On Thursday, November 9, at just 24 years, Ayana Shallima Garcia, the youngest in her class, Ayana graduated with her Master of Arts in Carnival Studies Degree.
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Facing the stark reality
Monica Starke describes herself as a “lifestyle coach.” Coming soon in a weekly column called The Starke Reality in the T&T Guardian, she will be imparting the benefit of her wisdom, acquired over many years as a family and children’s counsellor, an organisational development consultant, running a kids’ day care centre and as the mother of five children.
“I’m focused on helping individuals, their families, and organisations to function at their optimum,” says Starke in an interview in an air-conditioned cafe in Woodbrook.
“I’ve reached the stage where I want to do what I enjoy most and what I enjoy most, and what I’m good at, is helping people become their best selves.”
In the midst of another year of ceaseless violence in certain sections of T&T society, Starke maintains the opinion that improving family life and functionality is a fundamental building block to combatting crime—laying the building blocks of stable, ambitious and successful lives as opposed to raising young people in an environment of chaos, fear and aggression.
“Look at what’s happening in the world,” she says, “I’m urging families to provide a sanctuary, because if our children can’t come home to a sanctuary they will find it elsewhere.”
She’s at a point in her life, she says, where she could take it easy after years of hard work, but she doesn’t want to rest. She feels it is a privilege to have acquired the knowledge and skills she has.
“What am I going to do with it?” she asks. “I don’t want to die with this knowledge, I want to share it. And this is why I’m going back into the media, because I think the media is a powerful teacher.”
She used to write for newspapers and presented shows on Radio Trinidad.
Does she think we’re at a point in time where it’s harder than in the past for people to function properly?
“I think every era has had their challenges but I think our challenges today are of course very different. Technology has changed the world,” says Starke.
But are people struggling more today?
“I feel that within the last ten or 20 years it is more challenging for young people, because they’ve had to adapt and adjust to so many changes. Changes happen so fast. Technology is good in some respects—how can we live without our phones and our e-mail?—but it also presents problems. Our young people have so many choices these days it’s hard to know what to do. Career choices for example.”
And what kind of family issues does she deal with?
“Families in crisis. Because families are so busy trying to earn a living, it’s hard.
“I’m seeing challenges between couples, affected by the economy, holding on to two jobs. And what happens when couples disagree? Family life suffers. Family members go into their own rooms to eat.
“Families need to start having meals together! Play board games together, have conversations, go on picnics…We need to get back to these things.”
If we don’t go back to these core behaviours, Starke says, we will end up with children using technology (smartphones, laptops, video games consoles and iPads) as “substitute babysitters.” Children will become addicted to technology.
But what about the recent debate about another traditional form of Caribbean parenting? “Licks” was in the news recently: where does Starke sit on the issue?
“I’m not going to tell parents how to raise their children,” she says.
Then, after a pause, “A little beating every now and again, I think it’s ok. But we have to stay away from the extremes.”
I point out that it’s illegal in the US, UK and other countries for parents to physically beat their children.
“I’m not sure that’s the right thing, because it takes away all the power from the parent,” says Starke. “Children are now beating and attacking their parents and they know their rights from a very young age.”
In the late 1970s Starke was a flight attendant with BWIA. A job which meant she “wasn’t there” for her eldest child. She acknowledges that all parents make mistakes and she is no different.
“But we must learn from our mistakes. We all think we are terrible parents until we talk to other parents and realise we all struggle at times.”
In 1980, she opened Juniorcare, a daycare centre for children aged three months to five-years-old. Following that, and a divorce, she spent ten years studying in Florida, eventually ending up with qualifications in psychology, a masters in counselling in education and a doctorate in adult education organisational development.
Arriving back in Trinidad just three months ago she is reconnecting with former clients, looking into setting up workshops with employees and supervisors of organisations that are experiencing problems. And, generally, she is loving being back in the country she loves.
“I am a Trinidadian,” she says. “I owe who I am to my experience growing up in Trinidad. It’s only spiritually fitting that I give back to it here.”
• Monica Starke’s column, The Starke Reality begins on July 2 and will continue every Wednesday.