Abby Charles on mental wellness …

“You only know what you know, and you don’t know what you don’t know” … is a quote from Public Health Practitioner Abby Charles as she shares her views with Caribbean Wellness.

Abby is a Trinidadian working in the US since 2006 supporting public health in Washington DC, Maryland, and Virginia. She is also the founder of Bene Caribe, a conscious fashion brand “where ethical consumption and a colourful Caribbean spirit threads the fabric of each piece.”

In this conversation, Abby talks about the stigmatization of mental health and the importance of staging discussions about mental health in Trinidad and Tobago. Apart from normalizing conversations about mental health, there is a need to raise awareness by intensifying the country’s promotional education campaigns.

She talks about using social media as a communications platform but reminds us of the importance of persons in the community being trained to have accurate conversations about mental health and wellness. Abby describes herself as “a solutions finder and an advice giver” but warns that most times people don’t want advice, they just need to talk, and our role would be to be great listeners without judging.

When her friends reach out, she often asks: “Which type of friend do you want right now? Do you want a friend who’s gonna listen? Do you want a friend who’s gonna share some recommendations? Do you want a friend that’s gonna connect you to resources? What are you looking for?”

In all that we do, let’s be mindful that everyone needs a therapist from the time they’re born.

Even the therapist needs a therapist.

The Legacy of Senator/Minister Rohan Sinanan

Soon the population will reflect on the legacy of our current leaders because elections are in the air.  The number of roadworks I am seeing suggests that the election cycle has begun.  Guess what will come to my mind when I think of the legacy of the current Minister of Works and Infrastructure — the phrase “Rohan’s Folly”.

Under the stewardship of Senator/Minister Sinanan, a “Highway to Nowhere” (HTN) was built at the cost of millions of taxpayer dollars which could have been invested in people development.  It is currently referred to as HTN because both ends of the highway are blocked off and there is no connection to either the Cumuto Road or the Eastern Main Road.  From the Cumuto Road to the HTN the distance is approximately 500 metres and from the HTN to Eastern Main Road the distance is approximately 800 metres. 

Whenever the HTN is completed, the people of Sangre Grande, Toco, Valencia, Cumuto, Mayaro, Guaico, and Manzanilla will traverse the roadway and question whether the construction of the road was worth the destruction of the Moriche palms, the lagoon, and even the Caiman who thrived in the area?  Isn’t the area also designated a reserve?  I totally accept that there is always a balance between development and environmental destruction, but it need not be an either/or situation.  Why haven’t we come up with solutions which protect our legacy and support our development?  Why can’t we have sustainable solutions to our myriad of problems?  “Rohan’s Folly” will be associated with the likely negative environmental impact the HTN will have on the Valencia area.

The story of the Moriche Palm also called the Tree of Life, is important because those palms could have played a significant socio-economic and ecological role in our country as they do in South America.  Some Peruvian societies still depend on the Moriche palms for their survival, and it contributes millions of U.S. dollars per year to their Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  Out of the Moriche Palm estates, they create products for export like frozen sweets, wines, buttons, crafts, jewelry, oils, baskets, purses, sandals, hammocks, birdcages, toys, sunscreen, deodorant, and many pharmaceutical items.  In Brazil, there is the creation of the “Moriche Palm Diet” used by thousands of women worldwide.  In sweet Trinidad and Tobago, we destroy it to build an HTN.

The reported expenditure on HTN ranges from $500 million to $1.7 billion.  Whatever the final expenditure, taxpayers’ dollars have been invested in the construction of the HTN and the opportunity cost is tremendous.  Think of the potential impact (both short and long-term) of investing in the redesign of our education system.  Instead, some contractors have built a highway to nowhere and they all sleep peacefully while “Rome burns”.  I suppose they can afford to educate their children abroad and have 24-hour security.

Our country needs radical intervention to move us out of the current negative cycle.  That radical thinking must be informed by a focus on investing in our people.  It is the only way to maximize our net social benefit. 

