Archives - ‘Trinité-et-Tobago’

The world waits for no one

December 14, 2015 | Melissa, Trinidad and Tobago, MAC, The Women’s Institute for Alternative Development, Disarmament Program Support Officer

I can’t remember where I first heard that quote but it’s something that I’ve kept in the back of my mind for many years. However; it wasn’t until I returned to Canada that I began to grasp the raw truth of this statement. Life happens around you, through you; so constant, fast, and unapologetic if you blink and miss your opportunity. Ottawa kept moving while I was away and Port of Spain will not stop because I am gone. What feels strange is that despite this, I have returned to a place that is very much the same yet entirely different. Or perhaps the only thing that has changed is myself.

Three months is an odd amount of time to live in another country. It’s just enough time to get comfortable and then you have to pick and up and leave your newly constructed life to dive headfirst into your old one. During the Reintegration Seminar this week I have been reflecting a great deal on what this experience has meant to me, but more importantly, how this experience has changed me as a person. I know it is incredibly cliché to say this but it doesn’t make it any less true.

My time in Port of Spain showed me the realities of development in the field and the extreme passion of those who do it well. I have learned that learning out side of the classroom is a fundamental component of preparing oneself for the job market and life. I have come to recognize the shortcomings of my program but to also appreciate its multi-disciplinary nature. Even though prior to this experience I had not taken any specific classes relating to the subject of my work, I did not feel unprepared because I had touched on many of these topics in other courses. The required “reflection” assignments and regular contact with my fellow interns made me realize the power of international cooperation and collaboration. Although my peers and I were scattered around the globe we were still able to share similar experiences and learn from the cultural, historical, social, and political contexts of each other’s host countries.

It is very difficult to even begin to “sum-up” the last three months of my life. I strongly feel that attempting to share specific details would be unacceptable because it would only reflect the smallest tile in the elaborate mosaic of my experience. It would be irresponsible to share these details because it would distract from the unique and intricate mural that must be viewed in its entirety to be fully and truly appreciated.

This internship has taught me more about myself, the world, my program of studies, my peers, and what I want from life, than any other personal/professional experience. I knew that when I was stepping onto the airplane in Trinidad I was saying goodbye to a very important part of myself that would always remain in Belmont. I felt extremely sad at first but this week I have realized that my learning has only just begun as I begin to rebuild within this newly created “void”. Armed with new knowledge and a fierce and fresh perspective I have a new opportunity to build myself stronger and more resilient than ever before in preparation for the next opportunity to leave a little piece of my heart somewhere special in the world.

The life, the taste, the colours, the smells, the sights, the emotions: what you can’t learn in a classroom

November 12, 2015 | Melissa, Trinidad and Tobago, MAC, The Women’s Institute for Alternative Development, Disarmament Program Support Officer

Looking back on the period leading up to my departure and the two months that have passed since I arrived, I realize that there are two very different perceptions of Trinidad and Tobago. Most of friends, family, colleagues, and peers seemed to be under the impression that I was going to the Caribbean to relax on the beach for three months. T&T is a small twin-island nation and it is somewhat understandable that there are a large number of people who know little about this place, so many people base their perceptions on the stereotypical Caribbean all-inclusive vacation experience. One the other hand Trini’s who’ve I’ve spoken to while in Canada and those that I have met here, hold a completely different perception. I have been consistently warned about the danger and corruption present in T&T and am instructed to be incredibly careful and always on guard. This is all good advice when travelling, but what I find interesting is how completely different these two views are.

Neither perception adequately represents this beautiful country. Yes, there are some beaches but there’s so much more to see, and yes, it is common to hear gunshots at night but every person on the street will say “good evening”. My experience here has been wonderful. Port of Spain is somehow chaotic but calm; the general pace of things is hectic, but the attitude relaxed. Hailing a maxi-taxi around the Queen’s Park Savannah is a rushed activity as cars weave in and out of a seemingly never-ending flow of traffic. But after work it’s time to “lime” and people are relaxing and laughing with friends and loved ones. I fear not being able to adequately capture how incredibly “cool” Trinidad is.

