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Chaguanas Chamber to tackle child abuse

Sunday, January 12, 2014
Member of the Chaguanas Chamber of Commerce from left, back row: Dr Rohit Dass, David Douglas, Richard Sirjoo, Labib Najjar, Mitin Mangray, Visham Babwah and Dr Derek Ramcharitar. Front row, from left: Baldath Maharaj, Richie Sookhai, Vishne Charran and Susana Barkley.

The Chaguanas Chamber of Industry and Commerce is planning to tackle one of the biggest social problems—child abuse. This from the president of the chamber, Richie Sookhai, who says the fight to save our young children from serious physical and mental abuse must be a national effort. 


Sookhai, a 34-year-old electrical and computer engineer, while speaking about development projects for the Central borough, explains the traffic and infrastructural systems must be upgraded in order to cope with Chaguanas’ expanding business sector.



Q: Mr Sookhai, one of the aims of your organisation is the rejuvenation of the chamber, but isn’t Chaguanas doing pretty well in the absence of the chamber?
A: (In his office at Sookhai Diesel Services in Chaguanas, Thursday morning) I wouldn’t say in the absence of the chamber, because it was always there, but we were not always proactive in some issues, so what we are doing is to revitalise and put more life back into the chamber. Our past president, Billy Ali, did a great job but we have entered a new era by bringing in young blood and we have the older heads with their experience to back us up.



In spite of the economic prosperity of Chaguanas, what are some of the problems being experienced by the business community in the borough?
(Legs crossed, seated in his chair and a quick response) Traffic. Yes, all over the country you have that situation, but it is one of our biggest problems, and surprisingly, the week before Christmas, it wasn’t that bad, but I thought it would have been worse.



How does the chamber intend to treat with this issue?
We intend to meet with all the stakeholders, including the police and the mayor’s office, to devise a workable long-term solution, because as you know people from all over the country regularly shop here and without a proper traffic plan we could run into problems associated with congested shopping areas. And great things are being planned for the borough with a billion-dollar mall in the works, as was headlined in today’s Guardian, and to facilitate this expansion in commerce, we have to put in place the required infrastructure.


Also on the drawing board is three e TecK parks for the Central area; also a 3,000 (unit) housing development is going down; the infrastructure for the UWI Open Campus is taking place. A lot of developmental projects are being planned. What about the criticism that these developments are taking place because of the advent of the PP government?


No. These plans were always there, right? For instance, this mega-mall the Guardian reported, it was four years in the making, which naturally was before the advent of the PP administration. At the same time Minister Karim has been pushing tertiary education in a big big way. Minister Rambachan has been doing an excellent job with respect to infrastructure…



Is this a free advertisement for the PP regime?
(Throwing his head back and laughingly protesting) Oh no. No. At the end of the day the chamber is not politically affiliated and members are free to support whatever party they feel to support.



What is the major challenge facing your chamber in this new term?
What we want to see accomplished is a better traffic plan and infrastructure upgrading in the borough. More stringent building regulations. Flooding is being facilitated whenever rain falls by people throwing debris into watercourses. And I want to give new Mayor Bhoodan kudos for placing a lot of blue rubbish bins right through Chaguanas from the market to schools…



Why blue, Mr Sookhai, and not yellow?
(Throwing his hands in the air, another burst of laugher) I think Chaguanas’ colour is blue...we have neutral bins, right?



Which plans will be given priority?
Our board is meeting this afternoon to discuss those plans, so I don’t want to give that information without the board’s consent, okay? However, I have some ideas I would like us to pursue…


Such as?
I would want us to partner with the Chaguanas Corporation and launch a vigorous anti-child abuse campaign. Daily we are reading about the horrific acts that are being perpetuated on our young children who are in fact our future leaders. We are aware of what the Government is doing in this regard and I strongly feel that we should come together as one people to fight this scourge which is child abuse. We would like to launch it around the end of this month or early in February.



Have you as an organisation been able to ascertain the extent of this problem in Chaguanas?
To be honest with you, we are going by what the newspapers and other arms of the media have been carrying on this sordid and inhumane matter, and from what we are gathering from the media, you would realise this is a nationwide plague. God put us here to love and protect these innocent children and not be instruments of serious danger to them.


And remember that child abuse is conducted behind closed doors: nobody knows until the victim or victims are found in a barrel or what have you, only then you would know that the child was being abused and in most cases the perpetrators are related to the hapless victim.



What are some of the things you hope to achieve by this campaign?
Ultimately a drastic reduction, if not the total eradication of this ghastly attack on the nation’s young  ones. Also, to bring an awareness to the children about what they can do...also teachers can look clearly for the signs of child abuse. You cannot tell me that you are seeing a child every day and your instincts cannot tell you that a child is undergoing some kind of distress?


Teachers must have some kind of indication that something is not right. And you don’t have to be harsh on the child. Speak with them in a compassionate and gentle manner and they will open up to you, because deep inside they want to tell somebody about what they are going through, particularly at the hands of relatives or even friends. Religious leaders must also play their part and we at the Chaguanas Chamber would see how that campaign is going and we will take it from there.



It is not just that the chamber is concerned about ensuring your members make profits by the millions but also to let the general public know there is a social conscience among the business community?
No. No. We are not just concerned about making millions for our members, right?



But nevertheless, you are making millions? 
(Laughs) Mr Raphael, some people feel the chamber is only for big business. That is not true. Even if you are a street vendor—not illegal residents from other Caribbean countries—and you qualify, you can become a member.


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