By Annan Boodram
Under a facebook post of an elderly Guyanese woman, who committed suicide at Golden Fleece on the Essequibo Coast, another Essequiban asked ‘Where is Annan Boodram?” This question saddened us tremendously if only because it seems to speak to the over dependence on overseas-based Guyanese individuals and entities to tackle social issues in Guyana, whereas the reality should be that a combination of state and community involvement should form the fundamental basis for structured and ongoing assistance.
The article stated in part, “Ramsamooj lately returned from the United States. Her entire family is said to be in New York. She was living with her sister at the time of her death.“
Questions abound. Was she simply visiting her family in the US and had returned home to Guyana? If so why was an elderly mother living in Guyana away from the rest of her family? Was she legally living in the US and had opted to return to Guyana? If so why did the family allow such an elderly member to be so far away from them? Was she legally living in the US and had been sent back to Guyana by her family? If so would this not be tantamount to abandonment? After all regardless of how her children would have been the mother never sent them away from her.
Whatever the scenario was, the fact remains that this was a lady in her eighties, who may have felt abandoned by her immediately family and if she had been legal in the US, then she also would have had the emotional cushion pulled from under her and the scope for positive social life, one that she may have become accustomed to, reduced to almost zero. Also she may have lost financial and material assistance provide by US/NY governmental agencies and she definitely would have lost easy and fast access to first rate medical services that is available in the US.
Since the early 1990s we have been privy to stories of Guyanese elders maltreated and abused by their family. One such story told of a mother who was sponsored by her son. Not long after her arrival to the US, she was placed to live in basement of the son’s home, without any heat during the winter, and whatever financial assistance she received from governmental agencies, was seized by the son and his wife with almost nothing given back to mother. Eventually neighbors found out about the old lady’s plight and reported it to relevant agencies. Consequently she was taken away and placed in more caring circumstances while the son and his wife were arrested and charged.
More recently (01/14/14) the Guyana media highlighted the case of an eighty-three year old, bedridden man beaten to death by his fifty-three year old, mentally unstable son. This case also spawns many questions. Were these two living alone? If not whey were they left alone? If so how could family and government have allowed this, especially since, according to the article, the son was “a patient of Dr. Bhiro Harry’s clinic”. One may even wonder whether the son was taking his medication on time or at all; whether he was keeping his medical appointments; whether he had access to any therapy – group or otherwise – as a patient of Dr. Bhiro and whether Dr. Bhiro felt it was safe for the son and others that son was allowed to live at home.
Many of us grew up in Guyana where our elders were cherished and embraced in the bosoms of the family and their invaluable life experiences were the banquets from which grandchildren and other youngsters feasted. On the one had grandparents reduce the impact of negativity, often become confidantes of their grandchildren, can share tremendous experiences and knowledge to guide other family members, have more time to socialize with grandchildren and more concretely display care, compassion, concern. On the other hand elders need to generally spend their last days knowing that they have nothing to worry about and that care and love underpins their daily existence regardless of what idiosyncrasies, whims and fancies they may exhibit.
Whatever the circumstances relating to that elderly woman, there was enough pain there to have led her to the agonizing decision to end it all. The Caribbean Voice therefore urges all – Guyanese overseas and at home – to let us get back to our innate qualities of family togetherness and its bequest of love, caring compassion and having each other’s back, regardless of what life throws at us.
Now back to the issues inherent in a call from domiciled Guyanese to those of us overseas when a situation like this arises. The simple fact is that overseas individuals/entities cannot make the kind of impact needed continually within communities. Each community has to be able to identify and set up support nets for the elderly and vulnerable among them as a first step and then identify state and private sector help that may exist. There are many NGOs that do a great deal of work with limited resources including but not limited to Monique’s Helping Hands (Dr. Dawn Stewart), the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association (Dr. Patricia Sheerattan-Bisnauth), Help and Shelter and Red Thread, the counseling center at Springlands on the Corentyne started by former magistrate Krishnadat Persaud, Mibicuri Community Developers, Hindus for Selfless Service, the Bacchus and Sankar families on the Essequibo Coast, the Guyana Foundation, Nirvana Humanitarian Mission and the American University of Research (apologies for not being able to list all organizations).
On this issue of NGOs, The Caribbean Voice strongly believes that all organizations working on the social landscape should initiate working relations with all others as this would help to establish a network that can foster referrals and join operations whenever and wherever possible. Such an approach would lead to greater reach and impact and maximization of resources. The socio-political realities of Guyana, in particular, do not make it easy for the ‘go it alone’ approach. Thus the concept akin to community psychology – identifying social problems within communities and developing solutions in collaboration with all possible forces – needs to and must be applied. In effect when the community cares, everyone learns to care and the effects snowball – less abuse, less suicide, less addictions and less crimes.
We in The Caribbean Voice know that this is easier said than done but that it is also practical not only because it happens elsewhere in the world, but also because it was a pervasive Guyanese reality some generations ago. In effect collectively caring for society’s most vulnerable leads to an aura of care and compassion that becomes cyclic. And this cycle starts with individuals within communities.