–First Lady tells children at World Children’s Day celebration at State House
OVER 100 children and youths celebrated World Children’s Day (WCD) on Sunday at a special event hosted at State House by the First Lady of Guyana, Arya Ali, in collaboration with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
Under the theme, “Inclusion for every child”, Guyana joined global WCD celebrations with the transformation of State House into a safe space for children and other youths who were invited to creatively express their feelings through art.
“The event was very great; I got to go and say a poem. It was very nice; I can’t believe I got to… The art pieces were beautiful; they all did a wonderful job… [It’s] something that I would want to go back and do again,” said 11-year-old Neerav Persaud, who recited the poem, “Rising”, to the assembled children and dignitaries.
The poem celebrates survival and not giving up despite challenges. The WCD event, “Therapy for mental health”, focused on mental health and participants included students, children living with disabilities, migrant children, youth advocates, and other youths, including UNICEF volunteers who provided support to the children. Art facilitators, including a therapist, peer educators, and counsellors from the Ministry of Health, were also present to lend support and share information.
In her remarks, the First Lady reminded the children that they are all very special.
“I welcome you to my home, State House, and want to let you know that you are now part of my extended family; we want you all to know that we love and appreciate you. That is why UNICEF and my Office organised this event for you,” she said.
The First Lady encouraged the children to express themselves through their art, and reminded them that they are supported.
“We were once children, too, so we know sometimes it gets hard. We know you have your own challenges, and sometimes you feel like there is no one you can talk to.
Let me remind you that we are here for you; we love you, and we want you to always remember that you are never alone. Even if you do not want to talk to us right away, talk to your friends; that is what friends are for; to support each other,” the First Lady said.
She added: “And to the parents, guardians and caregivers here today, I implore you to continue to play a meaningful role in your children’s lives. Let us ensure we provide them with adequate support to realise their true potential. The government stands ready to extend its support to ensure our children have a better life.”
UNICEF Deputy Representative Irfan Akhtar seized the opportunity to recognise young people who were courageously sharing their stories, and thanked the First Lady for being an important champion for young people, and recognising the importance of mental health.
“I want to encourage all today to let us work together to ensure that every child has the right to survive, thrive, and grow up in a safe and protective environment, including access to quality mental health and psychosocial support,” Akhtar said.
He highlighted UNICEF’s commitment to working closely with different stakeholders to invest more, and develop relevant mental health programmes and initiatives for children in Guyana.
“We recognise that we must focus not only on the clinical aspect of mental health, but a multi-sectoral approach to prevention, promotion, and care at the community and family levels,” Akhtar said.
Chairperson of the Rights of the Child Commission, Aleema Nasir highlighted that mental health is increasingly becoming an important aspect of the health and well-being of children.
“In all our outreach work over the last 10 years in the regions of Guyana, we have found, first-hand, that art therapy helps children to express how they are feeling, if there is anything that is troubling them, that that child is sad or happy, or needs help in some way,” she said, adding that adults must be ready to help children get the help he or she may need, so that difficulties being experienced are addressed properly.
UNICEF is working with various partners on mental health, and in her remarks, Cilandell Glen, Coordinator of the Adolescent Health Unit said that the activities provide children and adolescents with the tools and skills needed to not only improve their mental health and wellness, but also with opportunities to contribute positively to society.
“It is imperative that we continue to provide loving support to one another; the support we provide to each other would make the difference, would create the change, reduce the stigma and improve access to mental health services,” she said.
Sunday’s event was graced by President Dr. Irfaan Ali, who greeted and interacted with the children and other participants.
Miss World Guyana 2022, Andrea King also participated in the activity and recited the Mental Health Pledge developed by Guyanese youths.
World Children’s Day is UNICEF’s Global Day of Action for children, taking place every year on November 20, the anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
On this day, UNICEF advocates and raises awareness for the most pressing issues facing children. (UNICEF)