For Diwali should not really be a once a year observance…


‘This little light of mine,
I’m gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine,
I’m gonna let it shine,
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.’
The above is taken from an African American spiritual song. The words would seem to support the Hindu view that each one of us possesses an internal laxhmie or light, one sadly that is, more often that not, hidden for most of the time with references made to it during the festival of Diwali. The question is this: amidst all its origins – real and mythological – and all the rhetoric trotted out at this time by so many, how many internalize and exhibit the concept of Diwali as an underpinning of their lives on an ongoing basis? For Diwali should not really be a once a year observance but a life long celebration via which we each enable our internal light to guide our pathway so that we seek to empower the powerless, lift up the downtrodden, advocate on behalf of the voiceless, and each day, with small acts of kindness, honesty, compassion, caring and truthfulness, add our sparks to create the universal bonfire that illuminates the journey towards light – peace, joy, comfort, mutual respect, beauty and serenity – not just for a select few but for all with whom we come into contact and of whose needs we are aware.
May the Divine Light grant us the blessing to maintain our inner spark as a lifetime glow. Shub Diwali to all.

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Action Creates Change


Ideas are powerful; they transform the latent into the possible. By by themselves they do not create change. Change comes about only when those ideas drive action. And that is why I always question those who push ideas that say what should be done in any given context to bring about change. For unless you exemplify the action of the ideas you’re pushing then do you really have any moral authority to tell others to engage in those actions? And make no mistake about it – change begins with you and me, not with some vague other.

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God consciousnesss is seva


There is absolutely no contradiction in being true to God and trying not to disappoint others. Living a God conscious life means a life of seva or service to others, which in today’s world is considered the highest form of devotion. The reality, however, is that too many people who claim to be God conscious trample on, cheat, squeeze and walk over others to maintain their lifestyles and status in a society where conspicuous consumption and competing with one’s neighbors seem to be the overriding endeavors. And many who hanker after these pastimes care not a whit that they often destroy the lives of others in the process.

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Only action creates change


Ideas are powerful; they transform the latent into the possible. By by themselves they do not create change. Change comes about only when those ideas drive action. And that is why I always question those who push ideas that say what should be done in any given context to bring about change. For unless you exemplify the action of the ideas you’re pushing it then do you really have any moral authority to tell others to engage in those actions? And make no mistake about it – change begins with you and me, not with some vague other.

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Be all you can be?


When I was in the army the motto was ‘be all you can be’. Now I see that ‘mantra’ all over the place? So is it that most people are actually being all they can be? Because if this is the case then one has to wonder about the hundreds of millions living is dire poverty, with chronic illnesses, all sorts of disabilities, struggling to live day to day. Is that all they can be? I always considered myself a person with vast ambition and I have always set goals for myself. Yet at every step factors beyond my control have thrown up obstacles and challenges often time beyond my resources to deal with. In fact I’m still facing that situation. So is this all I can be? I don’t think so! But the reality is that often times life gets in the way of being all we can be. On the other hand life also sometimes throw up some surprising offers that pull you in. My involvement in suicide prevention and anti-violence was never one of my goal, in fact not even on my radar screen. But here I am today, up to my neck and I would not have it any other way even tough each step is beset with challenges and demands great personal sacrifices. But I have his feeling that even though I’m in the autumn of my life before I take my final departure the twain may well meet and those goals now at a standstill will be accomplished without me having to sacrifice my social activism. I remain in hope…

