Mental Health is a prevalent, yet often neglected topic within our society. Heal Guyana is consistently making efforts to spread awareness of these issues; and given that 1 in 4 people around the world will develop a mental illness, justifies why this continues to be a major issue for us here in Guyana.
Today, I wanted to talk about the most prevalent form of mental illness -- depression. "I feel depressed" or "you look depressed" are commonly heard around Guyana. However, I do not think that people understand the seriousness or depth of this illness. There are many different types of depression but today I will focus on ‘General Major Depressive Disorder’ which can be mild, moderate or severe.
Depression is the most common mental illness worldwide. It is often compared to emotional sadness, as that is what the afflicted feel. Being sad is a normal and even healthy emotion. We all do similar things when we are sad – we have low moods, we cry or stay in bed all day. This is normal for a day or two after an unpleasant experience. However, if the feeling, as well as the symptoms, persist, it is possible that it has developed into depression. Therefore, depression is prolonged and severe sadness that interrupts daily life.
The World Health Organisation has determined that 1 in 5 individuals will experience depression. Studies show that it is more common in women among men but there are many limitations to such studies. For example, women are more likely to speak about personal mental health issues as well as seek help. This leads me to believe that it is very possible, if not likely, that men equally suffer from depression.
Depression can cause a variety of physical, behavioral and emotional issues. Yes, depression physically hurts and can manifest through aches and pains such as head and stomach aches. Typically, there are serious disruptions in eating and sleeping patterns (either too much or too little), isolation, sexual dysfunction and persistent crying which results in an overall lack of energy.
There is low concentration and motivation while feeling constant irritation or aggravation. Most people experience low mood, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities as well as feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. This results in a dramatic decrease in self-esteem and overall self-worth which tends to promote the onset or continuous use of alcohol and other drugs.
Most people with depression will self-harm and have suicidal thoughts, sooner or later leading to an attempt. If you regularly experience 4 or more of these symptoms over a period of two or more weeks, I would suggest speaking to your doctor as depression without proper treatment can disrupt every aspect of your life.
Although a family history of depression makes you more vulnerable, absolutely anyone can develop depression. There are many causes for the onset of depression that can be physical, psychological or environmental. This means that there is no one cause of depression. Those with a chronic physical illness such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease or any kind of physical disability are more likely to suffer from depression. Those with an already existing mental illness such as addiction (especially alcohol or marijuana) or anxiety are also more at risk. Those who suffered traumatic experiences such as the death of a loved one, divorce, loneliness, any kind of abuse, consistent unemployment, etc. have a higher chance of developing depression.
Studies also show that people who live unhealthy lives such as not eating well, not sleeping well or not exercising are more likely to suffer from depression.
Depression is not curable but can certainly be treated, allowing those afflicted to still lead healthy and happy lives. The proper treatment will depend on the diagnosis, as people with different variations (mild, moderate or severe) may not require the same plan of action.
People with mild to moderate depression can improve based on simple lifestyle changes. This includes changes in sleeping patterns, diet, exercise routines as well as adopting new and healthier coping skills. However, it is still advised that you see your doctor before making a plan.
The best course of treatment for severe depression is a mixture of healthy lifestyle changes, counselling and most of the time, prescription medication.
Please do not take medication that is not prescribed as even if you have the same symptoms as someone else, it does not mean that the same medication is right for you. The mixture of all these strategies is known as a combination therapy -- the most successful type.
Counselling can be individual or family counselling that help people get to the source of their depression; as well as how to deal with it.
The most common mistake that people make while on medication is that they stop taking it the moment they start to feel better. It is important to remember that you are starting to feel better because of the medication and should not stop the treatment course unless medically advised.
With combination therapy, individuals start to see results and improvements between three to six months. Some people take longer and that is absolutely okay – it does not mean you will not get better in general.
While many of the risk factors of depression are uncontrollable, there are things that we can do to make the onset less likely:
First and foremost, if you start to feel like you may be at risk, ensure that you speak to someone you trust the moment you start to feel this way. Depression is too common for people to still be ashamed of their feelings.
Live as healthy as possible. There is a common saying (which I completely agree with) -- “healthy body, healthy mind”. Eat and sleep well while getting exercise at least three times per week. Spend more time outside to get good vitamin D.
Practice healthy coping skills when you are upset (or not). Don't over-use depressant drugs such as alcohol or marijuana as these have been shown to increase the risk of depression.
Many believe that depression is not a real illness or that it is only for the weak. We are here to explain how serious it is, and we encourage you to be cognizant of its symptoms. You cannot just “get it together”. With proper, ongoing treatment, you can live a happy and healthy life.
Efforts to change rape culture appear to take one step forward and three steps back. From the reckoning of the #MeToo movement expanding across all industries and institutions to tremors within the world of politics with U.S Supreme Court candidate Brett Kavanaugh accused of grave sexual misconduct, there are no territorial borders which confine the sexual exploitation of women and young girls. The proof of the pudding is perhaps more evident right here in our home-country Guyana where rape is trivialized by the term “deflowering” or is downplayed as a “family issue” and not a serious crime. Often, we open the daily newspapers to see horrifying accounts of rape and sexual assault splashed across the pages, some involving minors. As recent as September 19th 2018, a 22-year old taxi driver was charged with raping a 13-year old girl. In this modern age of widespread social media use, we have seen a radical change in the way these issues are ventilated and expressed, particularly in the “court of public opinion”.
While the less formal social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have at times assisted in facilitating constructive dialogue regarding sexual violence, there is also an alarming trend on the rise of using such platforms to disseminate recordings of rape and sexual assault. In August 2018, there was a video of a publicly nude woman, apparently under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, circulating on Facebook and WhatsApp. The men recording the video could be heard ridiculing her and were allegedly responsible for her inebriated condition. More recently, another video making the rounds allegedly involve two men engaging in sexual misconduct with a minor. While some argue that the videos help to identify perpetrators, these videos together with the aforementioned rape culture norms, also expose the victims/survivors to slander and baseless condemnation.
For instance, under the first video mentioned, the writer recalls reading comments berating the young woman for ‘getting’ drunk/drugged and ‘allowing’ the incident to occur: “She look fuh that”. On the second video, the comments went further to accuse the victim, who is allegedly a minor, of seducing older men: “Lil girls want big man”. Similar criticisms were also meted out against the complainants involved in the Coen Jackson case earlier in the year. The writer finds it appropriate at this point to remind persons that a minor cannot legally consent to sex and as such, sexual intercourse with a minor is the very definition of statutory rape. Therefore, regardless of how familiar a minor may be with an older perpetrator, he/she cannot legally consent to sexual intercourse. Additionally, the legally farcical claim that the minor was desirous of engaging in sexual intercourse with the men captured in the video rings all the more hollow when she can be heard shouting “No” and “Stop”.
All of this begs the question: Have we normalize rape and sexual assault to such an extent that we have turned our ammunition on the ones who suffer at the hands of sexual predators, allowing a perverse rape culture to fester and grow? Have we become so inured to instances of rape and sexual assault, that we cast doubt on the pain and suffering of the women and minors in these videos? This delusion constitutes a central tenet of rape culture and is largely responsible for preventing persons from coming forward to seek justice.
Undoubtedly, social media has exacerbated the impact of rape culture as Megan Stubbs-Richardson and other researchers from Mississippi State University observe in their documented research on sexual assault and social media, titled: “Tweeting rape culture”. It was concluded that rape culture on social media has three themes:
1. The virgin-whore binary and victim blaming – following that one’s actions has consequences, shifting the focus away from perpetrators and cultivating the assumption that victims must have done something to cause the attack;
2. Sub-news of the sexual assault – sharing the story and details of the case; and
3. Rape myth debunking and support– Interestingly enough while there is activism and content that encourages support present on social media, victim-blaming content was found more likely to be shared or re-tweeted.These studies have shown that views on rape are socially constructed through gender roles and dating norms that normalize and legitimize sexual violence. It is a product of social, cultural and historical factors which mold individuals’ attitudes toward it. For example, a woman’s clothing may be considered too “inappropriate” and therefore “she is asking for it” or the male perpetrator’s actions may be trivialized with the infamous excuses that “boys will be boys” and “he is a man after all”.
Rape culture makes rape less likely to be reported and is a form of victimization that stigmatizes and blames survivors. This is exacerbated by the communication of negative and aggressive language used primarily to cyberbully victims of sexual violence. We must be careful not to disseminate content which may be harmful to survivors of sexual violence, whether they have come forward or not. Eliana Suarez writes that in order to deconstruct rape culture it involves an understanding of the societal perception of survivors, how it is constructed and how we can redirect the narrative toward “un-learning” gender norms, rape myths and behaviors that contribute to the breeding of sexual predators. The current rape culture is teaching women not to be raped instead of teaching men not to rape. This is inherently what is wrong with our approach in expelling the scourge of sexual violence from our lands. We must teach our brothers and sons to respect a woman’s body and understand the meaning of consent. Notably, the writer does not discount that males are also survivors of sexual violence, but in the recent wave of cases and social media adjudication of women and minors, that was the focus of this piece. No means no.
"Mamoo Rohan, I am happy that you did not live to see how they dishonour us as the world comes rushing in like a pack of starving dogs."
One Monday morning a year or three ago, I jumped from dreams to the living world to hear that my uncle had died. He was my mother’s youngest brother and my first real friend. My instinct was not to mourn, I comforted my mother. When times are hard, we take care of our own.
In times of mourning and sorrow, I cannot help but think of what politics and the struggle for power by a few men have done to Guyana. I have been thinking of this for years.
All around me, there were minds, young and old, thinking of how they can conquer. Nothing has changed.
Often, those of us who have spoken passionately about change have done so using war metaphors; war language. And every time I hear it or read it, I think that we have forgotten the primary aim of war and its chief motivation.
We have forgotten that those who fight war, fight to possess and for the rewards which come after a defeat that is named a victory. They do not fight for you, or for me or for people like us – the people who work. They fight for themselves and for the spoils of war which now include the promised riches of oil.
This is what we’ve done for a long time, we’ve treated our country like a war-zone and our country men and women as if they were our enemies condemned to be the pawns and spoils of war. We’ve cared for nothing but filling our pockets and securing power. This is why we are a house turned against itself.
The solution is not a complex thing. It’s as simple as choosing not to speak of our future in war language and refusing to listen to anyone who comes to us with such words. Words are powerful. The words we speak shape the future we live.
When they come to us whispering about our differences, smile and tell them that our differences make us strong because we grow from it. Tell them that when times are hard, we look out for our own. Guyanese worthy of the title look out for each other, for our home, for our region. Answer them softly but firmly.
Guyana is at a moment in time where we can secure our future for generations to come. The decisions we make and how we choose to act will be felt by our children and their children. In a time of oil riches and change unlike anything we’ve experienced, we should not be speaking war. Today is not about us. Today is about tomorrow. Today is for our children.
As some of you already know, Heal Guyana has recently launched an Anti-Racism Project where many of its organisation's members (myself included) came together in an effort to foster education among ourselves and the citizenry on our ethnic issues, as a bold step toward healing our country. During the key address, it was mentioned that many do not fully understand ‘what racism is’, let alone, knowing what to do about it when it manifests itself within our homes and society.
This realization caused me to think about racism in regards to my field; just how much it can affect mental health. Despite the fact that racism is one of our oldest and most serious concerns, the study of racial trauma in the field of psychology is fairly new. However, we do know that exposure to racism does have a detrimental effect on our entire well-being. It can cause issues ranging from low self-esteem to mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety and even suicidal thoughts and behaviors. I have many clients who have also turned to aggression, violence, isolation and substance abuse due to racism.
