The Importance of Instilling Self-Worth in Guyana’s Youth

A belief pervasive throughout the world about Guyana is the idea that a sense of hopelessness permeates its people, holding them back from progress.  There is a far-reaching sense of pushback in many areas of Guyanese life- from below-par education, to the belief that a lack of attention is being given to Guyana’s growing trends towards domestic violence, alcoholism, and sexual abuse.  When individuals feel like their opportunities have reached a plateau which is so much lower than that of other countries’ standards of living, it’s not surprising that suicide in Guyana is on the rise.

It’s also no surprise that the largest group identified amongst victims of suicide is the youth, particularly from ages fifteen to twenty-four.  This range denotes the age of the largest sense of confusion- with regards to understanding one’s sexuality, acceptable boundaries in relationships, and self-worth.  The fact that this group accounts for the largest portion of suicide supports that not enough recognition is given to the importance of instilling a sense of self-worth from the moment a child is born, so that when individuals reach these troubling years, they will make choices that do not lead them to moments of despair.  More importantly, embedding a sense of personal value will provide them with the intellectual and emotional tools necessary to rebuild themselves when they do reach emotional lows.

But the mentality in Guyana when it comes to child-rearing is not conducive to generally recognized methods of building a child’s self-esteem from a young age.  This lack of understanding on parents’ part, which perhaps stems from the lack of education on this subject, does not always equip children with the ability to discern right from wrong, or with the comprehension of the importance of warmth and sensitivity when uplifting one’s spirits.  The result is a group of people desensitized to their own worth; to the notion that not only is a better quality of life possible, but that they deserve it.  That there are options other than taking their own lives because it is possible they will get to a better place in life.  Education, not only in an academic setting, but in teaching children about their own value, is needed in order to improve the mentality, quality of life, and ability to form healthy relationships amongst a demographic that is frighteningly vulnerable to giving up hope on improving their livelihood.

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Licks, Spanking, and the Perception of Violence

One topic that is always controversial amongst the social work force is the idea of “licks,” or beatings that parents give to children as a form of discipline.  Even in the United States, the effectiveness of this form of punishment is much debated- with pundits on both sides of the aisle for and against it (read more about it here).  In the States, people refer to it as “spanking”- and there’s a thin line that civil servants draw between spanking and corporal punishment, which is considered a legal offense.  Spanking can usually be interpreted as a light hit to a child’s bottom, but does not extend to the acceptance of any weapons used to strike the child; spanking certainly does not leave marks on the child.

In Guyana, “licks” are not illegal and can extend to various forms of corporal punishment.  Social workers may hear cases where parents punish their parents by hitting them across their bottom or  by striking them in front of others with large umbrellas as forms of punishment for acting out.  Whether or not this form of punishment is inhumane is one topic that should be debated within both the nonprofit and legislative landscapes in the Caribbean, particularly with regards to organizations that seek to provide solutions to individuals who are survivors of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse.  What is often overlooked by these organizations’ counselors, however, is the education of parents that is need in order to prevent them from mis-educating their children about violence.  The truth is that any form of violence is almost always unhealthy; and children who learn that violence corrects bad behavior from an early age onward are more likely to repeat this behavior as adults.

If parents believe that “licks” are only necessary for young children and should not be replicated as a form of punishment for adults, that is their prerogative.  However, it is their responsibility, if taking that stance, to educate their children about the difference between punishing a child and the act of expressing disagreement amongst adults.  An adult may be reprimanded and have to face the negative consequences of their actions in order to correct them for the future, but physically “teaching” them- as many men who beat their wives often claim to be doing- seems to mimic many parents’ desire to “teach” their children through beating.  It teaches them fear, self-loathing, and victimization.  Whether or not a parent believes this phenomenon also results from beating a child is subjective, but if they do in fact believe in beating their children as a form of discipline, it is necessary for them to make the distinction clear to their children that methods of punishment and expression of anger do not follow the same rubric across all age groups.  Until organizations make efforts to educate parents as well as children about this distinction- and until parents start educating their children on their own about this distinction, they are, in many cases, inadvertently perpetuating an understanding that violence is the best form of expressing disapproval.  When violence takes the place of discussion, individuals will inevitably pay forward an unhealthy perception of violence.

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How We Can Change the Landscape of the Electoral Process

Yesterday, representatives from Monique’s Helping Hands attended a workshop presented by USAID’s Governance Executive Program, which will provide a $20,000 USD grant each to select organizations with adequate proposals.  The purpose of the programs for which these grants will be used is to promote educating voters about presidential candidates’ stances in Guyana’s upcoming election in order to ensure that voters are not blindly making candidate decisions in the election process.

If this type of programming becomes more pervasive in the Caribbean’s non-governmental organization world, then politicians will ultimately be accountable for campaign promises, which will increase the effectiveness of their initiatives when in office.  What does this mean for organizations like Monique’s Helping Hands, which seeks to improve the quality of life and understanding of sexual health for men, women, and children in Guyana?  If non-governmental organizations with objectives like those of Monique’s or even CPIC as a whole structure programs to educate voters about the issues during the election process, they will inevitably ask what the politician’s proposed resolutions to the increasing trend of STIs, domestic violence, and sexual assault in Guyana are.  As a result, the organizations that seek to correct these issues in Guyana will, in their programming, force politicians to draw solutions to rather than simply acknowledge these problems.  That’s not to say that the government doesn’t already have programs in place, but placing these issues in the national spotlight will consequently improve the quality and effectiveness of new and existing programs (at least, over a span of presidencies and attempts at implementing the programs proposed during campaigns).