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Mental Health Unhealthiness


He posted a heart wrenching appeal, some time after midnight, a few days on the face book page of The Caribbean Voice (www.caribvoice.org), asking for help because he was having familiar feelings of the kind that had driven him to attempt suicide once before. Immediately, some members of the group sprang into action. As we engaged him in chat, someone from the Mental Health Unit of the Ministry of Health joined in and quickly phone-messaged a counselor. It took a while, but eventually the doctor called and set up an appointment for him at the Georgetown Public Hospital, at eight am. We continued to engage him until he went to bed sometime after two that same morning, promising that he would do nothing foolish, but instead would keep the appointment the following day.
As daylight chased away darkness, he informed us that he was keeping his appointment, thankful that he was getting professional help. But his arrival at the hospital created confusion and frustration as no one could direct him to the doctor he was seeking. Frustration was turning to resignation as he texted that he was leaving and going to the seawall to end it all. As one member of The Caribbean Voice kept him engaged, the same personnel from the Mental Health Unit, who had put him in connection with the doctor, hurried to the hospital, some two hours plus after the 19 year had arrived. Yet it took that person almost another hour before she could connect him with the help he needed.
The young man was given attention but refused to stay over for observation, as he was under the popular misconception that only ‘mad’ people are held back at the psych ward and he most definitely was not mad. And while he initially agreed to keep the subsequent appointment some three days later, he later changed his mind. So, The Caribbean Voice continues to engage him, as we usually do with regards to all our cases, hoping that we can still persuade him to take the additional counseling.
This experience begs the following questions:
1. Why was it impossible for hospital staff to direct the young man to psych ward? Surely this information should be available at reception desks and known by all staff?
2. Why was there no mental health professional to meet with the young man until close to 11 am even though he had an 8PM appointment? Surely the staff at the mental health unit knows that delays and consequent frustration can concretize the final act of suicide?
In any case the young man is in an upbeat mood, since he found a temporary job, as his lack of employment was a trigger for his suicidal mindset, especially since it clearly created tension between him and his parents with whom he lives, and for whom he feels responsible. And, having once before attempted suicide, suicide ideation came very easy to him. Frighteningly, however, is that youth unemployment is 40% according to the Caribbean Development Bank, a state of affairs that is fertile ground for youth suicide ideation and actual suicides, and may well already be impacting both, given that so many suicides go unreported. Thus our concern that government seems to be going back on its election campaign promise to provide jobs for the youth. While we applaud the efforts being undertaken thus far, especially by the police and the First Lady, we strongly urge that these be extended nationwide, be as inclusive as possible and be followed by job placements, perhaps in collaboration with the various business associations. We suggest too that all high schools implement summer, work study internships for students moving into fifth forms and perhaps extend this to weekends/evenings where possible during the fifth form years. A job placement program is also needed for all tertiary level educational institutions.
Alarmingly too, the myth that dealing with counseling and the psych ward or the psychiatric institution means someone is ‘mad’, holds tremendous sway in Guyana and that may be why transparent and obvious warning signs are ignored by care givers and loved ones. Far too often, after a suicide, we hear or read that so and so had talked about wanting to take his or her life but those around him/her thought he/she was joking and/or did not take that person seriously. Thus TCV strongly urges the Ministry of Health to embark on a sustained education campaign to combat this myth. As well, we urge the Ministry of Health to make sure that mental health professionals are available 24/7 at public hospitals, especially where there are psych wards and that mechanisms, including signage providing directions, be put in place to make access to such wards easy and quick for anyone seeking help, given that delays and consequential frustration/anger can lead to loss of lives.
This particular case also brings to the fore the suicide hotline. Empirical and anecdotal evidence indicates that Guyanese are hardly utilizing the hotline and we do recall that an appeal last year for figures to be released was met with deafening silence in spite of claims of its success. The Caribbean Voice has been publicizing the hotline via our self-esteem pledge which has been distributed to schools and communities in many parts of Guyana. However, it is critical that the Ministries of Public Security and Health embark on an ongoing, national campaign to make the suicide hotline a household item and to encourage citizens to make use of it with the promise of absolute confidentiality every time. As well statistical and related evidence proving its extensive use and success ought to be made public, as this will bolster wide spread confidence in its effectiveness. After all, it would have been quicker for the young man to call the hotline and get help than to reach out to TCV via Face book.
On the issue of confidentiality, TCV has also found that too many Guyanese are still skeptical of counselors and counseling because of claims that confidentiality is not often kept. In fact, the grapevine revealed that a suicide prevention activist, who committed suicide last year, might have done so partly because the confidentiality she was promised was breached. That is why the promise of confidentiality with regards to the suicide hotline is so absolutely critical. And perhaps that is why, far too often, those seeking help emphatically refuse counseling in Guyana and/or by Guyanese, when we place that on the table for them.
Also, this case and many others that TCV has handled over the last two years, make it clear that mental healthcare has to be national in scope and easy of access. Thus TCV reiterates its call for mental health care to be integrated into the physical heath care system, per the recommendation of the World Health Organization, for nations like Guyana. And we urge that a look be taken at the Shri Lankan Model in this respect, as that nation has Very successfully implemented this integration.
For the record our interventions are pro bono and while we do have our own complement of counselors we also do sometimes refer cases to various counselors in Guyana with whom we have developed relationships, and who also offer their services free of charge to our referrals. Incidentally, not all of our cases are related to suicide. In fact we have handled domestic violence, sex abuse and rape, child abuse and alcoholism cases as well, and while most of our cases are from Guyana we have dealt with cases in a number of other countries as well, since people seek us out through our Internet and social media presence.

