‘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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.