Therefore, this is a long-term dream- not a quick-fix phenomenon, by any means- but it is enough to at least spark hope that the disenfranchisement some voters feel from the government in Guyana will disperse alongside the much-needed process of educating them not only on the positions of electoral candidates, but also on the issues surrounding sexual health in the Caribbean.

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Culture of Silence

One of the biggest issues that children in the Caribbean and particularly those in Guyana face is a culture of silence.  Elders prefer to speak in parables rather than tell a child directly what they should and should not do.  For example, one woman told me that instead of telling his daughter to be careful once she became sexually active, her father gave her a boiled egg.  “Only now,” she said, “do I understand what that means…that egg represented an unwanted pregnancy.”  Another common phrase which children who come to counseling often refer to is “smellin’ yaself.”  They have reached that pre-pubescent age of sexual curiosity and their mother or father will tell them that they need to stop “smellin’ theyself.”  Translation: they need to stop exploring their sexuality and doing “dirty” things, because soon they’ll want to have sex with people and become pregnant or impregnate someone.  Or at least, that’s what some children surmise.  When counselors ask, “what do you think that means?” a handful are able to provide this explanation, while others shrug their shoulders casually.

The divide between the youth generation and its predecessors is nothing uncommon, but the lack of real, effective communication between adults and their children can result in misunderstandings, emotional disconnection, and a search for real connections with people elsewhere, often in the arms of negative influences.  These are the young women who come into Monique’s Helping Hands’ office with unwanted pregnancies, unaccepting families, and often, AIDs and other STIs.  When children are urged from an early age not to discuss the crux of issues that are pervasive everywhere outside (and sometimes inside) their homes, they are naturally curious to understand those issues.  They gravitate towards sources that provide means of understanding things like sex, sexuality, self-assertion, and aggression, which are stifled by the silence employed in their homes.  And, as a result, they are irrevocably harmed by the act of pursuing that knowledge, which could have been communicated to them in a much safer, more loving way.

If the culture of silence stops perpetuating itself, then children will be able to discuss taboo issues before they become impatient with curiosity and explore them in irresponsible ways.  Until that happens, CPIC will continue to be one of the many nongovernmental pioneers in the fight to help youth understand who they are, without harming who they are.

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Funding: One of Many Challenges

Funding is always a problem with nonprofit organizations- from finding sufficient funding and coordinating funding allocations with the government, to the lag time between proposal acceptance and the actual handover of funds.

One of the greatest issues that Caribbean nonprofit organizations face, particularly in Guyana, where many organizations focus on rehabilitating children from broken families, is the lack of oversight enforced when allocating funding.

Donor agencies awarded 104 million USD for supplies alone to various nonprofit organizations and 699 million Guyanese dollars for the stipends of the nonprofit workers implementing community programs in Guyana.  Guyana’s various Ministries are in charge of ensuring that the programs for which these funds are intended are executed sufficiently.  Many NGO’s have not received the funds given through this funding stream since 2009, and have since struggled to meet the demands of assisting those in crisis situations across Guyana.

The Ministries have taken the task of providing aid to Guyana’s underprivileged into their own hands, allocating the funds to its internal sources.  The government justifies this decision by claiming that nonprofits lack the oversight needed to ensure that they will use the funds correctly, and that the Ministry is better-equipped to do so.

A representative who wishes to remain anonymous from a prominent NGO doesn’t believe this explanation. “Maybe a few organizations misused it in the past, but it’s not fair for all of us to suffer… they think they can do it all through the government workforce, but the workforce isn’t capable of doing all the work…what’s really needed is cooperation between nonprofits and the government, but they won’t allow that.”

Dawn Stewart (founder and CEO of CPIC) agrees, stating that funding needs to be given to NGOs so they can effectively carry out community projects.

Just what capabilities are needed, then, to complete this work?  According to Stewart, there is much more emotional support- an aspect that is not culturally understood by many- that needs to be implemented with each case in addition to  the routine tasks completed by Social Services.  Additional counseling to victims of domestic and sexual violence is needed in order to ensure that citizens, especially youth, make good choices after experiencing major trauma within the family.  Alcoholism, domestic abuse, and sexual assault are phenomena that are all too familiar to a country where most of its citizens worry about putting food on their table every week.

“There’s a culture of acceptance [of organizations and agencies not being held responsible] that’s harming the family life here,” Stewart explains.  Over time, individuals accept that the government can only help so much (or not at all) by documenting cases and simply telling- rather than assisting- affected families to move on after tragedy strikes.  In turn, the budget of money that Ministries receive from donor agencies- which is supposedly given to aid nongovernmental projects- has no measurable oversight whatsoever, from any governing body.  When the governing body itself lacks regulation for the spending of huge sums of international aid money, the problem of broken families and affected teens will not only inevitably result, but re-perpetuate itself.

As other employees leave organizations due to diminishing employee stipends, I spoke to one organization’s representative (who also chooses to remain anonymous) in her hot, tiny office- a downgrade from the office the organization once afforded in the early 2000s. “Sometimes I worry about bills being met; putting my daughter through school as her needs only increase with her age.  But then I remember… if we all just leave these children, then who will help them?”

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Welcome to the New Site!

We have a new website! Welcome everyone to our new website. We are proud to share with everyone the changes we have made. Please let us know your thoughts on the site.  We will be continuously updating the site with information, event dates and blog posts in the following months. In the meantime we would love your feedback on what he have thus far.

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