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Please take politics of out of suicide prevention; this is about saving lives


The Caribbean Voice is deeply saddened by the fact that political posturing trumped the need to save lives as “a parliamentary motion expressing concern for Guyana’s alarming suicide rate, quickly descended into a politicised debate marked by blame-throwing” (as one local media described it). Indeed a motion calling for urgent action to save lives transformed into an argument as to who’s stealing who’s work, as our smart politicians sought to score political points rather than come together to arrest the suicide epidemic that is stalking the land.
The fact of the matter is that the PPP, while in government, aborted the one mechanism that was beginning to make a difference, the Gatekeepers Program. And while the Pesticide Board had agreed to roll out an adaptation of the Shri Lankan Hazard Reduction Model to tackle pesticide suicide, that went nowhere after the change of Government last May.
Also we all know that current government just completed one year in office but at the beginning of that year the promises rained down while the only mechanism put in place so far is the suicide hotline that has neither been widely publicized nor is used to any significant extent by the population. We are still waiting for the roll out of counselors in schools, which, according to Education Minister, Dr. Rupert Roopnarine, was set to start earlier this year, in February. Ditto for the other measures talked about – Gatekeepers’ Program, a mechanism to address pesticide suicide, implementation of the Mental Health Plan and so on.
So it befuddles the mind that our politicians are quarreling about who’s stealing who’s thunder while suicide continues to be a ‘norm’ with at least 15 so far for August, of which at least eight were not reported in the media! Perhaps more befuddling however, is this constant urge to reinvent the wheel when there are already tried and tested strategies, measures and best practices that can be adapted to suit the Guyana social landscape. This constant reinventing, which always seem to be arrested mid stream, eats up financial and other resources, time and efforts that can significantly help in tackling the range of mental health and social issues that stalk the land.
Furthermore, given that the call for collaboration echoed by both sides of the house, one would have thought that our political leaders would pit heads together and come up with a plan whose implementation would reflect the urgency of necessary action. One option would have been to send the bill to committee to thrash out something acceptable at a bipartisan level that would not water down the necessary mechanisms for suicide prevention. Another suggestion would be to set up a broad based committee that includes the government, opposition, civil society and NGO stakeholders to rework the motion and have it jointly sponsored by a member of the gov’t and a member of the opposition.
Meanwhile the process of collaboration can start immediately with the only other thing both sides agreed one – decriminalizing attempted suicide. We call upon the relevant ministry to draft the necessary legislation and lay it in parliament ASAP and we request the opposition to give full support so this archaic law can be taken off the books.
Given the spate of murder/suicide/attempted suicide and of youth suicide and attempted suicide over the past few months, addressing violence in general and suicide and abuse in particular are becoming increasingly urgent imperatives. Thus we sincerely hope that the government, especially the relevant ministries, will immediately begin to transform rhetoric into action and roll out the various plans and measures that have been propagated over the last year or so. And we also hope that efforts would seriously be made to include the NGOs that are actually bending their backs to make a difference so that they can be able to extend and expand their work, especially in the rural areas and countryside, where the need is greatest. To protest that resources are not available to do what needs to be done would be so facetious given the almost one billion dollar spent on a park used for the Jubilee celebration and the additional billions spent on the many faceted, lavish manifestations of this celebration. Surely our government cannot argue that partying is more critical than saving lives and empowering people.
On another note we were so happy to notice that self-esteem was on the menu for training program for young ladies held recently. While the news article did not mention it, we also hope coping skills was included. However, we want to point out, as we have done before, that self esteem and coping skills must be included in all training programs, anywhere, especially for the young, since it is evident that lack of these two skill sets significantly contribute to both suicide and abuse. We also reemphasize that any and all such training programs must not be one off but should be taken countrywide, to have a sustained, national effect.
And speaking of collaboration, The Caribbean Voice and the 25 plus NGO partners, welcome the endorsement of Public Security Minister, Khemraj Ramjattan for “Voices Against Violence National Candlelight Vigil” set for World Suicide Prevention Day, September 10. We hope other Ministries and even President Granger will find it possible to also endorse this vigil, which aims to bring communities together to harness efforts for social action, and to urge all communities to get involved. To date over 25 vigils are confirmed in almost all the regions, and we expect this figure to more than double by the time September 10 comes around.
Meanwhile we also urge communities and all organizations to band together and plan vigils in communities across Guyana. For further information, clarification, assistance and to have vigils mapped and publicized, please call Bibi at 621-6111 or 223-2637, Pandit Deodat at 627-4432, Keshni Rooplall at 697-9968, Nazim S Hussain at 644-1152, Dolly Singh at 266-5617. Send email to bibiahamad1@hotmail.com, keshni.rooplall@yahoo.com, deodatpersaud25@yahoo.com or caribvoice@aol.com.

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