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Queens foundation partners with University of Guyana for mental health

In progress: Rendering of the building that will be Guyana’s first degree program in clinical psychology at the University of Guyana.
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A Queens-based charity organization is partnering with the University of Guyana to create Guyana’s first clinical psychology program and school next year. The Jay and Sylvia Sobhraj Foundation, founded by Jay Sobhraj — a principal at Zara Realty, are establishing a degree psychology program to address mental health in the country, and help train more psychologists. Last year the institution reached out to the foundation about creating the program and being known for their philanthropy — they wanted to help, said a director at the foundation.

“Guyana has a serious mental health crisis so when the university approached us and wanted some help — we began talks in terms of building a facility that would have organizations to focus on mental health,” said Nardeo Singh. “This school is a unique approach to get a few things right and make a difference for Guyana.”

The South American country has only six psychologists with doctorate degrees. But with the creation of this program, that number will gradually increase as more qualified and trained therapists are trained, according to Singh.

He adds that there is also somewhat of crisis of in the psychology field in Guyana, where the services of the existing doctors are very hard to access. And the therapists who are available and accessible, are usually not equipped to diagnose the mental health concerns.

“There are not many certified clinical psychologists in country, so if someone is trying to get psychological help his or her chances are very slim,” said Singh. “Meanwhile, there’s a lot of domestic violence abuse and undiagnosed kids suffering with autism that need help, and the social workers that try to treat these patients are not really qualified.”

By investing in the creation of a clinical degree program, the university and the foundation will drastically help close the existing gap and help improve the quality of mental healthcare in Guyana. And Singh says both the school and the organization will benefit from the partnership, but most importantly the citizens of Guyana.

A two-year degree program for clinical psychology started earlier this year and is housed temporarily in the university. Four-year degree program students pursuing bachelors and masters, will be admitted when the construction of the new building for psychology is completed by 2019, and that will be the permanent location for both programs.

The new building will have four state of the art lecture halls, a bookstore, a food court, medical and psychology clinics, a gym, and other faculty offices, according to Jay Sobhraj.

He said there will also be religious worshipping houses for practicing students.

“The building will be over 10,000 square feet, so in addition to the lecture halls, we’re also having three houses, one each for Hindu, Christian, and Muslim students,” he said.

The University of Guyana has more than 15,000 students enrolled, and the student capacity of the program is expected to accept more than 1,000 students.

Sobhraj said that while there are varying degrees of mental health issues that need to be tackled in Guyana, one of their focal points they are passionate about is ensuring the country’s most vulnerable are prioritized.

“We want to help the children of Guyana and we are hoping for the best, which is why we are very committed to this program and investing in it,” he said. “I feel like children are cheated out of life and are not getting properly diagnosed due to their parents lack of understanding and not knowing why their child may be like this. But we would like to see this benefit children a lot, and I’d like to see counselors in schools in Guyana.”

The school will open during the second semester of the 2019 school year.

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at asimon@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @AS1mon.
Updated 3:05 am, July 10, 2018
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