What if we all lived by this mantra: “Stand up for, speak up for and offer a helping hand to those who need it”? For the founders and volunteers of Raise Your Voice INC Saint Lucia (RYVslu), doing so “on behalf of women and children who are victims of gender-based violence” is not just a mantra but amongst daily rituals.
Down to the very last day of 2017, a time when most attempted to wipe the slate clean of old news to make way for the new, RYVslu remained insistent that we not forget the case of Saadia Byron, whose lifeless body was discovered near her home on November 11, 2017. The group noted that her murderer has yet to be arrested and that “the evidence kit collected at the site where she was brutally killed and buried has not been sent for forensic analysis”. The organisation’s continued activism builds and maintains consciousness of the tumultuous world of our vulnerable women and children and highlights the plight of victims and their families who are habitually neglected by society and authorities when the dust from crimes settles.
Although it often seems like the women at the head of the wheel churning for change, namely Catherine Sealys, Edith Petra Jeffrey-Nelson and Esther Greene Earnest, along with their respective teams, are left to fight on their own, the old saying, “We give what we get” seems to have played a hand in their fortune. The group announced on January 1, 2018 that, in an act of generousity, someone, who prefers anonymity, had recently donated an entire building in support of their cause. Grateful for the gesture, RYVslu’s members claim the new facility will be a base of operations and will house, “counselling for victims of gender-based violence, fundraising, food distribution, intake to provide legal aid, victims’ aid, mentoring, referrals to social services agencies, assistance to access services at government agencies for women and children, and advocacy”.
No longer will they be required to operate from home or drive to individuals in need of assistance – which in some cases meant multiple trips in a day. Now, they will provide transportation fees to those who need to access their expertise and facilities, thus maximizing productivity.
While things are looking up for the organisation, it has called for further generosity from fellow, capable Saint Lucians. In order for the new building, on Manuel Street, to become operational, major renovation needs to take place. Volunteers are needed to perform painting,floor tiling, plumbing, electrical rewiring, decorating, amongst a long list of other repairs.
According to RYVslu, the efforts put forth through volunteerism last year have yielded positive results but uncovered some unfortunate realities. For instance, on December 10, the group saw the end of its “16 days of Activism” which included workshops and seminars across the island; it left them “feeling good” about the raised level of awareness among women and men on issues of gender-based violence but, according to a correspondent from the organisation, there is “no progress with regards to legislative successes…” RYVslu is also still waiting on the Gender Relations Minister to “even speak on women’s issues, much less take action on the following: … women in common law relationships cannot inherit from their partners; the partners assets, by law, go to parents or the oldest surviving sibling. Children born from common law relationships are called illegitimate, according to the civil code. Victims of domestic violence must expressly state they want to file charges, no matter how severe the physical harm, and must be physically present in court to face their abusers, no matter how emotionally jolting the experience is likely to be.” These are amongst concerns that the organisation hopes to see immediately addressed by government and relevant authorities.
As for 2018’s plans, the group is currently working on a number of programmes but awaits approvals from prospective funders. With the sort of year Saint Lucia saw in 2017 – significant increases in various forms of crime including the highest number of murders ever recorded – efforts to address the uglier sides of life in paradise deserve to be encouraged, commended and supported.
To volunteer with Raise Your Voice INC Saint Lucia call +1 758 487 2329 or email email@example.com. For more information visit http://ryvslu.org .