The Caribbean Voice (www.caribvoice.org), a US and Guyana registered volunteer-driven, not for profit NGO focused on suicide and all forms of abuse prevention in Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados, Jamaica and St Vincent & the Grenadines (in partnership with sister NGO ‘Say Enough is Enough Support Group) and the Caribbean Diaspora in North America.
By Annan Boodram – The Caribbean Voice (TCV)
The Caribbean Voice (TCV) is the only NGO focusing on suicide and abuse prevention across the Caribbean region. This campaign was launched in Guyana in 2014, in response to the World Health Organization report that Guyana then had the highest suicide rate globally (a figure that has been disputed and could not be justified by WHO).
Last year this campaign was taken to St Vincent and the Grenadines, where we work in collaboration with an NGO, Say Enough is Enough Support Group, headed by Javelle Frank, social activist, media personality and trade unionist. This year TCV was established in Trinidad and Tobago, with social workers, Tynika James, and Czerina Castello Raja heading operations.
As well, social activist, Kiassandra Fox is spearheading an effort to build a team in Barbados, while dancehall and reggae singer and social activist, Gmac (Garfield Maclean) and psychologist and social activist, Dr Loraine Barnaby, are doing the same in Jamaica.
Meanwhile, plans are afoot to enter Saint Lucia by collaborating with Zandoli USA, which is headed by Camille St Omer. Zandoli USA has a presence in Saint Lucia and is in the process of revamping its operations there. Finally, in Guyana social activist and psychologist, Bibi Ahamad, spearheads our operations.
The Caribbean Voice is headed by social activist, educator, journalist and author, Annan Boodram, with pastor, psychologist/counselor, and educator, Dr Franklin Rodney as vice president and social activist and business executive, Neela Pawaroo, as the third member of the administration. Diaspora membership is drawn from the US, Canada, and the UK.
TCV is always seeking new members who are passionate about volunteering and we urge such individuals to reach out to us regardless of where you live. We are especially seeking individuals throughout the Caribbean who are willing to give of their time, efforts and sometimes resources without seeking reward.
We developed a suicide prevention program that embraced the significant factors that impacted – sexual, child, domestic and substance abuse – in a holistic, evidence-based approach to suicide prevention.
The five pillars of our work are research and information dissemination; awareness building and training; advocacy and lobbying; fostering stakeholders’ collaboration for social activism and counseling intervention.
- First and only truly National Stakeholders’ Conference on Suicide and Related Issues in Guyana – August 2015. Plans are afoot for similar conferences in Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica.
- The Annual National Anti-Violence Candlelight Vigil launched in September 2016 to mark World Suicide Prevention Day. This vigil has also been held in some parts of the US and Canada as well as in St. Vincent. Trinidad and Tobago joined this year and next year we hope to have many more Caribbean nations.
- The annual 16 days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence observance, launched last year in Guyana and focusing on victims speaking out. This year the focus is on abused victims’ safety and we’re hoping that activities will also be planned in the US, Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica.
- As well we are finalizing a National Domestic Violence Campaign to be launched later this year across Guyana and Lay Counselor Training Program to be launched next year. The Lay Counselor Training will also take place in Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and the US from next year.
- Ongoing mental health (inclusive of suicide and abuse prevention) workshops and outreaches across Guyana. Such workshops will be taken to all areas where TCV has a presence.
- Advocacy and lobbying efforts in Guyana: Suicide helpline (established in 2015); a psychology program at University of Guyana (set up last year); integrating mental health care into the current primary health care system (started under the previous government); ongoing petition to establish a registry of sex offenders (promised by government); placement of counselors in schools (promised by the government); decriminalizing attempted suicide (bill was presented in parliament in 2016 but voted down by the government which has promised to strike the law off the books); a Gatekeepers’ Program to train lay counselors (promised by the government). This pillar of our operation will also be taken to all locations in which TCV operates.
- Info dissemination: five surveys in Guyana (will also be carried out everywhere TCV operates) that gathered primary material; a website (www.caribvoice.org) and social media sites that enable TCV to reach over 300,000 people monthly. As well as letters and articles regularly published in regional and Diaspora media (print and online) and regular interviews, in traditional and online broadcast media, regionally and internationally, reach hundreds of thousands of viewers and listeners.
- A one-year turnaround project for a small high need, low performing school on the ECD, Guyana. The components of this project include teacher training (both professional and mental health); setting up a library and a computer lab; expanding the sports program by building needed facilities at the sports ground and providing a range of indoor and outdoor games and sports equipment; setting up a parents’ and a students’ association as well as a mentoring program, a peer mediation program and a perfect system and provision of requisite training; establishing drama, art and robotics programs; setting up a work-study and a field trip program; introducing a motivational speakers’ series and a counseling program, as well as services for the community.
This project is also being used as a pilot to determine if it offers a blueprint for other similar schools throughout the Caribbean especially given that the mental health and psychosocial challenges faced by students play significant role in self-harm and suicide which is highest among the young (15 to 25 age group but recently children as young as seven have been suiciding).
Our ongoing counseling program has handled over 450 successful cases from over 25 nations.
All our services are pro bono and all our members are unpaid volunteers. A self-funded NGO, that raises funds through a series of Concerts For Hope, TCV is a registered not for profit, with tax-exempt status in the US and Guyana. We have already started working towards a similar status in Trinidad and Tobago. In the coming years, we plan to be registered in all nations where we have a presence.
In addition to general members who ensure the day-to-day operations of TCV, we also have and seek counselors for our technical team, entertainment, and media personalities to be spokespersons, youth members (who will be trained to take over from the current generation of leaders) and board of director members – business executives and societal leaders.