Demming Chronicles features Suzette Cadiz (Let’s Read) & Quilin Achat (Cannabis Advocate)

A library in every school
The conversation kicks off with Suzette Cadiz of the NGO “Let’s Read”. Their goal is to unlock the passion for reading in each child. Recognizing that several Primary Schools no longer had libraries, they set about in 2010 to re-create reading spaces and to date have reestablished libraries in 31 schools throughout the country. In addition to school libraries, Let’s Read has two other initiatives “Book a Baby” where new books are given to pediatricians to be given to new mothers; and the “Little Free Library” where box boxes are placed in remote areas and target children aged 0-14.

Developing a passion for reading
The idea behind Let’s Read is to move away from reading to pass a test to reading for understanding and enjoyment. This can be easily achieved by an early introduction to reading. Parents can play a role by reading to their children and teaching them to use their imagination to understand the world. One can experience unimaginable joy in seeing children become excited about reading.

Gently used books
Let’s Read relies on corporate support and individual funding to do their work. They reach out to families and individuals to provide “gently used” books to stock the libraries. Their initiative is a long-term programme to transform children into becoming deep readers. The more passionate the reader the likely are we to expand our discovery of creatives and inventors. Suzette also commented that Let’s Read allows each child to receive a gift of literacy which can have a long-term positive impact on their quality of life.

At 13:35, Quinlan Achat talks about the movement she founded called “Stay Calm, It’s a Plant” and about her advocacy for the Cannabis movement in Trinidad and Tobago. The movement began in 2010/2011 and as a Rastafarian Woman, Quinlan has accepted responsibility for protecting the safety of the sacred plant of Cannabis.

Negative Imagery of Cannabis
In December 2019 Cannabis was decriminalized and the movement is looking forward to the passage of “The Cannabis Control Bill, 2020”. According to the Parliamentary Website This “Act will provide for the regulatory control of the handling of cannabis for certain purposes, the establishment of the Trinidad and Tobago Cannabis Licensing Authority and connected matters.”

Cannapreneurship and the future
Since the decriminalization of Cannabis, there has been a huge growth in the market for the supply of different kinds of edibles but the industry is uncontrolled. Quinlin is confident that once the operating framework is established and organized, Cannabis can become a strong sector of our economy.

In taking a future view, she sees a multi-level industry that will produce a new kind of business owner who is committed to environmental sustainability and the empowerment of young people to create new and different businesses.

Dear Trinidad and Tobago, we must ‘become the leaders we wish to see’

Originally published on on August, 22nd 2021

Every time Honourable Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley opens her mouth my phone lights up with comments, video clips and messages of longing for a prime minister like her. Just stop it! 

We have whom we have; just deal with it—because in the natural flow of things, that will not change in the foreseeable future.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley (left) and Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley.

I truly believe that our prime minister is doing the best he can (and yes, we should be concerned about that) in the way that he knows and with the resources available to him. Calling him narcissistic, foolish, misogynistic or any other name will not change the fact that 23% of our population, which is the majority of those who bothered to show up on Election Day, voted for the PNM and he is the leader.  

So what do we do?

It is a great question, and my answer has been to lead from where I am in the ways that are available to me. Find your tribe and find a cause, even if it is a tribe of keyboard warriors using the rhythm of the keys to play a different tune for the future.

But in all that we do, let us be respectful of each other. Let us use language that is uplifting and a tone that is respectful even if it is brutally honest, and use our resources to help someone else survive another day.

The Covid virus is not done with us as yet. Continued locking down and implementing curfews are not coping strategies. Realistically the Delta spread we are about to experience will take out several of us; especially the unvaccinated.

Photo: A sample tests positive for the Delta variant of the Covid-19 virus.
(via Shutterstock)

Even when we reach herd immunity, the economic, social and physical devastation is expected to intensify over the next 12 to 24 months.

The conversation about returning to normal is bothersome because there is no normal to return to. Even after our borders are fully open and there is in-house dining and some semblance of a Carnival, the conditions will have to be re-designed.  

