The ball is in Government’s court


Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan has suggested that better parenting, schooling, and religious and community involvement are important to tackle domestic violence. The Hon. Minister must know that political will, more than anything else, can ensure the needed mechanisms:
Parent-Teacher Associations hold monthly parenting training for members. Government supports umbrella religious bodies to organize regular parenting sessions at mandirs, churches and mosques. Perhaps a representative coordinating body can be set up?
Sensitivity training for all police officers to address police disregard for abuse complaints and bribery in return for doing nothing or engaging in personal attempts at mediation and monitoring bodies to prevent same, among other issues.
There is the Gatekeepers’ Programme to ensure first responders in every community. The Caribbean Voice plans to implement this programme next year and we welcome the Ministry’s collaboration. We promise we won’t ask for money.
Ministry of Education directives for all educators to be mandatory reporters, once abuse is suspected, identified or reported, as is the case in many nations.
A national survey to determine the root causes of domestic violence, perhaps spearheaded by the University of Guyana, which already has the required skills and capacity.
In effect the ball is totally in the government’s court, which, to date, has played nothing shots. For example: In February 2015, The Caribbean Voice and other stakeholders met with the Pesticides and Toxic Chemicals Control Board (PTCCB) at which it was agreed that the PTCCB would unveil an adaptation of the Shri Lankan Model of Hazard Reduction, which had reduced pesticide suicide in that nation by 50% in about a decade. Nothing has since been heard about that proposed unveiling.
After our August 2015 National Stakeholders’ Conference on Suicide and Related Issues, Minister Ramjattan informed TCV that President Granger had directed him and the Prime Minister to provide all necessary help to TCV’s. We’re still waiting for any form of assistance.
Last year when a special sitting of parliament was held to discuss suicide prevention, The Caribbean Voice was one of two NGOs invited to make a presentation. However our invitation did not come from Government but from the local office of an international organization.
Since we launched our Youth and Student Workshop in 2016 continuous efforts to obtain Government’s permission (just permission, nothing else) to take it to public schools, have met with no success, even though many schools have requested the workshop.
Since 2015 continuous efforts to obtain government (non-material) support for a National Youth and Suicide Essay Contest on suicide with US$5,000 in prizes has met with no success.
Last year the Government voted against a Bill to decriminalize attempted suicide to prevent the Opposition from getting credit for it.
Last year when we planned a weekend intervention in Region Two, our request for our team to be accommodated overnight at the government guesthouse, was rejected because TCV was “a PPP organization”, an assertion that has no basis in reality.
Last year, also, a request for a meeting with then Police Commissioner was rejected with an unfounded assertion that TCV had supposedly campaigned at the 2015 elections. Incidentally, Minister Ramjattan had set up such a meeting in 2015 but a few days prior we were informed that the meeting was postponed as the Commissioner had an urgent matter to attend to.
Subsequent communication to have the meeting reset went unacknowledged.
Last month, at a meeting with Minister Ramjattan’s personal assistant, a broad range of issues was raised. A response, sent to us on April 17, ignored all the items discussed but stated that “the Ministry of Public Security Budget cannot accommodate additional budget lines to its existing work programmes.” Yet we merely requested $50,000 to print flyers for the National Anti-Violence Candlelight Vigil held on World Suicide Prevention Day, September 10.
Since its inception by Voices Against Violence, (an umbrella of almost 100 entities across Guyana), two years ago, 800 plus vigils have been held across Guyana. Incidentally, we reached out to the Minister based on his offer of support in a recent Kaieteur News interview.
There is much more but the above make the case.

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Why isn’t the CPA column carried by all media houses?


FOR some time now, the Childcare & Protection Agency (CPA) has had a column published in one local newspaper.
Given the critical nature of this column, The Caribbean Voice wonders why the column is not published in all print media. If the CPA is not sending the column to all print media, we urge the Agency to do so. However, if the column is being sent to all print media but is not given space, we appeal to all print media to please carry this important column.
This is the only way to ensure that the information reaches the widest possible target audience. Besides, the safety and care of our nation’s children should be everybody’s business, and every media does have social responsibility as part of its output.

