Beware, Imbalance. BALANCE IS ON THE RISE!

~Queen Afua

I believe it to be true that nothing happens by chance. EVERYTHING is a divine incident according to divine order.

About four years ago in a workshop I was asked to choose a song that represents me and my life. A few weeks ago a gentlemen from the workshop who I haven’t seen since then saw me and said: “I remember your song”. It was Lou Rawls “One Life to Live”.

Barbara Brown Taylor in one of my favourite new books “Learning to Walk in the Dark” asks “What’s saving you?” Music saves me! From the tunes of Ledisi, India Arie, Mali Music, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Queen Ifrica to Lou Rawls.

Often on Facebook life can always seem only like one big party and celebration. Life IS a celebration! But…

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The Art of Wellness

The Art of Wellness

By Sherlina Nageer On August 21, 2015 In Daily,Features

{This column is in commemoration of Carifesta which first took place in Guyana in 1972.}

One of the regrets of my life is that I don’t have more artistic talent. Tell me to draw something and you’ll get stick figures. Compel me to sing and rain might start falling. I love the arts though- whether it’s live music, paintings, dance, etc- there is something about art that soothes and calms the soul. (That’s not to say however that art cannot or should not be provocative or shocking- that is also appreciated for engaging the intellect and senses in another way.) Art has long been a part of human society- remember those prehistoric cave paintings? Aside from just being a form of self-expression however, art also has significant positive effects on human health and wellbeing.

Art- specifically musical engagement, visual art therapy, movement-based creative expression, and expressive writing- has been shown to have significant therapeutic effects in people suffering from a variety of illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, HIV, chronic pain, depression, grief, and aging. Art aided healing, reduced stress, and increased wellness, as well as sped up individual’s recovery from surgery, interpersonal violence, and other trauma. Engaging with art was also shown to help relieve some of the burden that caregivers and healthcare professionals can experience.

People exposed to art therapy needed less medication, healed faster, and were discharged from hospital earlier than others. Even just passively listening to music reduced stress hormone levels in persons with cardiovascular disease. Movement-based therapy improved the cognitive functioning of elderly people. Creative writing and visual art therapy helped people better process traumatic events in their lives- from violence or abuse, to being diagnosed with a chronic, terminal, or life-threatening condition. The evidence is clear- engaging with artistic activities, either as an observer of the creative efforts of others or by making creative efforts oneself, can enhance one’s moods, emotions, and mental state while having a significant positive impact on physical health.

This impact cannot be overemphasized; stress and anxiety are significant contributory factors to many chronic diseases so anything that relaxes and lessens tension and increases quality of life should be embraced as a preventative health measure. (Of course, that does not negate the need for exercise, a healthy diet etc.) In fact, the World Health Organization defines health as the state of “complete physical, mental, and social well-being rather than merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” As such, promoting wellness is as important as treating or preventing disease. In environments like Guyana where there are high levels of stress, interpersonal violence, depression, suicide, mental illness and chronic disease- it is necessary to investigate all possible ways of boosting health and wellness. Art- as both therapy and prevention- offers benefits on multiple levels.

Integrating art therapy in the healthcare setting need not be prohibitively expensive- simple things like painting murals on ward walls, providing soothing music and creative movement activities to residents of the Palms and National Psychiatric Hospital, and integrating creative therapy in existing counseling practices have large rewards in terms of improving persons’ wellbeing and quality of life while being relatively easy, low-tech, and straightforward to accomplish.

Aside from therapy, art is essential for creating meaning, improving understanding of self and others, communicating ideas, and building community. These are key pillars of wellbeing and a healthy society. Engaging in artistic endeavours is one way to learn about and bond with others who may be different from you; this is crucial in multiethnic societies like ours. It is also essential to developing positive self-esteem and community pride- things we desperately need more of in Guyana today, things that promote resilience and can help prevent violence- both individually and communally. Art- because it has the capacity to engage more than one of our senses at one time- is extremely impactful and can be used to reach and educate others and communicate ideas in ways that other mediums cannot.

