Giving peace a chance

Stabroek News
July 26, 2001

Kudos to the United Nations Association of Guyana! A group of volunteers, operating under its auspices, has begun conciliating and mediating in family and community disputes with a view to resolving these conflicts without the involvement of the police or the courts.

The peace counsellors have been trained in conflict prevention, management and resolution and are now geared to perform peace-making and peace-building tasks. Reminiscent of the days of old when respected village elders mediated in domestic and community disputes, these peace counsellors could be approached to resolve conflicts which would arise in the home; between neighbours; landlord and tenant; employer and employee; and as a result of race and noise nuisances, among other things.

Once their services are sought, the peace counsellors will initiate dialogue with both parties separately and together with a view to arriving at an amicable solution. If the first mediation effort fails, the counsellor involved can seek the particular (legal or other) skills of another counsellor within the group. Every effort will be exerted to ensure that calling in the police or involving litigators is avoided.

Some 30 counsellors are available in the city at present and the group will shortly be expanded to cover all ten regions of Guyana.

To publicize the service, sign boards are to be erected outside mediators' homes or places of business. Mediators will also be issued personal photo identification cards.

Public Relations Officer of the group, Herman Bholaisingh, truly recognises the magnitude of what the group could accomplish. As an officer with the Impact Base at the Brickdam Police Station, he has responded to numerous calls, which he recognised as not having required police intervention. He opined that many crimes of a violent nature could perhaps have been averted had this option been available.

This initiative is long overdue. Had these services been always available our prisons may not have been as overcrowded as they are and there may not have been such a backlog of cases in the judicial system. It must be embraced by the entire society and widely promulgated.

The names, numbers and contact address of mediators should be posted up in each community centre, hospital, church, school, health clinic - wherever people congregate. The police should be sensitised to this and be permitted to offer this option to persons who report noise nuisances and very minor infractions.

The media also has a role to play in getting the message over. Radio and television stations could publish the names of peace counsellors in the various areas as a public service announcement. Newspapers could do likewise. And as regards widening the scope of the mediation, respectable private citizens who have the time, must be encouraged to volunteer their services.

Having peace counsellors will not turn Guyana into a Utopia overnight, but it will go a long way towards helping in the healing that is so desperately needed.