Couldn’t the Minister have reviewed the investment in physical infrastructure by talking to the residents of Sangre Grande, Toco, Valencia, Cumuto, Mayaro, Guaico, and Manzanilla to get their views on what they really need?

From where I sit, the legacy opportunity available to Minister Sinanan is to deliver modifications to the poor public transportation system.  Will his legacy be the HTN or “Rohan’s Folly?”

Published on 18/03/23 Newsday

“Our society must urgently navigate potholes of life… We need a deep, systemic redesign”

Originally published on 868Wired Wednesday 1 March 2023

Forty years ago, while I was pregnant, I fell into a pothole. Fortunately, the fall did not terminate my pregnancy, but I still have the scar on my foot as a reminder.

Forty years later our country continues to be haunted by potholes, despite owning the Pitch Lake and producing bitumen for many years. What can we learn from our failure to manage potholes throughout our country?

Trinidad and Tobago has more than its fair share of potholes.
(Copyright Holts Auto)

Life is not a perfectly paved road and potholes will show up at various times.  We continuously must choose how to react to the potholes.

Do we continue to walk around them, or find long-term solutions to repair them? Do we ignore the potholes, and allow them to get wider and deeper?

Do we use the excuse: “life is not perfect” to avoid expending any effort to correct issues that affect us?

Like many systemic problems, such as crime and corruption, it is difficult to navigate around them. A re-design of our systems and processes is needed to prevent the crime and corruption from becoming more deeply entrenched.

In other instances, do we engage in quick temporary repairs at the risk of the reappearance of the pothole?

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley (right) and Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
(Copyright Newsday)

There is no single fix and every time I walk or drive around a pothole, I ask the question: “Why do we tolerate this level of incompetence?”

Is it that many of us live in our little bubbles and are not aware of the extent to which this ignoring of potholes is undermining the foundation of our society?  Or are we so afraid of change that we prefer to live with this proliferation of potholes rather than to alter the way we do business?

Our society is at a stage where we must urgently navigate the potholes of life. We are no longer able to steer around the potholes or create temporary, inefficient, or even harmful fixes for our problems.

We need a deep, systemic redesign to be able to create a non-destructive future for our children and grandchildren. For example, we need leadership that is courageous enough to tackle both white-collar crime and gun violence.

Bribery has long plagued Trinidad and Tobago’s public sector.
(Copyright Canadian Business)

We need leaders who are strong enough to transform customer service amongst our public servants. We need leaders with the ability to communicate effectively but still be empathetic. We need leaders who will provide us with a vision of the future that we can all embrace.

A look around the globe and you will see Trinis excelling in various fields. Undoubtedly, we are gifted with intelligent people, and the necessary resources are available. What is missing is the leadership to make new decisions and choices that are in the national interest.

It is time for Trinidad and Tobago to embrace new ways of doing things. By actively embracing new behaviours, we will demonstrate that we have the audacity to help our country live up to its potential.

Peter Minshall’s 2016 Carnival creation: The Dying Swan—Ras Nijinsky in Drag.
(Courtesy Maria Nunes/ Wired868)

Potholes will turn up at every turn to challenge our self-belief and whenever they turn up, it is an opportunity to redesign our roads and make life smoother.

Help T&T become a Real Place

Our Prime Minister recently commented that some idiots say that Trinidad is not a “real-place” and whenever he reads that statement, he wishes that they could end up in Ukraine. Well Mr. Prime Minister, you cannot wish me to the Ukraine nor can you revoke my citizenship but we can play the board game “Not a Real Place”.  Maybe it will help you to understand some of the opinions being expressed when our people repeat the phrase “Trinidad is not a real place”.

Not A Real Place is touted as the highest quality board game in Trinidad and Tobago (my favourite however is “Doh Say Dat”).   It is a creative parody of the globally popular game “Monopoly” but littered with our Trini nuances.

