Is the Ministry’s Mobile Psychosocial Unit functioning?

After the initial hullabaloo we have hardly heard anything about the Ministry of Education’s Mobile Psychosocial Unit (MPU)? So we ask is this unit only servicing students in school settings or all students wherever they may be? For example the children of murdered victim Zaila Sugrim and the perpetrator, Ryan Sugrim attend various schools but none so far has received counselling through the Mobile Psychosocial Unit.
In fact as far as we are aware children of murdered, suicide and abused victims in Guyana have never been offered counselling through the MPU, even though almost all of them do attend schools in various parts of the country. Since the unit was set up The Caribbean Voice (TCV) has handled many cases for which children who attend schools have needed counselling but none of them have ever been counselled by the MPU. In almost every case TCV has had to provide the counselling or reach out to various social workers and certified counsellors to do so.
So the question remains: whither the Ministry of Education’s Mobile Psychosocial Unit and who are the trained professionals within this unit? Surely it has not become like the Suicide Helpline, which claims to be doing great work but has refused to provide supporting stats?

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Build stakeholders’ collaboration to tackle domestic violence

In response to the domestic violence crisis, The Caribbean Voice beseeches and implores the Government to urgently organise a stakeholders’ focus group to come up with a coherent and concerted action plan for immediate implementation.
By stakeholders we mean organisations that are currently directly involved in gender-based activism – not those who say they are but do nothing, not those who talk, talk and talk but do nothing else and not those who engage in photo ops and pageantry but no concrete action. We also urge that politics be taken out of the equation and that only the passionate and committed, who already give of their time and efforts, be involved.
Consultants are not needed because there is absolutely nothing to consult on. Contractors are not needed because there is nothing to contract out. And consultations are not needed because everyone is aware of the harsh realities on the ground.
In short, bring together all those who are already striving to address the issue, build a plan that is practical and doable and implement it across Guyana, with Government and the Private Sector providing the financial and logistical resources.
Provide the requisite training, develop and deploy signposting, create gatekeepers/first responders in every community, map a network of counsellors nationwide that can almost be immediately available to jump in and help, provide capacity to shelters and safe houses to be able to handle intake, and enhance and nationally extend the victims assistance plan that already exists through the Social Protection Ministry.
Establish trained domestic violence units in every police station with the ability for quick responses and the skillsets to know what to do and how to do it with priority on victims’ safety. Establish strident efforts to ensure that police do not allow themselves to be influenced to dismiss reports, belittle victims, engage in casual investigations that destroy cases and ignore any and every sign that clearly points to abuse and potential for femicide.
Give teeth to the requisite legislation and protection orders, sensitise victims to the concept of safety first, last and always, follow through on all reports taking cognisance that victims will often withdraw complaints or refuse to testify because of threats to self, children and family, economic dependence on abusers and ‘because of the children’. The judiciary system must be advised to maximise all sentencing and convicted abusers must be mandated to periodically report to Police after serving their sentences.
Additionally, all convicted abusers should be publicly listed along with their photos in a registry that would be easily accessible. There are those who would academically argue about rights of abusers but completely ignore the rights of victims and the potential for abuse to be repeated. Furthermore, they completely ignore the fact that there is a mountain of literature and lived experiences that clearly say that every abuser is a potential murderer.
In effect, what to do is very clear. Now, instead of verbiage and rhetoric from officialdom and wastage of resources in piecemeal, ad hoc, infrequent and ineffective action, the political fortitude needs to be displayed to build a network of activism, nationally armed with skillsets and resources to handle this crisis, through stakeholders’ collaboration. The Caribbean Voice stands ready to be part of such a process and, in fact, to assist from the inception with realising the stakeholders’ focus group.

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Yes, police can save abuse victims’ lives

(The Caribbean Voice’s letter in the Trinidad & Tobago Newsday)The Minister of National Security has said the police are powerless to stop domestic violence tragedies. In the House of Representatives he lamented, “Unfortunately, in the vast majority of cases, these can’t be prevented by any crime-fighting initiative.”

Actually, that’s not accurate. In fact there are police practices in many countries that do help to save lives of abuse victims and there is no need to invent the wheel.

For example, the police must take reports following all allegations of domestic violence. As well, police must treat domestic violence calls as high priority or life-threatening situation.

A mandatory arrest policy should be in place so the police will have the responsibility of ensuring a victim is safe by arresting an alleged abuser on the scene or applying for a arrest warrant. And dedicated domestic violence investigators should always ensure follow-up in every case.

The police should also offer safety-planning advice and make referrals to services needed by the victims and children. They can also offer information on where/how to obtain a protection order and find ways of putting teeth in protection orders.

Decisions about prosecuting abusers should be made independently of the victim’s wishes because it is believed they should be relieved of the burden of making that decision. As well, victims can be threatened by abusers to not follow up and/or may refuse to do so because of economic dependence on the abuser or children or both. Family pressure can also be a factor and thus the police must be able to negate these factors.

All of this means the police should have a domestic violence unit with trained officers at every station who must be equipped with rapid-response capacity. And such officers must work in collaboration with other prevention entities such as safe houses, relevant government ministries that can offer different kinds of help, NGOs that can offer counselling and so on.

What then is the current reality? In 1991, when TT introduced legislation classifying particular offences as domestic violence, the then commissioner of police got actively involved in formulating directives to guide officers in their response to domestic violence reports.

Officers were instructed to respond promptly to all such reports. Casual dispersal of reports was firmly discouraged. All reports were to be investigated and appropriate action taken in the same manner as would be done in the investigation of any other crime.

These directives are followed more in the breach. Oftentimes police stations indicate they have no vehicles available. Attitudes towards domestic violence are far too often nonchalant as well as favouring the patriarchic normative structure, frequently resulting in femicide. Protection orders are ineffective.

