Jan 10, 2010 News
Margaret Lawrence is a ‘Special Person’
“I love my job because it’s so fulfilling. It’s what I like to do. I’m one of the fortunate people who are able to do what they like.”
By Fareeza Haniff
With over thirty years’ experience in Broadcasting and the Performing Arts, Margaret Lawrence has now fully dedicated her life to combating the issue of HIV/AIDS in Guyana. Almost all of her time is spent on finding ways and means to reduce the stigma and discrimination attached to this non-curable disease.
Since becoming the Executive Director for the radio programme ‘Merundoi,’ Margaret Lawrence commonly called ‘Maggie’ or ‘Auntie Maggie’ has soared to new heights in her career, and has in store some impressive plans to address issues relating to the dreaded infection.
But how did it all start for ‘Maggie’?’ What made her so passionate about the fight against this virus?
The death of one of her closest friends, Andre Sobryan, sparked the beginning of an impassioned pursuit for its eradication.
‘Maggie’ and the now late Andre were friends since in the 1980s as they both worked in drama. It was during this time that Andre discovered that he was HIV positive. According to ‘Maggie’, this was a stunning revelation, but it did not and could not break their friendship. In fact, it made them stronger.
“Andre was the type of person who did not want you to feel pity for him. He would gloss over things and I figure that my strength was drawn from his. So it was not something that you really grieved over, it was something that you dealt with and nothing really changed. We became stronger because he was a fighter down to the end.”
The two attended a workshop overseas on HIV/AIDS, and that forum gave them both the courage and inspiration to form the organisation ‘Artistes in Direct Support’ (AIDS) in 1992.
“We both attended a workshop in Curacao and when we came back we concurred that we needed to get active and use the art to promote the various messages and so we formed Artistes in Direct Support in 1992.”
‘Maggie’ and another popular personality Desiree Edghill were the closest friends to Andre and both women supported him during his time of trials and challenges. As a matter of fact, they were both there when he passed away.
‘Maggie’ explained that while the medication (anti retrovirals) to treat the virus were not distributed freely in Guyana during that point in time, Andre was still given an opportunity in South Africa to go on the drugs, but he refused.
According to her, he had explained that his people in Guyana did not have access to the drugs and as such he did not want to be treated differently.
He died in 2000 and his friends, including ‘Maggie’ still continue the fight. She refuses to give up hope that a cure can be found for the deadly virus.
Growing up in Alberttown, our ‘Special Person’ says, has done wonders for her, as it has helped to mould her into the person she is today. According to ‘Maggie’, her years at the St. Ambrose Primary School and the Bishops’ High School have contributed a lot to the evolution of her career.
She also attended the University of Guyana where she studied Public Management. At the tertiary institution she was the recipient of the Prime Minister’s Medal for Public Management. She then went on to the University of the West Indies (UWI), Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication (CARIMAC) at Mona, Jamaica, followed by a stint with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
‘Maggie’ is now pursuing a course in Public Management at Nations University.
Not surprisingly, she was also the proud recipient, in 1999, of a National Award – the Golden Arrow of Achievement – for outstanding achievements in broadcasting and drama.
Before becoming the admirable crusader she is today, ‘Maggie’ was a well rounded individual who worked at many different organisations. She was once the Programme Manager at the Guyana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC).
This exemplary woman has also held positions at the Guyana Safe Injection Project (GSIP), Royal Bank of Canada, Singer Sewing Machine Company and the American Life Insurance Company.
Prior to her designation as Executive Director of Merundoi, a little over a year ago, she was the script editor.
‘Maggie’ admits to pushing in between 12 – 14 hours of work on a daily basis and will go even longer when there are deadlines to be met.
Her personal life has been without much fanfare. She got married in 1981, but in the late 1990s she and her now dead husband got a divorce. And although she does not have any children of her own, she adores her five step children.
Merundoi Incorporated is a non-governmental organisation which was registered in November 2008. It evolved from the MARCH project. MARCH is an acronym for Modeling And Reinforcement to Combat HIV/AIDS.
It is a behaviour change communication project that was the brainchild of Dr. Joseph Petraglia. Merundoi is aimed at portraying hope, stamina, courage and fortitude in the reduction of stigma and discrimination, parent-to-child communication, reduction of alcohol abuse and safe and consistent use of condoms.
This organisation has reinforcement officers across the country, who work hand in hand with men who have sex with men, commercial sex workers, prisoners, school children and miners. According to ‘Maggie’, the organisation has been able to hold workshops at some areas where commercial sex workers have their activities so as to spread the messages about the virus along with the various ways they can protect themselves.
The radio programme in now accessible on the internet and is being listened to by persons in Brazil, New York, China and Senegal. It is also now aired in Nickerie, Suriname on two radio stations, and she is pushing for it to be expanded into the wider Caribbean.
‘Maggie’ plans to address other social ills in Guyana other than HIV/AIDS. These include diabetes, hypertension, cancer and suicide.
“Suicide has touched us and the ages of the people who have passed are ridiculous. We have targeted two communities in region six…from the data, it appears as though lots of suicides occur there.”
The organisation also plans to incorporate Merundoi into the Health and Family Life and Education programme (HFLE), while they are also toying with the idea of internet possibilities. “We know young people are very internet savvy…they may not be listening to the radio but we may be able to catch them on the internet.”
She also wants Merundoi to develop a training centre. “I love my job because it’s so fulfilling. It’s what I like to do. I’m one of the fortunate people who are able to do what they like.”
Her advice to young people who do not practice safe sex is simply this: “Unsafe sex is essentially a death sentence. The thing about it is that not only can you contract HIV…there are other STDs out there that are horrible. There are so many ways to make sex enjoyable with a condom. You can even put it on your tongue.”
While her passion at this moment is combating the social effects of HIV/AIDS, ‘Maggie’ also aspires to make seniors live comfortably. Sometime in the future she sees herself doing something significant for them.
This woman of many talents also sees herself becoming a Funeral Planner. “That is the most traumatic time in your life when you sometimes don’t even know what you’re doing. You can’t seem to focus. So you just sit and take in a few deep breaths and I’ll take care of everything…I thought about that at once, and it might happen sometime in the future.”
A God-fearing woman, she lives by one verse in the Holy Bible, John 112: “In all thy ways acknowledge him and he shall direct thy paths.”
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