Authors Posts by Mozzy1

Mozzy1

Mozzy1
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by Vidyaratha Kissoon

“You want sour pun it” the woman asked me. The plantain chips were in a clear plastic bag, knotted at the top. There were no labels, no made on date nor exp date. I said no to the sour because sour decreases the crunch.

The chips were thin, almost transparent. The woman is selling on a spot which once had a funeral parlour. There is a food van behind her. Grilled food. The funeral parlour in those days only had freezers. No one bothers now.

Some of the bags had small pieces, like shards of yellow glass, from the movement and packing and so.

The chips crumbled in the mouth, easy on the misshapen teeth and gums.

Fragility in plantain chips is good. Fragility in plantain chips is an art, a desired outcome.

Fragility though, is not desired in governance.

The Camp Street Avenue has a small arch near Middle Street. The Sustainable Development Goals form the arch. People are passing under the arch and not bothering to stop and read. November 15th will be half way into the coalition Government. The arch seems a nice kind of manifesto for here to 2020 at least, if not 2030.

The goals and activities towards the goals seem to be nice frameworks for the National Budget and for planning.

The top of the arch has 1. No Poverty The arch is close to the Guyana Revenue Authority building, the place where the Government collects the monies which are supposed to ease poverty. Guyana though, there are no statistics really on poverty and its manifestations and how poverty will be fixed. The handling of the Sophia squatters is an example of the insensitivity to some of the manifestations. 2. Zero Hunger is related to poverty. 3. Good health and well-being is a national project. I know diabetics who have to stress out about supplies of insulin as it seems the bureaucracy has intensified. 4. Quality Education in a place where the Teachers Union thinks it is okay to beat children to deal with their own in ability to manage classrooms. There is news though that the President will meet with the Union to deal with the salary increases. Maybe the President will talk to the Teachers about not beating children as a way to quality education?

5. Gender Equality in a country where the Cabinet is dominated by men, 6. Clean water and sanitation, 7. Affordable and Clean Energy, 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth as 1500 school cleaners still cannot be brought into formal employment. 9. Industry, innovation and infrastructure, 10. Reduced inequalities, 11. Sustainable cities and communities, 12. Responsible consumption and production, 13. Climate Action, 14. Life below water as Exxon disrupts the seabed and the country has no idea about the deal with the oil . 15. Life on land, 16. Peace, Justice and strong institutions as the Government of the day has no interest in activating the Ethnic Relations Commission and the Human Rights Commission which were meant to promote some of the peace and justice.

Parasite” “Children of Satan.. “

A woman posts up a picture of her Leader, on Facebook. Her President in his suit and tie. Her friends say how handsome he looks as he gets ready for the press conference on GECOM. Kaieteur News reports on some of the language the handsome Leader of the Opposition uses when he talks about his former comrades. A TV news story shows the Leader of the Opposition calling the Prime Minister “a parasite.” The language is similar to the rhetoric of Donald Trump of the United States. Is the Leader of the Opposition hoping for Exxon/USA /Russian support for 2020?

A letter from a Christian man in December 2016 asks the Leader of the Opposition to name the Christian organisations who were in the organisations. There was no reply.

There is no website or so with any list of organisations who submitted names for the Leader of the Opposition to select as part of the consultations.

The Guyana Rastafari Council has supported the President’s decision – “…of the six General and Regional Elections since the implementation of the Carter Formula, five have been chaired by a Guyanese of East Indian descent and one by a Guyanese of African Descent. For our sacred space and consciousness as a multi-racial society, we urge all Guyanese to embrace the

appointment of Justice James Patterson, a Guyanese of African descent.”

The African Cultural and Development Association condemned the PPP with its ‘racist agenda’ and that the reaction proves that “Indians do not want to be ruled by an African Leader”. ACDA and the related organisations are vicious in their condemnation of all those who disagree with the President’s decision to appoint Justice Patterson. It seems to ACDA that all critics are racist or supportive of racism and the PPP injustice. Apparently, racism is the only reason to disagree with the President’s decision. Does President Granger feel the same way as ACDA?

Weren’t ACDA and the Guyana Rastafari Council part of the extensive consultations by the Leader of the Opposition on the name for the GECOM list?

A woman writes on Facebook about Christopher Ram and Joe Singh – “Children of Satan.”

Dr David Hinds of the WPA writes that ‘we are becoming the saddest country on Earth’ .

The multicoloured arch of the Sustainable Development Goals on Camp Street is probably in the wrong place is in nice happy colours. Maybe it needed to be outside Parliament. Or State House.

The avenue is not too busy. The chips are almost done. I see nice green bins to throw away the empty bag. There are pink bin liners. A young man rides a bicycle, looking at me as he passes me on the avenue. I hear a loud “Good Afternoon”.

He is about 17 or 18 years of age. He looks a bit small for the bicycle. I shout back Good Afternoon. Second time in the week that a random youth told me Good Afternoon on the road. In some minibuses, nobody bothered to reply when I shouted Good Morning/Good Afternoon.

I wanted to say “hey hey you know you aint supposed to ride on the avenue?”

But his riding on the avenue does not look dangerous. I hope he shouts Good Afternoon to everybody he passes. The young rider’s random Good Afternoon to a stranger is a fragile blessing, a faint hope , that it might still be possible for Guyana to be a place where every citizen can enjoy a good life without anyone believing they have to cuss or attack anybody else.

(Coil will be extinguished and be back hopefully in January 2018, if not before)

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by Vidyaratha Kissoon

Dear President Granger

A teacher beat a child on the Tuesday day before Diwali. The beating resulted in bruises on the child. The child cannot sit properly. There is a beautiful picture of some students sitting on the ground with you at the Diwali Utsav at State House.

The child would not have been able to sit with you because eve though you had said there is no place for corporal punishment in Guyana, nothing else has been done

The school will not do anything though because the teacher, like so many other violent teachers, is “a good“ teacher.

The parents who try to stop the beating often end up being penalised by those who think beating children is okay in a democratic society.

It as though your good intentions are being undermined. The Minister of Education recently said there will no discrimination against LGBT persons. The Minister has not done anything to stop teachers from beating children. Guyana is probably one of the countries where LGBT tolerant Government officials do nothing about the abuse of children in the school system.

The members of the Guyana Teachers Union are going to be the beneficiary of rewards from Ansa McAl. The GTU will not ask its members to stop beating children in school.

There are other children whose hands were swollen after the teachers ignored the ‘No place for corporal punishment in Guyana”. The children would not have been able to shake hands with you.

The picture of the children at State House during Diwali is a beautiful one. It looks like you are wearing a Kurta. There is an obsession with ‘Indian wear’ which seems to have been really profitable for clothes manufacturers from India (and maybe China). It is fashionable now for people to show tolerance for ethnic diversity by wearing ‘ethnic wear’.

The President in a kurta lighting diyas could be seen as a gesture of reaching out after the private racial remarks of the Press and Publicity Officer and her lack of accountability for those remarks. It could be seen as a gesture of reaching out after the allegations of racial discrimination in other parts of the Government, allegations which cannot be investigated because there is no Ethnic Relations Commission or Human Rights Commission in existence.

There is a version of Hinduism in which it is equally appropriate for anyone to wear a Made in Guyana dashiki to light diyas. It is a view about the universality of humanity, regardless of the clothing and other differences.

The night after State House extinguished the diyas, social media flared up about the swearing in of Justice Patterson as GECOM Chairman. The flaring up was not about the peaceful diya light, but in disruptive ways like the ugly bombs and squibs.

People used the Diwali festival as a metaphor to talk in divisive ways about who is the darkness to be conquered and who is bringing light.

The Ministry of Social Cohesion’s celebration included a Ram Leela group. Hinduism uses the leela, the drama, to talk about the philosophy. The whole Ramayana , was to show how Ram, in the divine imperfection (nice king and son and brother, but not a good husband), deals with the once devout Ravan who became obsessed with power. The leelas have many sub-stories, which show potentials and give examples of how Hindus should adhere to certain values especially in difficult circumstances.

