35 welfare officers certified to provide psychosocial support to students
Thirty-five welfare officers from the 11 education districts across Guyana are now better equipped to address gender-related issues among learners after undergoing an intensive six-week Gender Responsive Programme for Psychosocial Support to Children in Schools.
The European Union (EU) funded programme was conducted through the Spotlight Initiative and implemented by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in partnership with the Ministry of Education and the Institute of Gender Studies at the University of Guyana.
During a simple graduation ceremony at the Pegasus Hotel, Georgetown on Thursday, the participants expressed that through their training they are now more sensitized on gender-related issues, and can now deliver better services.
Delivering remarks on behalf of the participants, school welfare officer Zulfikar Hack highlighted that the programme challenged and changed the perspective of how welfare officers dealt with challenges, biases and prejudices when dealing with gender-based issues.
The programme also enabled community awareness by giving the welfare officers a platform to speak on gender-based violence, power and privileges and other related issues at various events countrywide, he noted.
“As it relates to the LGBTQ+ community, it shifted our perspective on how we interact with individuals from this minority group. It brought to us new awareness and appreciation for the way we train persons in this community,” Hack said.
He described the six-week journey as a “worthwhile experience”, noting that the programme served as an “eye-opener” and strengthened their understanding of issues.
“Today we are happy for this programme because we indeed have a change in the way we operate … we have been further equipped and sensitized and are able to share with stakeholders how we can help our learners who are part of the minority groups,” Hack said.
Speaking to the News Room, Chief School Welfare Officer, Gillian Vyphius noted that the officers recognise that learners from various households are affected by different issues, specifically gender-based violence and bullying and they were, therefore, grateful for the training.
She highlighted that based on technological influences and varying cultures, norms and beliefs within society, there are new minority groups in the school system and welfare officers are often contacted by the groups.
“Sometimes we are taken aback because we were never faced with these situations in our welfare services over the years – so now with this training, we are more empowered to deal with these situations,” she said.
“This would be like a booster to our qualifications so we can use theories in our practice to deal with these issues,” she added.
A manual was also developed as part of the programme by Dr. Pauline Bullen, Director of the Institute of Gender Studies at the University of Guyana after consultation with welfare officers from the 10 administrative regions.
Delivering the feature address, Education Specialist and Technical Advisor to the Minister of Education, Olato Sam said that the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need to devise strategies to address the physical, mental, emotional and psycho-social dimensions of student health and well-being – something the training forms part of the approach to addressing.
He noted that classroom practitioners have reported the need to address how trauma affects students and training which would help them undertake their roles in relation to students’ social and emotional needs.
“In this regard, our school’s welfare unit has a pivotal role to play in relation to leading our system’s efforts in developing sustainable approaches to dealing with this issue,” he said.
UNICEF Deputy Representative for Guyana and Suriname, Irfan Akhtar and Head of Development Cooperation at the Delegation of the EU in Guyana, Federico Suárez were also present at the graduation ceremony.