Ministry of Education should clarify suspension guidelines

Recently the media reported that five students of a West Berbice secondary school were suspended since November and not allowed to submit their School Based Assessments (SBA) for the Caribbean Examinations Council exams later this year. The punishment was meted out to the students because they gave the head teacher a “nickname” (alligator).

The Caribbean Voice (TCV) urges the Ministry of Education to clarify current suspension guidelines and make them more specific so that the rights of students are not disregarded nor are violations lopsidedly outweighed by consequences.

While a teacher may take a student’s cell phone if it is a distraction, no teacher should have the right to go through a student’s cell phone. Besides, preventing students from attending classes and submitting their SBAs is not only putting them at a definite disadvantage, but also infringes on their rights to an education and indicates misplaced priorities.

In recognition of far more serious issues that need to be addressed in schools, TCV and the Guyana Teachers Union have teamed up to provide teachers with requisite skills and to help students deal with issues like low self esteem, self harm, lack of coping skills, abuse, bullying, depression, suicide ideation, increasing alcohol use. As GTU General Secretary, Coretta McDonald stated at a recent press conference, “In this partnership, we are not only going to build our teachers, in terms of assisting and helping them to develop new skills and dealing with the social ills we have, but we recognise that we are going to pass this knowledge onto the students so that we will be able to teach our students how to operate with each other, how to resolve conflicts without fists fighting or using weapons”.

Surely this is where the priorities ought to be?

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Suicide stats, related facts

January 23, 2018: Last year, a motion to decriminalise attempted suicide was debated in Parliament. Supported in principle by both sides of the house, it was voted against by the Government so as not to allow the Opposition to ‘score political points’.
The Caribbean Voice, in a letter to the media, suggested that the bill be sent to committee to thrash out something acceptable at a bipartisan level, which would not water down the necessary mechanisms for suicide prevention. Another suggestion was 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. Nothing to date.
Secondly, while no stats were given at the press conference of Jan 19, The Caribbean Voice has constantly been putting out stats and facts on suicide in Guyana, and thus we were a bit puzzled by the PAHO/WHO Director Dr William Adu-Krow’s inaccurate figure that the suicide rate had plummeted to 20.6 per 100,000 people in 2015, as well as the inaccurate stat that the 2012 suicide rate was 44.2 per 100,000 people.
Year Rate – suicides per 100,000
2000 22.3
2003 27.2
2005 24.0
2006 26.4
2019 25.8
2012 44.2 – actual rate 32.15
2015 30.8
Clearly, the 2012 figure is an anomaly, especially given that the only adjustment actually made by the WHO is from crude rate to age-standardized suicide rate, to eliminate the effect of differences in population age structures when comparing crude rates for different periods of time, different geographic areas, and/or different population sub-groups. Thus the 2015 crude rate of 29.0 was adjusted to 30.6.
Whatever led to this apparent anomaly, it presents a skewed picture that makes the work of suicide prevention NGOs and activists that much more difficult, besides seeming to imply that, with such a significant rate reduction, the Government does not need to ramp up resources to tackle suicide.
That PAHO Rep Dr Adu Krow was quoted a number of times in certain sections of the media as stating that the 2015 rate was 20.6 is even more puzzling; and despite The Caribbean Voice’s suggestion that Dr. Adu Krow may have been misquoted, he has not, to date, provided any public clarifying statement.
Finally, in 2015, just prior to the elections, the Pesticides and Toxic Chemicals Control Board (PTCCB) met with The Caribbean Voice, the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha, the Rights of the Child Commission, and a couple of other stakeholders to discuss the possibility of implementing an adaption of the Sri Lanka Hazard Reduction Model, which had reduced pesticide suicide in that nation by about 50% in about a decade, and for which The Caribbean Voice had been lobbying. An undertaking was given by the PTCCB to roll out such a policy a few months down the road, but a change of Government came in May 2015, and that undertaking was apparently scrapped.
The Sri Lanka Hazard Reduction Model is still the most viable and results-oriented strategy to tackle pesticide suicide anywhere, and we strongly believe that it needs to be adapted and implemented in Guyana, especially since all other measures have thus far failed miserably.

