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FEEL: It’s time to shout about what we do
Founded 20 years ago by former Fatima College School principal Clive Pantin, the Foundation for the Enhancement and Enrichment of Life (FEEL) located at Fernandes Industrial Centre, Eastern Main Road Laventille, has, over the years and continues to act as the mother of all NGOs in T&T. New CEO Elena Villafana-Sylvester says the organisation acts as the co-ordinating NGO for disaster across the region.
“FEEL acts as an umbrella NGO. We solicit donations from local and international organisations to civil societies in T&T,” says Villafana-Sylvester. “Currently we provide support to close to 200 civil society organisations in T&T.” Those include children’s homes, homes for the elderly, education institutions in the primary and secondary school areas and any other legitimate organisation doing charitable work.
She said in 2011 the NGO donated more than nine million dollars in supplies to various civil societies in the nation. “The NGO was formed with the aim to work seriously in the areas of disaster prevention and recovery, education and capacity building, medical support and assisting impoverished communities,” she explained.
She said they recently provided relief in the form of food hampers and redeemable vouchers for furniture and other basic items, to residents affected by the devastating floods in Diego Martin. This she said was made possible by Republic Bank, Furniture Plus Store, Marios Pizzeria Ltd, Vemco Ltd, Kiss Baking Company and Bermudez Biscuit Company Ltd. FEEL has also played an active role in both the relief efforts for Haiti which suffered a severe earthquake in 2010 and Grenada which was distressed by hurricane Ivan in 2004.
More is needed
FEEL is self-funded; it earns most of its money through fund-raisers and donations from corporate T&T, says Villafana- Sylvester. She said the organisation is particularly grateful to the latter for their support throughout the years but adequate funding still remains a challenge for the NGO. “We do a lot of fund-raisers but there is need for a constant source of income. You cannot make all the money you need by just having fund-raisers,” she lamented.
The former banker said even though inadequate funding can place a damper on things from time to time, the public have still always been able to depend on FEEL and she credits that to the NGOs committed supporters and partners like BGTT, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and Food for the Poor INC, which is the second largest NGO in the US, among others. She also thanked her team of five, whom she says work extremely hard, always going beyond and above the call.
She said the organisation takes a very strict approach in regard to who they provide support to. “It is sad to say, but some people create NGOs to get money. Not everyone who has an NGO is genuine or is doing what they say they are doing,” said Villafana-Sylvester. To avoid this, she says the NGOs or civil society organisations they support must first go through a screening process and if they meet the required standards, they then must provide checks and balances of how they are using the services or supplies they received.
“We would just like to trust everyone, but the reality is we do not live in a world where integrity is very common,” said Villafana-Sylvester. FEEL’s work has even been recognised by JB Fernandes Trinidad, which is managed by the largest prominent philanthropic organisation in the US—Rockefeller Foundation. They received a certificate of recognition from the organisation a few years ago.
Getting the name out there
Despite the magnitude of work done by FEEL, they are not well-known locally said Villafana-Sylvester. She said this came as a surprise to her even after taking up office two years ago. “I was shocked to know that for all those years the organisation has remained silent even though it has been assisting so many worthy causes and civil societies locally and in the region.”
“We recently had a gentleman who was affected by the Diego Martin floods, and received assistance from us, called the organisation crying, asking who we were because he had never heard of us,” said Villafana-Sylvester. She said the organisation intended to do more networking to get its name and the services offered out there. They are also in the process of creating empowerment workshops which will facilitate all NGOs supported by FEEL.
“NGOs need to network and these workshops will provide that forum for them at least as a start.” She said an NGO is a business but unfortunately many are not operated that way. “NGOs might be started by people who really had a desire to do charity work but not necessarily the skill to manage a business. “An NGO needs to operate as a business for it to be successful and have continuity,” said Villafana-Sylvester. She said the workshops will also be looking into the management aspects of an NGO.
• For more information on FEEL call 624-7758/7808 or via e-mail at [email protected]
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