Good and bad are intertwined and there are times when it seems that what is good for some is bad for others and vice versa. This ‘leela’ which is playing out here where it seems some people are pushed to think that the PPP must be kept out at all means including dubious elections. The PPP’s poor governance is now upheld as the justification for the ‘unilateral’ selection. The PPP’s poor governance was justified by the previous poor governance of the PNC. Light for PNC supporters means darkness for PPP supporters, light for PPP supporters means darkness for PNC supporters. Except when GPL gives blackout to all.

The PPP has not purged itself of the people who have faced unresolved allegations of rape and child sexual abuse. Many people who light diyas and vote for the PPP have excused the voting “ it was a list” and “some members of the list have ‘condemned’ the comrades on the list they want to govern with.

The PNC has kept Councillor Harding on at City Hall. The PNC seems to want to keep on the Town Clerk and others who took it upon themselves to interrogate a child who survived a sexual assault.The loyal man in Region 9 who has been charged with rape and has been sent on leave and receives his full salary while the case drags on in court. The political parties who will be jostling for the power under the watch of Justice Patterson have not done much about the convictions for sexual offences or the time for the cases.

2020 is looming ahead. The elections will be tense. Citizens will divide over the choice of one of the political parties who have not been able to stop teachers from assaulting children.

Diyas are temporary, lasting as long as the wick and the oil. The permanent light is supposed to be found in the rejection of divisiveness.

The leela might have gone in a different direction if you and the PPP leaders and the civil society organisations had lit diyas together before deciding on the GECOM chairperson.

The leela might still have a happy story ending though if you and the Minister of Education and the Guyana Teachers Union light diyas with the teachers and parents who want to beat children and get them to stop.

Yours sincerely

Citizen who is unable to choose the lesser of two evils , and whose diyas are often subject to the nice wind.

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by Vidyaratha Kissoon

“What is the real date for Diwali?” the man on the phone asked.

Guyana has been blessed with two dates for Diwali since Diwali 2015. There has not been much writing in the papers this year. Everybody seems resigned to the fact that Hindus are not ‘united’ in deciding their dates and will make do. The Government has declared the holiday as Wednesday 18th October, 2017 based on the recommendations by some Hindu organisations. The Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha and others will celebrate on Thursday 19th October, 2017.

But why should it matter? According to one website about holidays in India, and talking about Diwali in India in 2017

“.. The most widespread holiday is 18 October, where Diwali is a holiday in Arunachal pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chandigarah, Goa, Himachal pradesh, Jharkhand, Kerala, Manipur, Meghalaya, Madhya pradesh, Nagaland, Odisha, Sikkim, Tamil nadu, Telangana, Uttarakhand.

Diwali is celebrated on 19 October in Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir, Haryana, Maharashtra, Mizoram, Odisha, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh. “

The pujas associated with Diwali are done over four or five days with different Hindus having different emphasis on the different days. There are different ways of celebrating, with some additions which are not necessarily in the scriptures.

There is nothing in the Hindu scriptures about the spectacular Diwali motorcades or other events. One of the sad realities of the two Diwali dates in Guyana is the insistence of the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha to hold their Georgetown/East Coast Demerara motorcade on the night that some Hindus would be celebrating Diwali.

There is nothing in the Hindu scriptures about National Holidays either. The Government selection of one day for the holiday over the calls for another date is also a problem as it seems to pick sides on who is correct and who is not correct.

There is nothing in the scriptures about abusing animals and other human beings with fire crackers and bombs. In Guyana, two Diwali dates also mean two, possibly more, nights of misery for those animals and humans who cannot handle the sound of firecrackers and bombs.

The Indian Supreme Court has recently banned firecrackers in Delhi during Diwali. Diwali is now associated with increased pollution from the fire crackers. There is much opposition to the ban from the traders in fire crackers, while many have welcomed the ban.

The lack of consideration which characterises so much of Guyanese life is supposed to have been ruled out in the Constitution. The lack of consensus building is easy to dismiss in the way the Constitution is formed.

Reforming the Constitution

The man called about the Diwali dates while I was attending a forum organised by RISE Guyana.

RISE Guyana has taken on the task of advocating for Constitutional Reform and to engage the public. It is not going to be easy. The last time there was talk about Reform was after the December 1997 elections and there was a lot of hope in the improving Guyana. That has not happened.

The post-election violence led to the Constitutional Reforms of 2001/2003. The process was managed by a Constitutional Reform Commission (CRC) which was convened in 1999.

The Terms of Reference were clear, with specific focus on areas including fundamental rights and governance. There were clear mandates for the Commission to make decisions by consensus and on the functioning of the commission. The National Assembly at the time agreed to the process and the mechanisms of the process.

In 2017, the National Assembly is expected to consider a bill to form a Constitutional Reform Consultative Commission to ‘assist’ the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Constitutional Reform. The Prime Minister has put forward the bill as it is his mandate.

The APNU+AFC majority might vote for the Constitutional Reform Consultative Commission.

The the opposition might not bother with it, especially if their favourite MP, the Prime Minister is going to be responsible for it.

So we could end up in this two Diwali dates scenario where a Constitutional Reform process is started without the full support of the National Assembly and where there will be 100 consultation events throughout Guyana.

Consultations are events which have people talking a lot, and then some nice pastries/snacks and juice. The caterers are very often the only people who benefit from consultations as many times the ‘views of the people’ are never incorporated into any documents or policies or the people never hear back anything.

Reforming/Rewriting a Constitution

Israel does not have a ‘written constitution’ . There has been advocacy for and against a written constitution. A group of Israelis, the Israeli Democracy Institute, drafted a proposal for a Constitution by Consensus. They detail their own biases and their own beliefs, and acknowledging that “at the conclusion of this process, not one of the fellows of the Institute is entirely satisfied with the final draft which we have all signed…”

Israel has also decriminalised marijuana, though long after the IDI crafted their Constitution in Consensus.

In Guyana, some people have also said that there is no need for immediate reform, but that duty bearers should be following the Constitution.

There are violations of the Constitution. There is no Local Government Commission. There is no Ethnic Relations Commission. There is no Human Rights Commission. There is no urgency on the part of the duty bearers who want to hold 100 consultations on the reform of the document they are violating in dealing with these breaches. Do they want to do away with these Commissions?

It is easy for duty bearers to not adhere to the Constitution as there is no accountability mechanisms. The ‘fit and proper’ dilemma of the President in identifying a Chairman for the Guyana Elections Commission show the problems with the language of the Constitution and those who have to interpret it.

Another website from India has a different distribution of the States on the Wednesday/Thursday dates for the 2017 Diwali holiday. The information on the website suggests that there are some places in India with a Deepavali holiday on Friday 20th October, 2017. Maybe people are allowed to take the holidays.

The Guyanese nation, many Hindus included, would probably have been glad for a long holiday weekend, even if they prayed on one or both of the nights.

How can Guyanese transform the Constitution so that it reaches out to other possibilities when those who benefit from the status quo are entrusted with the ‘reform’? Is the Constitution the mechanism to allow each of us, regardless of which day we celebrate Diwali, to reach our potential without having to throw firecrackers or bombs to disturb any one else?

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by Vidyaratha Kissoon

‘Da luv her chirren.. she must have tripped out.. “ a woman from Bath, St Thomas, Jamaica said to the media. Da was arrested after some bystanders recorded her beating her daughter.

The bystanders shared the video on social media. Da’s community asked for mercy for Da. The women talking to the media told stories of their own experience of violence as children.

In this confusion over what is child abuse, what is violence and how to respond, children are expected to thrive.

There is mostly agreement that touching a child sexually deserves punishment.

There is strong belief that beating a child to cause marks and shame deserves mercy, counselling or maybe even no response, but no punishment.