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An agent of positive change, Nazim S. Hussain is a ‘Special Person’


I think more than anything we all need to display empathy when we are dealing with others…we may not understand what someone is going through to cause them to react in a particular way; so in empathising you just may be able to help someone.”

By Sharmain Grainger

From being the spokesperson for a major company the likes of the Guyana Sugar Corporation [GuySuCo] back in the day to an outstanding television

personality today who highlights many issues that affect the vulnerable in society, Nazim S. Hussain can easily be classified as a force to be reckoned with.
He thrives on helping to make a positive difference. So it is no surprise to those who know him well that for the past four years he has been playing a major role in a Non- Governmental Organization [NGO] which is known for its anti-violence advocacy, especially regarding suicide.
Hussain, in the capacity of National Coordinating Director of The Caribbean Voice [TCV], is essentially the NGO’s national voice. He certainly makes no bones to continually stress the need for more measures, such as the decriminalisation of suicide, to be put in place by policymakers, since he believes this can allow for more people to have access to the help they so desperately need.

As any true member of TCV, Hussain is unyielding in his advocacy, even when needed measures seem to be taking far too long to be implemented.

A soldier in his own right, he understands all too well the importance of strategic tactics, and therefore knows when being on the frontline is warranted or when a vanguard approach is best. However, when it comes to helping to save lives, retreating is simply not an option. It is the same way Hussain views suicide ideation or the perpetuation of violence against others – neither of these should ever be an option, regardless of the situation faced.
But since he recognizes that he nor TCV, by no stretch of the imagination, have all the answers to mental illness, which is known to have a colossal bearing on such issues, a close collaboration has been forged with entities such as the Ministries of Public Health and Public Security, both of which employ professionals to deal with such cases.
But even if all else fails, the ever-tactical Hussain will always be ready to devise a new strategy to move forward in the fight to save lives.

WHO IS HE?

On April 18, 1958, Hussain was the third of nine children born to his parents Moses and Zarina Hussain. What is interesting to note is that while he was christened Nazim Hussain, as an adult, Hussain decided to factor in the initial S as part of his moniker. “I did it for style; the ‘S’ is for ‘Sure’,” said Hussain amidst a boyish chuckle. This deliberate move, he explained, was intended to distinguish his identify from another individual who shares the same name.

Reflecting on his early days, Hussain remembers vividly growing up with his paternal grandparents – Mohammed Hussain called Zakoor and Maratoon – at Plantation Nuclear Yard which was simply known to many people as the ‘Old Cane Field’ or the Rose Hall, Canje Sugar Estate Junior Staff Compound.

As he fondly remembered his grandfather, Hussain recalled him being a representative of the workers and being very versed in management affairs. In fact he recalled that it was his grandfather who was instrumental in communicating to sugar workers the importance of joining the National Insurance Scheme. Hussain recalled learning a great deal from his grandfather, including the ability to flawlessly deliver a speech in public.

But life on the Plantation did not only prepare Hussain for adulthood, it allowed him to have a very fulfilling childhood too.

“I did everything that young boys do on a sugar plantation like stealing cane, jumping in the cane punts and going swimming when told not to go,” a smiling Hussain recounted.

In fact he was very much being a boy when calamity struck one day before his ninth birthday in 1967. He recalled being in the company of an older brother and close friend.

At the time they were attempting to cross an Estate trench and since Hussain could not swim he was mounted onto the friend’s shoulders. But the journey became troubling when the friend carrying Hussain found the waterway to be too deep and therefore Hussain too much of a burden to carry. “He had to end up saving himself…I couldn’t swim and I went down and floated away in the current…it [the current] was pulling to a creek where the koker was locked. The current took me and braced me to the koker wall at the bottom of the trench…I became unconscious,” Hussain recounted.

As fate would have it, two young men were alerted to the misfortune and together were able to remove Hussain’s nearly lifeless body from what could have been a watery grave. The closest medical personnel was the estate’s dispenser who, after examining Hussain, was certain that he was dead. But the young Hussain’s grandmother was not prepared to accept that verdict.

He was rushed by ambulance to the New Amsterdam Hospital where indeed he was found to be alive, though unconscious. He would remain in that state for the next three days.

Hussain is convinced that it was the ardent prayers of his strong Islamic-faith grandmother that helped him to find his way back to the land of the living.

