After Saba and St. Eustatius, children on Bonaire can now also call the child helpline Guana Chat 918. Sometimes they call about ‘serious’ problems, but so far it’s been mostly fun conversations. “We also take children who play pranks on us very seriously.”
To guarantee anonymity in such small communities, all children of the Caribbean municipalities talk to a volunteer from Aruba. In the first ten days, the free telephone line was called 21 times. For Bonaire that is ‘a lot’, says James Sneek, director of the Aruba child helpline.
Most of the conversations to date have been categorized as ‘babblers’. Many children are curious about how the child helpline works. “These are often very nice conversations,” says Sneek. “All between 5 and 10 minutes, which is very positive. The youngest caller was 7 years old.”
There were also ‘a few serious’ conversations in between. “That was about relationships, home situations and sexuality, for example.” The child helpline thinks it will be able to get a clearer picture of what is going on on Bonaire in the coming months. They suspect that (digital) harassment and problems between parents are particularly common.
Children also call to play pranks on the helpline. “And we take that very seriously,” says Sneek. “Just like the more silent contacts. Often there is a problem, but the child does not yet trust the child helpline. They first want to check whether it is really anonymous and whether they will not be called back. Trust is not easy to gain, but anonymity works.”
Tips for food & questions about LGBTQ+
Recently, various schools on Bonaire were visited to inform about the helpline. “They were very interested,” says prevention worker Suitberta Romero from Sentro Akseso. “Do adults also have such a helpline? Can I also ask what kind of food I can make when mom is not there? Can I also call about LGBTQ? Those were some of the questions we got.”
‘Talking about emotion is very important’
“It is important that we teach children in the Caribbean that we can talk about our feelings normally. These can also be happy feelings, for example. That someone has a birthday or has received a good grade,” says Sneek.
“People who do not seek help for problems related to their mental health are mainly men,” says Sneek. “Especially in the Caribbean, where men were taught that men don’t cry and it’s weak to seek help. The child helpline teaches children that this is not correct. That you can call for anything and feel any emotion.”
“Looking at my own upbringing, there have been quite a few moments when I wasn’t feeling well and didn’t know who to turn to with that,” says Romero. “Now children know that there is always a listening ear, especially for them.”
Are parents waiting for this?
In previous street interviews of Caribbean Network, people responded positively to the child helpline. Although, some young people wondered to what extent parents on the island were waiting for it. “It is not common for a Bonairean child to talk to someone else about problems at home”, was one of the reactions.
“Parents should know that the child helpline is an ally of the parents,” says Sneek. “The calls we received from parents were positive. But it’s not common for Caribbean kids to call and tell what’s going on at home, to talk about problems.”