There will, of course, be many different definitions of what is worthy art- such debates are part of what makes the arts so stimulating. By learning to respect others’ opinions and deal with criticism, artists hone their craft as well as their social skills, becoming better able to communicate their thoughts and ideas, while simultaneously serving as inspirational examples and contributing to the national fabric. Art is also a way of reflecting on and interrogating events- both personal and broader in scope. For all these reasons, art is revolutionary.

Part of the revolutionary aspect of art is the fact that it is for everyone. Art need not continue to be seen as the province of only a talented few; there are many different avenues to explore. Storytelling- something which many Guyanese excel at- is an art form. Photography is another, which has increased in popularity with recent technological advances. Art also need not be an expensive endeavour; there are materials all around us- from natural to recycled sources. All that is needed is imagination.

There also needs to be more art in the public domain. Art is not just for the gallery or Cultural Centre; we need art in the streets of our communities, interactive and accessible to everyone. We need murals of our heroes and heroines on the storefronts, poetry readings in the park, sculptures that are more than mounds of garbage, music without a foreign accent, stories of our unique and common heritage. In short, we need art as much as we need oxygen.

We must realize the importance of art in helping to create a strong and healthy society and we must provide more opportunities for youth, in particular, to find their creative voice. We need to foster more appreciation for creative expression and to invest in and compensate cultural creatives fairly for the work they do. With more art and artists in our midst, our people and society will be happier, healthier, and more cohesive, with less need for doctors. This is soul medicine; let us create it.

Sherlina can be contacted at

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Normalizing Extinction

every day, the struggle…

Kenn Orphan

IMG_1190A few years back I had the good fortune of visiting the rainforest in a remote part of Panama. I stayed in a small cabin at an ecolodge with the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea just steps away. There were no televisions, no internet access, and no phones or electricity, except in the main house. In back of the lodge was a trail that meandered through a dense forest brimming with tree frogs, sloths, iguanas, leaf cutter ants, and countless species of birds hopping from branch to branch. Just a couple feet into the water and I counted dozens of bright orange sea stars. And at night the sea shore came alive with biolumeniscent dinoflagellates, who would respond to my flashlight signals in short bursts of blue-green neon. The abundance of life in that tiny corner of the world crowded out most signals of modern civilization.

IMG_1195But, as with…

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Disconnect to Reconnect: Reduce Screen Time for Increased Health and Wellbeing

Who doesn’t have a cellphone these days? Being cellphone-less is akin to either being a member of some uncontacted tribe or other societal misfit. Ask many people what they want and their answer would be the newest phone (nevermind food, justice, or a safe, healthy environment). Heck, it seems like even babies are now crawling out the womb with phones clenched in their tiny fists. The same goes for televisions and computers- many homes nowadays have at least one, if not more, of these devices.

Technology is great indeed. Television provides hours of entertainment (some of which can be educational), and computers are increasingly necessary in many spheres of our work and lives. With the invention of cellphones, our ability to communicate with each other increased significantly (theoretically, at least. We still have to find the right words to say, as well as the guts to speak up sometimes..).  It’s not enough to just have a cellphone though; now those phone must be ‘smartphones’- capable of surfing the internet on the road, taking pictures and recording video, playing music, games, and a host of other functions.

One thing that gets my attention is the way that children- increasingly younger in age- seem to be fascinated with this technology. Suckling babes now lock eyes with the phone screen instead of their mamas, and toddlers barely mastering motor skills speedily access apps. In fact, many parents now use their phone to soothe, entertain, and distract a fussy child, in much the same way that television is/was used. Dealing with fretful children can be very stressful indeed, and it is understandable that caregivers would want to turn to electronic devices to help them cope. However, there are compelling reasons to resist this and to limit the amount of ‘screen time’- time spent in front of a television, computer, as well as, increasingly now, ‘smartphone’-  that children are exposed to.

Today, the average child spends over five hours in front of some sort of screen. While computers may be useful for researching and completing school assignments, and there may be some educational TV programs and applications on smartphones, the fact is that the health and wellbeing of many children today is negatively affected by large amounts of screen time. From concerns about cellphones and brain tumors to increased risk of becoming overweight and obese, links between media violence and aggressive behavior, as well as reduced emotional intelligence- the negative effects of technology on children are overwhelming.