Sharon Lalljee-Richard, the Founder and Director of Heal Guyana, explained the various facets of racism and how it permeates our society during one of the project's activities, earlier this month.
I wanted to share some of her views with you (from the standpoint of mental health), so that you may benefit from a collective perspective on two key issues affecting Guyana and by extension, all of us. For the purposes of clarity, Sharon’s views will appear in ‘blue’.
“When we think of racism in Guyana, we tend to see it through a narrow lens:
Prejudice, discrimination or antagonism directed against someone of a different race. This view is not incorrect but it is, somewhat, incomplete.
You see, in order for any of us to positively affect change when it comes to racism, we must challenge ourselves to understand the issue at a deeper level. By realizing the foundation through which racism was born, we can challenge this foundation at its core, viewing the world and ourselves, beyond the shadows of its imposed limitations.
By remaining cognizant of the various manifestations of racism, we will be able to sensibly intervene when we see it playing out in the lives of others, as well as our own. By acknowledging the forces that perpetuate race-hate and deciding not to subscribe to them, we will invariably free our hearts and minds from the emotional cycles that imprison us, keeping racism alive in our society to this day. We cannot beat such a complex challenge unless we fully understand how to outmatch it, strategically. To do so will also call for lots of patience, tons of determination, endless dedication and the courage to look at every naysayer in the eye and answer, “the right thing is worth fighting for and I will not stop until this generation and the next inherits a race-free Guyana because of what I stood for!”
Personal perception is vital with regards to mental health. Our moods, thoughts and emotions begin and end with us. Many people need validation from others but having good mental health means cultivating positive self-awareness, as well as a realistic view of your personal strengths and weaknesses.
This factor is greatly affected in those who are exposed to racism. Many of us tend to believe what others say about us or those like us. Our self-esteem is greatly lowered when we feel judged and ridiculed by the things we cannot change, e.g., the color of our skin. The key to curbing the issue is realizing when we are being subjected to these negative influences or inflicting these feelings upon others.
We must always remember that it is much easier to go down to someone’s level, rather than pull them up to higher ground. We must lift each other up!
When we become aware, it gives us a great feeling of empowerment and completely diminishes the possibility of hopelessness; on how to stop the pain and harmful cycles caused by racism.
“Think of history, culture and identity as the lens, through which, we perceive everything. History shaped the course of our past which has led us here. We see each other as Indigenous or descendants of Africa, India, Europe and Asia etc. which seems innocent enough but right away – that begins to quietly compromise the neutrality of our perspectives regarding how we see each other. Culture and the preservation of it are wonderful – but only when we embrace all cultures. What tends to happen at an individual level is that we embrace only one culture and we compare that one against others; judging as we go along. Many of us identify as one race. Then we set out ‘other-ing’ ever other race besides our own. The mixed-race people are often the only ones who are left confused at this point.
History, culture and identity, as you can see, are the foundations of our racial challenges. They are inescapable unless we begin to see each other beyond the confines of our differences toward our similarities. What are the common things that make us, Guyanese?”
Now, let’s talk about the manifestations of racism in the broadest sense. It is really important that we understand that racism plays out both internally and externally. In other words, we probably shouldn’t be policing others and their racist bad-behavior, without equally checking ourselves and holding our inner-most thoughts to a higher standard every day. From within, racism manifests itself in the forms of bias, privilege and submission to the oppression created by a racist environment or culture.
Racial Bias is most noticeable when we ‘suffer’ because others treat us or a particular racial group, differently, from how they would treat other races. Do we quietly sabotage persons of a certain hair texture and complexion so that they never succeed? Do we hold silent beliefs that chastise one race while celebrating another? These are examples of racial bias and as individuals, we must fight against the tendency to buy into these patterns. Most of us are often very discreet about expressing these sentiments because we know it may not be viewed with tolerance by others. But as soon as we are in a space we consider private or where we are among like-minded people, our racial biases begin to flourish; permeating the clean air with prejudice, hate and misguided stereotypes about others.”
It is hard to accept that we play a role in the diminishing in our own self-worth. We know that if we have a certain view of others, we have an underlying fear that others equally critic us. Having good mental health does not simply mean living without a diagnosis but rather, the ability to have healthy views, relationships, and to make a worthwhile contribution to society. This kind of racism has effects on both those perpetrating and being victims to it. It increases substance use and abuse, along with violence such as assaults, homicides and suicides within an entire community. It brings out hopelessness which we are so used to seeing that it almost goes unnoticed.
“What about external manifestations? How can we detect these within our midst? We are all familiar with Interpersonal racism as we read the callus and cowardly statements coming from online trolls and others who may, from time to time, be outwardly abusive or condescending toward those of a particular ethnic group. Institutional racism is the policies and practices within and across institutions that, intentionally or not, produce outcomes that chronically favor one racial group over another. There are many instances of this quietly happening (for years) within our ministries, employment sectors and schools. Structural racism is in its infancy in Guyana but I have seen indications of it making its way into the mainstream with certain groups making declarations which will create a system of public policies, institutional practices and cultural representations that work in various ways to reinforce racial inequality. If allowed to take root, our social, economic and political systems will be further condemned to the influence of privilege, inequality; and our racial divide shall deepen.”
I believe the biggest problem we face is that we assume that race comes with a moral defect. We believe that people act in certain ways or have certain values due to the color of their skin. In Guyana, race is the focus of the discussion on everything – violence, crime, substance abuse and even suicide. A famous philosopher, John Locke, coined the term ‘Tabula Rasa’ which means blank slate. It is a term that expresses the view that people are born not good or bad and without any predetermined rules of how or what they will process. This means that everything, including racism, is learned behaviors - one which, as Sharon said, can be stopped in its tracks.
She finished with:
“The objectives of Heal Guyana's Anti-racism Project are simple. We want to significantly reduce and eventually eradicate all manifestations of racism and ethnic tensions in Guyana. We want to deepen public understanding of the various forms of discrimination and give peaceful, actionable ways of combating these scenarios. We want to cultivate a greater sense of tolerance and respect for diversity among all Guyanese, across all socio-economic and political lines.”
Technology without a doubt has made our lives easier. We can now keep in touch with friends who are half-way around the world, get to-the-second scores of our favorite football matches, set reminders to pick up some fruits from the market on our way home and so much more. Technology has without a doubt made life’s complexities easier to handle. But it has enabled us to do more while understanding less of the finer details of what it is we are doing. It has also exposed how vulnerable we can be in our offline life.
For those of us who grew up in the age of technological expansion (from the mid-90s), we have been fortunate to be able to adapt and evolve with the advances. It was easy for us to be able to watch, learn and adapt, as we no longer need to sit at a desktop computer with dial-up internet to do our research for homework or an assignment. We could now just pick up our phones and obtain information at the touch of buttons.
However, there is a generation of teenagers and young adults who were born into this age of technology, where a smartphone camera snapped pictures of them the day they were born and using a computer or tablet is second nature to them.
We really have to start examining whether smartphones, tablets, laptops and Google are doing more harm than good to the mental capacities of Guyana’s youth. As information becomes readily available in our palms and where libraries are becoming obsolete, our young adults do not benefit from a more intensive research process and it is easy for them to slip into the growing ‘cut and paste’ phenomenon.
Our young adults and teenagers are now so dependent on technology, that it has started to affect their literacy skills, as cutting and pasting information found on Google and Wikipedia for an assignment, SBA or report does not reinforce any of the language skills learnt throughout their formal education.
UNESCO reported Guyana’s literacy rate to be 88.5% in 2015 which was up from 85% in 2009. But does this rate truly reflect the level of functional literacy of our youth so dependent on auto-correct? Auto-correct, after all, does not discriminate among “there”, “their” and “they’re” if the user does not know which is the correct term to be used.
Inglis and Aers (2008, p.32) note: ‘It is the ability to read and write which makes a person ‘literate’, with varying degrees of fluency.’ The National Literacy Trust, however, includes reference to speaking and listening in its definition of literacy: ‘We believe literacy is the ability to read, write, speak and listen well. A literate person is able to communicate effectively with others and to understand written information.’
As UNESCO reports Guyana’s literacy rate rising, so too has the global level of literacy risen. However, the issue of functional illiteracy now arises, perhaps in part due to technology. Functional illiteracy is a term used to describe reading and writing skills that are inadequate to cope with the demands of everyday life. In Guyana, this seems to be a reality of many of our young people, as they are losing the ability to read and write at an appropriate level.
As Whatsapp, Facebook and Instagram become more popular with Guyanese youth, a dangerous infiltration of ‘internet’ language ensues in their everyday life. It never ceases to astonish my colleagues and I when we see students use internet slang in official emails and communication and worse yet, in reports and assignments submitted for grading and even in tests.
In an English-speaking country, where over 90% of the student population attending the only National University are locals who grow up speaking and writing English, many programmes at the University of Guyana still require English and/or some written and oral communication courses to be done, especially within the first two years of joining the University. This trend is not likely to curtail, as we find more and more these days our young adults just do not come prepared with the requisite functional English literacy skills.
Often times, one or two university-level English courses still prove to be insufficient training for students who have to pursue final year projects which require a written thesis and an oral presentation. Project supervisors often complain they spend more time correcting grammar and sentence construction rather than reviewing the technical aspects of the project, as thesis drafts are so poorly written and put together.
Parents will have to try to encourage our young ones to take a break from smartphones and tablets every now and then to do some physical or sport activity, or even to read a book (not an e-book). Dr. Wendy A. Suzuki, a Professor of Neural Science and Psychology in the Center for Neural Science at New York University, has done considerable work on how physical activity and exercise can be used to improve learning, memory and higher cognitive abilities in humans; and may even offer protection for the brain against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's. Technology is now a part of our everyday lives, but moderation in this critical stage of brain development may be the key to a successful wholesome offline life.
As Guyana prepares to embark on a new chapter in its history, it is especially important that our youth are not left behind as we begin to witness an influx of expatriates with special skills needed for our new oil and gas economy. Yes, we need to keep up with technological advances but not to the detriment of our functional literacy and social skills. If we indeed wish to see our own thrive, we need to ensure the basics are not neglected in pursuit of ‘keeping up with the times’.
Inglis, F. and Aers, L. (2008) Key Concepts in Education, London, Sage
I have always argued that the business of the PPPC is not just PPPC’s business. The business of PNCR is not just PNCR’s business. The choices and actions of these parties, whether backward or progressive, have major implications for every single Guyanese, even those in the diaspora. We should therefore not allow them to do as they please with their internal election process of deciding their respective candidates. Party shills will tell us it’s none of our business but we have got to be ready to challenge this.
There are two reasons why we have to be very vocal as these parties “elect” their candidate(s). First, there is the list system as stipulated by the constitution. Guyanese do not vote for a leader of a constituency but for a list of candidates and Presidential Candidate. The political parties, behind closed doors, decide who gets on the list from which the Members of Parliament are chosen. Second, following from the first point, the leader or small subgroup who captures the party, essentially captures the national Treasury and the coming oil revenues, as well as decides the patronage flow in terms of high-paying civil service jobs and contracts. This leader or group reinforces his/its will by selecting malleable MPs who can be recalled by virtue of the flawed Constitution which President Granger and Mr Jagdeo equally love.
At this moment, the PPPC has to decide who will be its presidential candidate for the 2020 election. In my opinion, this person should have been decided already after the previous Congress but circumstances would dictate that we all had to wait until the Caribbean Court of Justice entomb the third term which was, by the way, already part of a greater peace treaty – the Herdmanston Accord – between the PNCR and the PPPC. As I commented on my Facebook page, we must never mess with these peace arrangements, no matter how imperfect they are or how ambitious one might be.