A previous blog looked suggested the following goals for child protection :-

  • Accepting that the Child is a person deserving of special protections

  • Accepting that you can’t beat children while thinking you can stop sexual and other forms of abuse

  • Accepting that it is possible for people to stop beating children

  • Inter-agency collaboration

  • Reporting child abuse

Other suggested goals are the implementation of child protection policies, transformation of the justice system and enabling healing for survivors.

Child protection policies

A Child Protection policy is a document which describes how an organisation, school, entity, community will actually move from talk to action about child protection in their sphere of influence. The policy document helps people to understand who is a child and the expected standards of behaviour towards children.

The policy implementation would require that people learn about child abuse and to challenge their own abusive behaviour towards children.

The preparation of the policy allows organisations, entities, schools, communities to work through how they will ensure people understand appropriate behaviour towards children.

The consideration of a child protection policy is a process which shows the level of work required to do actually do child protection. The assessment of individuals and facilities and systems gives a basis from which to start.

The policy describes how organisations and groups could deal with persons who violate the policy, allowing for the removal of any person who violates the policy.

The policy also describes how the groups would interact with the justice system if they discover violations of the policy which are in conflict with the law. It is legal in Guyana for teachers to assault children in schools.

Adult in organisations, entities or communities with sound child protection policies would not beat children.

Justice and child abuse

Kaieteur News carried an article reviewing the cases between June and September 2017 in the Demerara High Courts. The following extracts refer to the accounts of sexual offences against children.

  • The accused in one matter for the offence of rape of a child under 16 years was acquitted by the jury.

  • In two separate matters for the offences of sexual activity with a child family member and rape of a child under 16 Years, both complainants went into the witness box and informed the court that they did not wish to proceed with their matters.

  • In two matters for the offence of rape of a child under 16 years, the jurors returned majority verdicts of not guilty.

  • The prosecutions of Nine matters for the sexual offences of rape of a child under 16 years, rape, carnal knowledge of a girl under 15 years and sexual activity with a child family member were abandoned by the DPP. In one matter, the accused died. In three matters, the complainants indicated in written statements they did not wish to proceed with their matters and in the other five matters, the complainants could not be located despite police searches at their last known addresses and notices were published and aired for them to attend court.

So out of 13 trial cases of child sexual abuse where the accused are alive, there were 3 acquittals, while 5 persons withdrew their complaints and the other 5 complainants could not be found.

There were apparently NO convictions for child sexual abuse in the June 2017 sessions of the Demerara Criminal Assizes.

What does this mean? That the children did not experience sexual violence? Does it mean that the accused did not commit the offences? What are the reasons for refusing to proceed with matters or withdrawal of complaints? What does this mean for those police, social workers and others who have to work to build the cases?

The Childcare and Protection Agency had reported that there were 427 reports of child sexual abuse during the first half of this year. In 2016, there were 734 cases. How many of these cases will end up in Court?

There are no recent reports about how the other forms of child abuse are dealt with in the justice system.

A news report from Australia talks about the decrease in convictions in the District Court of New South Wales even though there was an increase in cases of child sexual abuse.

In September 2017, the Caribbean JURIST Project launched the Model Guidelines for Sexual Offences in the Caribbean .

The authors note that “The present approach by the justice system to persons who have been sexually assaulted in many cases, leaves the survivor with a sense of betrayal. Preliminary hearings, where untrained police or court clerks often lead evidence, frequently, if unwittingly, traumatize survivors of sexual assault. Personnel are often insensitive to the trauma that survivors and witnesses experience when they are forced to relive the crime during the investigation and prosecution of a criminal case, particularly while they are testifying in court. Delays in the criminal justice system also mean that survivors may experience this trauma over a span of several years.”

There are recommendations for the pre-trial and trial process. There are also guidelines for offender rehabilitation and management, including consideration of restorative justice. The guidelines note that there was input from some indigenous communities in Belize and Guyana. The guidelines though do not address the complexities of geography and whether there could different ways for indigenous communities to address justice without having to access courts which are sometimes hundreds of miles away.

It is not clear how these guidelines would used in Guyana and who is responsible for including them in the justice system.

Another project generationFive from the United States proposes a Transformative Justice approach – an idea which looks beyond incarceration. According to the handbook, “ransformative Justice seeks to provide people who experience violence with immediate safety, long-term healing and reparations; to demand that people who have done harm take accountability for their harmful

actions, while holding the possibility for their transformation and humanity; and to mobilize communities to shift the oppressive social and systemic conditions that create the context for violence.”

The German “Project Dunkelfeld” aims to treat persons attracted to children before they sexually abuse children. There are other projects which work on prevention and surveillance.

Adults who like beating children should have access to programmes which teach non-violent forms of interaction with children.

Healing for survivors

It is late one night . A man who has been inspirational in many ways is chatting about different things. I read his text messages as he talks about surviving abuse. We chat a bit about how he survived and how he feels now. The abuser is a family member who he still sees from time to time. The text chats are calm, he seems to state things without much emotion. He is doing okay he says. He could get help and he was a protector of his family. He had no choice but to survive. I was the first person he had told. A few months after our chat, he posted a school picture on social media. The picture of the serious faced boy shows no sign of the horrors he was dealing with. The pictures of the smiling relaxed face of the adult man show no signs of the secrets. We never talked about this afterwards.

A woman who is active and involved in her family and community life talks in another text chat about surviving abuse. The abuser is not within her life any more. She tells me she is okay, she does not need to talk to anyone or be in any support group. She understands the abuser no longer has power over her. She has a big smile and loud laugh. We never talk about this again.

There are other stories. Other men and women who survived, and who focussed on making their lives away from the abuse.

In all of them, the abuser has never seen a police station, court room or jail.

The survivors are on their own, being okay, sometimes talking , remembering and forgetting and not allowing the abuse of the past to hold them back.

Others talk about flashbacks. Some people have difficulty in relationships and try to make things work. Some have problems with the parents who knew and did nothing.

One man talked of the son of his abuser befriending him. He thought of revenge and then realised that he could not become the monster. He had to deal with all of this on his own.

Where then in Guyana does healing happen? In Leonard Archibald’s community, are the men who talked expected to just get on with it? Move on?

There is a shaming of the village ‘which knew’ and did not do anything. What does redemption look like for the villagers?

A woman said she had to pay $10,000 per hour for a counsellor in Guyana for a child in Guyana who had witnessed domestic violence. She wondered about those who could not afford those costs.

Who in Guyana is responsible for healing for the survivors of child abuse, especially those further away from Georgetown? Who is responsible for making Guyana a place fit for children?

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by Vidyaratha Kissoon

“Good afternoon sir” one of the students said as they walked out from from the field to the school. There are two goals set up on the field. Some of the children have been kicking around a ball. Some of them had been looking at me looking at the goal posts.

The goal posts are firm in the ground. There is a net on one of them.

I wanted to swing on the crossbar like how six year old Gleansean Skeete must have done before the goalpost fell and killed him while he was in care of the school teachers.

The goal post feels firm in the ground.

Goals are usually good things, signs of achievement. Goal posts mark space out as goals.

In 2017 Guyana, the broken goal post on the ground in Plaisance marks the site of the death of a six year old child.

The broken goal post, in Child Protection Week, soon after the murder of Leonoard Archibald , marks the failure of not having the deep systemic committent to child protection.

Oil and gas cannot be the most important conversation in Guyana.

Do we really expect to do oil and gas right if we cannot look after our children?

People in Guyana have tried , especially in the last twenty years. There has been work on different ways to deal with child abuse and to increase reporting. The work though never seems to institutionalise into any meaningful change. Those in power to make the change seem to lack the political will to institutionalize . The political will to strengthen child protection initiatives is not there.

What could some of the child protection goals look like?

Accepting the Child is a person, and deserving of special considerations

Some people believe in the ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ philosophy, except it seems that it does not mean ‘Do unto children as you would have them do unto you’

Guyana’s Constitution says in Article 149 B (1) The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or equal protection and benefit of the law. Guyana signed on to the Convention of the Rights of the Child.