There’s some concern that cellphone use may be linked to cancer- specifically brain tumors. Cellphones do emit a type of electromagnetic (EM) radiation, but this is similar to the radiation from other common sources such as microwave ovens which have not been shown to be cancer-causing. However, EM radiation can be absorbed by tissues close to the source and some studies have shown differences between brain tissue on the side of the head where a cellphone was primarily used, compared to the opposite side.

An increase in one type of brain cancer (glioma) was found in one study among participants with heavy cellphone usage. Although this study was deemed inconclusive, in 2011 the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)- an arm of the World Health Organization- classified radiofrequency fields emitted by cellphones as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” The IARC called for more studies but recommended that persons take precautionary measures in the meantime such as using ear pieces and avoiding frequent cellphone use. Because children’s brains are still developing and because earlier cellphone use means more years of exposure to EM radiation, the IARC also recommended limiting children’s cellphone use.

While the jury is still out about the possible link between cellphone use and cancer, the other concerns about children’s screen time are much more scientifically valid. Numerous studies from around the world have found a clear association between children’s screen time and their risk of becoming overweight/obese. A policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics cites the fact that children often swap physical activity for sitting in front of the television or computer, as well as the fact that much of the advertising on television is for ‘fast’ and ‘junk’ food- often high fat/sugar items with little nutritional value. Television watching not only encourages snacking and mindless overconsumption of these foods but also plays a large role in shaping children’s dietary preferences. With advances in technology, such advertising is also now reaching children via cellphone.

Television and computer/video games also expose children to large amounts of violent content. There are over 800 acts of violence per hour in most television programs, and up to 20 per hour in children’s programs such as cartoons. Mimicking of violent behaviors seen on screen is common, with children- especially those under 4 years of age- being less able to differentiate between virtual and ‘real’ life. They can become desensitized when exposed to violence on a regular basis, coming to view it as normal and a good method of conflict resolution.

Racist and sexist attitudes embedded within tv programs and computer games is also a concern as constant, unchallenged exposure to such attitudes can shape children’s perceptions of themselves and others in negative ways. Lastly, too much screen time affects children’s emotional intelligence- their ability to comprehend emotions and communicate and interact positively with others. One study published last year in the journal Computers in Human Behavior found that pre-teen children who went five days without exposure to technology were significantly better at reading human emotions than kids who had regular access to phones, televisions and computers.

Technology is here to stay, for better or worse. We have to figure out how to best engage with it, and use it in positive ways, instead of let it hurt our vulnerable children. Limiting and monitoring children’s screen time is necessary, as well as encouraging more engagement with the real world and each other. For in the end, better health and wellness comes first and foremost from improved human – human interaction.

Sherlina can be contacted at

The Lion and The Donkey (and the smiling killers)

Petchary's Blog

The title sounds like that of an Aesop’s fable. I remember well those stories I read as a child. They were simply told but with a strong message that stayed with you. You might also call this a moral tale. However, the Lion and the Donkey are only loosely connected by the coincidence of time, and certainly not by distance. Yet, if you think about it you may discern some similarities.

In this undated photo provided by the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Cecil the lion rests in Hwange National Park, in Hwange, Zimbabwe. Two Zimbabweans arrested for illegally hunting a lion appeared in court Wednesday, July 29, 2015. The head of Zimbabwe’s safari association said the killing was unethical and that it couldn’t even be classified as a hunt, since the lion killed by an American dentist was lured into the kill zone. (Andy Loveridge/Wildlife Conservation Research Unit via AP) In this undated photo provided by the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Cecil the lion rests in Hwange National Park, in Hwange, Zimbabwe. Two Zimbabweans arrested for illegally hunting a lion appeared in court Wednesday, July 29, 2015. The head of Zimbabwe’s safari association said the killing was unethical and that it couldn’t even be classified as a hunt, since the lion killed by an American dentist was lured into the kill zone. (Andy Loveridge/Wildlife Conservation Research Unit via AP)

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