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Teachers union, NGO forge pact to help address social ills

Jan 23, 2018: Not only are the teachers, spread across the public school system, seen as important but according Secretary of the Guyana Teachers Union [GTU], Ms. Coretta McDonald, “our charges who are the students and the pupils are even more important because they’re the ones who are going to be our leaders of tomorrow.”
She recently said, “If we only talk about monies for our members then what happens to our charges? We have to ensure that we put systems in place for that first.”
It was against this background, McDonald said, that the union decided to forge a strategic partnership with The Caribbean Voice. The Caribbean Voice is a non-governmental organisation with a focus on antiviolence.
Because of this collaboration, just recently the Caribbean Voice was able to reach out to more than 100 teachers from schools across Canje, Berbice. At this forum, which was addressed by GTU President, Mr. Mark Lyte, the teachers were also enlightened about a number of issues including cervical cancer and sexual abuse. The presentations were by Dr. Latoya Gooding and a representative of the Childcare and Protection Agency.
According to Coordinator of the Caribbean Voice, Guyana Chapter, Mr. Nazim Hussain, reaching out to the teachers was a deliberate tactic. He revealed because of what is occurring in the sugar industry, there have been signs of school children being affected by the spin off effect of some workers being severed from sugar estates.
Hussain said that while the Caribbean Voice was initially aiming to train students how to cope, it was McDonald who decided that a more strategic approach would be to reach to teachers instead, so that they can be the first responders. It is anticipated that this move will not only reach the students and pupils but their parents as well.
A similar training programme will be held on Friday [January 26] at the Berbice High School where Hussain said, “We are assured of a larger audience of teachers.”
Also on February 3, the Caribbean Voice will be heading to Rose Hall to continue its training drive. This, Hussain said, will be done in collaboration with the Guyana Sugar Corporation which will provide the facilities for training, and it is expected that the movement will attract some donors since Caribbean Voice is strictly unfunded.
Among those who are expected to be targeted are some displaced sugar estate workers, current employees of the estate, ranks from the Reliance Police Station and representatives of other organisations and individuals 18 years and older.
“We are not going into the estates to tell people about what whoever did, and who got them severed; we are going into the sugar estates and these areas to do what is called trainer of trainers [TOT],” he asserted.
Speaking on the collaboration with Caribbean Voice, GTU McDonald said, “We recognise that in everything we can’t stand alone and so together…we are going to have even more benefits coming in for both entities and for our country at large.”
Since the partnership will be focused on a number of key areas, McDonald said that the Union is poised to do a number of things including helping to save lives and developing and nurturing new attitudes and behaviour patterns.
“In this partnership, we are not only going to build our teachers, in terms of assisting and helping them to develop new skills and dealing with the social ills we have, but we recognise that we are going to pass this knowledge onto the students so that we will be able to teach our students how to operate with each other, how to resolve conflicts without fists fighting or using weapons,” McDonald said.
According to McDonald, currently the school system is dealing with the challenge of too many weapons. This, she said, is a reflection of what is already happening in the wider society.
The GTU, McDonald said, has recognised that in order to be able to quell some of the prevailing challenges its partnership could yield fruitful outcomes.
Moreover, the two entities in the near future will be signing an official partnership to further expand its collaboration. “We recognise that so many issues are affecting us…affecting teachers, affecting the schools, affecting us in our wider society and so we have decided to join on this band wagon to build right attitudes, save lives, educate persons and together be able to build a society that we all so long for,” said McDonald.