Some children in Guyana are exposed to the same risks as adults. A blog from the IADB about creating environmentally friendly mining includes photographs of children in some murky looking water and stark landscapes. The blog itself does not refer to the children.

Guyana though continues to beat children in its schools. Some religious bodies do not believe beating children is abuse. They might not approve of beating pastors and church leaders though.

The child while supposedly equal in law, is not really equal in culture. Good children must be obedient apparently even to abusive adults.

Accepting that you can’t beat children while thinking you can stop sexual and other forms of abuse

Teachers are duty bearers, given a role to protect and nurture children. The Guyana Teachers Union apparently is determined to keep beating the children they are supposed to protect. There is something wrong with the State which laments the death of children and marches and holds rallies for child protection but does nothing to stop the violence experienced by children in its care.

The President believes there is no place for corporal punishment in Guyana, the Director of the Childcare and Protection Agency (and maybe the Minister of Social Protection too?) believes that there is no place for beating children.

These beliefs though have not transformed into any real shifts to heal those teachers who think they need to beat children to retain power.

And in the brokenness, the teachers who like to beat children apparently continue to hold power over President Granger and the other officials who have good intentions but cannot seem to make those intentions real.

Accepting that it is possible for people to stop beating children

The woman is standing on the bridge of the private school where she teaches. It is a hot afternoon. A small child, is chatting with her as children do. The woman grabs the child’s bag, opens it, hits the child and sends her back for a bottle. I am not sure what to do so I turn back and stare at the woman. The child starts crying and goes back as the woman shouts after her.

I see the cleaner of the school a day after the incident. The cleaner and I talk about the incident.

The cleaner tells me to go and report to the owner of the school, that it was not right what the teacher did to her child.

I do not go to the owner of the school. I see the cleaner a few days after our conversation.

She tells me “You know, I told her that her behaviour is not right. She agreed with me. She said she saw you looking at her. She is a new teacher here. You should still go and tell the owner”

I said “Okay, I don’t need to tell the owner anything, you did the best thing”

Help & Shelter, ChildLink/Everychild Guyana , Red Thread and other NGOs have done work with adults on parenting, and parenting without beating.

Work was done to research attitudes with teachers, students, parents to understand the blocks to change.

People have changed their attitudes after unlearning abusive behaviour

The Guyana Teachers Union and the Ministry of Education can stop beating children in Guyana’s schools.. If they do not change, then we will not be able to move forward on protecting children in Guyana.

Inter-agency collaboration

The Childcare and Protection Agency (CPA) seems to be the lone Government agency talking about breaking silence on child abuse. There is a glaring absence of the health sector, the Ministry of Education, the justice system especially as it relates to accountability for their roles. There are some one off events – like a seminar with some police officers.

The Guyana Police Force has not said anything yet about what is in place at the different stations throughout Guyana to deal with all forms of child abuse.

The CPA advocates Child protection is everyone’s business but the State agencies seem not to be able to undertake that business. The roles of the agencies outside of Georgetown and the urban centres would have to take into consideration all of the specifics of those areas which prevent interventions.

In 2007, Help & Shelter commenced work on trying to bring police, court workers, social workers, health workers together to work on sexual violence and domestic violence.

Protocols were developed. The Ministry of Health at the time did not want to get involved.

There is no policy committent from if the Ministry of Public Health in terms of how its employees and stakeholders engage in in child protection.

The intention is that the protocols are made public so that people know what to expect when they have to approach these agencies.

The protocols were never formally adopted as part of the official working of the agencies.

These protocols would help to form the basis to dealing with violations against children, and could ensure consistency throughout Guyana.

Reporting child abuse

There are anecdotes that more people are reporting child abuse. ChildLink Guyana has worked with other agencies to establish ‘One Stop’ child advocacy centres to support children who survived abuse at the start of the justice process. These seem to be working in the regions (3,4,5,6) where they have been set up.

The funding will hopefully continue from Government, and more centres will be established throughout Guyana.

The trouble though, seems to be that with the increased awareness and facilities to talk about child abuse, the court system is not coping.

The CPA said that they had 427 reports of child sexual abuse during the first half of this year. The CPA though, has not said how many of those cases have gone to court. In 2016, there were 734 cases. There are no reports of how many of those are in court.

The other goals which will be considered in Part 2 of this blog are :-

  • Considering justice

  • Implementation of child protection policies

  • Enabling healing

The 24/7 Hotline for the Childcare and Protection Agency is 227-0979

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by Vidyaratha Kissoon

“The Heritage celebrations are watered down” Andrew Campbell told me. Andrew Campbell is a young Guyanese man who is actively interested in Indigenous and other cultures.

Andrew was one of the presenters at a recent lecture event The Jaguar in the Patamona Culture.

His presentation was about his recent studies around Paramakatoi in Region 8. This event was one of a series of events for Indigenous Heritage Month.

September in Guyana is Indigenous ( Peoples’ ) Heritage Month. It used to be called Amerindian Heritage Month. This year the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs had invited the public to submit ideas for the month. The Government sponsors most of the events, including the beauty pageant.

State sponsored sexism to honour the Indigenous peoples as part of culture.

The Guyanese nation is made up people who have come from different places and who have taken different journeys in their liberation.

The presenters at the lecture talked about how Christian conversion and colonialism reduced some of the religious practices.

‘Indian culture’ in Guyana is closely linked to the Hindu religion in many instances. Hindu practices are diverse, and some have changed with time.

Some people make similar claims about ‘watering down’, or the transformation brought about by new imports from India. Some of the traditional forms of singing religious music are fading.

Chowtaal gole to Choir..

1989. Guyana under Desmond Hoyte was recovering from the Burnham times.

The University of Guyana Hindu Society had formed a chowtaal gole. Chowtaals are special songs sung at Phagwah time. I joined the gole, with some knowledge of chowtaals. I had also joined a community Ramayana gole to revive the tradition of baani style singing.

There were other persons from different parts of Guyana in the UG gole. We all had some differences in how we sang the chowtaals, based on where we lived.

There had to be some consensus on how we would sing. I am trying to imagine what it must have been like when the immigrants from different parts of India had to join together to form the groups in the new land and how ‘watering down’ might have happened in that process.

The teacher was a man who worked as a lab technician. He brought his dholak from home, every day for practice. He travelled by the problematic public transportation of the time from the West Coast with his dholak to play for us. We took his labour for granted. I am ashamed that I do not remember his name. I remember him fetching the dholak in a bag.

Cultural work requires love.

I sang chowtaals for the first time in public on the stage of the Education Lecture Theatre at UG.

UG at the time hosted an Australian music professor, Eric Gross. Professor Gross organised a choir of students and staff. Someone thought that since I could sing chowtaals, I should be able to sing in the choir. I joined the choir which was preparing for a concert.

The r sound in Akawaio

“The r.. is not rr like in English.. you have to bring back the tongue ..” – the late Desrey Fox told the choir. I remember the instruction.

The concert programme was going to include Amerindian music. Desrey Fox taught the choir two songs in Akawaio. We had to learn the words and the pronunciation.

I lost the music sheets. I remember the first lines – a love song, and a drum song.

 

I remember Desrey Fox’s beautiful voice.

We learned another Carib song but did not do it for the concert.

Professor Gross taught us Botany Bay and another song.

The organisers of the concert asked for Hindi songs. A woman, Joyce, and I also joined with the with the ‘Hindi choir’.

The Hindi Choir selected a Phagwah song as it was Phagwah season, and a song normally sung in taan style Pholo Se Tum Hasno Seekho. ..

The Hindi Choir was taught by Pertab from the Cummings Lodge mandir, near the University. He also arranged the music because well, taan is not so easy for us first timers so we worked on another way.

I remember practicing these songs – Akawaio, Hindi, English.. loudly many times, while fulling up water at the stand pipe in the yard, sometimes during blackout.

None of the neighbours ever complained.