For example, you can take corrupt actions to achieve your goal of winning the game.  Along the way potholes will stop your progress and owning nepotism cards will help you win.  The game accurately reflects our reality.  Daily social and traditional media bring to our attention corrupt practices which have almost become the norm while our leaders speak of solutions that have not been successful or impactful.  Daily potholes impede our progress while we witness nepotism helping incompetent persons to take leadership roles.

The continued repetition of the phrase “Trinidad is not a real place” is simply another cry from citizens asking our leaders to be fair to all and stop this binary response of if you are not with me (PNM) you are against me (UNC). 

We have become so politically minded that a recent show promoter was bold enough to offer a job to Errol Fabien and place as a condition “No anti-PNM jokes eh”.  Thankfully Errol Fabien was able to walk away from the opportunity to make some money.  How many other creatives can walk away? In his Facebook post, Errol said: “I need the work, but I need my manhood more. I did not do the show”.

These toxic political shenanigans must come to an end for us to develop as a nation and maximize the range of talent available to us.  It is unquestionable that as a country we have the talent to transform our nation and pull us up from this decline we are experiencing but what is needed is a government that is acting in the best interest of all, whether they are UNC or PNM, Indian/African/Syrian/Chinese/European, rich or poor, living in the north or in central, big business or small entrepreneur.

We are all Trinidadians, living in a beautiful space that to some seems unreal but underneath it all Trinidad and Tobago is a real place that is underperforming, to put it mildly.   Unfortunately, the game “Not A Real Place” is a real example of where we are now.  So, Mr. Prime Minister, while your wish that citizens go to the Ukraine will never be realized, it is in your hands to reduce corruption, potholes, and nepotism.  You can help our twin island nation become a real place.

New Marathon route off-course

Less than 1% of the global population finish a marathon every year.  My sincere congratulations to the 50 or so persons who completed this year’s Trinidad and Tobago International Marathon (TTIM).  You have demonstrated the grit, tenacity, determination, and dedication necessary to complete 26.2 miles (42.16) km on the road.  I salute you.

2023 marked the 41st staging of the TTIM and the first significant change of the marathon course that I am aware of.  In changing the marathon course, we have destroyed social activities which have made a difference to the people of our country.

That 26.2-mile run was one of a few activities which linked north and central Trinidad.  I recall my first marathon in 2006 when I became friendly with another runner as we traversed the course.  He admitted to me that it was the first time that he had visited Central Trinidad and how happy and surprised he was to experience another part of our lovely island.

As we ran through Cunupia, he was amazed that the rum shops and bars were open, playing music and their patrons cheering on the runners and offering them a drink or two as a way of helping them to the finish line.  He was surprised that there were rhythm sections on the pavement adding to the excitement.

The next jaw-dropping experience for him was watching the sunrise over the Caroni Plains.  As we approached the old Bailey bridge over the Caroni River, it was magical. It was indeed a uniquely beautiful experience to see the sun rise above the sugar cane fields while the darkness disappeared.  All along people cheered and encouraged the runners either from the banisters of their homes or on the side of the road.

By the time we hit Curepe, the sun had risen and again the patrons of the rum shops and bars stepped out to encourage the runners.  The mood of support and encouragement changed once we turned left onto the Eastern Main Road and headed into Port of Spain. Along the Eastern Main Road, we were generally heckled with some exceptions being persons bringing out their water hoses to help the marathon strugglers cool down.  The warmth and support increased again once we hit the 21-mile mark.

This old marathon course was gorgeous even though it was not closed to traffic as it likely would have been in developed countries.  We have replaced it with a dirty, boring, channel-like course where the maxi drivers are hustling to earn a living and don’t care about the marathoners.

My wish is for the TTIM to improve and develop a course that is scenic, closed, and focused on supporting the marathoners.  There have been occasions when more than 500 locals have challenged themselves to conquer the 26.2 miles (42.16) km. There is no reason why that could not happen again.  After 41 years, we owe it to future generations to stage a marathon that is beautiful and positively reflective of our country.