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“Decriminalise suicide, it’s a cry for help” – NGO Pleads

Although an attempt at suicide, from a mental health perspective, is a plea for help, it is at the same time a criminal act that could attract a two-year prison sentence.
It is for this reason that the Caribbean Voice is vociferously advocating for suicide to be stricken from the law books as a crime. Caribbean Voice is a Non Governmental organisation [NGO] with a local and international presence which embraces an anti-violence stance.
According to Coordinator of its Guyana Chapter, Mr. Nazim Hussain, “because suicide is a crime, it is the reason why so many people end up self-harming and dying…strangulation of themselves [hanging] and drinking poison.”
In fact he disclosed recently that based on statistics, those who died as a result of self-harm might have tried as much as 20 to 25 times before they were successful. Seeking the requisite help is often not an option when families become aware that one of their members attempted suicide. This, Hussain said, is due to the criminalisation of the act of suicide and its associated penalty. He is of the firm belief though that “if it [suicide] was decriminalised persons’ relatives would have ensured that they seek and get the requisite mental health support. But because it is criminalised when you attempt, and thankfully do not die, your parents, spouses or whoever are not going to take you to get mental health treatment because they would be fearful; it’s a crime…you could be imprisoned for two years for trying to take your own life.”
As part of its anti-violence efforts, Caribbean Voice has been helping through its emphatic communication programme to help address the problem of suicide. According to Hussain, oftentimes suicide is preceded by evident behavioural change. These changes, he noted, should not be taken for granted. “This [behavioural change] can be a suicide warning sign…there are several other signs that these people display [too], perhaps not consciously,” Hussain added.
For this reason, Hussain noted that Caribbean Voice is fervent in its advocacy to have suicide decriminalised.
As part of its advocacy, Caribbean Voice, through yet another of its representatives, Annan Boodram, has been urging that all media refrain from using the term ‘committed suicide’ to refer to the act whereby someone dies by suicide. According to Boodram, by way of a letter which was disseminated to the media last year, “Suicide prevention activists and organizations argue that the word ‘commit’ has certain negative connotations and associations such as in ‘criminals commit crimes’.”
Boodram also noted that in spite of the archaic law in Guyana that criminalises attempted suicide, suicide is not a crime but a mental health issue, especially given that all triggers lead to either depression or anxiety which in turn catalyses suicide ideation and suicide itself.
“Suicide prevention activists and organizations are requesting that the replacement terms be ‘died by suicide’ or ‘is a suicide victim’. Also, instead of ‘reducing suicide’ or ‘suicide reduction,’ please use ‘creating suicide free [or suicide freer] communities’.”
The goal of activists, Boodram added, is not to reduce suicide since one suicide is one too many. As such, the goal should be to work to create suicide freer communities that would eventually result in suicide free communities, Boodram has outlined.
Although representatives of Caribbean Voice were not able to share any suicide statistics at a recent forum, Guyana up to August last year was embracing trends that were highlighted by PAHO/WHO Director, Dr. William Adu-Krow, which suggested that Guyana’s suicide rate had plummeted to 20.6 per 100,000 people.
In 2012 Guyana was reported to have the highest suicide rate in the world. However, by 2015, when a Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs] review was conducted, it was found that the rate had considerably declined.
A 2012 WHO report indicated that Guyana had a suicide rate of 44.2 per 100,000 people, and that for every single female suicide, there were 3.2 male suicides. By comparison, it was revealed that neighbouring territories Suriname had a suicide rate of 27.8 per 100,000, and Venezuela’s rate was 2.6 per 100,000.
“I just want to say that a lot of things are happening and sometimes people dwell on the negatives all the time. Granted that we are not off that list but we are getting off that list,” said the PAHO/WHO Representative of Guyana’s declining suicide rate.
As part of its efforts to help low and middle income countries like Guyana combat the scourge of suicide, WHO developed the Mental Health Gap Action Programme [mhGAP] which is aimed at scaling up services for people with mental, neurological and substance use disorders.
In its quest to combat the evident scourge of suicide, the Ministry of Public Health had announced plans to continue a number of ‘suicide deterrent’ measures. Among the measures that have been revealed by the Ministry are efforts to ensure that existing laws and regulations regarding pesticide sale, use and storage are enforced.
Added to this, moves were slated to be made to train at least 50 percent of Primary Health Care doctors in mhGAP-Intervention Guide. The programme asserts that with proper care, psychosocial assistance and medication, many people could be treated for depression, schizophrenia, and epilepsy, prevented from [choosing] suicide, and begin to lead normal lives even where resources are scarce.