I would like to share some of my thinking with youths and those of Generation X like myself (I am sure some elders will agree):
I attended the PPPC’s ideological camp, Accabre, back in 1993 when I was a first year University of Guyana student. I forgot most things, except for three lasting impressions and some of the lecturers. The lecturers included Dr Cheddi Jagan who had just became President, Dr Henry Jeffrey, Mr Feroz Mohamed, Pandit Repu Daman Persaud and others.
The first impression was -- not everyone liked the pro-Western comments from a naive first-year undergraduate kid like myself.
Second, there was a hole on Dr Jagan's shirt jack; under his armpit. In my opinion, it signaled the modesty of the man.
Third, the most important and lasting impression was what Dr Jagan said about education. He said you can go to law school or get medical training but make sure that you take some classes in the Social Sciences such as economics, psychology, sociology, anthropology and political science. He said he did exactly that when he was a medical student in the United States (incidentally Lee Kuan Yew did the same when he studied law). This was why Dr Jagan had a broad perspective on many issues, his ideological rigidity notwithstanding.
So, why am I bringing this up? I believe the task of leadership is not to play you know everything and surround yourself with like-minded people, but to have a general enough mathematics/engineering/social sciences background to ask the right questions. I think this is the core weakness of all Guyanese presidents, past and present.
So, as PPP grass root supporters decide on their next presidential candidate (assuming they get a say), they must determine whether the person going into 2020 is capable of asking the right questions about the binding challenges facing Guyana. Independent voters must also ponder the same questions.
Young people looking at leadership in 2020 will get negative vibes from old timers. They will claim that young people are not ready; they must wait their turn, as President Granger once said. However, what is most important is the broad perspective, not the age. Enlightenment is highly correlated with a broad education and perspective. Take for example the founding fathers of the United States. They were teenagers and men in their 20s and 30s. George Washington was one of the oldest at 45. One estimate puts the average age of the revolutionary leaders at 31.
The defining feature of these young revolutionaries was that many of them had a broad education that we could call today a liberal arts education. Thomas Jefferson was 33 and Alexander Hamilton was 21 when America got its independence in 1776. Although not recognized by mainstream economists, Hamilton would eventually write down the first economic development plan in 1790 when he was 36. The Germans would send an actual economist to study Hamilton’s development plan. These ideas, including his insistence that America needs a central bank, would be implemented at different stages after he died. Most were implemented after the civil war was over in 1865. It was not until 1913 America would have its first permanent central bank. Hamilton essentially had a liberal arts education at an average college of the time. He had an understanding of finance since he was a bookkeeper back in the Caribbean where he was born. This college would become the famous Columbia University in New York City.
My central point is this:
Does the PPPC possess (APNU+AFC as well) a presidential candidate with a broad enough perspective, who can ask the right questions? If not, you will get more of the same bad policies, as was the case since 1966.
“There is absolutely no reason for a man to hit a woman. Regardless of what she does, he must find other, non-violent ways of dealing with it.”
I was conducting a domestic violence seminar for villagers in a farming community. The women in the audience paid rapt attention and I could tell that many of them agreed with my statement. Some nodded, others were more vocal and I noticed that a few silently cast furtive glances in the direction of their male partners.
“What if you trying to live a decent life? You going to church but she want go party, you tell she come to church but she gone and drink, how dat gon look? How you gon control a woman like dat?” The farmer who had asked the question rose to his feet. He looked around the room as the men suddenly seemed to come alive. Even some women seemed to think he was on to something there.
That’s when I said it:
There is no place for control in a relationship.
In fact, at the root of domestic violence is the issue of control. We attempt to control our children’s behavior by beating them (maybe we will discuss this in another article), and way too often, we attempt to control our spouses in the same way and it is wrong!
We can only truly control ourselves. Your partner (husband or wife) is entitled to choose his or her own behaviors. If you perceive the choice to be unfair, unwise or unacceptable, then dialogue is necessary. If a settlement cannot be reached then the couple may seek help from a trusted third party such as a religious leader or a counselor. If that fails, the slighted party could choose to live with it or terminate the relationship. Any attempt to exert control over your spouse is a recipe for disaster!
For generations we have been taught that men are to dominate women; some women attempt to dominate their men in protest. Our parents and grandparents had a lot of things right but they got this one wrong. A happy relationship is not one where you have full control. It is one where there is mutual respect, understanding, communication, shared interests, care and consideration and freedom to be oneself. We cannot force these qualities out of anyone and when we show these qualities we are more likely to attract them in return.
We need to learn to talk things over and seek to understand the other, even as we seek to be understood. We must be strong enough so that we are not threatened by the other’s refusal to see things our way. We must be considerate enough to sometimes step back so that our partners can be themselves, and above all, we must not do to the other, anything that we would not want for ourselves.
If all else fails, walk away! Many have done it and were able to start over successfully. There is no shame in letting a stubborn spouse have their own way. And there is no glory in abusing another human being. Absolutely none!
For our young people and also for Uncle David (current President of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana) and Bharrat (former President and current Leader of the Opposition), the two most powerful leaders in our country at this time.
“Excessive egos can overwhelm even the most educated of individuals and many leaders have gained power with the most noble of ideals but, once it has been achieved, become carried away by it.” - Charles Wilkin QC, Breaking the Cycle.
The first time I said it, I told it to one of the most intelligent and charismatic political leaders of our time. I looked him steadily in the eyes and said:
“The most important thing I believe you can do is mentor the next generation of leaders…take all of what you've learnt and make them better.”
I was still a child when I began my journey as a young leader less than five years ago. My political consciousness was taking birth and I was alone, confused, angry and did not know how to process any of it. I needed a leader – who had not been carried away by power – to teach me.
Today, I am in the final year of my twenties and I can no longer, in good conscience, call myself a youth. I have evolved at a rapid rate since emerging as a “writer-activist” and now, I am one of the leaders responsible for securing Guyana’s future.
I am no longer defined by my youth. The years have made me old. I am one of the big people now and I know that growth comes at a heavy cost. These past years have been full of hard lessons. I have learnt to see both the strength and weaknesses of the people around me and in myself; especially the weaknesses. I have learnt that the world is not neatly separated into good and bad; this applies especially to people. I have learnt that it is all too easy to lose who we are if we are not very careful.
On November 30, 2013 I published the article which changed the direction of my life and marked the beginning of a series of events that molded me into the woman I am. I have spent a lot of time thinking about that period of my life, particularly about the lessons I learnt during the first eighteen months. I have often wished that I had managed to find that mentor – someone with experience, with no interest in owning me and without the bitterness that eventually plagues most of us.
In the absence of a mentor, I learnt to teach myself and I have recently accepted that I must now fill the role of mentor for the next generation of leaders who will take Guyana forward. Here are the three most important lessons I believe emerging leaders will learn:
1) Be wary of the people who will try to influence you.
When I emerged, several people came to me. They offered me friendship, support and a place to belong during my time of displacement. But they weren’t really interested in what was best for me. They weren’t really interested in my growth or how, if I realized my full potential, I could be part of what was good for Guyana. They each had their agenda and they were interested in influencing me only as a means of furthering their own interests. It’s a hard thing to learn but you will learn it and when you do, become your own voice of reason. Listen to what they have to say, accept their offers of friendship but watch carefully and be very measured in what you choose to let influence your beliefs and actions.
2) Loyalty is choosing what is best for the whole.
I grew up in a traditional Hindu home. Loyalty was one of the first values I was taught. But loyalty, like anything in the world, has two sides. It can be both a virtue and a vice. The type of loyalty I learnt first was a blind sort of loyalty. A loyalty which demanded that I be loyal because it was traditional or part of my duty and not because it was what I believed was right or best for everyone. Before you give your loyalty to anyone or anything, think carefully about whether it is what is best for the whole; for all and not just for some.
3) Honesty is about telling truth in a way that helps people.
I used to think that honesty was as simple as not telling a lie. It isn’t. The truth can be completely useless if it is not told in a way that helps people. So before you open your mouth to just tell the truth, think for a bit about how that truth should be told. If the way in which you’re about to tell that truth will not help the recipient to learn and evolve then you have wasted it. Make your honesty count.
These were the most important lessons I learnt during my first period of growth and I believe that these three things are at the heart of transforming leadership in Guyana. I also believe that most of our leaders have learnt these same lessons in different ways and we must share our knowledge with the people responsible for Guyana’s future; our young people.
We must not be afraid to grow stronger leaders than ourselves; leaders who will achieve the things that we can only dream of today. This is what leadership really means. It means having the courage to pour all your knowledge into the visionaries of tomorrow. It means having the strength to step aside to create space for those visionaries once you have given them the tools they need to act. It means using our power to secure the future.
In economics, philosophy and sociology, the term ‘common good’ refers to that which is shared and beneficial for all members of a society. For decades Guyana has struggled to minimize the dominance of politically instigated and instituted distrust among our people. Historically the ‘divide and rule’ strategy is nothing new. In fact, it has been used time and time again by local political parties, companies seeking to weaken labour unions and by instigators that seek to turn people against people or people against the State.
Numerous divide and rule strategies such as the ‘sacred cow strategy’ whereby a party seeking to cause distrust and violence among people provides something of value (the sacred cow) that automatically increases the wealth and by consequence the power imbalance among local groups. This ultimately weakens the capacity of locals to collectively resist their collective demise and subjugation. During the days of slavery, there were often times, conflicts between slaves assigned to work in the house and those that worked in the field due to the privileges of the former.
In Guyana, the colonialists made it very difficult for freed Africans to acquire capital (especially land) and to self-organize, as compared to the opportunities for indentured servants to acquire and develop agricultural land and practice cultural traditions, for example. As Guyanese, we fell right into the trap -- a trap of internal latent conflict, facilitated by colonial devised, ‘divide and rule’ strategies which were subsequently used by Guyana’s two main political parties to secure, maintain and apply political power, even if it was detrimental to the well-being of the collective or segments of Guyanese society. In summary, Guyana’s own version of ‘divide and rule’ has resulted in our two largest population groups voting on the basis of perceived group affiliation to a particular party, episodes of politically instigated inter-group violence, economic marginalization and as Professor Ivelaw Griffith stated in an interview, a phenomenon in which Guyanese ‘mingle but don’t mix.’
More recently our society has observed the politicization of social cohesion. In other words, public views have been expressed that social cohesion seeks to undermine the political support of Party A and increase the support of Party B. Some have even added that social cohesion threatens cultural traditions and must be resisted. So what exactly is social cohesion and why is it important to Guyana’s prosperity and national development?
Roberto Fao (2015) in his report, The Economic Rationale for Social Cohesion – The Cross-country Evidence defines a socially cohesive society as one “in which institutions exist that foster norms of cooperation between distinct ethnic, religious and other identity groups, including non-discrimination, such as in the labor or capital market; and non-violence, whether it be via a low-level, spontaneous communal conflict such as riots, assassinations and pogroms (Varshney 2003, Brass 2006, Wilkinson 2004), or more institutionalized forms of inter-group struggle.”
Generally speaking, social cohesion is comprised of three dimensions:
(1) Social capital – refers to the networks and relationships among people in a given society which enable it to function effectively. There are two types of relationships often referred to in social capital literature, bonding – inter-group relationships and bridging -- intra-group relationships;
(2) Social inclusion – the ability and opportunity for individuals to participate in society, especially marginalized groups and
(3) Social mobility – the capacity and movement of individuals, households, families and other types of groups to advance – horizontally or vertically - their social standing.
