Fayola K J Fraser
“Let’s go out there and rescue some people.” Lucia Cabrera-Jones, the co-founder of Women Owned Media and Education Network (W.O.M.E.N), passionately describes the genesis of her NGO and the ethos at the core of their work.
W.O.M.E.N is an NGO in T&T, established in May 2022, empowering women and girls through education, skills development and advocacy. Along with her co-founder, Jayme Hoyte, Cabrera-Jones decided to create not only an NGO supporting women but a “hub that incorporates Spanish-speaking women from the migrant community,” fostering entrepreneurial pursuits and developing business skills through initiatives such as capacity-building workshops and pop-up shops.
Cabrera-Jones was born and raised in Cuba, and attained her Masters in Chemical Engineering, but is now focused on Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of the West Indies (UWI). “I decided that I had reached the cap in my career in Cuba,” she said, “and I migrated to Grenada and got married.” During the marriage, she suffered domestic violence and abuse and was frantically seeking options to “get out” of the marriage.
She was ultimately offered an opportunity via CSME, to come to Trinidad and work at the UWI. “I came to Trinidad with two suitcases and nothing else, ready to start again from scratch,” she remembers, “and this period was the beginning of my testimony.”
Cabrera-Jones’ recollection of that difficult period, marred by abuse, suffering and emptiness is framed as a testimony that led to her true purpose, and she believes she had to go through that to be able to help and rescue women today.
As a former victim of domestic violence, her motto is that she is “proudly divorced and happily alive.” After being threatened with death for two years by her ex-husband, Cabrera-Jones worked hard to cast off her own culture’s taboo surrounding separation and divorce, fled Grenada and left her marriage. She has been living and working in Trinidad since 2005, and is consistently seeking ways to use her negative experiences to help others. During the lockdown period due to COVID in 2020, as reports of increasing domestic violence surfaced due to many families being homebound, she knew that it was her opportunity to advocate on behalf of these victims.
“Many women don’t leave because of financial constraints,” she said, “and men make them feel as though they can’t (financially) survive without them.” This meant that business and skills development became the core of her NGO’s mandate. In 2022, her NGO was launched, and alongside the British High Commission, Port-of-Spain, W.O.M.E.N hosted the “Thrive Programme”. This was a six-week, free programme with subject matter experts offering capacity-building workshops covering three modules–business ideas and validation, branding and marketing and finance and pitching. Although many capacity-building programmes tend to stop at the theoretical element, THRIVE incorporated a practical element, and offered graduates a spot in their Pop-Up Market, allowing them to earn money by selling their products. Out of the 50 participants, 41 graduated and participated in the Pop Up Market. The NGO subsequently had other programmes, namely “Face and Fix The Issues”, and campaigns advocating against gender-based violence.
“The highlight of the past year of W.O.M.E.N.’s work has been to partake of the space and achieve together in collaboration and togetherness–migrants and locals alike.” Cabrera-Jones, a migrant herself, has put inclusion at the forefront of the NGO’s activities.
She said that getting to know many migrants during her role in the UWI and mentoring them to assist them in better understanding Trinidadian culture has given her insight into the community’s needs. Inclusion is a core tenet of W.O.M.E.N’s work, and that is mirrored in the offering of simultaneous interpretation (English-Spanish) during the workshops, to allow Spanish-speaking migrants to fully participate. She describes the way that the Pop-Up Market created a “seamless connection between the local community of entrepreneurs, breaking the issue of segregation.”
Cabrera-Jones encourages migrant women to remember their purpose and hold onto the drive and motive that got them to T&T in the first place. Furthermore, she calls on the local Trinidadian population to incorporate migrants into workplaces and schools, and not view them as a monolith, saying, “There is a Spanish-speaking community who is just like you, we come as teachers, as professionals, and mothers.”
Cabrera-Jones’s message to young women is to “be yourself, and leave your authentic footprint wherever you go.” She intends to use W.O.M.E.N to rally women together and pool our resources toward supporting one another. She credits God with guiding her to use her difficult life journey to inspire other women, and believes that “all the pain I went through was not in vain if at least one person’s faith can be increased with my testimony.”
Cabrera-Jones is a woman of faith and passion and will continue to change lives through her work with W.O.M.E.N.