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Changing the conversation with Acres of Joy

Published: 
Saturday, September 1, 2018

It was impossible for social activist/gospel artiste, Sharon Fraser, and her crew to have packed the programme any more when the Acres of Joy Foundation hosted its first Health Cultural Fair and Flea Market at the Evergreen Savannah in Carapo last Saturday.

Staged near a well-known crime “hotspot” in east Trinidad, the event focused on desired lifestyle changes, particularly among the youth, on which the foundation has focused during its 13 years of existence.

Under a blazing sun and witnessed by an audience comprising members of the community and participating organisations, entertainment and inspirational messages came from calypsonians Winston “Ah O Kay” Brown and Lasana, the Carapo and St James Police Youth Clubs, Elite Drummers, Moko Jumbies, Ignited Dancers, Fraser herself and others.

Sgt Charlina James, who heads the Carapo Police Youth Club spoke passionately about a rallying of social forces around young people and their future. She told T&T Guardian the group has been making strides since its establishment ten years ago, but “a home” for the Club was badly needed as a fixed rallying point for the growing number of young people under its umbrella.

The Club has been able to take its talent overseas to join with groups in Barbados and Grenada and there are plans to expand its activities. “We are here to engage the youths and to make a difference in the community, and I believe we are,” she said.

“We try to encourage the children to think differently,” James said, “the challenge though is when they leave us, they go back to their parents and back to their communities and to some of the things we are working to change.”

National awardee police constable, Derrick Sharbodie, who has headed the St James Police Youth Club since its formation in 1992, was at hand with his band of young dramatists, drummers and dancers.

“The biggest challenge we face,” he told T&T Guardian, “are delinquent parents.” His argument is that parental involvement is “absolutely compulsory” for efforts such as the police youth clubs to become “agents of change.”

The Chaconia Silver Medal holder said in an effort to address parental delinquency, the club has established a Parents Council and visits the homes of its members to ensure that parents and guardians are engaged in the programmes being offered “and they are educated about their role.”

He lamented the fact that the complementary concept of community policing had suffered a setback when a former police commissioner declared that “all police officers are community police.”

“Since then we had to mark time and we couldn’t go in and the dynamics of community policing died,” Sharbodie said. “It was when (immediate past commissioner) Mr Stephen Williams came back, he did an excellent job in promoting community policing and police youth clubs.”

As the St James Club prepared for its performances, members of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) took turns under a tent eager to share information with T&T Guardian on their activities in the region. “Kamal,” a 62-year-old farmer, said his wife and family left him when his drinking problem escalated.

“I tried everything, but it was the 12-step programme of Alcoholics Anonymous that did it,” Kamal said. He heads a public information unit which visits schools and other public institutions to spread the AA word.

For “Roland,” a retired 68-year-old heating/air condition technician from Tacarigua, who once faced an attempted murder charge before the alleged victim withdrew, alcohol is “the gateway drug” that led to abuse of narcotics and a programme with Narcotics Anonymous. He eventually followed the AA programme “because drugs weren’t my problem, my problem was the alcohol.”

“Stephen,” a retired 61-year-old printer, said he did not think he had a problem until AA visited his workplace. “From listening to them, I recognised I had a problem with alcohol,” he said.

“I didn’t have to be the person mopping a drink from the bar. As long as I had lost the ability to control my drinking meant that I had a problem with alcohol.”

“At the end of the day I was not aware that I had that problem,” he said. “I had to make amends with my family … I had to admit that I was suffering from a disease called alcoholism.”

In the booth next to the AA table was a cancer awareness demonstration by the Just Because Foundation on the effects of cigarette smoking and a food stall with corn soup and snacks opposite. Not far away was a tent under which school accessories, jewellery and natural body products were sold.

The Congress of the People (COP) Youth Arm occupied another tent promoting an agricultural initiative involving young people, in the presence of COP leader, Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan.

Fraser, who functions as Acres of Joy executive director, said the objective of the exercise was to “change the conversation” about young people and community life in the country into a representation of the positive developments in society.

It was a hot day with a packed agenda and the tall order of transforming troubled communities through important work with the young generation. Fraser and company know it will not be an easy task.

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