The benefits and indicators of a socially cohesive society usually include increased economic prosperity, better health outcomes, more productive communities and higher levels of education, while low levels of social cohesion correlate with increased instances of violence and under-development.
Moreover, Professor Jeffery Reitz notes that “Social fragmentation [the opposite of social cohesion] is linked to negative population outcomes (e.g. ghettoization, poor health outcomes, and crime), whereas social cohesion is linked to positive population outcomes (e.g. healthy, educated, and productive communities.”
The impact of social cohesion on national development is such an important research interest that the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) facilitates numerous studies, regional and international conferences to share research findings and examine policy implications. Furthermore, the European Union has set up a European Committee on Social Cohesion and numerous other regional organisations and States have undertaken similar efforts.
So, if stronger social cohesion correlates to better societal outcomes, then, why is it being politicized and why in the political and by extension, national governance realms placing greater emphasis on the experiences and topics that divide instead of unite us? Why would we prefer a society and political alliance that seeks to undermine inter-group relationships to the detriment of the masses and benefits of a few? The simple answer is that we place too much emphasis on maintaining perceived indicators of cultural differences which have come to include ethno-racial political alliances. There is a fear of ‘too much mixing’, rather than a healthy appreciation of the ‘common good’ which incidentally could result in greater prosperity and well-being across Guyana.
In the Strategy for Social Cohesion in Europe, the Council of Europe notes that “No society is fully cohesive. Social cohesion is an ideal to be striven for rather than a goal capable of being fully achieved. It constantly needs to be nurtured, improved and adapted. Each generation has to find afresh a manageable equilibrium of forces. This is a constantly shifting equilibrium which has to adapt to changes in the social and economic environment, in technology and in national and international political systems. Social cohesion is not only a matter of combating social exclusion and poverty. It is also about creating solidarity in society such that exclusion will be minimized.”
Many advanced economies including Canada, Europe and the United States have succeeded in using diversity as a human capital strength and in drawing economic benefits from it. One variable that differentiates these major economies driven by very diverse religious, ethnic and other groups is the extent to which they have established and implemented social institutions to leverage and manage diversity toward greater social and economic outcomes.
Are we up to the task in Guyana or will we continually complain about hardships through one side of our mouths while we use the other side to support political leaders and policies that seek to maintain inter-group conflict in exchange for our votes, i.e., political power and the proverbial crumbs that fall on the floor from the master’s table? We have the power to vote-in political parties and leaders and collectively, we also have the power to demand change or seek out new and more productive political representation. As Mahatma Gandhi reminded us, healthy relationships are based on four principles: respect, understanding, acceptance and appreciation.
Many people today do not see themselves as being crucial or important towards development or improvement of the day to day activities in our little society of Guyana.
As a confession, I must say that I too echoed this sentiment every day.
But what does it take for us to realize and understand that we, the people, are a crucial element to the catalyst of change and development? We, like many before us, must first make that step. We must take that risk and change ourselves, our families, our communities and our country.
I recently had a discussion with a friend about our country and the ever-present topic of population size versus development and the effects of the ‘brain drain’ within Guyana. The sentiment is that we have experienced “brain drain” on such a large scale, that the bulk of our skills and achievements all exist within the diaspora which is the case in many instances.
But my contrary view is that we are BRILLIANT and blessed beyond measure with vast natural resources (both environmental and human). Our real problem is mustering the motivation to get up and push forward towards our goals by utilizing these very resources.
When you travel, you quickly begin to realize that there are few places in the world where you cannot find ‘a Guyanese’ in some key position of prominence including business, industry, community and the judiciary. This would suggest that upon exposure to other environments, we are able to wake up and shoot ahead of the line. So the question begs, why is this not happening at home? Or rather, why does the perception exist that this cannot happen at home?
The United Nations defines community development as "a process where community members come together to take collective action and generate solutions to common problems. It is a broad term given to the practices of civic leaders, activists, involved citizens and professionals to improve various aspects of communities, typically aiming to build stronger and more resilient local communities."
The Community Development Exchange also defines community development as:
A set of values and practices which play a special role in overcoming poverty and disadvantage, knitting society together at the grassroots and deepening democracy.
It starts with one person, committing themselves toward improving their life.
Change begins and has a greater impact at the lowest level. We cannot and must not sit back and expect that we will automatically get something. The rest of the world is moving ahead and so must we.
Though my thoughts shared here are for everyone, it is my hope that our youth ponder on this particular realization. Understanding that the demographic composition of our country is largely dominated by young people, it is vital that this segment takes the lead in moving forward.
It is often said that youth are not only the leaders of tomorrow but more crucially the partners of today. We have a role to play, not only in a future Guyana but also in the journey to get there.
Putting in the work and dedication towards our education, training and development ensures that we have a place set in the future. It ensures that we do not have to merely settle for what is given. We can ask and receive what we want.
There are many opportunities out there for gaining knowledge; either through educational institutions or training facilities. We just need to take the step to enroll and complete the programs.
Some responsibility also rests with the older generation. Those within the private and public sectors; as well as civil society must be prepared to embrace innovation.
Two popular quotes describe our local mindset "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." -- (not Albert Einstein but actually Rita Mae Brown) and "If it ain't broke, don't fix it. That's the trouble with society: Fixing things that aren't broken and not fixing things that are broken" -- (Thomas Bertram Lance).
We blindly do things ‘our way’, as they have always been done, without even considering other alternatives. Why is this? Of course, we have been able to achieve results the way we have and change may be risky, etc. But this inability to embrace the new has stymied our ability to grow and in essence, we have yet to achieve our full potential as a nation.
The time has come. We must look to ourselves and embrace the idea of development on a deeper, more personal level. It starts with developing our selves, then our families, then our communities and ultimately, our country as a whole will GROW.
Since the beginning of time, sex has been seen as an expression of love, art, pleasure, human desire, the biological need to procreate or perhaps all of the above. The important takeaway there is that sex mean different things to different people but there is no denying that it will inevitably be a part of our lives. From religious texts dictating the parameters of sex to raunchier expressions of what sex can be like the “Fifty Shades of Grey” phenomenon, or Salt-N-Peppa’s infamous “Let’s Talk About Sex”; we are exposed to sex and the ways in which it is celebrated in many different ways. Interestingly enough, despite this, sex remains taboo in our society and it is evident in the way sex education is opposed.
Comprehensive sex education is widely believed to have a positive impact on developing healthy sexual habits. But how is it defined?
“Age appropriate, culturally relevant approach to teaching about sexuality and relationships by providing scientifically accurate, realistic, non-judgmental information.” - UNESCO
Christofora Tirtawinata, a professor and author at Binus University, proffers that its purpose lies in “fostering self-understanding and self-respect by building sexual and social responsibility.” Sex education is widely celebrated for its positive impact on teenage pregnancy, HIV and other STD awareness, proper sexual health decision-making and understanding one’s sexuality. A 2016 UNICEF report identifies teenage pregnancy as a major challenge facing adolescents in Guyana, where the teenage pregnancy rate is the second highest in the Caribbean and 62% of adolescents fail to meet basic contraception needs. UNICEF attributes the absence of age-appropriate sex education as a substantial cause and also reports that comprehensive sex education can greatly reduce the spread of HIV among adolescents. The Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association (GRPA) identifies this deficiency in sex education as a reason for dangerous sexual experimentation among youths, reporting that more than 50% of youths are sexually active and 35% of them are below 16.
Sex education in schools has seen resounding success in Holland which has the world’s lowest teenage pregnancy rate and reduced STD infections, attributed to well-designed programmes. The problem arises when we choose to prioritize our misconceptions about sex and sex-talks over the undeniable benefits of comprehensive sex education.
Some opposing views of sex education and the way it is approached in Guyana are undoubtedly painted by the brush of religious ideology declaring abstinence-only approaches as the most effective means of promoting sexual health, if not the only means. In fact, Rose Marie Belle Antoine, renowned Caribbean author and professor at UWI, opines that generally ideological and philosophical stances within the Caribbean are influenced by a particular concept of morality, social and cultural norms shaped by Anglo-Saxon Christian perspectives. One ought to question whether this inhibits us from seeing the larger picture as it relates to the welfare of our children.
Would we expect them to be proper accountants if we only taught them addition, without exposure to multiplication and subtraction? My point here is that abstinence obviously has its benefits but is simply one limb of sex education, which requires a more comprehensive and broader exposure to the issues they will undoubtedly face, including, inter alia, contraception, abortion, and sexuality. Issues which studies have shown lead to depression, unhealthy sexual practices and other ramifications for one’s physical and mental health.
Opponents are also largely concerned that sex education focuses primarily on sexual techniques and encouraging sexual experimentation. But this illustrates an information gap that needs to be properly addressed if the benefits of proper sex education are ever to be reaped. Even in countries where it is taught in schools, a major impediment is community perception often plagued by inaccuracies, myths and unwavering traditional values about marriage, gender roles, sexuality and restricted sexual attitudes. As such, in order to promote a favorable climate for sex education, sex educators and supporters must clearly identify and address opposing arguments that create negative beliefs about its purpose and impact.
If sex educators are imparting sexual health advice, which is then severely discounted by parents, this can defeat the purpose of comprehensive sex education. Perhaps this is why Joy Walker, an author and professor attached to the University of Bradford, suggests a hybrid approach with parents and professionals, especially in communities where parents have reservations about sexual education and are not exposed to accurate information. Parents’ biological sex and their own sex education, however vast or limited, influence the parameters of the sex education they provide to their children.
We ought not to discredit their important role in sex education. Studies have shown that contraception-use is generally lower among men and women without exposure to sexual health talks with their parents and being forced to learn through experience, which can lead to high-risk experimentation. Children rarely initiate the “sex-talk” out of embarrassment, lack of self-confidence, and primarily, the fear that their parents will think they are sexually active; an issue that is exacerbated in a society such as ours where sex-talk is taboo.
Several scholars proffer that we have a human right to such information to promote healthier practices, especially since it concerns public health and social issues. Additionally, some experts, such as Tirtawinata (introduced above) perceive a link between sexual abuse, a prevalent issue in our society, and the lack of sex education.
Sex education fosters healthy social and sexual responsibility by providing scientifically accurate, realistic, and non-judgmental information. Parents, teachers, professionals and other stakeholders in the future of our young need to realise the impact of properly designed sex education, free from religious inhibitions and societal misconceptions. Note, it is not about discounting the importance of religion and abstinence, but rather, broadening the spectrum of tools our youths need to promote healthy sexual practices in a society plagued with sexual health issues, gender and sexual-orientation discrimination and sexual abuse. “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail” – We must ensure that we prepare our children to tackle the plethora of possible issues that accompany their sexual growth and development.
It is time we talked about sex.
Considering that our mental health influences how we think, feel and behave; how we overcome stress and adversities, it is important to know how we can improve it.
Having good mental health does not mean that we do not experience ‘negative emotions’ such as stress, sadness, anger, guilt and so on; as these are necessary and essential emotions. It simply means that we have healthy ways of dealing with them and a strong overall level of resilience.
Well-being is a state of comfort, health and happiness and Mental Health is our emotional and psychological well-being. These three factors can be difficult but are possible to achieve. There are lifestyle improvements we can make to ensure better mental health.
Eating well, sleeping well and exercise are the basic foundation to good mental health. Not only do these factors decrease the risk of psychiatric disorders in general but they can actually treat mild to moderate depression and anxiety.
Food affects our mood just as much as it affects our body. A healthy diet boosts our energy levels and balances our mood. Studies also show that those who eat well are more likely to exercise, have better quality sleep and are less likely to use drugs/alcohol than those who do not.
