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Young men learn life lessons at JA student conference

Published: 
Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Beetham Gardens resident Kareem Marcelle, recounts how he overcame adversity to become a productive citizen. Marcelle was speaking at the 2017 Annual JA Student Conference at the Central Bank. Listening in are fellow panellists from left, Errol Fabien, Pastor Clive Dottin, Nikoli Edwards, Noel Jacob and Anderson Williams.

Inspiring! This was the word most commonly used to describe the exhilarating and enriching experience enjoyed by more than 200 young male students who participated in the 2017 Junior Achievement Annual Student Conference held at the Central Bank Auditorium on November 14.

Drawn from secondary schools across Trinidad, the young men listened in awe, and consternation at times, as they were afforded rare, insightful glimpses into the personal lives of a five-member panel who recounted how they triumphed over tremendous adversities, including tragedy, to lead successful and worthwhile lives.

The ambience of the Central Bank Auditorium provided the perfect setting for compelling ‘testimonials’ from the panellists comprising Gayelle the Caribbean CEO Errol Fabien, Commonwealth Youth Council vice-chair Policy, Advocacy and Projects Nikoli Edwards, Caribbean Union Conference field secretary Public Affairs & Religious Liberty Pastor Clive Dottin, Life Coach Anderson Williams, entrepreneur Noel Jacob and recipient of the 2017 Makandal Daaga Scholarship (Law) Kareem Marcelle.

Titled Maximising Manhood, Exploring Opportunity for Growth and Empowerment, the inter-active session was held in collaboration with RBC Royal Bank Trinidad and Tobago. In attendance were JA directors Michael Callendar and Nigel Scott, a release said.

“It has been a privilege to be a part of this conference for male students. The speakers were very inspirational, especially as each one spoke about their personal lives and how they were able to rise above their problems and become successful individuals. The lesson I learnt is that no matter how bad things are, you can rise above it if you put your heart into it,” said Jarrel Calliste, Form 4 student of Success/Laventille Secondary School.

For Ajay Parag, Form 5 student of St Joseph College, the experience was “learning about life”. “What I really take away from this conference is that success doesn’t come easy. Some people may have it easy but the majority face real problems in their lives. All the speakers demonstrated they had the will to overcome their problems. Their stories have inspired me to become the best I can be,” said a thoughtful Parag.

Servol tutor Selwyn Frederick, who accompanied his students to the conference, said the session was a “real eye-opener”, as the panellists were very open and forthright about their personal lives and how they were able to overcome their adversities. “The young men here today will do well to learn from these individuals and take them as role models for their own personal journeys,” said Frederick.

JA executive director, J Errol Lewis, said the overriding objective of the annual conference “is to prepare our young people to succeed in a global economy by providing them with knowledge, skills and meaningful exposure to mentors who will serve to ignite their desire to lead productive and worthwhile lives.

“Our panel includes professionals and successful individuals who will encourage students, young men in particular, to make changes in life that will cause them to hunger for success,” Lewis pointed out.

Fabien, moderator of the proceedings, told the audience that he reached the depths of despair as a drug addict, even sleeping on a piece of cardboard on the pavement before taking stock of himself. He entered a drug rehabilitation centre and kicked the habit, eventually charting a path as a successful businessman, entertainer and motivational speaker.

In a soul-searching contribution, scholarship winner Marcelle explained how he was able to overcome the stigma of living in Beetham Gardens. “My journey has been one of the hardest anyone has had to go through. When I was in Standard 5, my father abandoned the family and left for the United States. I was in a state of depression. My two elder brothers had to drop out of school to help out. There was not one single person in my extended family that I could look up to. Sometimes when we do not have a role model figure at home, we look for it in a gang leader,” Marcelle explained.

Driven by his ambition to rise above his surroundings, Marcelle said that being a student of Trinity College proved to be the catalyst in his life. “Moka was an upscale community and I wanted to reflect that environment. Then, my father, who had married in the US, killed his wife. That affected me badly. I felt that if my father was a criminal, maybe I was destined to be one, too. It affected my grades at school but I eventually came out of it. You, too, can overcome your adversities,” the scholarship winner assured the youths. Now an activist in community work and youth development, Marcelle organises an annual Christmas party for 500 children in Beetham Gardens.

Nikoli Edwards spoke of having to face personal challenges as a young man when his father was killed in a failed prison break at the Royal Gaol in Port-of-Spain two years ago. “I faced a lot of criticism from people who were attacking me, saying that I was nothing more than the son of a criminal. The amount of criticism and negativity I received would send you in a dark place. In less than two years, I was able to stand in the Parliament of T&T as a senator to speak on legislation on prison reform in the country,”

Noting that he has been criticised about his appearance and hairstyle, Edwards advised the youths: “Once you do something with a good heart and you believe in it, no amount of criticism will stop you from achieving your goal. Don’t be fearful of criticism, use it constructively.”

Life coach Williams cautioned the young men on their use of the internet and social media. “The internet has allowed humanity to operate on one dynamic base. Heightened predatory instincts have become the norm. People are trolling the internet to prey on the vulnerable. Those with low self-esteem are most vulnerable to those who seek to exploit the weakest. We have to be vigilant. We have to be deliberate and consistent in making correct choices in life. “We have to be clear about our own sense of self, know who we are and must have faith in the power that transcends all of us,” Williams urged the youths.

Businessman Noel “Scrapes” Jacob told the students that they must have dreams and ideas to pursue. “Do not keep them to yourselves because you feel people may laugh at you. There will be people who will put obstacles in your way and try to stop you. Anything you choose to do, do it with a passion,” urged Jacob, who started a car care business 26 years ago, noting that people would say that only “pipers” washed cars for a living. Today, he operates at four locations with 21 employees. His goal is to own 20 branches in 20 years time.

In his rousing, evangelical style, Pastor Dottin had his young audience eating out of his hands as he recounted his tribulations as a child growing up in a single room, single-parent home in Belmont. A champion against the drug trade, he cautioned the youths to stay clear from all forms of drugs. A kidnap victim in May 2016, Dottin said he founded a group dedicated to rescuing persons who are in the clutches of criminal gangs.