In trying to remember the Akawaio songs, I came across a labour of love from Hubert George. Hubert George used Lynette Dolphin’s book of folks songs and recorded and shared solo guitar renditions. These are shared for use under creative commons.

Rohan Sagar has another personal project to record music of the Amerindians. The other place to get Amerindian music is to buy from the Smithsonian Institute

One day the Guyanese museums will have websites with the recordings. The State will invest in rigorous documentation and sharing of the different cultural traditions, and support citizens who want to do the same.

Maybe one year the money used on beauty pageants will be used to enhance the National Museums to do recordings. Many people might prefer beauty pageants though as a Chronicle Editorial many years ago had said ‘Amerindians had arrived’ because there was a beauty pageant.

A woman had told me I had no business criticising how Amerindian people chose to celebrate their heritage.

The night of the concert, Joyce and I sang in Akawaio, English and Hindi.

The music programme I think had the translations to English. The programme might be in the National Library of Australia among Professor Gross’ papers. The University of Guyana might have a copy.

Culture is about handing down, transferring .. not just performing. The lab technician at UG bringing his dholak with him, Pertab from the Cummings Lodge Mandir working with the ‘Hindi Choir’, Eric Gross from Australia in Guyana, Desrey Fox taking the time with us to learn ‘rs’.. and explaining some of the songs.

How, where does this transfer of knowledge and discussion of experiences happen?

Peacocks and macaws…

“That is a beautiful peacock” the teacher remarked to the students. The students were taking pictures in front of a beautiful painting Palace of the Peacock. The painting was created by renowned George Simon. The beautiful peacock is to the left of the painting, while there is the boat with the explorers going to the falls on the right.

I do not think Kaieteur Falls or any falls in our hinterland have peacocks around them.

Wilson Harris, like Rum and Jonestown are well known outside of Guyana. I remember reading Palace of the Peacock and wondering where the peacock was in the book. I wonder why the title could not have been ‘Benab of the Macaw’ – the macaws also have beautiful colours.

There is another painting with a macaw at focus. And another with parrots eating the mango harvest.

The children stand closer to the peacock and smile for their cameras. I wonder if the children think peacocks are in Guyana’s jungles. I wonder if the children know about the author and the book which inspired the painting? I wonder if the children would ever be able to read and understand the book – I read it and didn’t make any sense of it. Not all cultural products have to be accessible to everyone.

The exhibition includes other paintings and sculpture which feature animals which are in Guyana’s forests. The painting ‘Sacrifice for Colour’ by J Marco features a rainbow serpent.

The exhibition is dedicated to a Christian woman, Sister Theresa La Rose who had helped to preserve and propagate Amerindian arts and crafts.

I wondered if there are any lessons about how she  engaged with Amerindian traditional religious practices and incorporated the respect for those in her work.

The children are taking pictures. One day, our galleries would include exhibition guides who could discuss the work with the school children.

A lot of our culture work is like that, watching and being entertained without any active engagement to understand. Except maybe to eat food, and dress up in imported clothes and spectacles.

It is sad watching how Emancipation becomes about methem and conkie and not about emancipation ; and Phagwah and Diwali are about sweet meats and seven curry and glitzy clothes and not about rejuvenation and universal light, and Heritage is about fly, cassava bread , tuma and pepperpot and not about defense of human rights

Defense of human rights..

This month, the South Rupununi District Council launched a website as part of a project to protect their lands.

According to the release from the SRDC, “Amidst increasing concerns about threats to our forests, wetlands and way of life, we, the Wapichan People of Guyana have set up our own ground-breaking system to defend our human rights and monitor our ancestral lands against harmful development. Community information has been collected using a grassroots land use monitoring arrangement that involves community monitoring teams, the use of smartphone technology, drones, and community digital maps – all controlled and managed directly by the villages. Today, the Wapichan People are launching a locally owned and managed website to present their monitoring information on the internet. The web site can be accessed here:

http://wapichanao.communitylands.org/

Imagine if every village in Guyana did the same thing as the Wapichan people have done to protect and manage the assets and resources in their communities and environment.

Imagine if every village and community undertook the data collection and analysis which the State fails to undertake so that we could protect our right to a safe and healthy environment.

Imagine if we understand that nurturing a safe and healthy environment as a dominant cultural feature.

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by Vidyaratha Kissoon

To buy or not to buy

It is a hot afternoon in St Augustine, Trinidad. I had just stood in line to buy doubles from a stand which I told had been closed for public health reasons. The Caribbean was represented in the line to the doubles stand – black, coolie, creole, mix, whatever. There was something unifying in lining up for food at the place which might have been unclean.

After the doubles, I went looking for a shop to buy a big bottle of water. The man at the hotel told me to walk until I see a corner, turn right and see some shops.

The place is hot. It is a different heat from the one in Guyana.

I turn a corner and see a boarded up shop. A variety store. They are probably having a siesta.

The only shop which is open is a grocery. There is a Chinese name on it.

I feel a twinge – fear of the invasion, fake Caribbean nationalism – and keep looking for any other shop which might be Chinese Trinidadian, black Trinidadian, coolie Trinidadian or anything else.

Before going to the Chinese from China grocery store.

I do not own a business which cannot compete with the Chinese. I am told that capitalism is like that, that basically cheap and plenty will always win over any other thing.

So the small business landscape changes in Guyana, the Caribbean, Africa. China is impressive in how their goods go out to the world.

The grocery has black people and coolie people working in it. I get a bottle of Trinidadian water. The kind I would try not to buy in Guyana. There is no Guyana water to buy in the supermarket.

I tell the woman at the till Good Afternoon. I like to small talk. She does not smile at me nor does she reply. She calls the price. Just the price. I give the money. She gives the bill.

There is no “thanks. “

I should not be racial and say ‘dese Chinese people’. Come to think of it, the doubles man who had the public health violation did not say please or thanks either. Maybe it is a Trinidad thing.

I peep at the computer. The text on the terminal is Chinese. It is impressive. The Chinese have been trading for thousands of years.

I feel more disturbed about Chinese groceries and retail business than Chinese restaurants. I like seeing Chinese restaurant owners buying large quantities of produce from local farmers in the market.

I like the idea that Chinese can turn the regular vegetables from Guyana into nice alternative kind of food. I am in awe of people who do not know much English who come to strange places and try to make a living.

I am sure the Chinese groceries also sell Made in Guyana products. I do not know if the Chinese ever export any Made in Guyana goods back to China.

The Government of China though spends a lot of money in Guyana and elsewhere. Government officials get to go on trips and so. The Government of China does not impose things like democracy and human rights.

I keep telling myself.. I do not have a problem with the people themselves who also catching a hustle. If it was Nigerian, or Senegalese, or Israeli or ‘India coolie’ or Syrian, I would be nervous that this globalisation would be affecting the other black, coolie, other people who have to make their lives here.

And so I navigate and I justify my prejudices.

I am not in a position of power though to transfer those prejudices into any policy or national product. Fortunately, none of my fears would create a No-China-in-Guyana-except-restaurants-unless-there-is-a-reciprocal-Guyana-in-China policy.

My racism is not as bad as yours..

During the week of 15 September, 2017, a PPP MP Nigel Dharamlall shared private messages allegedly originating from Ms Lloyda Nicholas-Garret. The messenger of course was cussed down.

He has been condemned for the racist posts on social media, and his party has not fired him from the Parliament. He should also be condemned for sharing private messages. I should probably be condemned for reading them.

The last time I read about Ms. Nicholas-Garrett in the media was was about her work on what was apparently a nice cultural production ‘Juliana! A Celebration of Guyanese Culture.’.

If the messages on the screenshots are true, it is clear that there is more work to be done beyond producing nice cultural shows. There is need for accountability to the public.

Guyana’s ugly history and political culture do not promote public integrity and accountability.

Ms Nicoholas-Garrett has not issued any statement. There is some talk about a ‘probe’. The probe might also unravel some of the team issues which might have led to the racial comments.