“I am told that I woke up making a supplication in the Islamic way…I am told too that because it was very cold the water formed a clot and prevented water from getting to my lungs which would have killed me. I am told too that this matter was so rare that it was reported in the British Journal of Medicine, but I have never seen it myself…”Hussain related.

BECOMING A MAN

Hussain was raised in what could easily be described as a modest household. However, he recalled that it was one that valued education and therefore its members were always among the leaders in the society. In fact, Hussain recalled that his father, much like his grandfather, was well respected in the society since he was a celebrated radio broadcaster.

“I was always looked upon to be number one in my class because I came from a Hussain family…It was an inherent thing. The Hussains were seen as people with a certain status and you had to emulate them,” he recalled.

Moreover, in the quest to embrace the family’s legacy, he attended St. Patrick’s Anglican School which was perhaps the top primary level school in the Canje – New Amsterdam area. Although captivated by his grandfather’s public speaking and his father’s broadcasting ability, the young Hussain from a young age had envisaged himself becoming a lawyer.

But things simply were not going in his favour, since the family’s financial situation warranted that he secure a job at an early age. He was soon after working the fields at the Rose Hall Estate. However, on the sidelines Hussain was still finding time to delve into some studies, which allowed him to write nine GCE subjects privately.

Hussain’s grades were outstanding and by the time he presented same to the Estate managers he was found to be quite suitable for an office job. He remembers starting as a Junior Book Clerk and quickly working his way up the ladder.

“GuySuCo was one of the best training grounds because they would offer, almost every month, training seminars and that, coupled with me being an incessant reader, really helped me along…I read all that was available to me and I also enjoyed listening on short-wave radio to things like the BBC news.”

Hussain nevertheless credits most of the knowledge he attained as a young boy to some of his teachers including Messrs. Samuel O. Archer and Cyril Dabydeen.

“Those guys helped to shape the person who I am today,” said Hussain.

Although engaged in the world of work at an early age, Hussain was still determined to advance his studies and did so at the New Amsterdam Multilateral School where he completed a number of ‘A’ Level subjects. He eventually moved on to the University of Guyana where he majored in Marketing.

This was indeed an unprecedented move but, according to Hussain, he was persuaded by an acquaintance to embrace that area.

“I met a gentleman by the name of Stephen Leacock and he impressed me a great deal during a presentation he made which hinged on marketing and the power to convince people about certain things, and I thought that this was the way I wanted to go…this was a big move,” he reflected.

By that time, Hussain, who is certified by the prestigious International Marketing Institute, was elevated to the position of Manager at the GuySuCo Diamond branch where he was in charge of the massive Volunteers’ Department. Communicating with senior government functionaries was a task that came quite naturally to the outspoken Hussain, who reflected on being at the centre of things even during troubling times.

“I had a great time working there though, because I was always a people’s person,” said Hussain, who spent 11 successful years of his life at GuySuCo.

AN AWAKENING

Although he had dabbled a bit in broadcasting over the years, it wasn’t until he travelled to Suriname to take up a job offer that Hussain recognised that being in the media fraternity might just suit his personality.

At first it started with a few religious programmes aired on a Surinamese television station. But Hussain quickly recognised that he could do so much more in his homeland. Upon his return he commenced undertaking a feasibility study to ascertain how he could best infiltrate the national airwaves.

By this time, Hussain’s heart was captured by a beautiful young woman by the name of Indira, who he said has not only been his inspiration, but happens to be the mother of one of his best friends – their only son and popular radio personality – W R Reaz.

“At first the response was not that good…so I decided to do some odd stuff because I had a family to provide for. I did law, communications, several online marketing programmes… I even went to Critchlow Labour College and did their Communication and Effective Speaking programme. I was trying to shape myself for a career in radio and television,” Hussain recalled.

Before long he was able to launch a television programme and it was by no means a small deal. You see Hussain, an Indo Guyanese, was able to infiltrate a traditionally Afro-Guyanese television station [Channel Nine] with Indian programmes. This of course was a phenomenal development which Hussain remembers, quickly attracted a tremendous following.

