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Pull Quote – “In a moment our life can be taken, so we must make our time on earth count in every way.” By Gary EleazarBeing sworn in as Minister of Education by President Donald RamotarThe year 2011 will go down in the annals of Guyana’s history as an interesting one for many reasons. There were high points and low points for the year which was made even more interesting by a few individuals, some of whom contributed significantly and selflessly towards the upliftment of their homeland.On the political scene there was a historic election along with the classic tit-for-tat between the Ministers of Government and their shadow colleagues, and lively yet sometimes hollow debates in the National Assembly.Some of the Cabinet Ministers have been accused by the Opposition Parties as well as other sections of society of a host of things not limited to illegality and downright corruption. However, there was one who from the beginning who has always managed to elude chastisement and deservedly so.Priya Devi Manickchand’s term as Human Services and Social Security Minister came to an end a few weeks ago and based on her stellar performance she was upgraded/promoted to Minister of Education.Entering the political scene in 2006 as one of the youngest Ministers anywhere in the world, Manickchand has undoubtedly made a significant impact on the lives of literally thousands of Guyanese and not always with the fanfare and press publicity.Now married and with a young daughter she has over the years been at the helm of a Ministry with responsibility for dealing mainly with the vulnerable groups in Guyana. For anyone that knows or had any form of interaction with this young Minister they would quickly relate to you that she is one of the most down-to-earth and humble persons.For all of the achievements that she has had at the helm of the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security Priya Manickchand insists that she merely continued and finished where others left off and further there is still a lot to be done at the Ministry. She emphasises that she was part of a team that had an excellent blueprint and she merely executed what she was tasked with.Manickchand operates on a wavelength some would term,Michael Taylor Jersey, “above and beyond the call of duty.” As a result of her stint at the Ministry of Human Services, the landscape for the nation’s vulnerable children, elderly, poor people, the disabled and particularly women, has forever been changed in a positive light.Manickchand said that during her tenure in that designation, it was through consultations across the country that the Ministry was able to include the people of Guyana in the decision making process and it even embarked on things that had never been previously envisaged. Many needs of the Guyanese people were realized through the outreach approach that the Ministry had assumed under her guidance.In the words of the modest servant of the people, everything that was achieved at the Ministry – from the smallest input into the life of one single Guyanese to some of the more eye-catching events that caught the attention of the media, “every-single thing was really important to bring together the workings of the Ministry.”She explained that it is not just clearing off a checklist in terms of, “oh we promised this, check and it’s done….it was more about what we were doing for the lives on the ground and putting the most important things into perspective.”In terms of the elderly, Manickchand believes that streamlining the pension system was a sterling achievement. The ruling Peoples Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) Administration had removed what was called a ‘means test’ which had been in place by the previous administration and as such every person over the age of 65 became eligible for pension.Manickchand acknowledges that it was not the easiest of programmes to have streamlined conceding too that, “we had problems with getting it out on time…our service was not as kind as it could have been.”When it comes to the children of Guyana, under Manickchand’s watch there was a record number of interventions from the highest level in the form of modern legislation to the simple taking care of a child in need of care. She said that one of the areas that she was able to see immediate benefits to children was with the establishment of what was then called the Childcare Protection Unit.Although it seemingly took forever to Manickchand, as a result of the various consultations and other initiatives that had to be undertaken, eventually a record seven Bills were passed in the National Assembly which were subsequently assented and enacted into law.The Protection of Children Act, The Adoption of Children Act, The Status of Children Act, The Childcare and Development Services Act, The Custody, Contact, Guardianship and Maintenance of Children Act were all passed under her watch.Manickchand also managed to get through the National Assembly the Childcare and Protection Agency Act which in turn established that Agency with its own rules, regulations and governing legislation making it at present an almost autonomous body devoted to the sole purpose of Childcare and Protection of Children.The pieces of legislation that she spoke of can be described as revolutionary in their outlook and objectives.Manickchand explained that one such piece of legislation that deals with the Status of Children deals with a topic that most persons don’t necessarily like to discuss.“What happens to a child who is born out of marriage…what is his or her status?” The question is an important one because there are laws that cater for how children born to a wedded couple are treated but what about those crudely referred to as “bastards?”Further she queried “what is the status of a child born by test-tube procedures…this is our child, this is Guyana’s child!”The mandatory provisions for children born out of wedlock were not clearly defined in the laws of Guyana,James Conner Jersey, despite the prevalent existence of this phenomenon, and for Manickchand this was something that had to be addressed.She was forced to question where such a child would fit into the scheme of things in terms of inheritance and other such instances where children born in wedlock were clearly defined.Manickchand spoke of the genesis of the adoption of children and said that she was eager enough to ensure that the process was made friendlier for the children and the persons interested in adopting a child.“Protection of Children was a huge piece of legislation for me because it really defined how we are going to go forward as a nation.”She speculates that two decades from now persons will not be seeking to talk to her about the piece of legislation but the nation as a whole would be able to see its benefits.Manickchand spoke of the obligations of service providers such as teachers, police and social workers among others as it relates to children adding that “so often we hear people say that oh, I am only the teacher, and it is not my responsibility.”This is a thing of the past now, because the legislation which was piloted by Minister Manickchand now places obligations on persons such as teachers and pastors, among others, to have to disclose information that they may know in relation to a child being in harm’s way. There is the classic case of Neesa Gopaul, a troubled teen, who despite some officials knowing such information, was still brutally murdered.