‘OUR CHIL­DREN ARE OUR FU­TURE AND OUR FU­TURE IS IN OUR HANDS’

MIN­IS­TER REDDY STRESSES THE NEED FOR EVERY­ONE TO BE IN­VOLVED WHEN IT COMES TO SO­CIAL CON­CERNS OF OUR YOUNG GEN­ER­A­TION

Fiji Sun - - Opinion -

Chil­dren are our great­est as­set and when we lose a child, the loss is not only felt by the fam­ily mem­bers but the en­tire na­tion. When a per­son takes his or her life, ques­tions arise as to what has forced the per­son to take such a de­struc­tive step.

Con­trary to the stan­dard belief that sui­cide means there is no killer, we be­lieve there is, and prob­a­bly, mul­ti­ple killers. That is pre­cisely why we all need to stand up and pon­der ways and means on how we can tackle the causes of this killer act. The First World Sui­cide Pre­ven­tion Day was held in 2003 in col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion for Sui­cide Pre­ven­tion and the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion (WHO). We launched this Na­tional dis­course on Sui­cide pre­ven­tion as com­pul­sory ob­ser­vances in all pri­mary, sec­ondary and pre-schools across Fiji in 2015. The grave con­cern, that young peo­ple are tak­ing their own lives and that present day sit­u­a­tions are boost­ing the in­crease and sever­ity of sui­cide cases calls for ef­fi­cient sui­cide elim­i­na­tion tac­tics to be put in place. The Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion, Her­itage and Arts has taken on the chal­lenge to part­ner with teach­ers, par­ents, com­mu­nity mem­bers, reli­gious lead­ers, com­mu­nity lead­ers, non-Gov­ern­ment or­gan­i­sa­tions, Gov­ern­ment or­gan­i­sa­tions, donor agen­cies, other groups and or­gan­i­sa­tions and most im­por­tantly with the stu­dents to root out this killer is­sue. Our chil­dren are our fu­ture and our fu­ture is in our hands. Ed­u­ca­tion and char­ac­ter build­ing are pre­req­ui­sites to se­cur­ing a sta­ble, pros­per­ous and se­cure fu­ture Fiji.

How­ever, it re­quires us to also fend of dis­trac­tions and pro­tect our chil­dren from chal­lenges and threats which could af­fect them or sway them to­wards paths of self­de­struc­tion. This year all schools around the coun­try will ob­serve the Na­tional Sui­cide Pre­ven­tion Day on Fri­day 9th of Septem­ber. The uni­ver­sal theme, ‘Con­nect, Com­mu­ni­cate, and Care’ will be in­jected into the aware­ness pro­grammes which all schools will or­gan­ise. The fo­cus of the pro­grammes is di­rected to em­power young peo­ple that their life is price­less, they need to safe­guard it and that other peo­ple’s lives are sim­i­larly pre­cious and they need to as­sist them to safe­guard it. In the school sys­tem we want to cre­ate a ‘share and care’ men­tal­ity when it comes to such Na­tional is­sues. Our in­ten­tion is for young peo­ple to come to the fore­front, be strong, have higher re­gard for their tal­ents and abil­ity and be com­pas­sion­ate about oth­ers, their feel­ings and their prob­lems. We want all chil­dren to nur­ture and adopt the men­tal­ity of ‘take my hand’, ‘I am here for you’, ‘talk to me, I will lis­ten’, ‘God has got big­ger plans for you’, and ‘Don’t worry, you will be fine’. The Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion, Her­itage and Arts in­tends to bol­ster schools and stu­dents as ad­vo­ca­tors of sui­cide pre­ven­tion in not only their com­mu­ni­ties but also in Fiji far and wide.

Theme: ‘Con­nect, Com­mu­ni­cate, and Care’

The theme for this year’s Sui­cide Pre­ven­tion Day in a nut­shell calls for col­lab­o­ra­tion from all stake­hold­ers to play a crit­i­cal role in elim­i­nat­ing this killer is­sue. By con­nect­ing, com­mu­ni­ca­tion and tak­ing care we are in fact tak­ing all pre­ven­ta­tive mea­sures to en­sure that sui­cide is never an op­tion for any­one. We want to shut the door of sui­cide by breath­ing in con­nec­tion, com­mu­ni­ca­tion and care and thereby widely open­ing the door of life and op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Con­nect

Hu­man be­ings are highly emo­tional sim­ply be­cause of the fact that we have well-es­tab­lished con­nec­tions with each other.