“Channel Nine was not producing anything Indian really and I was able to introduce that…” said Hussain who had long learnt from his grandmother that integration was a necessary part of life. “My grandmother instilled in us that the colour of a person’s skin was so insignificant that one should never look at that…so I basically grew up colour blind. Unto today I have a passion for merging the races, for cohesion, and bringing Guyanese together so that they are able to understand races and culture,” Hussain shared.

So successful was his television career that he even helped to launch his son’s career too.

In fact he has expanded his range of programmes with the introduction of Coast to Coast, a programme aired on Friday at 6pm on TVG, which is streamed live on Facebook too. The topical programme, which is perhaps one of Hussain’s most outstanding accomplishments, is one that brings to the fore societal issues such as suicide, violence, road carnage, among others.

ADVANCING POSITIVITY

Through his programme [Coast to Coast] Hussain has been helping to advance the anti-violence message of TCV. However, he recalled that his involvement in the organisation was one that came about because of an invitation. You see, he was found to be an ideal candidate to become a member of TCV mainly because he was already embracing ideas that the organisation was already promoting.

“I have always been very vocal on Facebook in terms of my comments on domestic abuse and I was always talking about men not even hitting women with a flower,” Hussain emphasised. He quickly embraced the stance of TCV, since he recognised it as “a movement through which I could help to make a greater impact”.

Hussain first started off as a Director and three years ago moved on to the portfolio of National Coordinating Director.

Speaking with pride of the efforts of TCV, Hussain disclosed that a number of persons, including in excess of 400 teachers, have been engaged via workshops with the view of helping them to learn tactics to function as gatekeepers in their respective communities. This initiative, he explained, is designed to help curb the suicide and violent thoughts of some members of society.

“We usually talk about the importance of self-esteem, emphatic communication, suicide warning signs, self-care, drug and alcohol abuse, among other issues,” Hussain related, adding, “I think more than anything we all need to display empathy when we are dealing with others…we may not understand what someone is going through to cause them to react in a particular way, so in empathising you just may be able to help someone.”

TCV, according to Hussain, has been seeking to expand its efforts through collaborations with like-minded organisations. It has already been able to forge such a partnership with the Guyana Teachers’ Union and continues to work closely with other organisations which, according to Hussain, have also been doing “fabulous work”.

But Hussain is convinced that he is able to be the best at what he does because of the relationship he shares with his son. In fact to Hussain, his son has been his mentor over the past decade or so.

“Most people see big and international figures as their mentors, but my son, he has been mine,” Hussain proudly admitted. He recalled seeing his son recover from a serious automobile accident as perhaps the single most inspirational thing he has ever witnessed, which has essentially helped him to believe that there is literally nothing he cannot do once he puts his mind to it.

“His legs were broken but he set a date for himself by which he would walk, and he did…He set standards for himself and he achieves them because he is such a hard worker. Everything he sets about to do, he does it with undying passion. Although I am his father and he calls me his first superhero, his ability to work hard has made me a determined person,” Hussain said.

It was in recognition of his determination to help create positive change in a society, which is ever so often overwhelmed by negativity that Hussain was this past week presented with an Ambassador for Peace certificate from the University of Peace Federation. Today he is also recognised by this publication as a ‘Special Person’.

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Abuse prevention requires political will


