May 27, 2012 Letters
Over the past few weeks the reports in the dailies seem not to have shocked us sufficiently to unearth in us, enough outrage and concern for the dangerous place in which our young people seem to have found themselves, with respect to senseless violence.
Going back to March 2011 a Kaieteur News Headline read; “Armed Student Gang from City School invades West Demerara Secondary.”
In this situation it was reported that a group of students boarded a mini-bus in Georgetown and traveled to Region Three and invaded a school to get even with another student. Then, on 19th February 2012 an online newspaper caption read: “Guyanese Schoolboy stabbed to death in row over girl.” On this occasion the local media reported that 17 year old Anfernee Bowman died after receiving several stab wounds at the hands of one of his classmates, from an evening lesson. According to reports the incident occurred shortly after the two were dismissed from classes.
Less than a month after, on 17th May 2012, the Stabroek News headline, again, read “Teen stabbed to death during brand name clothing argument”. This time the family of 17 year old Shane George was plunged into sudden mourning. The reporters again told us that Shane succumbed to several stab wounds inflicted, by a class mate whom he attends evening lessons with. Continuing with the teen violence, a Demerara Waves repor on 19th May 2012 read, “Unease over gang visits to LBI Primary School; student chopped”. In this report it was stated that earlier in the week a gang, on behalf of one student, visited the school to exact vengeance on another student. In this case 16 year old Dameon Jones is alleged to have received a chop in his head. Teachers, we learnt, are fearful for their lives as the gang had returned to the school and issued threats.
Regardless of the specific facts of the cases it is clear that, as a nation, we are faced with a serious and dangerous situation of teen violence, which requires our urgent, necessary and collective effort. For too long we have placed little or no emphasis on seriously addressing the urgent needs of our children who continue to resort to violence to vent their anger, rage or feeling. No real effort, in my mind, is made to engage in the kind of scientific investigation necessary to address the many problems faced by our youth. Somehow we seem to think that resorting to archaic means of dealing with the problems will work, or better yet we act as though there is a generic solution to the myriad of problems and issues our youth are struggling with daily.
So, on the issue with the students who left the city and invaded another school in another region, we seem to think that suspending the students from school is the ultimate solution to their unwarranted behavior. While we make the dangerous mistake to fail to recognize that suspension from school alone is not the answer to a deeper social problem. Too often the need for urgent counseling is negated and the troubled teen is left to deal with issues as he/she sees fit. Today, there should be at least one social worker attached to every high school in Guyana, or have teachers specifically trained to offer more extensive help to students who are experiencing serious social, emotional and psychological problems. This is what development in education means, ensuring that we have sufficiently emotionally and psychologically balanced students in the classroom, a desire which aids in the benefit of all.
It is time the Ministry of Social Services, Ministry of Youth and Culture, and the Ministry of Education work in close and meaningful co-operation to ensure that the violence in our school, and among our teens are properly dealt with. It is time for serious interagency cooperation! Where is the University of Guyana in all of this, we seem not to recognize the value of our only tertiary education institution in meeting the needs of the challenges in our society.
It is time the government considers contracting the University to conduct scientific studies to deal with teen violence. Let us engage the department of Social Work and Sociology and contract the services of the professionals. It is time we do some real research to arrest this dangerous development. A country, especially one which has a population of fewer than 800,000, cannot afford to have its most valuable resource being depleted so senselessly. Let us do the kind of research needed and invest in the future of Guyana. I often wonder if we lack the ability to conduct research, or is it that we like to find ‘plaster solutions’ to problems. I say it is time to get scientific, and invest in research to help the nation’s youth, the time of ‘guesstimation’ is over a nation’s youth is crying out for help!
Many of us may offer some kind of reason for these problems, some of us are quick to blame the parents, in fact a few years ago one man wrote and extensive article in the Guyana Chronicle in which he blames the single parent families for crimes in Guyana, some blame the school. I say it is time to shelf the blame and get on with the business of tackling the problem, research must be undertaken. It will also be a good thing if we take the time to examine how our own inaction might be a contributing factor to the escalation of this dangerous state of affairs. While many of us may be going about our business as though we are immune from the effects of teen violence because for us it has not directly affect us, I wish to remind us that the wrath of this violence is closer to us that we imagine. We must not forget that we live in a society where the young will soon become the adults in charge of our affairs and so we must care who will take care of us in those latter years. We, therefore, must be concerned now that we aid their ability to be compassionate, responsible, respectful and accountable. A teacher, recently, said to me that when she stood in front of a certain class and realize that twenty years later she might go to the doctor and have to be attended to by one of the said students it made her go the extra mile to impart more than academics. I hope that we will come to the realization that we too, as members of society have a role to play; that old African proverb; “ora na azu nwa” translated “it takes a community/ village to raise a child” is quite instructive on our role as members as society.
Hillary Clinton, who popularized that African phrase wrote in her 1996 book titled, ‘It takes a Village and Other Lessons Children Teach Us’ wrote; “How well we care for our own and other people’s children isn’t only a question of morality; our self-interest is at stake too.” And while we can find good nostalgic moments of ‘what was’ it should offer us no excuse for our inaction but rather forces us to act in the interest of helping a youth better his life and by extension our own future.
A few days ago while listening to the ‘Yolander Adams Morning Radio Show’ the commentator asked listeners to share their views as to whether they think the church is still a force to be reckon with in society, one caller gave a most emphatic yes, she went on to explain how in her community the church is dominant and that from getting a resume written to assisting in job skills training, you can go to the church and get some help. Today I want to ask a broader question, is the religious community still a force to reckon with in our own
society, let me go on to answer by ardently stating yes, I therefore ask our religious leaders to take this issue of teen violence head on. I also ask those who are active members of civil society to treat this dangerous phenomenon of teen violence as urgent. And what about all those decent law abiding citizens let us reach out to help a youth in need, be a mentor to someone it will surely go a long way and positively benefit you in the long run, we each have a role to play. Let us lobby our legislatures to take action now to arrest this avoidable and unwarranted threat to our youth. I ask the Tenth Parliament of Guyana to take action to save the future of Guyana, let us stop this senseless killing. A nation’s human resources will continue to be its most valuable resource, it is therefore imperative that we take every action possible to protect and invest in our young people.
When ayuh will wake up?
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