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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