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.