By Annan Boodram
In an attempt to get communities across the nation involved in anti-violence, The Caribbean Voice is exploring initiatives that are inexpensive and that bring communities together. The March 27, anti-violence candle light vigil fits the bill; each participant simply needs a candle. Thus vigils can be organized by religious institutions, local businesses, sports and youth clubs…just about any entity or set of individuals including schools. Where possible two or more entities can collaborate. Each vigil can select routes around the community, end at a central point or any other selected place where the participants can be accommodated and hold a rally whereby preselected individuals from within or without the community can speak on the theme of anti-violence and, if desired, inter faith prayers can be conducted. During the walk about anti-violence slogans can be chanted.
Given that The Caribbean Voice is involved in suicide prevention, one may be tempted to ask ‘why anti-violence’? Well its because we believe that suicide and related issues are acts of violence against self or others and some of these may also spur acts of violence against others. In fact, we consider all of the following to be acts of violence: trafficking, suicide, drug and alcohol addiction, domestic and child abuse, rape, incest, teenage pregnancy, road carnage, dysfunctional relationships, neglect of the elderly, homophobia, abuse of the mentally and physically challenged.
We also believe that relationship violence and its dysfunctional socialization spawn, which are more and more looming as issues of critical urgency, can and do shape personalities that easily gravitate towards crime and attending violence. On the other hand we believe that violence should be addressed holistically and that when communities come together they can begin to become more caring and build more togetherness. Thus we are convinced that anti-violence can and should be addressed through the involvement of communities throughout the entire nation in myriad ways, such as, for example:
Billboards – businesses and entities that set up billboards can incorporate antiviolence messages. In fact, similar messages can also be added to signposts, including those indicating locations of villages, institutions, sports arenas and so on.
PSAs in the media featuring leading personalities who can be prevailed upon to donate their time and efforts: sports stars such as Sarwan, Shiv and others; local performing stars; Guyana Ms. World and Ms. Universe; the President, the First Lady, PNC leader Granger, AFC’s Khemraj Ramjattan and other politicians and civil service influentials such as Stanley Ming, Eric Phillips, Ravi Dev, Faith Harding, Syedha Manbodh; even outstanding young people such as toppers at the CXC/CSEC and the University of Guyana. Media can donate time slots and/space and ad agencies, photographers and related personnel can donate services to produce the PSAs.
Umbrella religious organizations can work with their churches, mosques and mandirs to regularly propagate anti-violence messages and set up intervention and support mechanisms. Priests, pandits and moulvis can be instrumental in this respect, especially if requisite training is provided and they can initiate discussions about all the issues referenced above on a regular basis.
School curricula should incorporate anti-violence on a regular basis, and utilize many media to bring this out – debates, essays, poetry, art, posters, drama, role-playing, focus groups, class discussions. In addition to teachers, resource personnel can include police, community leaders, members of the legal fraternity and so on. Special parents day on the theme of anti violence can also organized and this theme can be focused on at special school activities such as sports days and PTA meetings. Hopefully also the Ministry of Education will soon be able to appoint counselors/social workers for every school.
Guyanese websites and other Internet presence can place anti-violence banner ads on their sites/pages. This should include websites of all political parties, businesses, NGOs and so on. Maybe the government can set up a webpage with all sizes of banner ads that can be used. We’re pretty certain many Diaspora sites would also be persuaded to follow suit.
Sports clubs, through umbrella sports organizations and the Ministry of Sports, can create anti-violence banners, which can be prominently displayed at all sporting activities and each time there is an activity, the anti-violence message can be spread. In fact, the same can be done by organizations of all sorts – social, business, youth, women, business, professional and other NGOs.
Government agencies should regularly propagate anti-violence messages to all and sundry within their ambits via emails, flyers on bulletin boards, announcements at meetings, social occasions and so on. Human resource personnel can be sensitized to spot warning signs and set up interventions and their doors should be open for adults to enter and discuss issues relating to violence – actual or pending. The private sector and professionals can implement similar strategies.
Political parties, at all gatherings, including public meetings, can make sure that the anti-violence message is put out. In fact, each political party can set up mechanisms that can reach into their grass root support and help with identifying warning sings and intervention. Ditto for trade unions and other mass based organizations.
Police sensitization must be continual and ongoing at every level to ensure that laws are complied with and that police apply same, in a timely and incisive manner. There should be no tolerance for violence of any kind. Also community-policing groups can be provided with some training to play a role in anti-violence prevention, intervention and action. Also, very importantly, the police should step up training of its members with respect to suicide, domestic violence, drug and alcohol addiction, child abuse and related issues and trained officers should be deployed in all police stations throughout the nation.