Sleep gives our brain the breather it needs to process all of the information we are bombarded with throughout the day. It regulates our mood and levels of stress while improving our memory and concentration. Sleep completely re-energizes us; it is basically a natural source of resilience.
Weight loss is actually the superficial benefit of exercise. Exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones (cortisol) while increases chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin which works as natural painkillers, mood enhancers and gives us tons of positive energy.
Adapt and maintain Healthy Coping Skills
Coping skills are our individualistic way of dealing with adversities; it is what we do when we feel sad, angry, guilty, etc.
No one is immune to life’s stresses and considering that even good things cause stress (getting married, having a baby, etc.), the key to good mental health is not attempting to avoid stress but rather adapting healthy ways of coping with it. Unhealthy coping skills are temporary solutions that cause additional problems while healthy ones pave the way to a permanently healthy life. Unfortunately, Guyana is flooded with these unhealthy coping practices such as consuming alcohol, smoking, abuse, self-harm etc. I always advise my clients to make a list of their unhealthy coping skills (we all have a few) and make a list of new and healthy replacement skills. Studies show that the average person takes 60 days to form a new habit. So, if you usually call friends for an alcoholic drink on a bad day, it would take 60 days for you to feel comfortable calling them to exercise, play a sport or go to a movie instead.
Healthy coping skills involves anything that physically or mentally benefits you such as exercise, reading, music, any form of art, etc. It can be done with other people or on your own.
Due to our fast paced generation many believe that the greater the personal sacrifice, the greater the reward. However, if you sacrifice self-care, the ‘reward’ will be burnout or bad well-being. Self-care is not an indulgence but rather a necessity.
Self-care in its most basic sense just means taking care of yourself; doing things that nourish your body and mind. It can be reading, haircuts, art – whatever makes you feel like your best self. When we travel, we are told that in case of an emergency, we must put on our own mask or life jacket before those in our care. That’s a life lesson as you cannot effectively care for others until you take care of your own wants and needs. Not to mention, figuring out what makes you feel good brings awareness of who you are and what you really want out of your life.
Taking the time to do this at least three times per week improves productivity, efficiency, self-esteem and self-confidence. Overall, self-care promotes self-love.
Build Self-Esteem and Self-confidence
This means to value yourself over all. Treat yourself with kindness and respect. There are two rules of thumb here.
1. Treat yourself the way you wish others would treat you.
2. Do not tell yourself anything that you wouldn’t say to someone else.
I always recommend that people try affirmations, which are the fastest way to build both self-esteem and self-confidence. Affirmations are short, positive sayings – usually in threes that we tell ourselves every day. They cater to what most provides insecurity and uncertainty. For example, if someone feels they are weak, senseless and dislikes their nose, every day they would look in the mirror and say “I am strong, I am smart and I have a beautiful nose”. It may sound silly but it is widely effective when consistent.
Ask for help if/when needed
I would say that this is the most important. If you have been doing everything listed above and still do not feel content, I would advise that you seek professional help. Many choose to bottle it all up, hoping it would go away or that others would not notice. Many choose to accept it thinking ‘this is just how I am.’ Others self-medicate with alcohol, drugs and a wide range of self-destructive behaviors.
There is unnecessary stigma when it comes to reaching out as it takes great courage and self-awareness to admit you have a problem. It is a sign of strength rather than weakness to admit that you may need some help. You would not let time pass on a physical illness before seeking help, you typically go for help as you see the illness progressing. Your mental health is just as serious and treatment must be sought.
Take the first, positive steps to better your mental health right now!
The rights of women are protected under the Constitution and CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women), but women are still subject to prejudice and indirect discrimination. This brings up the debate about equality in society. The Constitution ought to be changed in a way that strives to achieve equality. This could in fact be achieved through inequality – providing women with additional statutory help and support to balance out the disadvantages that they face.
Our Current Situation
Guyana ratified without reservations the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women  (CEDAW) in 1980. According to Art. 154A (1) of the Constitution of Guyana, the individual rights arising out of international treaties ratified by Guyana could be limited under Art. 154A (6), which provides that this could happen if two thirds of the MPs in the National Assembly vote in favor of such limitation. This renders the status of CEDAW in Guyana unclear.  No legislation in Guyana, neither the Constitution, nor the Equal Rights Act 1990,  nor the Prevention of Discrimination Act,  defines what is meant by discrimination against women – such definition exists under the CEDAW.
Nevertheless, the Constitution contains several provisions on the rights of women. S. 29 provides that the participation of women in decision-making in the country should be encouraged. S. 149F establishes the right to equality for women and prohibits all types of discrimination on the basis of sex. S. 212Q and R establish the Women and Gender Equality Commission of Guyana  which is created to deal specifically with women issues and report to the National Assembly annually. Its role is however, very limited and unclear. It does not have mechanisms to ensure that gender equality policies are implemented throughout the work of ministers and government offices. 
 United Nations, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women 1979
 Zou, X. Rapporteur on follow-up Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, ‘Follow-up letter sent to the State party’ YH/follow-up/Guyana/64, 10 August 2016. Available at http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CEDAW/Shared%20Documents/GUY/INT_CEDAW_FUL_GUY_24830_E.pdf [Accessed 3 April 2017], p. 1
 Equal Rights Act 1990, Act No. 19 of 1990. Available at http://blue.lim.ilo.org/cariblex/guyana_act7.shtml [Accessed 3 April 2017]
 Prevention of Discrimination Act 1997, Chapter 99:09. Available at http://goinvest.gov.gy/wp-content/uploads/Prevention-of-Discrimination-cap9909.pdf [Accessed 3 April 2017]
 Women and Gender Equality Commission of Guyana. Information available at http://www.wgec.gy/ [Accessed 3 April 2017]
 United Nations, Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, ‘Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women: Guyana’ CEDAW/C/GUY/CO/7-8, July 2012. Available at http://docstore.ohchr.org/SelfServices/FilesHandler.ashx?enc=6QkG1d%2fPPRiCAqhKb7yhsldCrOlUTvLRFDjh6%2fx1pWBdSsWabnlQPGDrCr0bgA9TVT8qrLt9S8Vn%2bSb2Uv1snuQrCJDWFadLs7tMBuf1IH0H4Rof8nVVqCfHC8i9FaAd [Accessed 3 April 2017]
Despite the fact that the Constitution and several other acts provide for gender equality and women rights, which is in stark contrast with LGBT rights, the problems for women in the Guyanese society stem from the deeply rooted stereotypes about the traditional roles of women in society, including reproduction, child rearing, caring for children and elderly dependents. Facilities for day care and senior care stand to ameliorate the need for home care. There is no comprehensive strategy or legal framework to deal with stereotypes, which is a requirement under the CADAW. 
Indigenous women are marginalized as the most vulnerable group. Like other rural citizens, they have difficulty in accessing justice. There is a lack of permanent magistrates’ courts in rural areas. 
Their socio-economic development is hindered by indigenous communities’ rules which force them into early marriage and pregnancy that interrupts their education. 
Such customs and practices perpetuate discrimination against women, which puts them in a disadvantaged position in regards to education, public life and decision-making.  There is also a language barrier. Indigenous women often do not speak English as a first language and are likely to convey their beliefs less effectively by various women advocacy groups. 
 United Nations, Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, ‘Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women: Guyana’, p. 3
 Ibid., p. 2
 US Aid, ‘Democracy, Human Rights, And Governance Assessment Of Guyana’, Final Report, March 2016. Available at https://gy.usembassy.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/117/2016/09/Final-Guyana-DRG-Assessment-Public-Version-March-2016.pdf [Accessed 3 April 2017]
 Wills, D. ‘#LifeInLeggings: A growing movement for women’s rights in a ‘patriarchal’ Guyana’, Demerara News (online), 12 March 2017. Available at http://demerarawaves.com/2017/03/12/lifeinleggings-a-growing-movement-for-womens-rights-in-a-patriarchal-guyana/ [Accessed 3 April 2017]
 US Aid, ‘Democracy, Human Rights, And Governance Assessment Of Guyana’, Final Report, March 2016. Available at https://gy.usembassy.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/117/2016/09/Final-Guyana-DRG-Assessment-Public-Version-March-2016.pdf [Accessed 3 April 2017]
Another problematic group of women are the victims of domestic violence. As of September 2016, there were 204 reports of rape and only 36 people charged for it. The small numbers show that many cases of rape and domestic violence remain unreported.  Furthermore, sexual violence is culturally accepted in some indigenous communities.  Controlling behavior or coercive control which is an expression of modern slavery is not criminalized in Guyana.  Yet, it is responsible for the high suicide rate, the widespread use of Valium and other sleeping medicines among women. 
The percentage of women in the work place is significantly lower than that of men – 44 per cent of women are in employment, compared to 83 per cent of men as of 2014.  There is a concentration of women in the informal sector where there is no social security or benefits. Many women also perform unpaid family work, especially in the agricultural sector.  Women are paid approximately 61 per cent less than men for the same work. 
Applying Theory to Find Solutions
The case with women’s rights in Guyana relates to the jurisprudence debate about formal justice and equality. While for the Greeks justice embodied the idea of inequality, for modern law, equality is understood as the very essence of justice. The current state of the law on women’s rights in Guyana, for example, does not provide for equality and therefore, it is unjust.
 United States, Department of State, ‘Guyana 2016 Human Rights Report’. Available at https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/265804.pdf [Accessed 3 April 2017], p. 10
 United Nations, Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, ‘Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women: Guyana’, p. 10
 Chabrol, D. ‘Achieving Women’s Rights Still an Uphill Battle- Guyana Human Rights Association’
 United States, Department of State, ‘Guyana 2016 Human Rights Report’, p. 11
 United Nations, Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, ‘Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women: Guyana’, para. 31
 United States, Department of State, ‘Guyana 2016 Human Rights Report’, p. 11
However, equality is not easy to cultivate or impose as people are not equal – they have differences among themselves.  Mechanical equal distribution fails to take into account these differences.  Individuals have different desires and therefore, it is problematic to claim that they ought to receive equal. This problem is solved differently by various theorists. Libertarians such as Hayek  by referring to John Locke argue that the core rights are freedom and property. Therefore, they are against redistribution and social justice and for the free market. Market forces, however, are not capable of regulating society by themselves, although they are a powerful factor as free markets have uneven effect over various societal groups. For instance, the need for cheap labor in the free market puts many women in Guyana in a disadvantaged position as unpaid work positions are typically taken by women.
Unlike libertarians, the utilitarian school of thought is for equality as everyone counts as one and since no one is more than one, everyone’s interests need to be treated equally regardless of their contents.  This is, however, not a viable philosophy as it contradicts with everyday understanding of equal treatment as it basically states that selfish interests should be respected equally with all other interests. 
The most suited contemporary philosophy that explains what needs to be pursued when enacting legislation on equality is the equality of welfare and resources theory of John Rawls  and Ronald Dworkin.  According to the two, equality amounts to equality of opportunity – the same initial expectations of basic goods. This theory accounts for individual choices – unequal redistribution
 Gosepath, S. ‘Equality’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (online), 27 June 2007. Available at https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/equality/ [Accessed 3 April 2017]
 Hayek, F. The Constitution of Liberty (London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1960)
 Bentham, J., cited in Gosepath, S. ‘Equality’
 Dworkin, R. Taking Rights Seriously (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1977), p. 234
 Rawls, J. A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, Harvard University Press 1999)
 Dworkin, R., ‘What is Equality? Part 2: Equality of Resources’ 10 Philosophy and Public Affairs 283
is justified if it results from individual choices, but not when it is based on innate provisions, gifts and luck.  A proof that this theory works for Guyana is that when placed in the same conditions and given the same opportunities in higher education, women significantly outperform men, which bolsters their position and alleviates some of the inequality against women. 