A lot of Government supporter says thats if she goes, the MP who shares the National Assembly with slap-and-strip-bheri, the chatree coolie, the Ministers who supported their colleague who was accused of child sexual abuse on the City Council, should also go.

My reluctance to buy water from a China-Chinese grocer means I should shut up. It should end there.

It is unfortunate that there were no screenshots of any one replying to the racist comments and saying ‘aye gyurl, what wrong wid you, is only coolie people you got a problem wid?” .

What does redemption look like? It would be nice if the Press and Publicity Officer for President Granger issues a statement, if the screenshots are true, which says something like ‘There has been public discussion about comments I made about colleagues. I have no excuse for this behaviour. I have asked that I get a transfer to the Ministry of Social Cohesion/Department of Culture where I believe I can learn and teach others about moving from racial prejudices to a place of understanding and acceptance. It is not my intention to discriminate against anyone and I hope that my future work will be open to scrutiny to show inclusion. I also hope that Mr Dharamlall and others who think like him will join me on the journey to healing “

But is only a joke, is so we does talk…

The survey from the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs asks respondents to select an ethnicity. There is no option for ‘none of the above’. I am reading a book about East Indians in Barbados. The author is a descendant of Gujerati immigrants to Barbados. East Indian seems to refer to the people who came in the 20th century. There is another term used ‘Indo Caribbean’ for the other people of Indian origin who came from other Caribbean countries to Barbados.

If ‘coolie’ was listed, I might have selected it, though I like to select ‘mixed’ sometimes when asked.

Words are bandied about. Jokes are made about people to be minorities. Lots of Jehovah Witness jokes around. I cringe because if Hindu was in place of Jehovah Witness, I would not like it.

Lots of people talk about ‘chinee’ and ‘buck’ and apparently ‘don’t mean anything by it’.

Clyde Edwards is a young Amerindian man.

Clyde Edwards wrote a poem and posted on social media. He and other young Amerindians are fed up with being called ‘buck’. He wrote the poem in response to a racial slur which was shared on social media. He took the poem down after a barrage of abusive comments.

He gave permission for the poem to share here.

“They call me buck”

By Clyde Edwards

I walk on the street, they call me buck

I ride in a bus, they call me buck

I go to the restaurant, they call me buck

I sleep in a hotel, they call me buck

I go to the supermarket, they call me buck

I study at university, they call me buck

I graduate with distinction, they call me buck

I earn PHD but they still call me buck

I become government minister, they call me buck

I fly an aeroplane, they call me buck

Even the mixed ones call me buck

I work in a store, they call me buck

I work in the office, they call me buck

My boss and colleagues calls me buck

My committee members calls me buck

Don’t listen to him, he’s just a buck

I fight to be heard, they call me buck

I try to contribute, they call me buck

I live in the city, they call me buck

Even the Day girl calls me buck

She try to send me back saying I am a buck.

Anywhere I turn, they call me buck

Even in hell, they will call me buck

But thank God, only in heaven there will be no more buck.

Who is responsible for fixing this?

Heaven should not be the only place for there not to be “buck.”

The Constitution of Guyana allows for the creation of an Ethnic Relations Commission. According to Article 212D, the functions of the ERC are to :-

a). provide for equality of opportunity between persons of different ethnic groups and to promote harmony and good relations between such persons;

b). promote the elimination of all forms of discrimination on the basis of ethnicity;

c). discourage and prohibit persons, institutions, political parties and associates from indulging in, advocating or promoting discriminatory practices on the ground of ethnicity;

d) foster a sense of security among all ethnic groups be encouraging and promoting the understanding, acceptance and tolerance of diversity in all aspects of national life and promoting full participation by all ethnic groups in the social, economic, cultural and political life of the people;

e) promote educational and training programmes and research projects which provide for and encourage ethnic peace and harmony;

f) encourage and create respect for religious, cultural and other forms of diversity in a plural society;

g) promote arbitration, conciliation, mediation and like forms of dispute resolution in order to secure ethnic harmony and peace;

h) establish mechanisms and procedures for arbitration, conciliation, mediation and like forms of dispute resolution that would ensure ethnic harmony and peace;

i) recommend to the National Assembly criteria to be considered for the purposes of deciding whether any person has committed acts of discrimination on the ground of ethnicity;

j) Investigate complaints of racial discrimination and make recommendations on the measures to be taken if such complaints are valid, and where there is justification therefor, refer matters to the Human Rights Commission or other relevant authorities for further action to be taken;

k) monitor and review all legislation and all administrative acts or omissions relating to or having implications for ethnic relations and equal opportunities and, from time to time, prepare and submit proposals for revision of such legislation and administrative acts and omissions;

l) immediately report to the National Assembly and to all relevant authorities any proposed legislation, which the Constitution thinks, may be contrary to the constitutional provision relating to ethnicity;

m) promote equal access by persons of all ethnic groups to all public or other services and facilities provided by the Government or other bodies;

n) promote and encourage the acceptance and respect by all segments of the society of the society identity and cultural inheritance of all ethnic groups;

o. promote cooperation between all bodies concerned with the fostering of harmonious ethnic relations;

p) investigate on its own accord or on request fro the National Assembly or any other body any issues affecting ethnic relations;

q) identify any analyse factors inhibiting the attainment of harmonious relations between ethnic groups, particularly barriers to the participation of any ethnic group in social, economic, commercial, financial, cultural and political endeavours and recommend to the National Assembly other relevant public or private sector bodies how these factors should be overcome;

r). monitor and report to the National Assembly on the status and success of implementation of its recommendations;

s) study and make recommendations to the National Assembly on any issue relating to ethnic affairs, including conducting studies to determine whether race relations are improving;

t) monitor and make recommendations to the National Assembly and other relevant public and private sector bodies on factors inhibiting the development of harmonious relations between ethnic groups and on barriers to the participation of all ethnic groups in the social, economic, commercial, financial, cultural and political life of the people;

u) consult with other bodies and persons to determine and specify the perceived needs of the various ethnic groups for the fostering of harmonious relations;

v) train and enlist the aid of such persons and acquire such facilities as the Commission deems necessary to accomplish its functions;

w) make recommendations on penalties, including the prevention of any political party or any persons from participating in elections for a specified period, to be imposed for any breach of provisions of this Constitution or of any law dealing with ethnicity;

x) do all other acts and things as may be necessary to facilitate the efficient discharge if the functions of the Commission.

Prime Minister Nagamoottoo who is in charge of these things has talked more about his former comrade Jagdeo, than about the Ethnic Relations Commission.

There is no urgency to forming the commission.

The people have elected leaders who thrive on the black/coolie/whatever separation. Many people believe that their leaders are better than the leaders of the ‘others’.

It is really up to citizens to hold each other accountable for racist behaviour. Instead of nurturing and believing ‘this is how we does talk but we aint mean nutting by it’, it is about learning to talk differently.

It is also about listening when we think is only ‘joke we mekin’.

It is about knowing that while things good, we can sing, dance together and eat one another food, but when things get bad, when things are most critical, it is easy to draw on race as another reason for whatever problems exist.

It is also knowing about, beyond claiming offence, to identify what the next steps are to restore or repair relationships. It is about resisting the urge to respond to racism with racism.

It is about acknowledging how actions can be deemed racist even though they were not intended to be so, and we can only learn by listening. It is about questioning everything and expecting and providing answers which are not about denial.

It is not going to be easy.

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by Vidyaratha Kissoon

“I kept talking, but like no one was listening to me, no one believed me.. I myself didn’t believe my own situation” the woman said.

She is an articulate advocate, warm and loving friend to many people.

The man who married her turned out to be abusive. She managed to leave.

“Fortunately, some friends stood by me.. others who I thought would know better, did not..”

Take a minute.. change a life..

World Suicide Prevention Day is 10 September and the theme for 2017 is “Take a minute, change a life. “.