At the village level efforts must be made by any and all – religious institutions, political party cells, sports and other clubs, schools and so on – that have the scope and capacity to build an anti-violence culture and an outlook that makes intervention everybody’s business, whether it is to preempt violence, to prevent it from becoming fatal or to provide support and advise as well as to ensure help and intervention.
All of this calls for a coordinated approach through which responsibility must be shouldered at many levels, by individuals and entities across all various divides. Done on a regular and continual basis this can surely yield the expected results over time with minimal financial outlay. All that is needed is a start. Why not ask the Amazon Warriors to take the lead? The media can quickly and easily jump in followed by sports and political parties and then others can begin to play their parts as coordination evolves.
Meanwhile there are already local institutions that can become both resource and coordination points, Red Thread, Help and Shelter, Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association, Monique’s Helping Hands, Dharmic Sabbha, CIOG being some of the most recognizable. Perhaps the private sector and the Diaspora can chip in to help these entities set up offices in outlaying areas. While this is evolving, other entities can offer space sharing wherever that is possible – business and professional organizations, political parties, and even private citizens.
Culture too can be a powerful anti-violence tool. In fact, in response to a facebook posting by The Caribbean Voice, it was revealed that there are already a number of anti-violence songs by a variety of Guyanese artists focusing on the carnage on the road, suicide, violence against women and children and so on. We are pretty certain that the artistes concerned would most willingly allow the Ministry of Culture to compile these songs on a CD that can be used for advocacy including being made available to the broadcast media. Also Nirvana Humanitarian Foundation, based in New York City, with a branch in Guyana, has already started incorporating social issues – suicide, domestic violence, child abuse – in their drama. This is year another way to go, especially with grass roots theatre at the community level via schools, religious and youth groups.
Within the context of the above suggestions The Caribbean Voice is most willing to become involved wherever and whenever possible. As well we will continue with our outreach campaign that was started last year in collaboration with a number of other partners. This year we will also launch our training program and again would be willing to partner with whoever and whatever entities are so willing. We already engage in advocacy online through our facebook page, our twitter account, our YouTube channel and soon our website which is currently being redesigned. Additionally we are exploring other social media outlets as well as seeking to partner with local media to launch public service announcements. Also we would like to ask the elections commission to include a few questions relating to anti-violence on the ballot, especially decriminalizing attempted suicide and banning corporal punishment in schools. And we hope the Minister of Agriculture would seriously consider the Shri Lankan model (which we had mentioned in a letter to local media) to keep dangerous agri-chemicals safely secured.
At the same time we look forward to finalizing arrangements with the Ministry of Education to launch the national schools essay competition on suicide, as well as to implement proposals endorsed by the Honorable Minister of Education to allow all schools to have their students placard and rally one day a year on anti-violence including but not limited to suicide, drug and alcohol addictions, domestic and child abuse and teenage pregnancy; to have fourth formers conduct surveys within their communities on these same issues as well as others as this kind of endeavor will drive home the reality and set them on a course to become anti-violence advocates from an early age and to have schools include anti-violence discussions at PTA meetings, again focusing on the same issues. Additionally we are willing to conduct training programs on classroom management without corporal punishment for teachers for which we would cover our own costs.
Anti-violence must become everybody’s business and immediately so! The candle light vigil, held in communities throughout the nation, is a step in this direction. So we appeal to local and community leaders, businessmen and other influentials as well as community organizations, including religious institutions and sports club, and government agencies to please help to bring off this activity by ensuring that a vigil is organized in every community, collaboratively where possible. We have set March 30 as the date for the vigil but we are open to consider alternate dates. And we hope to have one contact for each community whom we can keep updated. We want to map all the vigils so we can seek pre and post publicity. So please contact us to let us know that a vigil is planned in your community: email via email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com, call or text 718-542-4454 or 317-414-9076 (USA) or 621-6111 or 223-2637 (Guyana). Also send us IM via our facebook page, The Suicide Epidemic.
For God’s sake, Guyana is small enough, both in terms of demographics and inhabited landscape, for it not to be an eminently doable task to collaboratively work to save lives and perhaps transform the society in the process, especially given that most of what needs to be harnessed is already in place. After all, our history tells us that politics, race, religion are never obstacles in the face of people’s willpower and resolve. In fact there was a time in the not too distant past, when the village actually raised the child and everyone was each other’s keeper. Surely Guyanese can gradually imbibe those traits again?