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Enclose the overpass steps

Last month the media reported on the death by suicide of a 40-year-old man, who jumped off the pedestrian overpass on the Diamond Public Road.
Given that there are a number of such overpass on the East Bank Demerara Highway, The Caribbean Voice calls on the government to take proactive actions and enclose the steps on both sides of each overpass.
This will help to ensure that there is no scope for any copycatting of this tragic act. Please do not wait for more lives to be lost by suicide, as happened at Kaieteur Falls, before taking action.

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The Caribbean Voice Invites Nominations for the El Dorado Awards

The Caribbean Voice is inviting nominations for its Fourth Annual El Dorado Awards to be held in July 2016, date and venue to be announced later.
The El Dorado Awards was launched in August 2015 to recognize affirmations agents on Guyana’s social landscape (see for the list of past honorees). Affirmation agents are individuals, businesses and organizations that give back to communities and causes, promote and support social causes and/or engage in charitable work to empower and positively impact lives. Those who give so much of their time, efforts and resources to make a difference are often unacknowled
ged and even unrecognized. The purpose of the Ed Dorado Awards is to ensure that the Guyanese nation become aware of the work of these sterling individuals and entities.
Award categories and eligibility criteria can be accessed at Nominations, to include name, address, phone number, email and short bios or background information, should be sent via email to
The Caribbean Voice is also inviting sponsors for the awards. For inquiries or further information please call 644-1152 or 646-4649 (Guyana) or 718-542-4454 or 646-461-0574 (Canada, USA) or send email to,,,, or

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GTU teams up with Caribbean Voice…training teachers on social issues

January 20, 2018: In an effort to cushion the mental and social effects of the recent laying off of more than 4,000 sugar workers in Region Six, the Guyana Teachers Union has teamed up with the Caribbean Voice, a non-profit organisation, to train teachers to deal with social and mental issues affecting students and the larger community.
General Secretary of the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU), Coretta McDonald, noted that the union decided to begin collaboration with The Caribbean Voice with the interest of the students in mind. She added that while the union is concerned about the welfare of its teachers, the needs of the students are also of paramount importance.
“The GTU is much more than just more money and better working conditions. We see our members as being important; we see our charges for the students and pupils as being even more important, because they’re the ones who are going to be our leaders for tomorrow. We have to ensure that we put systems in place for this. It is against that backdrop that we decided that we are going to have this partnership with The Caribbean Voice, because we recognize that in everything we cannot stand alone,” she explained.
McDonald added that the union recognises that “in this partnership, because of the areas we are going to focus on, we are going to achieve a few things that GTU could not have done on (its) own — save lives, developing and nurturing new attitudes and behaviour patterns.”
She added that the GTU also recognises that the partnership will not only build teachers in terms of assisting them in developing new skills in terms of dealing with social ills, but it is going to enlighten them so that they can pass the knowledge on to students.
The Guyana Coordinator of The Caribbean Voice, Nazim Hussain, has said that one such training exercise has already been conducted with over 100 teachers in the Canje, East Berbice area.
“The sugar estates are closing. The Rose Hall Estate is one of the affected areas, and we have seen signs of school children being affected by the spill-off, and GTU said we should train the teachers so that they can train students and parents,” he noted.
He explained that the teachers have been trained to deal with a range of issues, inclusive of suicide and violence of all sorts.
The next leg of the training workshop with teachers would be held at the Berbice High School on January 26.

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