Combating the brutal war against our womenfolk, as so many have pointed out over time, requires police capacity, necessary reforms, and political will.
The current widespread perception that going to the Police is a waste of time is based on the far too many instances of Police refusing to act on complaints and/or coercing victims to not take legal action. More often than not, bribery dictates such attitudes. Thus building Police capacity entails oversight to eliminate these behaviours; provision of sensitivity training, including empathic communication and first responder skills.
Another impediment is the twofold roadblock – otherization of the call to action and a culture of double-victimisation. Otherization says that abuse is ‘not my business’ and/or ‘I know what needs to be done, but somebody else has to do it’. Double-victimization encompasses the victim believing that she deserves the abuse; that abuse is normal and may reflect spousal love; that being abused is a shame that must be hidden; and/or that walking away is not an option, because of fear.
Thus reform must include widespread information dissemination to combat otherization and double-victimization, and provide a roadmap of to dos: a ladder of contacts starting with the local Police and including counselling access – welfare officers, psychologists, social workers. In this respect, lay counsellors can be the critical first responders; and so, once again, we urge the return of the Gatekeepers’ Programme.
In fact, TCV has been offered the free services of a lay counsellor trainer from India through the auspices of the NGO Seva International.
Reform must also include a national support network, so that women do not continue to stay in abusive relationships because of economic dependence, or children, or family and societal pressure. In fact, the Ministry of Social Protection’s Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Policy Unit (MSSODVPU) seems to already offer such support: shelter and temporary accommodation, financial assistance, rehabilitation, skills training, counselling, social work services, legal aid…but are these services accessible nationwide? And are Guyanese generally aware of these services? Neither seems to be the case currently. Thus there is URGENT need to set up satellite offices countrywide and engage in a national sensitization campaign, so these services can be taken advantage by all victims of abuse to pre-empt femicide and other fatal consequences.
Other components of reform should include establishing a database of all stakeholders on the social landscape, to build much needed collaboration, and a national stakeholders’ conference to activate a national intervention and support network; bipartisan legislation mandating that all cases of abuse should be prosecuted, even if the victim withdraws the complaint and/or refuses to testify; setting up a domestic violence unit in the Police Force, with members posted at all stations; and stringent application of the law, instead of disdainful dismissals and/or mere slaps on the wrist.
Additionally, there is need for mechanisms to enable abused victims to break the silence by sharing their experiences and publicly calling out abusers as well as seeking help. A hotline would be one such mechanism. Or perhaps the Suicide Helpline can be expanded to include abuse. As well, the Government should facilitate the creation of an app that would enable sharing and reporting of abuse.

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Tackling Pesticide Suicide


In January, an article in the local media stated, “The Pesticides and Toxic Chemicals Control Board (PTCCB) continues to execute its mandate through the holistic and comprehensive management of pesticides and toxic chemicals in Guyana with key support at the national level.” Strangely, that mandate makes no mention of addressing pesticide suicide.
Strangely, because in Guyana suicide deaths by poisoning were said to be 36% of all reported suicide deaths from 2009 to 2015. Poisoning was the ‘preferred’ method due to the easy availability of agro-chemicals.
One researcher (Henry, 2015) noted that the increase of pesticides availability in the ten Administrative Regions in Guyana, with “very limited controls for procurement,” could be one of the contributory factors to such a preferred method. This is compounded by storage that leads to easy accessibility in homes where such pesticides are used as well as easy accessibility at places of sales as there are no stringently enforced conditions of purchase.
Regarding the PTCCB mandate, while some controls are in place with respect to sales/usage of agro-chemicals, there seems to be no monitoring to ensure that these controls are consistently and fully applied across the board nationally.
As well one wonders whether enough emphasis is placed on information dissemination so that the public is made aware of the developments and its own roles in pesticide safety. For example have the Poison Control Centers been established? If so how many? Where are they located? Exactly what services do they offer and to what extent are these services being utilized?
Is their efficiency being evaluated so that they can be data driven and continually evolving to meet current and emerging needs?
A few years ago the Guyana government was represented at a forum organized by the International Association for the Suicide Prevention (IASP) in the Cayman Islands on pesticide suicide. To date there has been no mention of any action outcomes resulting from our representation at that forum.
In any case, as TCV has continuously pointed out, information provision by itself would create very little requisite action. This is why we have been lobbying for implementation of an adaptation of the Sri Lanka’s Hazard Reduction Model relating to agro-chemicals, which saw the total number of suicide reduced by about 50% from 1996-2005 compared to 1986-1995 – a reduction of approximately 19,800 suicides, after this model was introduced. There is no such proven track record for Poison Control Centers.
In early 2015, TCV and a number of other stakeholders had met with PTTCB and an agreement arrived at that the PTCCB would unveil an adaptation of the Shri Lankan Model later in that year. Nothing has since been heard about that unveiling.
The Sri Lankan model encompasses:
1. Introducing a minimum agro-chemicals list restricting the use of pesticides to a smaller number of pesticides least dangerous to humans.
2. Placing import restrictions to ensure that more dangerous chemicals do not enter the country.
3. Restricting the availability of agro-chemicals by ensuring they are stored safely in locked boxes in rural households, along with all equipment with which these pesticides are used.
4. Ensuring that empty containers are safely and effectively disposed of.
5. Restricting sale of agro-chemicals only to licensed premises and to licensed farmers.
6. Implementing administrative controls to ensure that sales outlets safely store all agro-chemicals.
7. Implementing an ongoing safe use policy to educate people about safe handling, use, storage and disposal. Concurrently, for small-scale farming, non-chemical methods, including organic farming, should be encouraged.
8. Improving medical management of pesticide poisoning: an important facet of control because better management will reduce the number of deaths. Requirements are the better availability of antidotes (both in central referral hospitals and ideally in peripheral health units) and ventilation facilities, better training, and better evidence for interventions.
9. Constantly monitoring all measures to ensure ongoing conformity, including random home visits to check for locked box storage and field visits to ensure that only licensed premises and licensed farmers have access to chemicals and that safe handling, use, storage and disposal are in effect.
In this context the policy of sharing out cabinets to farmers makes sense. However, given that there are tens of thousands of farmers in Guyana, the few hundred cabinets doled out so far is simply a band-aid approach. It is thus time for Government to reach out to the World Health Organization and other potential international and local partners to come up with an effective, long term plan to tackle pesticide suicide.
This plan must, of necessity, include a widely publicized list of all banned agro chemicals. Additionally potent agri-poisons such as gramozone, the choice of poison in Guyana, must be added to that list. Gramozone contains the lethal ingredient, paraquat, a substance banned in many nations across the globe.
There is no known antidote and it has one of the highest death rates for poisons once ingested. While there has been no study on its usage in Guyana, a 1997 study by Dr. Daisley and Dr. Simmons on forensic analysis of acute poisonings in south Trinidad showed that of 105 deaths analysed, almost 95 per cent were cases of suicide, and almost 80 per cent of deaths were due to paraquat. An analysis of international literature, especially a study in South Korea, shows that the introduction of national policies regulating and banning paraquat led to a significant decrease in pesticide-associated mortality. Yet access to this poison in Guyana is as easy as access to candy. And, considering that those who attempt suicide generally do not want to die, ingestion of gramozone effectively takes away from them that option to survive.

