Marva Langevine: Guyana Golden Lives Organization
By Marva Langevine, founder of Guyana Golden Lives Organization.
My name is Marva Langevine. I am a teacher and the founder of Guyana Golden Lives Organization. I grew up in a village called Den-Amstel in Guyana and migrated to Barbados as a teenager to live with my mother and attend high school. I always loved theatre, arts and modelling, and was keen to let my passions be known to my new classmates! Because of this, I was first seen as the strange and loud foreign classmate, but my love for poetry and fashion inspired me to stay true to myself and ultimately contributed to the many great connections and friendships I made throughout those years.
Despite enjoying my time in Barbados, I missed my home in Guyana and, after graduating in 2009, I had a burning desire to return and make a positive impact to the country I‘d grown up in. I wasn't sure what I was going to do but I just had this feeling that I was going to become a changemaker. To get the ball rolling, I decided to train to become a teacher. My love for children grew and I became a mentor to those who needed further encouragement. This sparked something in me, and it wasn’t long before my changemaker desires took a clearer direction.
The moment I discovered my purpose happened in the most unexpected way. I was preparing to compete in the Miss World Guyana Pageant in 2016 and was thinking of a cause to highlight for my ‘Beauty With A Purpose’ project, which was part of the competition process. I had a few ideas, but I thought that there were already enough organizations doing great work for each of them. I wanted my project to help scope out those that didn’t yet have a support network. At a loss, I paused for a few minutes and said a prayer. Almost instantly, the name “Mikiesha” popped up in my thoughts.
Mikiesha was a dear friend who died from a rare form of cancer in 2014. I spent every afternoon at the hospital with her during her final months here on earth. She was the mother of two beautiful boys, who were one and four years old when she died. She left a little booklet containing all her hopes and dreams for them. After her death, I made a promise to fulfil at least one wish from that book.
When her name appeared in my thoughts, I didn't understand at first, but that evening it became clear. I decided to get on my laptop and typed in “what happens to children after their parent/s die”. I sat there for hours reading through articles on childhood bereavement awareness – the first time I had even heard about such a thing. That night was the moment I discovered my purpose. I had found a cause that I felt immediately connected to and by finding something that was close to home, it just fuelled my passion. I believe this was a vision from God and I give him all the glory. There is also a scripture which states that true religion entails being there for the fatherless and widows in their time of distress, which I also found poignant.
That year I used my place in the pageant to launch my Childhood Bereavement Awareness project, which was committed to educating as many people as possible about the impact of death and loss on children, and pledged to create the appropriate services needed to provide comfort and hope. I did not win the pageant that year, but I won the ‘Beauty With A Purpose’ Award for my project - the first of its kind in Guyana.
Beginning Guyana Golden Lives Organization
After the pageant, I knew I had to continue my ‘Beauty With A Purpose’ project. I renamed it to Guyana Golden Lives Organization, but maintained the core objectives of raising awareness on the impact of grief and loss in childhood and providing support for bereaved families. The support services include everything from mentorship and support groups through to scholarships, home visits and retreats. Our vision is always to help grieving children “grow, cope and develop”.
When I first started out, I spent a lot of time and personal funds to create spaces where people were willing to have conversations about grief. Death is a taboo topic in the Caribbean and people are often uncomfortable talking about how they feel, so many of my initiatives were initially met with a lot of rejection. One of those initiatives was a camp for children and teens. I wanted to create a safe space where young people could express themselves and receive comfort, guidance and hope. It was an ‘unknown' area, and getting volunteers and garnering the support from businesses - and even the surviving parents - was a tough task. They either didn't understand, were unable to see the importance of the work or just felt too uncomfortable talking about it.
Kind donations from a few supporters in the diaspora and local community, along with help from friends and family members, successfully helped fund the camp. Thankfully, my friends and mentors who are trained in the field of social work volunteered for the camp as mentors. The camp was amazing. The children shared their stories, laughed, cried and learnt valuable lessons. During that time, I saw the campers express their feelings without being afraid. They all left with bright smiles on their faces and hope for the journey ahead.
Buoyed by the positive impact the camp had made to so many bereaved children, I journeyed into communities to educate people about coping with grief and how to provide appropriate support for children. Being a teacher, I planned a ‘grief in the classroom’ workshop and was able to facilitate this workshop with other teachers from several schools in my region.
Eventually, people started seeing the importance of this cause and started to champion our work. It was difficult but I never gave up. I am incredibly proud of the work I have achieved so far; the growth and impact of my organization on the lives of the bereaved families we work with will always remain the most important thing to me.
For us, the future is big and bright, and I would like to grow Guyana Golden Lives Organizaton to have various grief support and awareness hubs across the Caribbean. I would also love to train to become a qualified grief counsellor.
Young people are the future
I believe it is important for young people to be seen as leaders in their own right because they are capable, creative and passionate about what they do. The world is changing, and, excitingly, young people are taking up spaces they were never traditionally allowed to be in.
My three tips for young people with great ideas but may not know how to make them a reality are:
1. Read, read and read some more. Do your research and become familiar with everything about your area of interest. This gives you that extra push to take action.
2. Start small, get creative and network. Do this with whatever resources you have. Even if it is $1 and a small space. Don’t stop talking because that will help you to build a strong network.
3. Invest in yourself. Make sure you write down your personal definition of leadership and keep reviewing it. Great ideas on their own will not make you a great leader. Invest in yourself as much as you would do for your idea and you will achieve everything you set out to do.
My motto is “Be A Mentor, Make A Difference”. I hope you are motivated to do the same thing.
Follow the work of Guyana Golden Lives Organization on Facebook.
Date published: 29th August 2019.
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