The intention of the theme is to remind people of “our responsibility to look out for those who may be struggling, check in with them, and encourage them to tell their story in their own way and at their own pace. Offering a gentle word of support and listening in a non-judgemental way can make all the difference. “

Listening is a skill, and not instinctive for many people. The promoters of the theme say that the survivors of suicide talk about the role that good listeners helped in the interventions to prevent suicide.

Mental Health Therapy Daily..

I wondered what it would be like for someone looking for someone to listen in my community. I called the Mental Health Unit of the Ministry of Public Health and they said the Health Centre should have someone.

There are a few people waiting in the Kitty Health Centre on a Friday afternoon. There is a nice breeze. The Health Centre is bright and airy. There are no signs or posters about mental health. There is a Verandah and at that time of the day , there is a nice breeze. It is the kind of verandah where you can sit on it and see the street, but the street might not see you.

I get to chat with one of the doctors who has been there for many years. We sit side by side. It is the kind of atmosphere that encourages chatting. Maybe there is something about our Caribbean where talking is perhaps easier to do in these open spaces, than in closed rooms with desks between people . Mark Jacobs writes about the chaos in another government building where listening is supposed to happen.

The doctor explains that the Kitty Health Centre has a pscyhologist and social worker. (Both were on leave at the time of our chat)

The doctors do preliminary assessments for people, and make referrals are done to the main psychiatric clinic at GPHC.

The doctor said that she thinks more people are coming forward as there is more awareness about

mental health issues. The doctors also watch out for signs as they discuss other illnesses.

I asked about flyers and posters to let people know about the services.

The doctor said that there was a small note on the schedule of services on the wall. I had missed the note “Mental Health Therapy Daily. As the doctor said, few people read things like schedules.

The doctor and I agreed that there should be more publicity so that people could know that there were people willing to listen to at the health centre.

I think about empathy and sitting side by side on the verandah of the Health Centre.

Listening to someone who might feel they are in a dark pit requires empathy. I had written before that empathy (inspired by Dr Brené Brown ) is not standing outside of the dark pit and throwing down slender ropes to pull out people who cannot find their way out. Empathy is coming down in the dark pit, saying ‘you are not alone’, and “let us see how we could work our way out together.”

Sitting side by side seems to be a nice way to initiate empathy.

I did not ask the doctor if the verandah was used for counselling.

What is the meaning of your sign?”

The avenue on Main Street has some nice benches. Some of them are shaded by the trees in the afternoon sun.

It is not too busy. I sat with a sign ‘WILLING TO LISTEN TO YOU’ made out of recycled cardboard.

I have been uncertain about my willingness and ability to listen to people. I kept thinking of the Hurricanes, the devastation and the loss. I realise that the loss would bring trauma. I am nervous of platitudes and prayers which could be useless.

t is easy when listening, to jump in with nice words of encouragement which are not always needed. My mind is on how I communicate with those who have been waiting, and waiting again for damage and post damage. There is no way to know how to help from afar while waiting.

I try to imagine how that nice breeze could easily turn into a hurricane. Everything is nice and ordinary.

I sit with the sign.

Berlinda Persaud smiled when she saw the sign. She is active in community development work and has an interest in creative enterprises.. She realised that there were many issues that affected people and that people needed an ear sometimes. She took courses in Mental Health care and in Social Work so that she could respond better to people. We chatted about the importance of listening, and the difficulties sometimes. Some of her skills she had to use in situations which were not ‘formal counselling’ situations, and with people she least expected to use her skills with. She was able to reach out on social media to people she recognised were in crisis.

The breeze kept up nicely, fuelling the chat with Berlinda.

Some people passed and looked at the sign , and looked away. Others made eye contact and smiled. I said ‘Good afternoon’ to some – some replied, others did not.

Some looked sideways and smiled. Some walked up closer, looked and then walked away. One man asked “Do you speak English?” I explained that I was born in Guyana too but he did not look like he believed me.

A man stood near a car on the road across from where I was sitting. He was smoking. He looked at me, we made eye contact, smiled. He was puffing at the cigarette in a fast urgent way. He kept looking at the sign, looking at me. I shouted ‘You arite’ and he nodded ‘yes’.

A man who was dressed in dirty clothes asked him for his lighter. He took the lighter and walked away, ignoring me. The man near the car smiled at me as we contemplated the man in the dirty clothes.

The man in dirty clothes took the lighter and lit a cigarette.

He sat on a bench . A man passed him, saw my sign and laughed and said ‘You gah a listen to he..’

When I asked him what he meant, he ignored me and kept walking fast fast.

The man near the car was observing me interacting with the people who were passing.

The driver of the car came back. The driver was a short man. His face had some scars.

He jumped over the gutter separating the street from the avenue and walked towards me. His face looked serious.

‘Excuse me, what is the meaning of your sign?”

I explained about the World Suicide Prevention Day and the whole thing about listening. He said “Okay , Okay” and walked back to his car.

He didn’t look back.

Some school children passed. Some looked, smiled, laughed. One said ‘Oh.. he willing to listen to people’.

One boy said.. ‘He look like Mr Bean… “

Three young people came and asked what I was up to. I explained.

They asked to take a picture. I asked them if they were sure. I was wondered if putting a label ‘willing to listen to you’ wouldn’t expose them to comments about being crazy and having nothing better to do.

They were sure they wanted the picture, and to be identified with the sign.

We have to keep mobilising those who are willing to listen in places which are good for listening.

There might be better ways than sitting with a sign on the avenue to encourage people who are struggling to talk.

Helplines

The Mental Health Unit, Ministry of Public Health

Available during week day office hours.

Tel 226-1402, 226-1405

Suicide Prevention Hotline

Telephone numbers (+592) 223-0001, 223-0009, 600-7896, 623-4444,

WhatsApp: +592-600-7896, 592- 623-4444

Help & Shelter

Available during week day office hours.

225-4731, 227-3454

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by Vidyaratha Kissoon

“You see de fence? I only hear about dis fence, is what madness is dis?”

The man on the phone had turned into Shiv Chanderpal Drive on his way to work. He had worked hard for the change in 2015.

The fence outside the Ministry of the Presidency iis not really a fence. It is a wall.

The wall is painted green with bits of something which might be AFC yellow which look a bit greenish anyway.

There is a gate in one part of the wall. It is reminiscent of the gate at the Camp Street jail.

But is who Granger friken suh?”

People have always picketed the Office of the President, especially during the last administration.

In July 2002, some protesters had ‘stormed’ the Office of the President. Some of them went down Regent Street afterwards and burned a store or two. The then President was not in the compound.

There were other pickets after that – different groups of people. Different issues, some of which were never resolved.

Some pickets continued after the change in Government. There were never any moves to take over the offices or to attack or pelt any of the people coming out of the compound.

There is something strange about the Green Wall. It seems a symbol against all the talk of bringing people together and working in love and Unity and so on.

Who is scared of the people? Are there going to more changes announced which might inspire the July 2002 spirit and have people try to take over the compound?

Or is this some kind of fixed monument now to the walls which exist between the governing elite and those being governed?

Walls usually mean more secrecy, more things to hide, less transparency.

Transparency

President Granger met with the Exxon Mobil people on 30 August, 2017. The meeting was at State House. State House does not have walls around it at the moment, just the beautiful wrought iron fence.

The President reportedly said that “Government will be working with ExxonMobil to develop a long term relationship, which is founded on transparency, accountability, openness and aligned interests for the good of Guyana. “

This statement is ground breaking, especially since a search on the beautiful DPI/GINA website revealed the news item about the President is the only item which has the word “transparency” in it.

DPI/GINA is probably not set up to deal with transparency, openness and accountability. It looks like Prime Minister Nagamottoo will have to move out from behind the Green Wall to include the transparency project on the DPI/GINA website.

The Ministry of Natural Resources website seems a natural place to disseminate information about the contracts with Exxon. However, a check on the website shows a Page Under Construction in the part about the oil and gas.