I have come to love this place, it’s all a matter of managing things. Learning to deal with the traffic, navigate around the island, eat “doubles” without dumping them all over yourself, and how to dodge cars on streets barely wide enough for a single car, it’s all bean a really incredible experience. I think what has been the most fulfilling experience has been learning how to get around by myself. Most everyone has to get around by taxi but they operate more like buses – traveling established routes in a cramped car with unfamiliar faces. The island isn’t very big but getting around can be very difficult if you do not have someone to instruct you on where to catch a taxi heading towards your destination.

The nuanced cultural relations in this diverse nation have a distinct effect on daily life in T&T that is best experienced first hand. Trinidad is a place where you can see beautiful beaches, mangrove swamps, and the world’s only natural asphalt lake but it is also a place where there are many underserviced or “squatter” communities such as Sea Lots, a great deal of economic disparity, and where violent crime is a daily factor in many people’s lives. Trinidad is diverse, beautiful, and also a place where caution must be exercised, but where the people are friendly and helpful.

Discussing theory in the classroom is vastly different from experiencing a new country firsthand. Nuances of culture are an integral part of the learning experience. Context is everything. Doing the work, understanding the theory, going through the motions is one thing, but actually trying to understand the why is so much more complicated than it sounds. We sit in classrooms that stress investigation but from all that I have read about Trinidad, nothing could have prepared me for the real thing.

Now that I’ve been here for two months and have had a chance reflect on these various perceptions, I have developed a better understanding of the importance of context and experience. Most of my research here has been into the specific circumstances of various communities, while the majority of my UOttawa classes have been largely theoretical. This opportunity has really taught me a great deal about the importance of culture and context. There is no way that this could be duplicated in the classroom, and I’m thankful to be lucky enough to learn these lessons all while enjoying a wonderful part of the world.

Invaluable lessons outside of the classroom

October 13, 2015 | Melissa, Trinidad and Tobago, MAC, The Women’s Institute for Alternative Development, Disarmament Program Support Officer

So far, my experience in Port of Spain has been eye-opening. The NGO I am working with is focused on promoting equality and the reduction of gun violence in T&T, as well as promoting a more collaborative governance structure in the country. Working with WINAD has given me exposure to the violence that I have learned about in the classroom in the Conflict Studies and Human Rights Program. This experience is allowing me to fill gaps in my classroom education, especially regarding violence on a personal and local level. In my classes we have often discussed civil conflicts as ethnic or political issues but the reality today is that there are a large number of conflicts that are closely tied to the illicit drug trade. From my discussions with colleagues and my own research I have come to learn that this is the reality in T&T and many other places. My work has helped me to begin to understand the impact of criminal activity on perpetuating local violence in a way that the classroom never could.

WINAD does amazing work and I am so grateful for the opportunity to support the work of this organization. The theory of the classroom can only teach you so much, but immersing yourself in the reality on the ground is a fundamental component of the learning experience. The organization engages in conversations with women in different areas of the nation and asks them to share their experiences. This helps to create an open dialogue that explores the direct and indirect effect of violence on women, given that many of these women have lost sons, husbands, brothers, fathers, etc. to gun violence. The uncovering of this information provides essential evidence, which the organization can use to support its mandate and find solutions to social issues.

The work I have done with the organization has also allowed me to witness the passion for social change, and the tangible possibilities of making this happen. WINAD is a member of a wide and collaborative network of NGOs that support each other to enact positive change in T&T. Their energy is focused and as a result the government is more pressured to listen to the voices of civil society. Canada is so large that change on the federal level is sometimes difficult to perceive, but in Trinidad and Tobago it appears it may be more of a tangible possibility! It is so encouraging to see passionate people working hard to better their country and I am so grateful for the opportunity to support their hard work.

In sum, so far this has been an incredible experience with new challenges and exciting opportunities. It’s hard to believe that a month has already gone by! When I first arrived I felt as though three months would feel like a long time, but now I am certain that it is going to fly by. Thankfully, I still have quite a few more weeks here and I am beyond excited for the new challenges ahead!