Each of us has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to design our future in a way that makes sense to us and that is where the ‘new normal’ begins.

Living with Covid means finding ways to collaborate and to share resources for our mutual benefit. This might sound like a ‘kumbaya’ strategy which may be considered naïve and unrealistic, but it is a call for us to redesign a society which values honesty, justice, equity and sustainability.

While everyone has been impacted by the devastation of Covid, there is a popular view that rich people and politicians live in bubbles and enjoy comfortable lifestyle while poverty rains havoc on the rest of society.  

Image: A satirical take on the one percent.

As the gap between the rich and the poor widens, the biggest need is to teach people how to use technology to fit into a digitised reality. Never before has the concept of ‘teaching persons to fish’ been more relevant.  

We must embrace the notion that we can’t change the quality of leadership we currently have but we can take personal responsibility and become the leaders we wish to see.  

Let us lead in our individual spaces and make a difference in the country we occupy.

Structures and Mounments Ground Us

Two unlikely knights Dale Ramirez and Valmiki Maharaj used their social media channels to bring attention to important government plans which appear to be out of tune with the expectations of many citizens.  Dale’s comments about the proposed AstroTurfing of Mandela Park contributed to an outcry which resulted in the Prime Minister tossing the Mayor under the bus when he suggested that it was a salesman’s dream.  Valmiki’s post about the removal of the PowerGen Towers has not received similar traction but several citizens have made suggestions about how the site might be used. 

As a pacifier, citizens have been offered an entertainment piece with a short window to view the lighting of the towers prior to the removal and destruction of this 120-year-old landmark.  My interpretation is that when mild mannered citizens are motivated to speak up in this way, it is a message that the government and the citizens are moving in opposite directions.

In 2016 the Artists’ Coalition of Trinidad and Tobago (ACTT) presented a plan to the Economic Advisory Board of how the space could be transformed and the history preserved.  This approach is neither new nor unique to Trinidad and Tobago.  A quick global scan will point to the re-purposing of the Toronto Power Station, the transformation of the Battersea Power Station in London and the retrofitting of the Potrero Power Station in San Francisco.  In every instance, the repurposing of former power stations fit into a wider tourism plan to change the dynamic of the space and attract different traffic for commercial benefit.

“San Francisco’s Central Waterfront has been a center of industry for over 150 years. While industrial uses will continue to be an important element of the urban fabric in the Central Waterfront, including at PPS, the City’s Central Waterfront Area Plan identifies the site as a location for additional growth and a wider range of land uses, including residential, commercial, and parks.”

There are many other examples of alternative approaches to destroying and erasing historical landmarks.  As cities change and develop, the focus seems to be on repurposing and redesigning spaces.  The concept of redeveloping the city of Port of Spain is welcomed but the vision must give consideration to maintaining our iconic buildings and spaces. 

Development is not solely about building new structures.  Of greater importance, development is also about creating an aesthetic which sees the beauty around us and works towards its improvement.  It is about understanding that monuments and old buildings and structures teach us about our past and what went before.  They help cultivate pride in our past and respect the struggles of those who went before us.  They help ground us in understanding who we are as a people.

Old photographs of Port of Spain tell me about tramcars and trains as a means of transportation, elegance and style while dancing at the Princess Building and gingerbread-style houses in East Port of Spain.  These images help me to feel a sense of pride and uniqueness as a people.  

The continued removal and destruction of iconic structures wipes away our history and adds to the disconnect many feel with the land of our birth making it difficult to accept any notion of blooming where we are planted.  As the disconnection intensifies, more and more of our people entertain the thought that a better life can be had elsewhere.  

Demming Chronicles chat with Tourism Professional, Warren Soloman & Graphic Designer, Ayrid Chandler

Trini in Montserrat

Warren Solomon, director of the Tourism Division in Montserrat comments that the pandemic has provided the region with an opportunity to rethink and re-design our tourism offerings especially since the Caribbean is seen as one of the world’s most famous holiday destinations.  The experience of living in Montserrat with a population of barely 5,000 (the size of a pre-pandemic Carnival fete) has helped him to have a greater appreciation for the unique beauty of our smallness.