The Government of Mexico has a website with various contracts (if you use Chrome, you can translate the site as you browse).

In January 2016, President Granger had inspired a headline in the Kaieteur News “No place for corporal punishment in Guyana”. It was nice, progressive, unpopular with the people who like to beat children and who must have voted for President Granger.

The then Minister of Education Dr Roopnarine seemed on the same page as the President.

But, 20 months or so later, teachers are still beating children in school. And instead of Dr Roopnarine going around , teacher to teacher , educating them about the alternatives, President Granger has pulled him in behind the Green Wall.

Will the President’s call for transparency in the deal with ExxonMobil go the same way as his calls for No corporal punishment in Guyana?

What could transparency look like?

Guyana does not have a history of open Government. There was another joke in August when slap-and-strip-bheri’s leader Bharat Jagdeo called for the Government to release the contracts the PPP had hidden behind their chain link fence.

The PPP hasn’t created a website and shared out the contracts. They might not have kept copies in their files.

Attorney-at-Law Christopher Ram has been in the public domain challenging the ideas of secrecy and confidentiality related to the contracts with ExxonMobil. The Government has not responded.

In March 2017, the Ministry behind the Green Wall announced the appointment of Dr Jan Mangal as Petroleum Advisor in the Ministry. The press release does not mention transparency as part of the terms or reference for the work of the Advisor.

In August 2017, the Minister of the Ministry behind the Green Wall, Joe Harmon, said there was no conflict of interest in Dr Mangal’s working with the Government, and Dr Mangal’s brother being part of a company Totaltec which has a contract with ExxonMobil.

Totaltec was around since October 2016 if not longer.

In a world in which President Granger’s comments were true, the Ministry behind the Wall would have proactively revealed the details of the relationship between the Petroleum Advisor and the principals in Totaltec.

The Ministry would have shared the contract and terms of reference for the Petroleum Advisor so the public could form their own conclusions about the conflict of interest and how it was resolved.

Experts who shall not be named..

The Government apparently has a lot of experts around. Minister of Natural Resources though has been secretive about the names of the experts. Now is the time for the Minister to go and list all of the advisors and share their reports which contain the advice they have given the Government .

There are growing discussions about the ways of dealing with confidentiality and transparency.

Parties can renegotiate their agreements.

It isn’t clear if the Minister has ever had advice about how to renegotiate the relationship with ExxonMobil in the best interests of the Guyanese people.

Has President Granger and the Government of Guyana started new negotiations to make the discussions transparent with ExxonMobil?

After all, if ExxonMobil is also committed to EITI and transparency and accountability then they should have no problems with opening up their agreements.

President Granger does not hold press conferences so there is no opportunity for anyone to ask him unless they catch him at some other random event.

That Green Wall should not be a symbol of the future of the relationship between the Government and the people of Guyana.

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by Vidyaratha Kissoon

“I don’t think I have ever seen anything like this before.. I was wondering what was happening with art in Guyana” the man said to the art students at the Umana Yana. The students from the University of Guyana had put on a large exhibition of over 100 pieces of work. The exhibition was called “Artists in Perception”. The exhibition was held from 19th to 24th June, 2017. The man said he was an artist, and he congratulated the students on their efforts.

I had dropped in on the exhibition. I did not expect the wide scope of the exhibition. I thought the exhibition was ‘awesome’. An artist asked ‘how so’ . I could not explain since I am not artsy and I do not have the words.

There were vibrant colours. One powerful installation by Alavina Naughton was dedicated to the women who were attacked by their male partners after they left abusive relationships. The artists asked the viewers what they would tell perpetrators. There were only three or four statements on the notepads when I visited on the day before the exhibition closed. I thought the note pad with the pens and the couple of statements were a critical part of the installation.

I had never seen any kind of installation in Guyana which included the viewers or asked the viewers to participate actively rather than just ‘viewing’.

One of the artists Michael Griffith titled one of his pieces in the Devnagari script in the catalogue – “आंखें” – aankhen – Eyes.

“Nothing like this before..” is a nice feeling in a place where ‘Nothing like this before..’ has inspired feelings of despair.

“Nothing like this before.. “was the feeling after the chatree coolie Attorney General refused to resign, and slap-and-strip-bheri was put on the list of PPP candidates. But ‘Here we go again..” was the feeling as the new Attorney General refuses to apologise to a Judge who asked for an apology, and a few citizens, not a tsunami, signed a petition calling for the removal of Minister Volda Lawrence.

“Where are we going..?” a woman who is not a PPP supporter asked in despair as she watched the video selfie of Minister Simona Broomes in the empty Parliament Chamber. Minister Broomes had captured the imagination of the poor working people as she walked into work places and tried to clear complaints made against employers.

The video selfie was a tribute to another woman who had captured the attention of Guyanese on social media who needed a laugh.

“Nothing like this before..” accompanied the feeling of anticipation and hope as the coalition Government came into power. There was a nice feeling that this was going to be the beginning of end of “winner take all politics” and that it was possible for every citizen to feel part of something different, but nicer than what obtained for the first 50 years or so.

May 2015 and the new Prime Minister “ Vows to bring about Constitutional Change,”. By April 2016 – the PM has been given responsibility for governance and is waiting on the report of a six person committee. In June June 2017, the PM is silent according to Stabroek News who headlines that Despite budget of $80m, no move made by gov’t on constitution reform discussions

And this is even after the Working Peoples’ Alliance called on the Prime Minister to “stop pussyfooting’.

The “Nothing like this before..’ of a dynamic transformative changing of the Governance systems has not happened.

I live in Subryanville in Georgetown. The area has always been prone to flooding – and was always the last to drain off after the rest of Georgetown. Many other people on the coast did not deal with flooding – it seems that post 2005, there were serious attempts to keep drains clear and pumps and kokers working. This month though, Subryanville has not flooded like other areas. The rains have been intense, water has raised but the water goes down soon after. There were repairs done to some of the infrastructure – the Ministry of Public Infrastructure had to do critical work which the City Council did not seem to be able to do. Nothing like this before .. for some of the residents meant not having to be so distressed by heavy rains. Nothing like this before.. has meant for me, being ‘dry’ while other people used to be ‘dry’ are now flooded.

The Subryanville scenario though has not been repeated throughout Guyana. There is a lapse in management which seems to be a symptom of some kind of disconnect among the different parts of the Government which are responsible for drainage.

“Nothing like this before..” was also another feeling after the Stem Guyana Robotics Exhibition at the Cliff Anderson Sports Hall. It was a rainy Saturday morning. There were different groups exhibiting. There were all kinds of people who visited the sports hall to participate in the exhibition. Gender dynamics must have played out as quite a few men brought children with them.

One of the men visiting the exhibition was Stanley Greaves, an artist. The connection between art and technology is not often made in Guyana.

Another first for Guyana is the Youth Innovation Project of Guyana. The project invites proposals from young people in areas related to Science, Technology, Engineering, Agriculture, Architecture, Arts, Architecture, Archaeology, Mathematics and Spirituality. There was a news release recently with a call for more applications to the fund.

I asked a community conscious young man who lives in Region 1 if he had applied. He said he did not know of the call and was not aware of any out reach activities related to the call. He will try to meet the deadline of 30 June though. Another young man who works in Region 6 said he heard of it , but thought that it was only about science and technology. He was cynical about the fund – ‘they will probably give those who they know’ but he decided to apply in good faith.

The fund has the possibility of creating more ‘Nothing like this before..” projects in Guyana.

Innovations in Governance though is not part of the call for the Youth Innovation Project. Maybe the Office of the Prime Minister might use the $80 million dollars later on innovative governance projects.

Young and other Guyanese will therefore have to find ways of changing ‘Here we go again.. ‘and “this set just like the last..’ to creating a ‘Nothing like this before.. “ Guyana which every citizen has equal access to the resources and in which all citizen can achieve their full potential.

(Coil will be extinguished as it tries to refuel. If all goes well, it will be lit by 7 August 2017)

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