Last Friday, October 30, 2015, the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) and the Guyana Equality Forum (GEF) officially closed the Civil Society Public Policy Advocacy Training Programme, following two three-day workshops at the Regency Suites Hotel, Georgetown, over the past two months.
In providing an overview of the project, Caribbean Public Policy research and Training Consultant, Deborah Nurse shared that, “the project, which started eight months ago, commenced with a research phase consisting of two components.  The first component included a data gathering element designed to be an input into the training phase; it served to ascertain the policy objectives, existing capacities, needs, challenges and training/skill needs of GEF member and partner organizations.  The second component was a mapping study, which was designed to document governmental policy and decision-making processes in Guyana.  The information gleaned from the baseline and mapping studies was used to design the Civil Society Public Policy Advocacy Training Programme.”The project was essentially designed to contribute towards the equitable treatment of all peoples in Guyana by supporting efforts to strengthen the participation of vulnerable persons and their representative organisations through SASOD and the GEF in decision-making processes of the state.
The entire training programme provided an intensive and focused introduction to the principles and practices of effective public policy advocacy. It focused on how to conduct evidence-based advocacy and how to strategically communicate with decision makers.  There was a practical component to the training, which allowed participants to conduct ‘strategic inquiry’ – or intelligence gathering – with politicians and other key decision makers on issues that they were advocating for.  Nurse highlighted that, “there are some very important and exciting policy issues that participants focused on such as: Key human rights and equality issues that should be included in the government’s upcoming Gender  Policy; Increasing access to physical, sexual and mental health services in hinterland communities; Amending the Prevention of Discrimination Act 1997 to include sexual orientation and gender identity as grounds for discrimination; and Repealing the laws criminalizing same-sex intimacy and cross-dressing laws, in Guyana.”
In closing, Nurse, on behalf of the entire training team, expressed thanks to SASOD and the Delegation of the European Union to Guyana for the opportunity to facilitate the training and noted that the team looks forward to the policy interventions and changes that will be occurring in Guyana.”
Special Remarks were given by Bishop Francis Alleyne, Head of the Roman Catholic Church in Guyana, who lauded SASOD and the GEF participants who were in the training programme and for stepping forward and availing themselves to increase their capacity to give voice to vulnerable groups in Guyana. He also remembered Zenita Temall Nicholson and her passion for working with vulnerable groups. He noted that their conversations were for the most part about the vulnerability of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LBGT) community in Guyana.
“Zenita did her research, had data at her fingertips, she knew the statistics and was a great help to me in widening my picture of life.  She was on the ground, near to some of the harsh realities that touch people’s lives, nearer than I was.  In one of our last conversations she offered to take me to see the places where people suffer, places to which people are relegated because there is no room for them either in the systems, in the public policies or in the minds and hearts of others. Zenita was articulate, had an ability as it were to market the issues, make them known, put them into words that were more palatable and in that way to bring more people into the conversation.  I will miss her and miss those moments.”
In closing Bishop Francis urged the participants to continue to advance their knowledge and skills. He noted that he hopes that they continue to seek ways to take up the mantle that was carried by Zenita, and still carried by others to give voice. “The society needs more people who believe in the art of the possible, it needs more people who are disposed to ask, listen and learn, more people fluent in the language of respect, integrity and sacredness,” he added.
Ambassador Jernej Videtič, Head of Delegation of the European Union to Guyana, delivered the feature address. “The European Union is proud to have provided financial assistance to SASOD in order to strengthen the Public Policy Advocacy skills of the directors and members of different non-governmental organizations represented here today. I furthermore want to congratulate the different participants on their efforts made during this training which will be of important use in their future work. Last but not least, I want to compliment the trainers for the programme they created for the benefit of the participants,” he stated. Ambassador Videtič emphasised that, “the protection of vulnerable groups in society is high on the human rights agenda of the European Union, and cannot be reached without the efforts made by NGOs such as those here today.
Advocacy is an important element in this process and must be exercised with the intention of building strong relationships with different key players in order to positively influence decision-making and strengthen democracy.” He noted that the training programme is a very good example of partnership and coexistence that will benefit all the participating NGOs. The Ambassador highlighted that the European Union believes in the importance of combining forces in order to stand strong and united and reach common goals together. In concluding, he urged the APNU+AFC government to strengthen its relationship with civil society for the betterment of all its citizens.
“Guyana and its new Government, I am certain will in the future keep working towards a strong society in which all of its citizens are treated equally, without discrimination of any kind. I want to conclude with putting into words my hope that you, as representatives of civil society will keep joining forces in order to facilitate these important changes.”
SASOD’s Social Change Coordinator, Chelauna Providence delivered the vote of thanks expressing gratitude to the European Union in Guyana for their continuous support towards the advancement of human rights through strengthening civil society in Guyana and for funding the Guyanese Vulnerable Communities Capacities Strengthening Project. She also thanked the civil society participants in the GEF for remaining committed to the two-part training programme.
Twenty-six civil society representatives from NGOs in Georgetown, Berbice, Essequibo and Linden completed the two-part training programme and were certified. The participants reported that they have learned valuable new skills, developed important new relationships with key stakeholders, and gained a greater understanding of the complexities and challenges of effective participation in Guyana’s public policy processes.