“We said no you don’t have confidentiality when it relates to a child being in jeopardy.”Manickchand also spearheaded the establishment of the Childcare and Protection Unit which commenced with just five persons who were tasked with dealing with a range of matters relating to children, but this soon became an Agency with its own Law.Under Mission Child Protection, an entire home was built to remove children from the streets, and at present this facility houses and provides care for more than 80 children, with a capacity for more than 150.“For me the establishment of the Childcare and Protection Unit and then the Agency was hugely, hugely important…I saw immediate results from that particular intervention…we saw lives change right before our very eyes.”She said that some of the children that they had assisted through that intervention could have probably ended up at the New Opportunity Corps, “and God knows where!”This, Manickchand reflected, was achieved not with little endeavour as “there was a lot of effort put into it by the officers…we saw the results almost instantaneously.”In terms of women, Manickchand reflected that one of the interventions that she would herald as being massively successful would be the Women of Worth (WOW) Programme. This is a programme where the Ministry teamed up with the Guyana Bank for Trade and Industry to provide loans for Low Income Single Parent women without having to put up collateral. Those targeted in this programme fell into criteria that allowed for them to establish or expand on a small business which would in turn assist their entire family.This was a crucial venture,Authentic LeBron James Cavaliers Jersey, as according to Manickchand, women make up half of the world’s population but control a minimal amount of world’s wealth, “and in Guyana it is no different….You don’t have assets, you don’t have a car or a bus or a house to put up as collateral to borrow some money.”This she says leaves a vicious cycle where the woman is in a position to not be able to borrow any money to assist, even if it is to expand a small catering business or a modest stall selling small items at the front of her home hereby continuing, “this vicious cycle of repetitive poverty.”This is another programme that Manickchand says that she was able to witness change before her very eyes.Already more than 2000 women have accessed this facility,Mack Hollins Jersey, and in the case of defaulters on repayment, Manickchand said that it was a simple case of not just providing the women with the money, but the Ministry also assisted them in properly utilizing the money,cheap nfl jerseys, thereby allowing them to be in a position to repay so that others could access the fund.“It has changed the way they live their lives,” Manickchand asserted, adding that “it has also allowed for the children to have their lives positively impacted as well as in some cases other dependants.”One of the more significant contributions that Priya Manickchand has also made is spearheading the passage of the Sexual Offence Act. She said that this process has seen Guyana move from a place where conversations could be had using words like ‘sex’, and ‘penis’ without evoking giggling and rather deal with the darker sides of sexual offences towards the benefit of all.“We have now become a country where more easily…to a point… we can discuss these issues.”Manickchand recalls that when she first embarked on the journey, persons were afraid “to look at me straight in the eyes to talk about sex and rape and the other ugly phenomena that exist, and that the Act had to entail”.Speaking to growth of a country that is not always easily defined, Manickchand says that Guyana is now at a place where “we see people holding placards and saying this must stop…we see people speaking up…it is not an issue that we are hiding from as much as in the past.”She said that when persons can speak out on these issues then there could be help, even as she pointed to the fact that there is an increased number of reports of rape.Manickchand is of the opinion that this is not because there is an increase in rapes but rather it is now that persons are more inclined to make a report if this heinous act is committed.“The fact that we are seeing more and more reports should tell us about the kind of success that we have had because of the countrywide conversation that we have had on this issue.”These are some of the interventions that Manickchand believes that were big undertakings under her watch at the Ministry and for which the country will continue to see results from for many, many years to come.She has also been able to expand Legal Aid Services to cover the majority of Guyana, inclusive of the hinterland, and even now provide for children to access legal services among a host of other contributions.But what exactly drives this young professional woman to have achieved what she has, despite having no experience in politics or the inner workings of a Government.Manickchand says that she is not sure that she can isolate any one trait that motivates her, but what she knows is that she is a very results-oriented kind of person, in that as long as she is handed a task, she can be able to project what she wants in terms of results for that particular task for 10, 15 or 20 years in the future.In what could be deemed as advice to fellow servants of the public, Manickchand states that she firmly believes that if ever there comes a time when a person is not feeling motivated to do what they are required to do then take a walk out of the office and meet the people that benefit from what you do or for whom you serve.“Get up,NFL Jerseys Outlet, get out of your office and go talk to people…it’s easy after a couple of months to get tired because it is a tiring job or it is easy to get bogged down.”She says that whenever she encounters someone who has directly benefited or has been positively impacted as a result of something she has done, “that for me is all the motivation in the world.”Manickchand stresses that she feels frustrated and lethargic if she cannot accomplish the desired results, but says that she relies on patience in order to see real benefits being directed to the people of the nation. She added that being Minister for Human Services and Social Security has forever made her a better person and that she has over the years had numerous memorable experiences that she will forever cherish.She reflected on a memorable moment when as Human Services Minister she along with others from the Ministry, through a collective effort, were able to place a single parent mother of six children in a decent home of their own.During her tenure she tried her utmost to avail assistance to the family and was elated when it was just about time for her to demit office in November that she was able to hand over the keys to a new home to the family.  This she recalled was done “out of the limelight” without the presence of the media and was certainly not intended to score political points.Now tasked with heading the Ministry of Education she is confronted with the realization that it is no easy task, but assures that she will work to the best of her abilities, together with the stellar staff at the Ministry, to take the nation’s education sector to new heights.“In a moment our life can be taken so we must make our time on earth count in every way.”
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