Broad declaratory provisions such as those in the Constitution of Guyana do not stand a chance of promoting justice for women. Justice needs to be strengthened by enacting more positive law, protecting women’s rights. This approach has stood the test of time. For example, the US, which was established not that long ago from a historic perspective – in 1776 enshrined principles and value judgments in its Constitution and Bill of Rights, e.g. freedom of speech is an absolute priority. The Constitution of Guyana needs much more detail on the principles relating to women. Any subsequent legislation that contradicts these principles will then easily be struck down as unconstitutional. This is just the beginning or solving the problem of women in Guyana. There is a lot of work to be done by non-governmental organisations and the government in order to tackle the problem with deeply embedded stereotypes, further enhanced by indigenous cultures.
To improve equality and thus, justice in the Guyanese society, the Constitution needs to be reformed by adding detailed provisions on the rights of women, rather than mere declarations. Stating, for example, that when different interests are balanced, women’s rights will be prioritized, will eventually turn protection of women of value for the society.
 Ibid, p. 290
 Government of Guyana, Ministry of Education statistice . Available at http://www.education.gov.gy/web/index.php/downloads/cat_view/8-downloads/60-digest-of-education-statistics [Accessed 3 April 2017]
Albert Einstein, arguably the most famous scientist of the 20th century, frequently quoted on the subject of education and science, believed that “Education is not the learning of facts but the training of the mind to think.” This unfortunately is not the case of Primary and Secondary School education in Guyana. As a tertiary educator, I have the misfortune of witnessing our youth enter university without learning ‘how to learn’, how to analyse information and most importantly, how to think critically.
The actual definition of critical thinking varies from source to source and depending on the discipline, critical thinking requirements can include a number of variables. However, at the heart of the concept, a critical thinker should be able to deduce consequences from what he/she knows, how to make use of information to solve problems, and to seek relevant sources of information to inform themselves.
The majority of students entering University, especially those entering straight out of CSEC, lack the necessary skills to do just this.
My colleagues and I often discuss this subject and how to overcome these challenges, as many of us agree the hardest part of our jobs in tertiary education is transforming our students’ mentality from being fed spoon by spoon what is required for ‘the exam’ to being shown how to use the spoon, the location of the necessary resources and giving students the choice whether they want to consume and how much they want to consume.
Part of the problem arises from the pressure placed on our primary and secondary schools to ensure their students do well at national and regional assessments. In the quest to garner double digit grade ones at CSEC, to get the top student in the country or the Caribbean, our teachers prepare students to pass and do well at exams rather than learning to think, analyse and ask questions.
If we look at many 5th form classes in Guyana, class time is spent working questions from past papers and looking at the necessary approaches for gaining the highest marks on recurring question types. This has inevitably led to many students lacking the critical thinking and analysis skills that are necessary for success in higher education and the workplace, as independent discussions, question and answer sessions and problem solving exercises are infrequently done.
Furthermore, our students have been trained from a young age not to ask questions, but to sit quietly and listen. While we may utilize this as a method of instilling discipline in our young, we should recognize that this suppresses our inherent nature to question and to fully conceptualize an idea by ensuring our understanding of said idea is correct.
The Silver Lining
I still have many colleagues who are dedicated to educating our youth, instead of just certifying them. During our non-teaching time, we sit and brainstorm ways in which we can help our students to be better prepared for the working world, not only technically but on a more holistic level, so that they can tackle any challenge posed to them.
The few students who are able to adapt to the required method of learning at University, which requires independent research, reading on their own time and being able to apply the knowledge gained to solve issues and problems, are the ones to succeed in higher academia, in the workplace and in life generally, as the right mind set is developed for life’s many challenges.
In fact, one of the best students currently in our Faculty was not a star CSEC student. He did well enough at the sitting, but his true academic success has come at University where he has been able to adjust to a higher thinking style and can be relied upon to steer discussions in the most thought-provoking directions. He is well on his way to being one of the best graduating students at the University in a year’s time and should be the epitome of the kind of individuals Guyana needs to produce from our education system.
Call for Change
I want to issue a call for an overhaul in our education system in Guyana, where our teachers should be encouraged to focus on educating our young, instead of preparing them for an exam. While this is an ambitious task which will require considerable resources, the following simple modifications may be employed in the meanwhile:
We need our future generation to solve some of the problems created by past and current generations, in the most resourceful and innovative ways. We must encourage free-thinking, creativity and most of all critical thinking if we intend for humanity to survive another thousand years on this Earth.
There is perhaps no more stark a reminder of our need for healing in Guyana than the situation on our roads. Reduced care and concern for one another is evident everywhere, and is most obvious when accidents and deaths occur.
In 2016, 128 persons died in road accidents. The traffic department reported that over 26,000 cases (yes, 26,000 – almost one case for every 30 Guyanese) were “made out against errant drivers” for speeding.
There were 3,317 cases of driving under the influence of alcohol and 4,111 cases of overloaded minibuses, to name just a few breaches.
Many might be tempted to ask “what are the authorities doing about this situation?” It is indeed a necessary question. We taxpayers pay all the costs to run the Presidency, Parliament, Ministries, the traffic department and, indeed, the entire operations of the State. We have a right to expect services from public servants after all.
It is also true that if we had a more predictable and stern response to breaches from the authorities, including the suspending of licences and the increasing of insurance premiums, drivers would be significantly encouraged to improve their driving.
However, before we do the easy thing and curse at the government and the politicians, consider some other questions: who put that drink in the drunk driver’s mouth? Who was mashing the accelerator? Did any member of the government or politician encourage you to jump the traffic lights?
Heal Guyana has a simple, honest and profound slogan: “Starting with ourselves.” This slogan is consistent with the teachings of all Guyana’s religions in decrying hypocrisy and our all-too-human tendency to demand from others what we do not demand of ourselves.
Before we look to blame the authorities, therefore, we the road users need to take responsibility for our own conduct. Very few problems on the roadways speak to our complicity more than the issue of police corruption, which is a very popular complaint. How can a bribe be accepted if a bribe is not offered?
The good news is that many citizens are demonstrating a willingness to do the right thing. The average driver stops at red lights, joins a line, and does not “undertake.” The tooted exuberance as the light turns green is not really a display of rudeness – it’s a celebration, befitting our happy culture.
But on a serious note, the next time you are on the road check how many drivers are being courteous to one another: allowing minor road traffic to enter major roads, putting on their hazard lights and stopping for pedestrians to cross. Even minibuses will have the conductor walking children across the road.
I will never forget the time I left my car in one lane at a traffic light to help a very slow-moving old lady cross the road. She moved so slowly that the lights went from red to green to red and then to green again, before she could finally make it to the other side. I was sweating, fearing the hostility I would endure from other drivers due to the long line of blocked traffic I had caused.
But no: not a horn blew, not a single curse was uttered.
Our glass is still half full. Despite the challenges, Guyana is still a beautiful place and Guyanese are still a beautiful People.
Let’s take those small steps toward caring for one another on the roadways and across the country, starting with ourselves.
The agreement of June 2016 between the Government of Guyana and Esso Exploration and Production Guyana Limited, CNOOC NEXEN Petroleum Guyana Limited and Hess Guyana Exploration Limited (herein referred to as the “Petroleum Agreement”) contains a number of interesting provisions in Article 19 which attempt to ensure that the Contractor (Esso, Nexen and Hess) gives Guyanese preference in terms of employment opportunities.
Art 19.2 “Without prejudice to the right of the Contractor to select employees and determine the number thereof in conduct of Petroleum Operations, the Contractor shall require the Operator to employ and contractually obligate Sub-Contractors to employ Guyanese citizens having appropriate qualifications and experience in the conduct of Petroleum Operations in Guyana.”
I must note before commenting on this provision, how happy I am that there are contractual terms in the Petroleum Agreement dealing with this important issue. Having said this, I find it difficult to imagine how the Contractor can be obligated to employ Guyanese without prejudicing their right to select employees. In other words, the provision appears to me to be inherently contradictory. Beyond that, the extent of this obligation is not set out (such as a quota or percentage system) nor is there a consequence for breach (not that I can work out what action constitutes a breach in the first place). Based on my perusal of the Petroleum Agreement no policy document is referred to or incorporated which would shed light on how this provision is to operate effectively. The question arises as to how the Government intends to ensure that this provision amounts to more than just “lip-service”?
Art 19.3 “ During each year of the term of the Petroleum Prospecting License, or any renewal thereafter the Contractor shall pay to a Government account for the Ministry Responsible for Petroleum the amount of three hundred thousand United States Dollars (US$300,000) for one or more of the purposes mentioned in Article 19.3 (a) through (d). Payments under this Article 19.3 shall be paid directly into bank accounts held and controlled by the Government. Contractor shall verify such bank accounts and the Minister agrees to cooperate, assist and provide Contractor any information it requires to conduct such verification.
(a) To provide Guyanese personnel nominated by the Government with on-the-job training in Contractor’s operations in Guyana and overseas and/or practical training at institutions abroad;
(b) To send qualified Guyanese personnel selected by the Government on courses at universities, colleges or other training institutions;
(c) To send Guyanese personnel selected by the Government to conferences and seminars related to the petroleum industry;
(d) To purchase for the Government advanced technical books, professional publications, scientific instruments or other equipment required by the Government.”
Unless I had missed it, there has not been any discussion on this particular provision and, given its impact, there should have been. Several concerns come to mind. Firstly, will the Government be transparent in its plans for the use of these funds? It would appear that everyone agrees that, notwithstanding Guyana’s particular circumstances, the US$18,000,000 signing bonus encapsulated in Article 33 is too low; not to mention, the clandestine manner in which the signing bonus was dealt with; until the Government was pressed into acknowledging its existence. The Government might, therefore, consider redeeming itself by operating in a manner that is completely transparent in regard to this US$300,000 sum. We as citizens must demand this transparency at every turn.
Secondly, is US$300,000 enough for these purposes? On the face of it, this figure seems paltry, after all, this is meant to cater for (a) through (d). If this sum were utilized for (b) alone I find it difficult to imagine more than a handful of Guyanese benefiting from it.
Thirdly, what is the status of those persons nominated by the Government who receive training from these funds? Are these people guaranteed employment? Since Art 19.2 seems to suggest that the Contractor’s right to select employees is not prejudiced, it does not appear to be the case.
Art 19.4 “Within sixty (60) days prior to the beginning of each year, or part thereof as applicable, the Contractor and the Minister shall provide a yearly plan for the utilization of qualified Guyanese personnel for the upcoming year. Following the submission of the plan, the Contractor and the Minister shall meet to discuss and consider the effectiveness of the plan. The Contractor shall provide half yearly reports submitted within 30 days after the end of each half-year to the Minister outlining its achievements in utilizing qualified Guyanese personnel during the previous half-year and make appropriate adjustments to the yearly plan to better accomplish the goal of increasing the number of qualified Guyanese personnel available for use by the Contractor in its Petroleum Operations and other entities performing petroleum operations in Guyana.”
This provision appears to be certain in its obligation. Will this yearly plan be made public? Again, the Government can use this opportunity to restore public confidence by demonstrating that a well thought out plan has been proposed. I cannot think of a legitimate reason why this plan should not be the subject of public scrutiny. Indeed, the Government may be able to use this provision to reopen negotiations on some of the positions, such as the payment of US$300,000, since it speaks to “appropriate adjustments”.