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Counselling must be mandatory for attempted suicide victims – Caribbean Voice Director


Although a situation may seem daunting and there may appear to be no way out, suicide should never be seen as a way out.
“Suicide is preventable; it is not an option…it is totally preventable,” insists National Coordinating Director of the Caribbean Voice, Mr. Nazim S. Hussain. In fact, he emphasises that the main focus of Caribbean Voice, a not-for-profit Non Governmental Organisation [NGO] headquartered in New York, is to help Guyanese understand not only that suicide is not an option, but that it is a mental health issue that can be treated much like several other illnesses.
“Suicide can be cured and for those who are not cured, it can be controlled,” said Hussain, even as he revealed that although there are some people with regular suicide ideations and others who might have thought about it only once, they all can access available treatment.
In order to curb suicide ideations, Hussain noted that persons must be able to accept that suicide is a mental health problem. He shared his conviction that mental health screening should be a necessity for all persons employed in sensitive areas, such as those who are required to bear arms.
“We have been saying this for a long time…such persons and those who deal with chemicals should be screened regularly,” said Hussain. He however assured that neither he nor Caribbean Voice can officially pronounce on such a need.
But Hussain asserted that the Caribbean Voice has been unyielding and will continue to advocate for all persons who would have attempted suicide to be subjected to mandatory mental health counselling sessions. The counselling process, according to Hussain, will have to go hand in hand with efforts at decriminalising suicide.
Currently, suicide is seen as a criminal act, but the Caribbean Voice has been consistently calling for it to be decriminalised. “This is necessary, because if you attempt suicide and you did not succeed, you will not receive the mental health counselling that you require,” said Hussain, as he insisted that attempted suicide should no longer be viewed as a criminal act, as it is in fact a cry for help resulting from a mental health breakdown.
However, Hussain, when asked if a person found guilty of committing a homicide and then attempts to commit suicide but fails, should be subjected to merely counselling, replied, “You should be penalised based on the statues of Guyana – the criminal law for committing a murder.” He noted that the onus is on legislators to discuss and decide whether there is need for the re-tweaking of existing laws governing such matters.
Even as the way forward is decided upon, Hussain is unwavering in his support for counselling as an immediate priority for persons who attempt suicide, even if they are the perpetrators of a homicide.
“Regardless of what is decided, the Caribbean Voice will continue to advocate for immediate requisite counselling for such persons. This is important, because a person without needed counselling could continue to do harm…they could harm themselves and other persons if they are on bail, or harm fellow prisoners if they are sentenced. This is why we are saying there must be mandatory counselling.”
But counselling shouldn’t merely be an option, Hussain asserted. He is of the conviction that there should be penalties if mandatory counselling sessions are missed. “This is an area for the Government, they have to decide what the penalties are, because they are the people who govern the operation of the Mental Health Unit,” Hussain added.
As a suicide and violence prevention advocacy organisation, the Caribbean Voice, according to Hussain, has dealt with more than 300 successful counselling cases, both locally and internationally. A total of four counselling cases are also currently engaging the attention of the organisation.
In order to further expand its reach, Hussain said that “we are always willing to either invite collaborations or collaborate with other organisations…we are always willing to collaborate with [like-minded] organisations like the Ministry of Public Health…‘The more the merrier’ is a slogan that is attracting motivation to collaborate,” he noted.