We can­not sur­vive for long in iso­la­tion be­cause we need each other and schools are par­tic­u­larly Cen­tres where stu­dents’ con­nec­tiv­ity with each other is en­hanced and en­cour­aged. To con­nect is to link with those who are vul­ner­a­ble to tak­ing their lives or even those who have lost loved ones be­cause of sui­cide. A child who is on his/her own, left to counter all his/her prob­lems alone and has no con­nec­tions with friends, fam­i­lies or groups are more prone to acts of sui­cides than those who en­joy so­cial group­ings, peer to peer net­work­ing and healthy fam­ily and com­mu­nity con­nec­tions. In a school en­vi­ron­ment, we can at­tain this con­nec­tiv­ity through: peer re­la­tion­ship build­ing, strength­ened stu­dent net­work­ing, greater teacher and staff links with stu­dents, school projects, events and ac­tiv­i­ties con­nect­ing stu­dents (scouts, Girl Guides, Sports, So­cial Work groups, Clubs), stu­dent sup­port ser­vices and largely with tons of in­ter­ac­tion and in­te­gra­tion op­por­tu­ni­ties in schools. More so, teach­ers and stu­dents need to be trained to con­nect with chil­dren who be­come prone to tak­ing their own lives. These may be chil­dren who may not ex­cel aca­dem­i­cally, those who may face un­sta­ble fam­ily back­grounds, those who may be vic­tims to abuse and bul­ly­ing or those who may be sick, iso­lated and de­pressed. Cre­at­ing a spe­cial link with such chil­dren will as­sure them that there are peo­ple to whom they can as­so­ci­ate with in time of need. The teach­ers and stu­dents need to be drilled to of­fer sup­port, guid­ance and pos­i­tive av­enues to elim­i­nate the is­sues of the child. Teach­ers need to make life­long bond­ing with their stu­dents and this trust and faith in each other are the key pil­lars in en­sur­ing that for the stu­dents, the teach­ers are al­ways there to help them, not only in ed­u­ca­tional mat­ters, but also in mat­ters per­tain­ing to their day to day liv­ing or per­sonal cir­cum­stances. Whilst, we de­pend on teach­ers to cre­ate this spe­cial con­nect­ed­ness, the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion, Her­itage and Arts also has trained and qual­i­fied coun­sel­lors in all dis­tricts who are part of this net­work­ing. Our next step now is to strengthen em­pow­er­ment for stu­dent sup­port ser­vices through greater in­volve­ment of stu­dents and par­ents. The par­ent-stu­dent en­gage­ment ini­tia­tive was launched this year and we are look­ing at broad­en­ing this con­nec­tion to tackle the sui­cide is­sues.

Com­mu­ni­cate

In the Pa­cific so­ci­ety, we have for too long cul­ti­vated the ‘cul­ture of si­lence’ and thereby re­strict­ing ‘open com­mu­ni­ca­tion’. Our Prime Min­is­ter, Hon­ourable Bain­i­marama, while re-open­ing the land­mark project of the re-devel­oped Al­bert Park com­mented that, “… we have done the same with our na­tion. Re­versed the years of de­cay and ne­glect and set our­selves on a new course”. Quite fit­tingly, the Fi­jian Ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem is on the same course of revo­lu­tion to at­tain a na­tional vi­sion of peace and pros­per­ity. While ‘si­lence’ is deeply em­bed­ded in some cul­tural as­pects of our Fi­jian so­ci­eties and is strongly linked to val­ues such as, re­spect and hon­our, we must now verge on a more prac­ti­cal ap­proach to things. Chil­dren some­times re­main quiet pri­mar­ily be­cause they are afraid that they will of­fend the peo­ple in au­thor­ity, their par­ents and el­ders.

The ‘fear fac­tor’ drives chil­dren to suf­fer in lone­li­ness where else open com­mu­ni­ca­tion with a re­newed tac­tic to un­der­stand­ing and com­pas­sion can eas­ily solve quite many is­sues. Our 21st cen­tury chil­dren face many and var­ied prob­lems and we can­not stick with past un­der­stand­ings to solve cur­rent is­sues. From a very young age, we want chil­dren to openly con­verse with their par­ents and bring about that same mind-set when they en­ter schools.

This con­fi­dence will as­sist chil­dren to eas­ily con­fide with friends and teach­ers when they need their sup­port. The Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion, Her­itage and Arts is com­pounded with stu­dent re­lated is­sues of drugs and sub­stance abuse, bul­ly­ing, men­tal dis­or­ders, ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ships, teenage preg­nancy, tru­ancy, abuse and vi­o­lent be­hav­iour. While we have poli­cies and pro­ce­dures which deal with such cases in a strate­gic way, some­times it be­comes a chal­lenge when other part­ners in ed­u­ca­tion are not on the same plat­form as we are. Some­times par­ents are sur­prised that their chil­dren are drug ad­dicts or are hav­ing ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ships. When we re­late the mat­ter to them, they quickly re­act caus­ing un­wanted stress and chaos on the teach­ers, Coun­sel­lors and most im­por­tantly to the child.