What these provisions need more than anything else are details, and it is the obligation of the Government to continuously barter for a better position for Guyanese. All of this, of course, will mean very little if the Contractors already possess almost all of the employees they need to effectively carry on operations in Guyana. Perhaps of more value to Guyana is Article 18 of the Petroleum Agreement, which is drafted in a similar manner to Article 19, but speaks to an obligation of the Contractor to use Guyanese goods and materials. (see in conjunction with ANNEX D – Pre-Approved and Certified Petroleum Operation Items)
While this Petroleum Agreement is intimidating in size, it is not inaccessible in terms of technicality or terminology; it is written in plain English. I encourage everyone to read it and to think of their future in terms of oil and gas. In order to hold our Government accountable and demand transparency, we must be aware of the facts.
Oil is part of our future, let’s make the best of it.
In Guyana, we tend to think of persons with mental health issues as being “mad”, street dwellers, and patients at the National Psychiatric Hospital. Most might be surprised to learn that the symptoms of mental health illness can include the following:
- Changes in eating and sleeping patterns (increase or decrease)
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Prolonged sadness, anger, nervousness, fear or irritability
- Social withdrawal or Isolation
- Loss of energy, motivation, productivity and efficiency
- Issues with concentration, memory or rational thought
- Increased use of alcohol or illegal substances
- Hearing voices or seeing things that are not there
- Physical symptoms such as headaches, chest pain, dizziness or sweating.
- Suicidal thoughts
Mental Health is therefore the state of our emotional and psychological well-being, which is the state of being comfortable, healthy and happy. Having good mental health is not just living without a diagnosis of mental illness but also making a good contribution to society. It means that we are able to go to school, obtain and maintain employment, have healthy relationships and more importantly, think, feel and act healthily with the capacity to change if needed. If someone has dysfunctional thoughts, moods or behavior, they may be suffering from a mental illness.
The World Health Organization has determined that one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Statistically, this means that over four hundred and fifty million persons around the world will be suffering from mental illness. Mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety are more common than non-communicable diseases such as cancer or diabetes.
A study conducted by researchers (Dr. Jorge Balserio., Bhiro Harry et al.) from the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation found that more than 200,000 Guyanese are suffering from some form of mental illness. This figure represents about 25% of our population, a staggering amount. This basically means that if you are not suffering from a mental illness, you probably know someone who is.
Mental illness is so prominent yet we unconsciously silence those who are suffering. Many persons are afraid to talk to someone because it is believed that the mental illness defines them and makes them less a person. People are not afraid to say that they have cancer because cancer does not define who they are and how they are perceived. Why is mental illness different and more stigmatized?
Attempting to have good mental health is attempting to improve your overall quality of life. Good mental health means greater self-esteem and self-confidence, motivation, productivity and efficiency. It allows us to sleep better, eat and exercise. It builds greater resilience. No one is immune to life’s stressors; we all, at one point or another feel unhealthy amounts of stress. Having good mental health is what allows us to healthily and effectively deal with stress and bounce back from adversity. Our mental health can negatively influence our physical health and result in multiple ailments such as heart, kidney and respiratory issues.
Where does mental health illness come from? It emerges from a complex mix of genetic, biological, psychological and environmental factors. No one factor results in a mental illness. An individual is two to three times more likely to develop a mental illness, if it exists in their family. Distressing situations such as head trauma, substance abuse and personal traumas like domestic abuse also makes persons more likely to develop a mental illness. The National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) has determined that 90% of suicides are caused by mental illnesses.
Considering the prominence of mental illness, it is beneficial for everyone to know the signs and symptoms, such as outlined earlier, which may point to its onset. There are more than two hundred classified forms of mental illnesses. Some of the more common disorders are depression, anxiety disorders and schizophrenia.
There are specific symptoms that come with certain disorders but there are universal signs that you may be suffering from a mental illness in general. These are typically characterized by sudden, yet prolonged changes in mood, thinking and behavior.
If you have been continuously experiencing a number of these symptoms for more than two weeks, seeing a mental health professional is recommended.
What can you do to help heal those with mental illness? Firstly, educate yourself and others on mental illness. Encourage more open conversations on the subject, as this is the only way to break the stigma and allow mental health to be treated as a legitimate health condition. The more we talk, the more people feel they can speak. The more we share, the more others feel comfortable sharing.
Secondly, if you believe you may have a mental illness, be assured you can be helped. Mental illness does not have to control your life. All types of mental illnesses can be effectively treated and managed with proper medication and counselling. Do not be afraid to reach out. Remember that mental illness is not a personal failure. How you feel is not who you are.
Heal Guyana member, Phillip Williams, shares a few casual phrases that many of us as Guyanese express among ourselves during our everyday conversations. Whether or not we are aware, these seemingly harmless statements are extremely racist and they serve to keep our society trapped in a collective mindset where our people are divided and our circumstances never improve.
Starting with Ourselves.
Take the necessary steps from today to breakaway from these destructive expressions and behavior patterns. Racism hurts everyone and as long as we continue to fight among ourselves, we will remain vulnerable to all forms of external manipulations and political influences which seek to benefit from keeping us distracted from the real issues, relating to Guyana's development.
It is important that we consider some the findings of Guyanese researchers and academics in the past decade. If we are to improve the economic foundations upon which the healing of our social wounds can remain sustainable, we must examine ways of creating optimum conditions that promote the livelihood of people, especially in light of preparing ourselves for the oil and gas economy. These research might have long and at times boring titles, but they are trying to understand some of the main constraints that caused Guyana to under-perform relative to her peers such as Barbados, The Bahamas, St Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, Mauritius, Botswana, Singapore and several other small economies since 1965.
A Developmental Civil Service
Jocelyn Williams of the University of Guyana emphasizes structure of production as a hindrance. Her thesis holds that what a country produces determines its ability to innovate and benefit from knowledge spill overs from one sector to the next. Collin Constantine has extended this research in a very important way by studying how income inequality interacts with economic structures to produce poor economic outcomes. Both Williams and Constantine advocate some form of industrial policy, but not classic state planning. They both understand that a developmental civil service would be crucial for implementing these policies. I agree.
I have also published three papers on this issue since the 2008. One of my early works looks at the role of the financial system in intermediating funds from savers to investors. Essentially, I argued in a 2008 paper in Social and Economic Studies that the economy is not large enough for the financial system to spread out the cost of making loans, which includes information cost associated with monitoring and screening borrowers. Screening and monitoring are important because banks don’t have the same information as borrowers, something we call the asymmetric information problem. This monitoring and screening then helps the banks with getting back their moneys, thereby minimizing non-performing loans. To recoup these costs, commercial banks charge high interest rates that unfortunately curtail some investment and economic growth. The banks are not greedy; they are performing within the constraint of economic laws.
A New Constitution
In later published works, I looked at how strategic pro-ethnic voting results in an underdevelopment trap. I used the canonical model from game theory known as the prisoners’ dilemma, which is a game that shows what happens when distrust results in non-cooperation. It is in the interest of one person or group not to cooperate if they are uncertain the other side will cooperate. They are not bad or racist people; they just don’t have an institutional mechanism such as a constitution that enables them to trust and cooperate at the group level.
I then explore using some simple mathematics how cooperation could result from a new constitution, even under the prisoners’ dilemma problem. I have written in Development Watch column in Stabroek News on some specific constitutional changes that could be introduced to enhance cooperation and electoral competition. Electoral competition is necessary if we are going to have a vibrant democracy with swing voters. I will further develop these proposals in a later column for Heal Guyana.
Finally, I published another paper in 2015 that argued that for us to understand Guyana’s relative economic performance with respect to her peers, we have to go back far in history when Dutch settlers around 1760 made the decision to drain the coastal region for agriculture. They preferred coastal settlement even though it required draining swamps to create a polder system of agriculture. Of course, the settlers could take this path of action because they were able to enslave Africans who dug the canals on which we still rely today. Our negligence has caused us to fill up many of them, thus accounting for increased flooding.
The polder system, however, requires heavy cost of maintenance since the canals are soon covered by tropical vegetation and clay soil if not constantly maintained and cleaned. GuySuCo has done this for decades, but at a heavy financial burden partly explaining why it is costly to produce sugar in Guyana’s polder system versus doing same in the higher lands of Brazil, Mauritius or Cuba.
Building a road network on the polder system of canals means more funds have to go into road construction and there has to be a bridge across each canal for linking the roads. Filling up all these canals is also not an option since there will be more flooding and mosquitoes. This adds cost of infrastructure. Other countries that did better than Guyana – Barbados, The Bahamas, St Lucia, etc. – in development indicators do not have to contend with these conditions. The high cost of infrastructure is coupled with a relatively small Guyanese population. This means the per capita cost of infrastructure is going to be very high, thus impacting negatively on the country’s export competitiveness.
As Guyana contemplates becoming an oil and gas economy, it would be helpful for political leaders, as well as public influencers to consider the constraints raised by these academic research. These constraints will have to be addressed as they contemplate restructuring the economy, in ways that create real opportunities for our population to thrive on a fundamental level.
One of the most enduring human attributes is our capacity for hope. At our very core, most of us hold an unfailing belief that things can and will get better, regardless of the circumstances or adverse life events that we face. French author, Francois de la Rochefoucauld fitting concludes that, “Hope is the last thing that dies in man; and though it be exceedingly deceitful, yet it is of this good use to us, that while we are travelling through life it conducts us in an easier and more pleasant way to our journey’s end.”
In light of global and national events, we need more than ever to be hopeful. A cursory glance at any media outlet illustrates a world that is rife with adversity ranging from wars and threats of war, to rising migration and the displacement of millions of people, racism and tribalism, a widening of the chasm between the rich and poor, growing populist movements and a corresponding threat to democratic norms.
What follows is our denigration of each other, the escalation of death, destruction and hopelessness. It becomes both urgent and necessary for people all over the world, who share a deep desire for peace, respect of life, and respect for the dignity and worth of every human being, to find ways to begin to reclaim our common humanity.
In the context of Guyana, there is much work ahead of us. Some 50 year post-independence and we are still mired in an unhealthy mix of racism, ethnic distrust, political exploitation of our differences, systemic corruption, slow socio-economic development and the twin malady of ineffective and inefficient governance.
The question is what do we do, as citizens of this great country? Do we continue to be split into ‘us against them camps’? Do we continue to denigrate and malign each other because we have different visions for how this country should be run? What is at stake for all of us, not just our politicians? What kind of people do we want to be, and more importantly, what kind of future do we want to leave for our children?
There are no easy answers to any of these questions, and no one group or political party can rightly claim to have the solutions to any of the challenges that we face. In fact, it’s all of us, Guyanese, working together, talking to each other rather than about each other, that will likely bring us closer to answering these questions.
Talking, both inter-personally and as political opponents is challenging at the best of times. Too often, even the simplest exchange becomes adversarial, and any difference of opinions is met with racially charged denunciations of an entire ethnic group. One wonders then, where is the hope for us, and how do we begin to have the kinds of conversations that are necessary for healing our national collective, building bridges to the future and restoring our common humanity.
This then begs the question, what would have to be different in the way we do life together in Guyana? What behaviors, attitudes and practices would we have to adopt or let go, in order to be the kind of people and country that we want. These questions are not intended to solicit answers mainly from our politicians. Rather, the onus is on all of us to do our own reflection, both as individuals and as a collective in social groups, communities, places of worship, places of learning, and in our offices.
For starters, it might be necessary to create spaces for dialogue where courage is operating and where our ultimate goal is to bring about reconciliation, healing, trust and respect for each other. Author Steven Fulmer explains that in courageous spaces “we have the courage to face a fear, to confront a demon, to respectfully challenge another, to question authority….and to truly live a new day in a new way.” Courageous conversation or dialogue is about building relationships. We enter into these courageous spaces with a willingness to discuss what author Susan Scott calls the ‘undiscussables’. These are the things that are blocking deep, honest and meaningful conversations from occurring.