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Guyana has toll free helpline to suicide prevention


A toll free suicide helpline is currently available to persons who are in need of immediate counselling. The hotline number [592] 600-7896 is one made available by one of the two local telephone companies – Digicel Guyana.
This means that persons, even if they do not have credit in their mobile devices, can have access to a counsellor who can offer them professional help. This development has been especially lauded by the National Coordinating Director of Caribbean Voice, Mr. Nazim Hussain.
Registered in New York, the Caribbean Voice is a not-for-profit Non-Governmental Organisation [NGO] involved in anti-violence activism with a special focus on suicide prevention and anti-abuse that has a major focus in Guyana.
Hussain noted that the move by Digicel to render its support to offer the toll free service is a very laudable move. “I didn’t even know that there was a toll free helpline until a recent visit to the Minister of Public Security’s office. I knew there were helpline numbers but it was brought to my attention then, that the Digicel number on the list of helpline numbers is a toll free number.
“This is something that we have been calling for, for a long time,” said Hussain.
This was required in recognition of the fact that “some people do not have money to pay for a call when they are having suicide ideations,” Hussain noted.
He added, “We have also been calling for all the helplines that are manned by the Ministry of Public Health be toll free too. The Ministry of Public Health has said that they are willing to work with us on that [and] we have requested that they use their clout to broker this with the phone companies and other people who can provide free credit.”
Other helpline numbers are [592] – 223-0001, 223-0009 and 623-4444. The toll free number [600-4444] and 623-4444 are also active Whatsapp numbers that persons in need of counselling can access.
Earlier this year Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan, said that Government is not opposed to the introduction of a toll-free suicide helpline. But the Public Security Minister even then said that while a move in this direction would be tactical, Government was not in the best of position to independently fast-track its implementation.
Minister Ramjattan also revealed that he is willing to throw any possible support behind individuals or organisations willing to bring such an initiative to fruition.
He, however, noted that “the first step is to know who is behind such an idea because I would want to know if they have good or bad intentions. There are some people who might want it for their own profiteering purpose,” speculated Minister Ramjattan.
Ramjattan’s solicited remarks came on the heels of calls for the implementation of toll-free suicide helplines from the Caribbean Voice.
Recognising the Caribbean Voice as a credible NGO, the Public Security Minister said that he is ready and willing to lend support wherever possible. “I would support Caribbean Voice; they have done some work in Guyana but I want to see them going down on the ground doing much more work,” the Minister had noted.
Hussain disclosed that while the Caribbean Voice has not been in the business of highlighting the extent of its work, there is record to substantiate that it has been reaching people across the country and has worked in collaboration with the Public Health Ministry and other organisations too. In fact, he disclosed that Caribbean Voice is currently engaged in offering professional services to a few individuals.
Speaking on the need for toll free helplines earlier this year too, Hussain said, “It is high time that moves are made to introduce a toll free suicide helpline to the Guyanese public.”
From all indication, Digicel heard the call and responded by causing its number to be toll free.

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