– activist urges more support for those trapped with abusers
By Lisa Hamilton
“WHAT I’ve seen in the past three weeks I’ve actually managed in three months,” said activist and founder of United Bridge Builders Mission (UBBM), Bonita Montague addressing a recent spike in domestic violence cases.
Montague has spearheaded the organisation for some 28 years, actively seeking out ways to meet the social and physical needs of individuals and families. On Wednesday, she told this newspaper that the efforts of her organisation are being stretched thin, due to the numerous challenges that have arisen due to COVID-19-induced lockdown. The day before, the activist said, she received nine reports of domestic violence incidents in just three hours.
She described the situation as overwhelming, as the COVID-19 challenge has intensified previous challenges the organisation would have faced when it comes to transporting, housing and providing for persons fleeing abuse.
On April 3, the government instituted emergency measures which placed citizens nationwide under curfew, and saw the closure of all non-essential services in a quest to curb the spread of the deadly pandemic.
These measures have increased the time of enclosed contact with abusers and the abused, and in other cases, it has opened the door to potential abusers due to prolonged close contact. Montague has become a popular point of contact for persons in need of help over the years.
She told the newspaper of one current case involving a woman whose husband, due to the lockdown, is no longer employed, and now spends his days drinking, to the point where he becomes violently abusive.
The UBBM is attempting to mediate certain situations which can allow for the abuse to escalate, but in other cases, it is crucial for the individual to leave the environment. Prior to COVID-19, the organisation faced challenges when it came to finding available shelters for domestic violence cases, and now, with incidents rising, the challenge has grown greater.
LOW ON FUNDS
While she is in regular contact with the Ministry of Social Protection, and Help and Shelter for assistance through collaboration, Montague understands that due to Guyana’s current elections stalemate, access to funding is not readily available.
The organisation does its best to assist with transporting persons across the country, accommodating them, and even providing for them, but longs for the day when access to greater funding will be made available.
“It’s very frustrating, and COVID did not help,” she said. “We haven’t had a resolution [regarding elections], and international funders have held on to their funds, so we are really in the crisis. We don’t have a cent of funding from anywhere; everything that we do has to be generated and taken out of personal pockets to survived.”
The UBBM is currently working with a skeleton staff of volunteers. Today, Montage will travel all the way to Corentyne, Berbice to attend a domestic violence case in court, after which she will seek to facilitate the victim further.
She maintains that social services funding should never be affected by the political situation of a country. The UBBM head believes that even if such a case arises, emergency funding must be in place to cater to the social needs of society’s most vulnerable.
She stated: “Right now, our vulnerable population is exposed to extreme harm, because funding has not been secured. And that is something our political figures should be concerned about, and our international funders should understand that regardless if a government is sworn in today, there are people that do have needs and they continue. They don’t stop having needs because we’re waiting on a government, or because there is an Opposition disagreement. They have needs, and this goes across racial barriers; it goes across demographics, and across the age groups.”
On the topic of age groups, Montague said that many children are not a part of family circles which are child-friendly, and are being exposed to abuse, strenuous labour and poor nutrition.
Partnering with the Police Department on the East Coast of Demerara, UBBM has visited 250 families, which amounts to about 400 persons, providing them with food items, while simultaneously checking on their home situations. “A lot of the children are experiencing their own hardship and emotional troubles being away from their normal schooling,” Montague has observed.
WORD OF ADVICE
Leaving words of advice to individuals and families who may be affected by domestic abuse at such a time, the UBBM head urged them to remember that they are not alone. She said that her organisation and others are here to support and persons affected should not lose hope. Montague also advised that persons in tense situations which could lead to domestic violence to pursue deescalating methods until help can be received.
Interested persons can contact the organisation on 718-926-9445 or WhatsApp 592-667-4740