Regional Transportation

He acknowledged that regional transportation has a major role to play in stimulating and sustaining the tourism sector.  As a micro island where airlift is limited, the current offering is on 9-seater carriers which Montserrat is planning to improve to 19 seaters later this year.  The region’s traditional focus on North America and Europe as source markets could be refocussed to target our Caribbean people as a potential market.  The major implication would be to find a way to make regional travel less expensive and more convenient.  It is well noted that intraregional travel is expensive, time consuming and not easily available.

The Cruise Ship Opportunity

With the potential rebound of the cruise industry, the Caribbean has an opportunity to renegotiate some of the lop-sided terms and conditions which currently exist so that the host islands benefit from gaining a greater portion of the tourist dollar which is spent on visiting the destination.     

Our sustainable development agenda must include focussing on changing the way the tourism product unfolds in the region and understanding that there is an untapped market in regional tourism.

Destined to be a Designer

At 20:40 the conversation moved to how design impacts our daily life with Graphic Designer Ayrid Chandler.  Growing up in a Catholic home, her form 5 assignment was to prepare for career choice.  She followed the advice to reflect and pray for guidance and Design “popped up”.  (True Story) Her childhood was spent helping her father who worked in Advertising critique television commercials while her friends looked at cartoons and puppet shows.  Photography, graphic designer and event execution were the ways she contributed to her Alma Mater, so it is not unusual that she ended up as one of our country’s leading young Graphic Designers.

Crisis of Identify

In reflecting on the role of design in national development Ayrid commented that Trinidad and Tobago is in great need of a re-branding exercise which would provide an opportunity for us to reflect on who we are?  Inherent in the design process is an element of problem solving and a 360-degree approach to communicating about anything.  By way of example if she embarked on a national re-branding exercise, she would ask the question: “how to do you want people to feel when they interact with you each time?”  Consider the profound impact that reflecting on this, and similar questions could have on our national psyche.

Ayrid graduated with a B.F.A. in Graphic Design Cum Laude from Savannah College of Art and Design, Atlanta in 2012.

T&T’s Olympic athletes are suffering from govt’s haphazard approach to sport

Originally published on on Monday 9 August 2021

I dedicated 30 months of my life to planning Trinidad and Tobago’s staging of the inaugural Caribbean Games 2009 (CG09) only to have it canceled because of the  H1N1 virus.

Despite the pleadings of the organising committee, the Games were cancelled just six weeks before the opening ceremony—dashing the hopes and aspirations of hundreds of Caribbean athletes who hoped to perform before Caribbean audiences as part of their Olympic preparations. 

Photo: Jereem Richards, acknowledges his divine help, after copping the the 200m title at the Commonwealth Games on 12 April 2018.
Richards did not medal at the Tokyo Olympics.
(Copyright Alan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

The Tokyo Olympics suffered a different fate and was staged under emotionally ‘cold’ circumstances which ended with Trinidad and Tobago not appearing on the list of 86 countries that medalled.

Postings on social media and other in-person conversations lament the poor performance of our athletes, particularly when compared with the phenomenal successes of our Jamaican brothers and sisters. We forget that Jamaica has a system, a process, and a structure for selection and nurturing.  

What we need is a clear understanding of the root causes of our poor performance.

A major factor is the absence of a contiguous master plan aimed at discovering, building, and nurturing potential athletes from throughout the country despite whichever administration is in control. Over the years, several different plans have been developed for sport but with each new administration comes the abandonment of the previous plan.  

We seem to have forgotten that in a population of just over one million the talent pool is small, so it is not wise to try to reinvent the wheel simply because the face of the minister of sport has changed.

