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VOM strapped for cash
Although Vision on Mission (VOM) recently collected the prestigious Best NGO Award from the JB Fernandes Foundation, its founder and chief executive officer, Wayne Chance, feels VOM is not getting the kind of assistance it deserves because of him being an ex-prisoner.
He feels somewhat ostracised and is also a victim of jealousy by those who do not wish to see his organisation and he himself achieve their goals and objectives. Mr Chance is making a strong appeal to the business community to give more tangible assistance to the group, which is involved mainly in the rehabilitation of ex-prisoners.
Q: Mr Chance, Vision on Mission (VOM) has come a very long way, harvesting many awards under your astute leadership. In spite of this, do you still feel personally ostracised because of your prison background?
A: I still do to an extent. Up to recently I was having a conversation with some well-to-do people in the society and I got the sense that they were happy to see you change but not happy when you have achieved.
You are quite a successful businessman, radio personality and so on. Why do you feel that some people would rather see you and your organisation fail rather than achieve?
(Sitting on a white leather high-back swivel chair at the VOM headquarters in San Juan, Thursday afternoon) I think it is a kind of culture in Trinidad and Tobago, in terms of how we were brought up as a people. We need to be more mentally developed in how we view those who are achieving, despite their humble beginnings.
A culture of jealousy?
Jealously also. You remember Machel Montano sang some years ago “Let dey say what they want to say” because of rumours being spread about him, which had him under serious pressure? I find myself now in that same predicament.
(Crossed legs with hands cupping left knee) Yes. People like they are no longer happy that someone like me coming from where I was is doing well...too well for some people.
Has that attitude stymied even greater successes for VOM over the years?
Yes. I was talking with William Munro at this year’s PP’s anniversary celebrations and I asked him why I did not get the bake and shark concession for the Soca Monarch competition this year. He said that he was caught up in a lot of new management activities in his organisation and couldn’t afford to give the kind of concession but next year he would be more than willing to do so.
Are you pleased with the kind of support this administration is giving to VOM?
Yes, but we are still strapped for cash to undertake our daily operations. They are giving us more support than past administrations, right? They are helping us to establish a new facility at Wallerfield to accommodate 100 ex-inmates.
How has this Government been performing in terms of rehabilitation of ex-prisoners?
The attention that VOM is getting from this Government is more than past administrations. We are more involved with several initiatives advanced by the State and it is easier for us to interact with government ministers.
Mr Chance, on the issue of deportees being sent back home, is this still a big problem for VOM?
This remains a serious challenge as we have no funding for deportees. Since 2003 they have been coming back from the United States, England and Canada in their numbers, and we receive $800 whenever one of them is admitted to VOM each month, but we have not received payments for a lot of them since January.
How much is being owed by the Government?
The last bill sent to the Government requesting $52,000 for the period January to March this year, we only received $15,000 a few weeks ago.
What percentage of relatives of the deportees absolutely refuse to have anything to do with them following their enforced return to Trinidad?
Only three per cent welcome them back home. You see, Mr Raphael, a lot of the relatives really don’t know them because in many cases they left here as young children or when they left they didn’t know them to that extent where they could feel comfortable welcoming them to their homes.
So where do the 97 per cent go?
The majority would come to VOM as long as the families don’t receive them. But then we have the cases where families would gladly welcome them but when they begin to see certain characteristics that they cannot work with, they put them out.
Mr Chance, from your vantage point, approximately what percentage of these deportees are involved in criminal activities?
About two per cent...they are not too involved in criminal activities and the majority seek to restore their lives in a very productive manner.
Recently the Government introduced electronic tagging legislation...?
In some cases it could work for persons who are out on bail for heinous crimes but it won’t work for every inmate released from prison...drug-related, arms and ammunition offences. I definitely welcome that move.
VOM recently copped the best NGO award from the JB Fernandes Foundation. Apart from the US$5,000 prize, would this increase your fund-raising prospects?
Well this has done a lot for us because when we got the Humming Bird Silver national award a few years ago many people tried to politicise the accolade, right? They felt that the VOM is UNC or some kind of political affiliation triggered the award, even though we thoroughly deserved that kind of recognition.
When a deportee comes to you for help, do you ask them what political party they belong to or support?
No. When a man comes of out prison we don’t ask them that kind of a question. Who he intends to vote for...we don’t talk politics here at Vision On Mission. We preach change. Their political choice is their business. But this latest award is testimony to the hard work we have been doing these past 12 years.
By beating out more than 300 NGOs for this award, it is also saying that what we are doing we are doing it in the correct way and right way. And it should assist us in getting help from corporate bodies because we do not get any funding from John Public. If it had not been for the intervention of the state the crime situation would have been more disastrous than it is today.
You do not get sufficient help from the business community?
Plenty of the business people who are holding symposiums and writing 14-point anti-crime plans and what have you, all these programmes…with due respect to them, but they are not putting their money where their mouth is as it relates to VOM, which has been in the trenches over the years fighting to instil in ex-inmates a sense of belonging to the society.
You have not been benefiting…?
(Interrupting and with his hallmark high-pitched tone) No! Vision on Mission has not benefited from...
Have you approached them?
We have sent thousands of letters and the response of the private sector is that they pay taxes and it is the Government’s business to treat and protect the citizens, therefore the Government is supposed to look after prisoner rehabilitation and not the private sector.
But if the sector does not assist in taking the bull by the horn also…at the end of the day, business people are also feeling the brunt of the crime, it is they who are being kidnapped in the main and what have you. It is in their interest to partner with us in one way or another and it does not necessarily have to be in cash...
Roughly what are the monthly operating expenses of VOM?
(Eyes on the ceiling as he mentally estimates the figure) Roughly it is almost $160,000 on a monthly basis. We talking about feeding, clothing, staff, training, administration, rent…the whole works… We operate through the goodwill of the Government. There is no corporate support.
One would think that an organisation such as yours was a natural entity to receive strong support from the business sector. Why do you think there is this reluctance to do so and do you think it is the Wayne Chance factor?
Well, that too...that too. It is a fact that because I am an ex-prisoner. There are some people who believe that anything that needs to be done should be undertaken by people of a particular calibre...like people coming out of UWI. You must have a degree but there are people who are naturally blessed and gifted by God to do a job.
I am sure if you put me on the ground with Prof Deosaran, you put me with any detective, and any criminologist in terms of getting an ex-prisoner to end his life of crime, and I bet you I take the cake. You see, Mr Raphael, my background gives me that kind of privilege to connect with these people in a very significant manner.
Finally, Mr Chance, how do you see the way forward for VOM?
I hope that other government officials would recognise the work of VOM and especially the business sector would see the wisdom in giving us more tangible support. Because at the end of the day, we are all in this situation together and if we pool our resources we would be able to break the stranglehold the criminals have us in today.
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