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A caring society
Posted: Monday, January 4, 2010

By Derren Joseph
January 04, 2010

Christmas season, 2009, was a memorable one for us. A time of rest and reflection, spent in the company of family and good friends. One thing I always enjoy is time spent chatting, especially discussing life and views on our beloved Trinidad and Tobago. A good friend, Darryl Smith, had a Christmas lime at his home in Maraval. My wife Sally and I met this lovely couple and struck up a conversation with them. The topic was the state of our nation: are things getting better or worse? Very good points were made on both sides of the debate, and for days after that fateful exchange, I reflected on the issues raised. Perhaps, God sensed that the issues were weighing heavily on my mind, because through a series of coincidences, I managed to speak with Sister Helen Francine Scott. Sister Francine is the outgoing manager at St Dominic's Children's Home.

This home was established in 1868 by a Dominican priest, Fr Mariano Forestier, in response to the needs of the displaced and orphaned child victims of the harsh and unjust system of indentureship. In 1871, overwhelmed by the demands of the steadily-growing Belmont Orphanage, as it was called back then, Fr Forestier invited the Dominican Sisters, of St Catherine of Siena, to take charge of the home. Today, the committed and hard-working team continue to provide residential care for children in difficult situations. St Dominic's Children's Home is based in Belmont, but there are two children's residences off the Belmont compound: Sunnyhill at Malick, Barataria, and Plainview on Calvary Hill, Arima. Sometimes, it seems as if more attention is given to those among us who do negative things.

So it seems that those who quietly toil in the background, making that positive difference, go unnoticed. Speaking with Sister Francine reminded me that those making life in Trinidad and Tobago uncomfortable are still among the minority, no matter how much attention the media gives them. The vast majority of us are still peaceful, law-abiding, God-fearing men and women, who just want to enjoy our lives here on these two beautiful islands. Sister Francine spoke of her time working at the Home&amdash;from 1969 to now. As she reflects on her time at St Dominic's Home, she feels a sense of achievement, and firmly believes that things continue to progress favourably. Only recently, she attended the graduation, at University of the West Indies, of two of the home's former residents.

One graduated with a Bachelor's degree in public administration and the other with a Master's in international relations. It was a particularly proud moment for Sister Francine, as these two young adults came to her as babies. Many residents are not academically-inclined, and the definition of success is, therefore, broad enough to encompass every boy and girl who grew up to become a productive member of society. Sister Francine explained that unlike times gone by, residents are no longer ashamed of living at the Home. Rather, it is now commonplace for former residents to visit with their boyfriends/girlfriends or families, especially at Christmas time. One of the most satisfying comments that Sister Francine hears from former residents is: “You were always there for us."

Sister Francine mentioned that one of the bigger challenges facing the Home was that of those young people going through the transition involved in becoming a young adult and moving out on their own. Finding a job, place to rent and so on can be made more challenging without a network of family support. In discussing opportunities for young people, Sister Francine mentioned a government programme known as MILAT, which has been particularly helpful to many of the home's residents. Admittedly, I was not too familiar with this state initiative, but after we spoke, I managed to find a Website Apparently, the Specialised Youth Service Programmes is a unified management organisation for managing youth programmes under the purview of the Defence Force.

These youth programmes include the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), Military Led Youth Programme of Apprenticeship and Reorientation Training (MYPART), Military Led Academic Training Programme (MILAT) and National Youth Service (NYS). Kudos to the management and staff of St Dominic's Children's Home and to the management and staff of the four Specialised Youth Service Programmes. Your work is appreciated, not just by the young people you serve, but by the wider society in general. We wish you a very happy and prosperous New Year.

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