Dr. Terrence Farrell – Economic Outlook for 2023

An Economic Outlook for 2023 as presented by Terence Farrell, (Ph.D., LL.B, LEC) former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago, and former head of the Economic Advisory Development Board at the National Conversation hosted by UWI’s The Trade and Economic Development Unit on January 27, 2023.

His summary assessment is that Trinidad and Tobago will experience low growth in real GDP in 2023 mainly from the non-energy sector driven by higher government spending. He commented that “GDP current prices will grow more strongly because prices will be higher. The external accounts will be in balance. Inflation is going to rise, but the rate of change is going to decelerate in the second half, although the removal of subsidies if affected, will contribute to higher measured inflation”.

Pan should be part of education curriculum, to maximise its value …

Originally published on Thursday 26 January 2023 on Wired868 Guest Columns

“Pan is in good hands,” they said—after experiencing the energy and exuberance of the Junior Panorama finals at the Queen’s Park Savannah. But is it?

The Presbyterian schools dominated the 2023 competition. Guaico Presbyterian Steel Orchestra scored a hattrick by winning its third National Primary Schools Trophy. NAPs Combined (students of Naparima Girls High School and Naparima College) won the Secondary Schools Competition, which they also did in 2019. (Ironically, the word NAP spelled backward becomes ‘PAN’.)

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley poses with the Guaico-Presbyterian Steel Orchestra after their success in the 2020 Junior Panorama competition.
(via Guaico-Presbyterian Steel Orchestra)

The Junior Panorama competition began in 1976 but was limited to schools. In 1983, it was opened to all youth groups and non-schools.

For the past 47 years, our youths have been showing up and demonstrating their competence with our national instrument—but how many of them can read music? How many of them even attempt music as one of their CSEC subjects?

Think of the potential impact if the approximately 1,000 students who participated in Junior Panorama added “music” as a subject to their CSEC certificate every year.

Think of the potential impact if a percentage of those students went on to create a career in the arts. Think of the potential impact that music can have on our lives if more young people were exposed to different genres.

Young pannists participate in the 2023 Junior Panorama competition.
(via Pan Trinbago)

Music has the potential to change culture by bringing communities together. In many other societies, music is being used as a vehicle for social change, community collaboration and healing.

Our education system is hyper-focused on academic studies that benefit corporate structures and we have not seen the expected returns on investment. Meanwhile, many of our youth who are not academically inclined are labeled as “stupid” for not passing exams but might excel at the arts and become productive and respected members of society.

To my mind, this is wasteful and irresponsible.

We experience the power of pan annually when our pan yards become places of joy and collaboration. We see our youths excelling there. But then it all goes quiet when the Carnival is over.

Some young pannists perform during the 2023 Carnival season.
(via Pan Trinbago)

Here is an opportunity to transform our society if we focus on pan as a permanent national mission and create community spaces for musicians and supporters to thrive.

It is time for us to move away from sponsoring pan as a corporate activity and consider it as a valid, alternative education—creating a structured national network of youth steel bands, spread throughout the entire education system.

Additionally, sponsors can provide specific support to individual music students as they transition to young adults.

The big bands are playing their part. Most of them make their pans available for youth bands to practice and perform but lack the resources to go further. The structural and systemic changes that are needed can only be done by the persons elected to lead our country.

Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts Randall Mitchell (centre) and Pan Trinbago president Beverley Ramsey-Moore enjoy themselves during the 2023 Panorama.
(via Pan Trinbago)

The stated goal of the Curriculum Planning and Development Division of the Ministry of Education is: “to provide a national platform to show off the best of our students’ musical and artistic talents on the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago.” 

Until we transform this attitude from activity-based to a developmental approach, the next 47 years will see us jumping in and out of panorama competitions and talking about how beautiful it was, while our young men and women are lost when “The Carnival is Over”.

