Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has called on religious bodies to instil in the national community, especially among parents, the importance of taking responsibility for their children by teaching them right from wrong so that they steer clear of a criminal path.
He urged parents to not just raise their children “and let them loose on the national community and hope that the teacher succeeds or worse, the police succeeds.”
Speaking at the official handover ceremony for Hayes Court at Queen’s Park Savannah West, Port-of-Spain, yesterday, Dr Rowley said religion had previously played its part in steering children on the right path.
“What religion was engendering in young people was an understanding that there is good and there’s evil, that there is truth and there is a false truth, that there is ambition and lack of ambition and that there is respect and disrespect,” he said.
Dr Rowley said religion also taught the youth there is right and wrong; there’s a choice to make and there are consequences for making the wrong choices.
“And if that is the only reason why we encourage religion in our national community, then that’s a good enough reason,” he explained.
The PM called directly on Anglican Bishop, the Right Reverend Claude Berkley, to share this message with his colleagues.
He said religious bodies contributed to what is called the “old time days,” when the kind of behaviour we see in our population today was not known, adding without that religious presence, it leaves room for the youth to be polluted by other negative influences and their behaviour is deteriorating.
“Because there are too many instances of the drug dealer, the gang leader and the ne’er-do-well succeeding in replacing in what the church used to do,” he said.
However, in an apparent reference to the recent rise in school violence and the increase in young criminal offenders, the PM made it clear no one person is to blame for the current situation, as it’s everyone’s responsibility to guide the youth along the right path.
“We have the beauty of our children, we need to preserve that. We have the beauty of our country, we should preserve that and we should disregard anyone who tells you Trinidad is not a real place,” he said.
Responding to Dr Rowley, Reverend Berkley said the Anglican Church has been working on addressing the issues with the youth for some time now.
Through a task force report implemented at all Anglican primary schools, Reverend Berkley said he and his team learned more about their students’ needs and now they are implementing measures to address them.
Matters of teacher recruitment, training and preparation of teachers for teaching in Anglican schools, and matters of selection of persons with different roles were some of the areas they needed to address.
“We have revised our school board, our primary school Board in particular, and challenged the Secondary school board in respect of how we might assist the children in matters of parenting,” Reverend Berkley said.
He said the mothers’ union has also been carrying out parenting courses across the dioceses and are awaiting a new cycle.
The Anglican Church also wants to resume home visits, where parish members meet and speak with members of the community.
“So, I agree with the call of the Prime Minister, something has gone wrong, but when I join the chorus for prayer, it is not just offering words but prayer changes attitudes, it encourages action and it takes strategic responses to try to treat with the problem at hand,” he explained.
Reverend Berkley said Anglicans have a certain pragmatism where they pray but they also do.
“So it is not like a veiled wish in the sky just something we throw at you, well just pray, no you pray and you act as best as you can and God seeing your effort, seeing the need and hearing the plea will come to your support and take us to another level,” he said.
Contacted yesterday on the issue, Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) head, Pandit Lloyd Mukram Sirjoo, said the church has always been in the communities. However, he said for the kind of support they need, the church does not have the finances to do so.
“People are suffering outside here,” he said.
Pandit Sirjoo said a lot of the issues begin in the home and if the home does not have the necessities for a good life (food, clothing, security), then the cycle of violence will continue.
“Those things are lacking in many homes…people are fighting for survival,” he said.
He said communities should not only receive assistance when there is a disaster but year-round.
Hayes Court was completed in 1910 and is one of the Magnificent Seven buildings around the Queen’s Park Savannah.
It is the official residence of the Bishop of the Anglican Church of T&T, and according to Reverend Berkley, cost just over $6 million to restore. Reverend Berkley currently lives elsewhere but said the building will be used otherwise.