A Domestic Violence Registry, launched in 2016, in not collaboratively integrated into police work. Thus there is hardly any surveillance system in place.

And this is only part of the full story. The fact is that it takes planning and sustained will to tackle domestic violence. Lamenting that the tragedies cannot be stopped is a display that goes in the opposite direction, indicating no political will, no desire to plan and act proactively and to invest in the needed training, resources and mechanisms, and certainly no consideration to institute stakeholders’ collaboration.

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Gangs pushing drugs in schools

According to the media, “Officials within the school system are suspected to be culprits in the emerging issue of students using illegal drugs, says Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan”. Does he really have no clue?
Surely the Minister is aware that drugs are becoming a big business in Guyana with a number of gangs operating in various parts of Guyana and being responsible, to a significant degree, in getting drugs in schools. Is he not aware that these gangs coerce kids, especially from rich families, to push the drugs in schools after either getting them hooked or taking pictures of them in very compromising positions and then blackmailing them?
Perhaps the Minister needs to talk to members of the Police Force who have their fingers on the pulse on communities or researchers from the University of Guyana student and staff population or even senior students in schools.
Even if it is true that a few school staff are involved, they would be insignificant cogs in the wheel. So Minister Ramjattan, please do get the facts. The whole issue is an open secret really.

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Caribbean Voice partners with church, drum school to spread Mother’s Day cheer

Sunday marked Mother’s Day and The Caribbean Voice (TCV), in collaboration with the church and youth groups from the community of Buxton, brought cheer to a number of the village’s elderly matriarchs.
Reverend Desrey Watts of the Saint Matthias Church, was on hand on Sunday as the group of volunteers travelled throughout Buxton in search of the elderly to deliver hampers and other assorted goodies to them. She explained that the programme was launched in keeping with the church’s 30th anniversary.
“All these years we [would] invite the elderly at the home or wherever we are doing a programme, like August 1st programme, we do a programme with them. But instead of just feeding them like that, the children would dance and do different things to entertain them. So we continued doing it all the years and as time goes by I started to think about other things to do.”
“So it’s usually an entire programme for the whole village, like the feeding programme on 1st August. Or Diwali or Phagwah time. But this year we decided to start this programme. When it comes to our distribution, we have decided with the church that we’re going to do [it] every year, for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.”
Meanwhile, TCV Managing Director Bibi Ahmad explained that her organisation is not only collaborating with the Saint Matthias Church, but also with the Buxton Fusion School of Music and the Youth Empowerment and Faith Group in order to carry out the exercise.
“Wherever we can make a difference, we go,” she explained. “We not just about suicide prevention, or bringing awareness about abuse. We also partner to do humanitarian work, we have the distribution of pampers, wheelchairs, walkers and walking sticks.”
“Primarily the activities were coordinated by the reverend and I collaborated with her, to supply things to give to elderly mothers. These mothers [we are visiting] are more or less the real elderly mothers, such as the shut-ins,” Ahmad added.
It is understood that a total of 12 Buxtonian matriarchs were visited by the organisation. Among them were Evadney Talbot, who celebrated her 107th birthday on Friday to much fanfare, Ruby Blair, an 84-year-old senior citizen, Ms Huntley, 98 years old and Ms Francis, 95 years old.
The Caribbean Voice, a Non-Governmental Organisation, has more often been associated with its work on suicide prevention and its partnership with other bodies, including the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) last year.
Last year, it conducted a community mental health workshop at Yakusari, Black Bush Polder, and two students’ workshops at a high needs high school at Ash Youth Developers Education Learning Institute, Vigilance, ECD.

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Guyana not officially represented at Caribbean symposium on suicide

The International Association for Suicide Prevention’s (IASP) Third Caribbean Regional Symposium on Suicide was held in Trinidad & Tobago from May 2 to 4. Guyana was not officially represented even though its suicide rate and concomitants were highly discussed. Is this a signal from the government that suicide has now been placed on the back burner?
At the Second Caribbean Regional Symposium on Suicide held in December 2015 in the Cayman Islands, there was a focus on youth suicide prevention as well as a gatekeepers’ training programme. A delegation from the government of Guyana attended that symposium. Yet to date, neither has any specific youth suicide prevention measure been implemented nor has the gatekeepers’ training programme been introduced.
At that Cayman Islands symposium also, a representative from the government spoke with UWI’s toxicologist and founder/head of UWI’s poison control centre, Dr. Verrol Simmons, and indicated to him that the Guyana government would employ his services in addressing pesticide suicide. At the recent third symposium in Trinidad & Tobago, Dr. Simmons disclosed that he never heard back from that individual or the government.
Dr. Simmons also indicated that once a person ingests poison, critical first steps can be taken right there and then to start the life-saving process. There is no doubt that such information is desperately needed in Guyana for training and for nationwide dissemination.
As well, Dr. Simmons can provide technical and other assistance with respect to the poison control centres, which were supposed to have been established in mid 2016, according to a January 2016 disclosure in the media by Dr. Shamdeo Persaud. To date no such centre has ever been set up. Once again is this a signal from the government that suicide has now been placed on the back burner?

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Its not about ratting.

Bronx Councilman Ruben Diaz Sr. is reported in the print media to have interrupted a City Council sensitivity training on Wednesday, yelling “I’m not gonna rat my people out! This place is full of rats!”
The outburst allegedly came during the annual training when a lawyer asked the lawmakers what they would do if they overheard a staffer making lewd comments to a female co-worker in an elevator, the sources said.
Does this mean that if he observes a female relative or family member of his being sexually harassed he would say or do nothing?

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