Photo: (From second to left to right) Concacaf president Victor Montagliani, then TTFA president David John-Williams, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, FIFA president Gianni Infantino, Sport Minister Shamfa Cudjoe and deputy House Speaker Esmond Forde cut the ribbon to formally open the TTFA Home of Football in Couva on 18 November 2019.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/TTFA Media)

Nothing has happened in the past few years to give me the confidence that sport is seriously on the government’s radar. Sustained good performance will continue to elude us until we engage in serious planning to make sport the weapon of choice of our youth.  

The haphazard approach of creating a league here and competition there will neither unearth nor develop the talent needed to compete on an international stage. We continue to think that concrete structures will make a difference forgetting that, without a plan which focuses on the individuals, we will have nothing.

We continue to do well, particularly in track and field, because of the single-handed dedication of a handful of volunteers and almost-volunteers (barely paid individuals) who seem to thrive on the psychic rewards they enjoy from giving. These men and women continue to earn my total respect.

With the conclusion of the Olympic Games in Tokyo, the Ministry of Sport has an opportunity to set new goals and put a plan in place for the next Olympic Games. The Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) has an opportunity to purge itself of its ineffective leadership and provide a space for a cadre of competent, selfless leaders who would make positive change.

Photo: Tyra Gittens competes in the qualification rounds of the women’s long jump at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
(Copyright AP)

If you have hung around sports for long enough, you will know the story of the late Lystra Lewis (OBE) who has the enviable record for being the coach of the 1979 Trinidad and Tobago Netball team. In addition to winning the World Netball Championships, Trinidad and Tobago became the first country to host and win the championships.  

Her repetitive advice when I worked with her was to focus on the children and provide the structure for their performance. The advice is still golden, especially now that our performance in Tokyo has shown that talent is not absent, but without the appropriate vision supported by system and structures the next Olympics, like so many other facets of our nation’s endeavours, will stimulate the same empty conversations.

“D” Chronicles chats with Singer Charmaine Forde & “Olympic Daddy” Brian Wood

Early Talent Discovery

Charmaine Forde is the first person to sing during one of our interviews. Enjoy a sample from the song which launched her career. At the age of 11, she received a standing ovation at Trinity Church for singing “Hear Oh Lord” which was written by American social justice advocate and at-the-time Roman Catholic seminarian, Ray Repp (1942-2020). And so began this “vocal stylist’s” journey as an international singer.

Marketing is Key

She comments that having talent is just one part of the package because success requires the dedication and hard work of a supportive team. Her advice to young and emerging singers is to excel in a specific genre but master a variety so that you can perform under different circumstances.

Living the Caribbean Rhythm

While acknowledging that Trinidad and Tobago is a difficult space for singers and vocalists to thrive Charmaine is confident that persistence and resilience will eventually result in great success. Look out for her next project – Charmaine’s World which will focus on the rhythm of living your life in Trinidad and Tobago and the region.

Olympic Daddy – Brian Wood
At 15:00 the conversation embraces “Olympic Daddy” Brian Wood, father of Trinidad and Tobago’s first female Olympic Judo qualifier Gabriella Wood. Boring but true Brian shared that his family inspires him to do whatever is necessary for their success. His goal is to improve the lives of each member of his family.

Dedicated facilities

As Gabriella’s business manager, he has vicariously shared her experiences of being trained at dedicated athletic development facilities in Mexico and Hungary. Gabriella was first identified by a Cuban coach in. He lamented that oftentimes our sporting activities are pushed by parents who are helping their children achieve their dreams and once the child moves, the interest of the parents’ wain and the sport is faced with finding a new champion.

Unearthing Talent

Having invested his personal resources into Gabriella’s journey, he has learned that success in sports on a national level requires the development of a robust funding mechanism as well as the creation of programmatic structures to attract youth participation. Gabriella’s journey was multi-country and provided an opportunity for a coach who would otherwise not have had the opportunity in his home country because of the intense competition.

Future Vision

Our future success from identified sports can occur by triaging our natural local talent, under unutilized international coaches, and corporate support. Structure, systems, and processes are the key considerations if we are to make the best use of the talent which abounds in our country.