The risk of being vulnerable is probably the single hardest things anyone can do. In a courageous space, it’s the willingness to tell the truth about who you are and what you want. It also means letting go of the fear of being hurt, judged or criticized. The responsibility of the rest of us is to hear those truths and to acknowledge the risk it took for others to speak up. We don’t have to agree with all that is said, but at the very least we can let the speakers know they were heard.
One of the most important norms of any courageous space is to know that we can disagree respectfully. Political, religious and racial differences should never cause us to denigrate and dehumanize each other. When we engage in such behavior we rob others of their right to respect and the right to be heard. We can have disagreements but still employ deep respect or recognition of the full humanity of each other.
This is an invitation for us to communicate understanding, compassion, and empathy for the speaker. When we listen only to formulate a rebuttal or to argue and defend our beliefs then we shut out any ideas or information that is inconsistent with what we know and believe to be true to us at the time. Listening differently is a call for us to adopt a posture of openness and a willingness to learn.
Reclaiming our humanity through courageous dialogue (courageous spaces) is an opportunity for all Guyanese to begin to consider how we could be different in our relationships with each other. It’s also an opportunity to develop a new respect for our diversity and to honor the dignity and worth of every human. I remain hopeful!
Guyanese have long been accused of taking the beauty and bounty of their country for granted. But based on my personal observations, there is something else that we do which is far more damaging: We are blind to the good and the opportunities right in front of us. We are trapped in a self-imposed love affair with negativity and we cannot seem to see past this darkness toward the goodness that is. So, we miss the golden opportunities to build on our strengths, in order to catapult ourselves and country toward a more rapid state of development.
The reasons for this self-defeating condition need to be discussed if we are to successfully move beyond it. We assume that it is normal human behavior to seek pleasure and avoid pain, however, in Guyana too many of us appear to only take delight in complaints, accusations and the blaming of others.
This continuous need to seek comfort in the negatives at the expense of ignoring the positives has become synonymous with ‘holding our leaders accountable’ which we know to be a very critical aspect of development. But at what point do we draw the line, as it relates to fairness?
Dialogue based on issues and objectivity no longer seem to apply and there is a complete breakdown of constructive argumentation in favor of personal attacks, misinformation and political bias, on social media in particular.
On the receiving end, the public gets subjected to an inescapable environment of naysaying which ultimately serves the purpose to divide; and no one stops to examine how this cyclical pattern keeps us woefully distracted, nonproductive and doing absolutely nothing to better our personal circumstances as citizens.
Yes, Government must be held responsible for delivering on their promises but we too are responsible for steering our lives in productive directions by working to create better opportunities for ourselves and families. No amount of blaming will change what we must do for ourselves, in order to achieve real benefits in our everyday lives.
So for the purpose of starting the discussion, I have noted some key behavioral observations which are offered as hypotheses to why we seem naturally attracted to negativity:
Observation 1: Insecurities and low self-esteem.
Our over-dependence on Governments which have historically disappointed us have resulted in a deep-rooted distrust. Politicians and their operatives, exploit these feelings of distrust to keep citizens divided based on race, economic profiling and other factors.
Overtime, the cycle of continued disappointment and manipulation has led to an inner sense of us not feeling deserving of ‘good’ in our lives.
So as a collective, we reject seemingly simple solutions and become an obstacle to the very things we wish to achieve such as unity, foresight to economic opportunities, the acknowledgement of national progress in certain areas, etc.
Observation 2: The way we were raised.
Our parental style in Guyana has long embraced the beating of our children into discipline. This is done from a standpoint of parental frustration, ignorance and unrealistic expectations of our little ones.
We have come to believe that this is acceptable behavior but a growing body of research continues to suggest that the practice of beating keeps societies enslaved to a culture of violence, characteristic of various public health issues and negative impacts.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) the transmission of violence between generations, with violent behaviors passing from grandparents to parents to children – a phenomenon known as the “cycle of violence” – and the tendency for abuse victims to continue to suffer and inflict violence, as they move through life are long-term consequences of maltreatment in childhood.
Observation 3: A return to what we know.
Stemming from the cycle of violence, some of us have endured lifelong struggles, trauma and other negative experiences which leads to a characteristic condition where there is a need to continuously relive what we know.
Negativity becomes a state-of-mind which we feel familiar with; and as a result, we go through our lives responding to an insatiable need to always lash out in anger, peddle sarcasm and publicly promote exaggerated misfortunes which are used to reinforce self-promoting rhetoric.
Our general lack of understanding pertaining to mental health issues in Guyana lends to an unhealthy breeding ground for persons suffering from these conditions. The negativity of which filters down to citizens on social media. Audiences on social networks then engage the victims of these unfortunate circumstances, in ways that degenerate into casual spectacles for entertainment. In many cases, victims are mocked or ridiculed in private which compounds the negativity and disregards the need for psychological treatment.
Observation 4: The search for realism.
Many of us pride ourselves on being realists. We mistakenly believe that to be realistic, we must constantly focus on the negatives and aim to dispel any signs of optimism we encounter. There are alternative forms of this among Guyanese who are too afraid to acknowledge ‘joy’ because positive feelings are seen as a set-up for disappointment.
These scenarios, along with the custom of complaining, blinds us to the possibilities for growth.
Observation 5: Our history and its wounds.
Too many of us are still consumed by deep feelings of remorse, anger and regret over past experiences or consequences of decisions we cannot overcome. Guyana’s history has resulted in people unconsciously punishing themselves and others for past hurts gone by, especially among those who would have lived through periods of trauma that has unfortunately conditioned them.
We see the effects of this in the form of racism, the fight for property and the promotion of hate speech which the younger generation either absorbs or rejects, depending on their levels of understanding and intellectual exposure.
Now is the time to put an end to our self-defeating love-affair with negativity and focus on our collective development as a nation. Why only now? Now is as good a time as any!
We must look to ourselves for reassurances of hope and a belief in our country, instead of the average politician, many of whom are yet to grow themselves. We must shift our expectations toward a sense of independence, realizing that we have the power to earn results for ourselves through education, hard work and a commitment to personal excellence in everything we do.
We need to research healthy parental practices and reconsider the ways we contribute to the generational cycle of violence. We must understand that the little adjustments made today will significantly impact the quality of life our nation’s children inherit, tomorrow.
Our country is in urgent need of properly equipped clinics offering therapy, qualified professionals, research, support groups assuring anonymity and educational awareness that is dedicated exclusively to mental health issues. We need to advocate for these improvements, while maintaining a sense of compassion for the victims who are suffering in silence. We must not engage their suffering as a form of entertainment.
We must be cognizant of those with a vested political or economic interest in influencing us away from concepts that encourage the fair assessment of issues, racial unity, non-violence, etc. by attempting to bring discredit to initiatives dedicated to achieving change.
The manufacturing and disseminating of cyclical negativity is a tool that is being used every day, year after year, by operatives from both sides of the political sphere in Guyana. We must not buy into the divide. Reclaim your minds and become Free-Thinkers!
Ours is a country that has been plagued with controversial politics for the past few decades which have hindered our social and economic development. If you are looking for the reference or footnote to that prior sentence, look no further since it cannot be found in any article or publication. However, you may find it lingering in the minds of Guyanese like myself who have grown tired and frustrated by the political games we have been subjected to. Note, my intention is not to stroll down the dilapidated and pot-holed memory lane of our political history, nor is it to lambast any political parties. My intention is to look to the future to heal Guyana. For too long we have confined ourselves to the role of pawns in political games, so permit me to do my best at painting you the bigger picture.
For most of our independent life there have been two major political players in the game. While we are a diverse country, we are led by two large ethnic populations: the indo-Guyanese and the afro-Guyanese. A fact which many contend has been transformed into a political weapon to forge division, exploit votes and to cement us into the role of pawns. Argue with me all you want on that, but in my humble opinion, we can only be used as pawns if we choose to remain pawns. When we come into this world, we are but infants, but there comes a time when we must grow up, learn responsibility, and build a life. Similarly, there comes a time when we have to grow up and realise we can no longer be “children” who are told what to think and do when it comes to the way our country is governed. As far as I am concerned, we have suffered as the collateral damage in the clash between two political titans for much too long and turning a blind eye is no longer acceptable.
So for 2018, my goal is for us all to start with a clean slate and take an initiative toward understanding our political landscape:
READ MORE – They say knowledge is power, but do we really know why? I have always believed that it meant the more you know the better position you are in to create change. Find ways to engage in meaningful discussions with other Guyanese and learn new perspectives. A Government in power is a Government for the people, not solely their voters. We are entitled to equality and dignity, notwithstanding our race, creed or political beliefs. Ensure our children are educated enough to understand the same as they are the ones we are going to rely on to positively change Guyana.
We must keep abreast of current affairs and make it our business to understand the conduct and operations of the Government and political parties. Too many Guyanese take for granted the work and operations of these political actors up until elections year where political parties are busy playing political mind games and we cannot think for ourselves.
FORGET RACE – Having only spent twenty-four years on this earth, I won’t pretend to fully understand the deep rooted racial complexities that have no doubt evolved over time nor will I pretend that this article will magically resolve it. Nonetheless, I will encourage you to look at each other as Guyanese and not “blacks”, “chiney” or “coolies”. While growing up, I have witnessed many “cuss-outs” where the race-card has always been played to attack and berate. Social media is constantly littered with racist commentary and offensive words, rendering it an unsafe environment for our children. No one is ever born with hatred, it is taught and learned.
So we must ask ourselves: do we really want to teach our children hatred? Or better, do we really want to keep learning hatred? We cannot condone a society where our children are discriminated against because of the colour of their skin, nor where we blindly follow political ideologies because of racial conditioning.
BREAK THE MOULD – It is no lie that 2017 has been plagued by political controversy; from the recent parliamentary circus show, the GECOM “fit and proper” fiasco to the ExxonMobil contracts. However, one thing that is always constant is the logic (or lack thereof) of die-hard political fans. I am referring to the persons who resurrect the previous indiscretions of a past government administration as a misguided justification-in-disguise for the indiscretions of the current government administration. I refer to them as die-hard political fans because they are essentially victims of the "us versus them" political strategies employed by both major political parties, premised on hypocrisy and creating a brain-washed political divide.
Use 2018 as the year to transform into an independent thinker. Understand that a wrong is a wrong, despite whomever may have committed that wrong before. If we get into the habit of creating excuses for the failures of a government, we are doing ourselves and the future of democracy and accountability in government a significant disservice. Whether you, or anyone else, were vocal in the past or not, have the courage to break out of the mould of “pawn” to stand by what is right TODAY.
As 2017 comes to an end, my wish is to start a new clean slate with an open mind that is receptive to learning new things. We must educate ourselves and our children on how to treat others beyond race and political beliefs. As mentioned earlier, I am not writing this to point my finger at political parties, but to point my finger at civilians like you and I, so that we can realise how important it is to be independent thinkers in 2018 – civilians that understand what we deserve as Guyanese and why we need to hold ALL politicians to strict standards of accountability and transparency as they are put there in power by us to serve us. In other words, I only seek to remind you not to be played in this game of politics, when you are essentially the game master.
Heal Guyana is a registered, not-for-profit organisation which functions as a civil society platform that focuses on empowering Guyanese and influencing citizens toward positive behavior change.
The views expressed herein are those of the Author; they do not necessarily reflect the views of Heal Guyana or its Executives.