This ag­gra­vates the sit­u­a­tion mak­ing the child prone to acts of harm­ing them­selves. These sce­nar­ios show that the child and the par­ent do not share that open re­la­tion­ship where the child can share his/her life de­vel­op­ments and as­so­ci­ated prob­lems with the par­ent. It also shows that as par­ents we are not aware of our child’s do­ings and we have not been mon­i­tor­ing, ob­serv­ing and eval­u­at­ing their ac­tions. We are now also train­ing all our teach­ers and stu­dents to be­come ac­tive Coun­sel­lors. This has been done so that early com­mu­ni­ca­tion with stu­dents fac­ing prob­lems can as­sist us to nip their is­sues in the bud. We want to cre­ate schools as a hub pro­mot­ing ‘open com­mu­ni­ca­tion’.

This will lead to elim­i­na­tion of anger, an­guish, frus­tra­tion, sad­ness and blame game, which are out­puts of child is­sues.

Care

I have time and again re-it­er­ated that my dream for ed­u­ca­tion in Fiji is to see that ev­ery child hap­pily goes to school daily. This is achieved when stu­dents find that schools care for them and their in­ter­ests. We want all schools to have a kind, ac­com­mo­dat­ing and ac­cept­ing en­vi­ron­ment where chil­dren are sup­ported to grow, de­velop and progress with­out any com­pro­mises. We have al­ready up­rooted from the school sys­tem some very deeply rooted con­straints such as, racism, sex­ism and dis­crim­i­na­tion of spe­cial needs stu­dents and in its place we have im­planted ac­ces­si­ble, eq­ui­table, trans­par­ent and fair ini­tia­tives for Fi­jians to en­joy. We have taken the bur­den off the par­ents and shoul­dered their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties for their child’s ed­u­ca­tion and we are trans­form­ing the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem into the ‘peo­ples ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem’. These are our ac­tions to take care of our peo­ple, not only for the chil­dren to at­tain aca­demic suc­cess but most im­por­tantly re­main safe and in good health. Schools are now trans­formed into in­sti­tu­tions which show gen­uine care and em­pa­thy for the child. Teach­ers are trained to pro­vide pro­fes­sional guid­ance and ad­vice reg­u­larly on key top­ics as­so­ci­ated to the stu­dents. Stu­dents are be­ing given the same guid­ance and train­ing in schools to show sin­cere care and love for their col­leagues who are strug­gling, emo­tion­ally dis­turbed and stressed out. We have in­cul­cated a cur­ricu­lum which reg­u­larly teaches chil­dren on is­sues af­fect­ing them and one of the top­ics is sui­cide. We an­a­lyse the causes, ef­fects and pre­ven­ta­tive mea­sures with the stu­dents so as to en­rich them and as­sist them to fight off sim­i­lar cir­cum­stances in their lives.

One of the key at­tributes that we have asked all teach­ers to look into is not only to lis­ten, but have a heart to lis­ten to the child. Lis­ten­ing pa­tiently in it­self shows that you care and of­ten this is the first step ac­com­plished at solv­ing an is­sue.

Con­clud­ing Re­marks

A life, the most pre­cious gift from God is some­thing we must all cher­ish. How­ever, some­times our fel­low hu­mans be­come so de­pressed and frus­trated that they make a dreaded de­ci­sion which not only af­fects them but also haunts their loved ones for­ever. The Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion, Her­itage and Arts has com­mit­ted it­self to pro­mot­ing sui­cide pre­ven­tion knowl­edge in schools which will as­sist to elim­i­nate sui­cide as an al­ter­na­tive for peo­ple. The Bain­i­marama Gov­ern­ment is en­joy­ing ‘a golden age for Fiji’ with all our mile­stone achieve­ments, democ­racy, eco­nomic growth, ed­u­ca­tional progress, in­ter­na­tional growth and recog­ni­tion and high class de­vel­op­ments and with all this, we are now un­com­pro­mis­ingly devoted to free our beau­ti­ful na­tion from the hor­ror of sui­cide.

‘Ed­u­ca­tion and char­ac­ter build­ing are pre­req­ui­sites to se­cur­ing a sta­ble, pros­per­ous and se­cure fu­ture Fiji. it re­quires us to also fend of dis­trac­tions and pro­tect our chil­dren from chal­lenges and threats which could af­fect them or sway them to­wards paths of self-de­struc­tion.’ Cre­at­ing a spe­cial link with such chil­dren will as­sure them that there are peo­ple to whom they can as­so­ci­ate with in time of need.

Ma­hen­dra Reddy

Min­is­ter for Ed­u­ca­tion, Her­itage and Arts Ma­hen­dra Reddy This is the full speech of Min­is­ter for Ed­u­ca­tion,Her­itage and Arts Ma­hen­dra Reddy’s me­dia state­ment dur­ing the Na­tional Sui­cide Pre­ven­tion Day.

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