More from Wired868

Belly Breathing Reduces Tension

“ My whole life I have spoken about creating an internal world that can be manifested around me and encouraged others to do the same. That is what Freetown is to me. The idea that who you are could be in direct opposition to what is ‘normal’ is madness”. —Muhammad Muwakil, Freetown Collective

In this interview with Caribbean Wellness, Muhammad Muwakil gives his perspective on how some of us interpret the term normal and comments that there is no one response for normal because what is normal for one person may not be normal for another.

He comments on the education pipeline which we built as a society and asks the question: “What are we trying to produce on the other end?”  What should come out from the other end of the pipeline is a human who can add to our society.

He shares his strategies for maintaining mental wellness and comments on the benefits her has derived from “free diving”.  It is like yoga on steroids and integral to him exfoliating and pushing negative energy out.

He dares us to find stillness in ourselves because there is a “you” waiting to flourish in each of us and we owe it to ourselves to find that inner being. 

Muhammad Muwakil is an advocate of deep belly breathing to balance our lives.  It has been discovered that people who take deep breaths progress and live longer.  So when we get stressed, our breath becomes our normalizing strategy.  Deep belly breathing lowers your heart rate and blood pressure, brings you consciously back into the moment, and improves your decision-making.

So, every now and then, remember to take a deep belly breath.

Going Off Script

On January 20, 2018, women in this country were extremely happy when the electoral college unanimously elected our sixth (president) of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, Madam Justice Paula Mae Weekes; our very first woman president. The mood was one of excitement, hope, and optimism; it was yet another barrier that a woman had broken in this country.

In five short years, we have moved from a unanimous electoral college to quarreling and bickering over the nominee to succeed President Weekes.  Given the controversy surrounding The Police Service Commission’s (PolSC) shortlist for the post of Commissioner of Police, I was not surprised when President Weekes indicated her lack of interest in being re-elected.  Maybe the political interference was just too close.

If things play out as directed, the current Senate President Christine Kangaloo will be the next President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago and I shudder to think of what will unfold under her reign. 

There is one possible scenario that can unfold and that is the use of the Secret Ballot for the good men and women in our Parliament to use the opportunity to vote in the national interest. 

Call me a naive optimist, ignorant or foolish, but the universe has presented an opportunity for our members of Parliament and Senators to take a stand, go off-script and send the Government to search for a candidate who can be elected unanimously by the electoral college.

When current President Paula Mae Weekes was elected, Prime Minister Keith Rowley commented that among the important responsibilities of the president was the “casting an eye” on the operations and behaviour of the Government.  He went on to comment that “Unfortunately, it is only when things don’t go well, and we are faced with the inconveniences and sometimes dire consequences that we are forced to acknowledge that this office of president is much more than a ceremonial humbug.” One wonders if these words will come back to bite him later on.

My wish is for the 41 elected members of Parliament and ALL Senators to create an opportunity for wider consultation so that we can agree on one person.  And they can do it by ensuring a competent person is elected rather than “going with the flow” just because it is the path of least effort to appease their colleagues and others who might otherwise make their lives difficult.

If there is one philosophy that this country needs today is the philosophy of collaboration.  At some point, we must learn to work together in the best interest of our country. 

Maybe it is time to remind our parliamentarians of the text on the Coat of Arms hanging immediately above the head of the Speaker of the House in Parliament: “Together we aspire, together we achieve.”


By Professor SELWYN CUDJOE, Originally published in the Trinidad Express on January 8, 2023

OVER the past two weeks Minister Stuart Young has proclaimed his patriotism and his commitment to the central tenet of our National Anthem: ‘Here every creed and race find an equal place.’ Anyone who objects to his interpretation of this aspect of the anthem is accused of being a racist or, as he said recently, of playing ‘the unsavoury race card’. He has accused me of attacking him ‘on the basis of race’ ( Express, January 2).

Anyone who has read my articles carefully would agree that I said nothing disparaging about Young, nor did I attack his character. I am inclined to accept that he is a hard worker and is committed to ‘the positive growth and continued development’ of our society. He has been cordial and respectful to me on the three occasions that I have met him. While I commend those attributes, I am more concerned about the capacity of our leaders to think logically and coherently about the problems that face our society.

