.
“It then meant that I had to very carefully manage my time and apportion my time in the most practical manner,” she shared.
And so, many times, she took her son to meetings along with his toys and a sheet for him to play on. Her difficulty also provided the opportunity for her son to be availed the care of many willing grandmothers, aunts and her husband while she continued to do service. She did, however, take some time off to pursue studies during her years at the club.
“One should not always see Lionism as a restrictive kind of endeavour [because] it does allow you to take time out to pursue your personal goals,” Carto stated, adding that during that time one will be called an affiliate Lion. This status relieves one of having to attend meetings but still being able to do service whenever they can.
Carto listed her husband as always being very supportive. He has also been giving back a lot to the community in his role as an Anglican priest apart from his substantive job as Director of Human Resources at Banks DIH Ltd.
On the other hand, Josiah said when she returned to Guyana with an international background she had a thirst to get involved in what was happening at the local level.
“The reason I chose the Lions was because I found the club is hands-on and everybody is there at every level, there is no barrier in the work that has to be done,” Josiah said.
She made a point to state that one’s social status had nothing to do with the work they did.
“I found a wide gamut of experiences as well as backgrounds. There was a rich mixture and I thought I would enjoy working in such a club and assisting where I can,” she said during the interview.
She enjoys empowering people, especially young people as she is not big on charity but prefers to stick to the old saying of teaching a man to fish instead of giving him a fish. With her communications background, she believed that could have brought the knowledge to bear since it was based on a grassroots level. She is hoping that very soon the club would assist communities to set up learning centres, computers have already been donated for this project. While the project is not a reality as yet, Josiah said, the computers are being used by some children to do their homework.
In terms of balancing her time and the club, Josiah shared that while she is a retiree and does not have children she still found it particularly difficult since she has an ill husband. As a result of this circumstance she was forced to spend a lot of time away from the Lions. That was when she was president of the club and managing was very challenging as half of the time she was not in the country and had to rely heavily on electronic communication.
“One of the endearing things of the club is [that members are] fiercely supportive,” she said, adding that during her time a way a colleague did a lot of the actual physical stepping up. But while they support a sister when in need members also hold each other accountable and for Josiah that is one positive aspect and training one does not necessarily get elsewhere.
What the club does
According to Carto, the club has a number of different community projects and she is specifically involved in the health and service committee and has always acted as pharmacist whenever the club held health clinics since that was her very first qualification.
The club has also holds an annual senior citizens party for approximately 120 seniors from the various homes for the elderly and churches. During that party, the club provides the senior citizens with food and drink, hampers and entertainment.
“The highpoint is when they sing Karaoke and the programme ends with a dance competition,” Carto said.
She has served on the education committee and they have held Spelling Bee competitions, which she lent support to and on more than one occasion acted as a spelling mistress. The most rewarding part of the competition for her is putting the children at ease to overcome their nervousness and give their best shot to spelling. The children are taken from the schools within the club’s area of service and there are several rounds among the different schools culminating with a best spelling competition at the National Centre for Education Research Development at which the top three best spellers are given prizes. The club provides the best spellers with a bursary throughout their secondary school life. The competition is among primary school children at the point of entering secondary school.
The club also has a life skills programme targeting adolescent secondary school children. This programme consists of a number of sessions over a period of six weeks during which they are taught the basic skills of life such as building confidence, anger management, resolving emotional issues and encouraging them to develop a vision for their future, conflict resolution and building self-esteem. The programme culminates in a grand life-skills’ camp, which is an overnight event at which there are educational sessions through interactive processes and the children are provided with relaxation and entertainment and they put on a concert as the grand finale to the programme.
“It is always a wonderful experience observing how the adolescents interact with one another, with the girls vying for the boys attention and the boys eyeing the girls as they develop into that adolescent period of being aware of the other sex,” Carto said.
Josiah said this particular programme, which was started by the international body since 1995 and later taken on by the national club, was in response to the need for assisting adolescents in adopting healthy attitudes and values.
She said the programme gives the young people an opportunity to identify the deep emotional issues that exist amongst them as some of them have a lot of problems at home and it is the sessions that help bring those issues to the forefront and allow the club’s specialists to address them.
Additionally, the club has a committee called the sight observation, working with the blind. Over the years, they have provided eye screening and spectacles for children in many under-privileged communities. One of the greatest joys, she said, is to see the expression on the children’s faces when they put on the spectacles and they are able to see things clearly.
Both women encouraged young people to get involved in the Lions Club as it is very much oriented to development and empowerment of the person.
“You come in and grow as a person…,” Josiah said.
As the club celebrates its 25th anniversary, a week of activities was held, which begun on December 8, and ended on Friday last. These included a prayer breakfast for children of the Tucville Primary School (and this is usually done on a weekly basis but last week’s had a special bang to it), distribution of spectacles to a number of schools done in collaboration with Dr Michelle Ming, planting of trees at D’Urban Square and the placement of health advisories at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport among others.