Last update: 13-Dec-2013 3:20 am
Friday, December 13, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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A place for children in the Ark
Simone de la Bastide is about to launch a brand-new NGO dedicated to children. The project, called the Children’s Ark, officially kicks off on October 19 at a evening event at the Hyatt co-ordinated by Brian MacFarlane which will be attended by President Anthony Carmona, a longtime supporter of de la Bastide’s charitable efforts and patron of the Children’s Ark. De la Bastide has laid out her mission statement which is: “To seek to improve the lives and living conditions of our nation’s marginalised children. Whether challenged, underprivileged, abused, abandoned, addicted or otherwise.” The eight members of the board of the Children’s Ark reads like a list of the great and good of T&T society and includes her husband, former Chief Justice Michael de la Bastide, director of the Police Complaints Authority and T&T Guardian columnist Gillian Lucky, and attorney Kathy Ann Waterman.
The children the NGO will help she describes as those “in dire and desperate need within our society. Particularly, we will be catering not only to children in need in existing children’s homes but also those in more impoverished or crime-prone areas as well.” Two benchmark projects will be the initial focus of the new venture. Each One Teach One is a special school in Beetham Gardens of 48 children aged three-15, run by Wayne Patrick Jordan, who received a national award and who has, she says “a story as long as from here to the Beetham Highway.” In short, Jordan won money on the lottery and invested money in causes to help poorer sections of society. De la Bastide says she has walked through “the bowels of Beetham, with drain water running between my feet.” She doesn’t drive her white Lexus through there, though. A local gang leader, she jokes, drives the same car. The other project, the Margaret Kistow Home for Children, is run by Kistow, a retired nun who started the centre 40 years ago in Arima for abandoned children of all races and creeds. De la Bastide says Kistow has never received a penny from the government.
And that is where NGOs step in and play a vital role in society. She tells me a story, both harrowing and heartwarming, about a girl sexually abused by her stepfather who was removed from her one-bedroom family home, where she lived with ten siblings, and placed indiscriminately in an unsatisfactory home. De La Bastide was contacted asking for help and rehoused her within two days, and the girl is now studying a course in a subject she always wanted to do. The younger siblings in that household, she says, are still at risk. This is apparently a common scenario, one case out of dozens, if not hundreds, she hears about. “Social services are lacking tremendously in resources to deal with these issues and the government of the day have to recognise the imperative need to work with the NGOs, CBOs and FBOs, the civil society. Organisations like ours have the resources and ways of getting into the rural communities to deal with these issues.”
Government ministers, she says, are preoccupied with publicity-grabbing moments when floods strike or murders take place, “running down photo opportunities. That’s not the way to do it, it’s not about publicity, it’s about the end result—which is fixing the problem.” “Without NGOs I don’t know how Trinidad would survive,” says Bermudez, a long standing friend she worked with de la Bastide at WAND (Women in Action for the Needy and Destitute). They both left the organisation earlier this year to form the Children’s Ark. Bermudez will act as treasurer. “Young people aren’t encouraged to go into social work, like in America and England, as that would require the government to pour resources into it, which they won’t. We rely on foreign missions. We get help from other countries but we don’t help ourselves,” says Bermudez.
How would they like to see the government working with NGOs like the Children’s Ark? The answer, they feel, would be the establishment of an overarching government umbrella rather than piecemeal interest from individual ministries. A centralised committee that all NGOs can communicate and work with. De la Bastide attempted to set up an NGO support committee fund some years ago to create the resources and a unified political and civil partnership involving the chambers of commerce and private business like PWC and Ernst & Young. The initiative was widely supported by the involved parties and it became a reality for six to eight months before the government changed and the momentum was lost. The idea was eventually scrapped. The Children’s Ark is entirely non-profit. There are no staff salaries or overheads. As Bermudez says, “Every cent that comes in goes directly to the projects. We meet in each other’s houses or offices. Everything we use is donated we don’t have a single expense. We make money out of money. If somebody gives us $100,000 we put it in the bank and it accrues interest.” Battling to support and fund the rights and privileges of those in marginalised communities and social groups in T&T is an uphill struggle but it’s a struggle de la Bastide continues to persevere with.
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