Young joined the People’s National Movement (PNM) in 2014. I have supported PNM from its inception in 1956 and have been an active party member since the 1960s. On April 22, 1960, I marched in the rain on that famous journey from Chaguaramas to Woodford Square where Dr Eric Williams announced our country’s right to reclaim Chaguaramas. He also condemned the seven deadly sins of colonialism (Williams, ‘The Chaguaramas Declaration’).

In 1996 when Dr Keith Rowley challenged Patrick Manning for the leadership of the PNM, I assisted in composing his oppositional manifesto in which we used the arguments of William Julius Wilson, When Work Disappears (1996), as the central premise of his candidacy. When Rowley lost his fight against Manning and party members began to heckle him at the bar of the Chaguaramas Convention Hall, I took him to the home of Jackie Lazarus to shield him from their taunts.

In 2002, Joel Krieger, a Harvard-trained political scientist, and I spent ten days with Patrick Manning as we crafted PNM’s Vision 2020 statement. After we finished our work we dined at Soong’s Great Wall Restaurant in San Fernando, as Joan Yuille-Williams and Hazel Manning can testify. They were also present at the dinner. Just for the record: we produced this massive document without charging PNM a cent.

When the United National Congress (UNC) defeated the PNM in 2010, I was among about 150 people who went to Curepe Junior Secondary (now St Joseph Secondary) to lick our wounds and to prepare for the next election at which we were successful. Keith Rowley can attest to the truth of this statement.

Minister Young does not possess a patent to the central meaning of the National Anthem. When one asserts that every creed and race finds an equal place in our society, it implies that there are various groups within the society and that each group presents its own challenges and has its own demands.

To say that the needs of the black group have been left unattended or neglected, as I have argued, is a proposition that may be contested. It cannot be placed under a rubric called racism. More importantly, the injunction, ‘Here every creed and race find an equal place’ is more an aspirational statement than an accomplished fact. It is a goal to which we must aspire, hence our national motto: ‘Together we aspire, together we achieve.’ Therein lies the promise of our society.

How do we achieve this objective?

At the very least, we can begin to think about these goals in a nuanced and forthright manner. Even in thinking about this we ought to be careful of the benefits that some citizens achieve by virtue of their position in the society. That is why I am so concerned about the special advantages that Young is given by virtue of his special relationship to the prime minister and why some thinkers, more experienced than I, warn that without the necessary guardrails some party members can become ‘more equal than others’.

One of the most precious commodities in any democracy is the exercise of free critical thought. Necessarily, these thoughts must be accompanied by actions. Still, when one person is given multiple tasks (chairmanship of the party, Minister of Energy, Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister, and constituency representative) without the necessary preparation, one wonders if one can pay enough attention to any of these functions.

When Minister Young accuses me of racism, I am inclined to think of Samuel Johnson’s injunction, ‘Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.’ Aakar Patel, chair of Amnesty International India, explained what Johnson meant by this statement: ‘Any crime and any misbehaviour was tolerated as long as it was committed by one who kept shouting that he loved his country. And, on the other hand, the individual who questioned the behaviour of the country or government was a traitor, no matter how noble he/she was.’ (Outlook, October 29, 2019).

Young has to be careful about his protestation of ultra-patriotism. It would have been much better if he responded to the questions that I raised rather than deal with clichés that need to be contextualised and examined. The PNM has always thrived and prospered because of the quality of its ideas, not only by the amount of money any individual or corporation contributes to the party’s coffers.

As the new year begins, the PNM is called upon to offer creative solutions to the problems that affect the country. Therefore, it would be wise if the party chairman heeded Dr Johnson’s notion about the pitfalls of patriotism and remember that calling someone a racist, in societies such as ours, is disingenuous and dishonourable. It is really the last port of call of resistance for someone who may not possess the noblest motives.

-Prof Cudjoe’s e-mail address is He can be reached @ Professor Cudjoe.