For Jeff and other young people residing in the community of Mon Repos- Morvant, life included challenging obstacles that deprived them of the opportunity to be successful, fully contributing members of society. Many of these vulnerable young people were prone to the ‘block life’, where they were exposed to negative influences and activities on a daily basis.
Involvement in criminal and gang activities is among the most critical issues affecting the youth of Trinidad and Tobago where criminogenic socialisation intensifies pressure on them to associate with violent gangs. In 2017, gang membership was estimated to be in the region of 2,500 young persons and serious criminal offences committed by youth 21 years and under totalled 1067, with 996 being committed by males and 71 by females.
Over a short period of time, life for Jeff and his peers would dramatically change for the better. Through the Positive Deviance Project, selected youth from the Mon Repos community were immersed in a six-month long peace-building programme that empowered them with the skills to become positive role models in their community, and promote messages of peace and sustainable living among their peers.
The Mon Repos community was selected for its vibrant population of young people who ardently wanted to make a difference in their community but lacked the opportunities to do so.
After a rigorous baseline mapping of the community which took into consideration the perspectives of the youth, it became clear that their inability to access basic necessities such as technology, safe living environments and financial stability made them even more vulnerable to the allure of criminal lifestyles.
In order to address the challenges faced by these youth, a programme of interventions was implemented starting with psychosocial assessments which were conducted on each participant by qualified social workers and counsellors. The assessments were used to develop Personal Development Plans tailored the specific needs of each youth and place them on a trajectory toward success.
The assessments also showed that Jeff and his peers required support to help them overcome the pressures and trauma that they faced in their daily lives. A specially designed programme of psychosocial interventions was developed and included extensive work to heal the psychosocial scars left by the trauma of poverty, violence, and stigma. Jeff and his peers immersed themselves in workshops on topics such as Conflict Resolution, Anger Management, Dealing with Trauma, Substance Abuse, Teambuilding, Leadership and more.
They also actively participated in field trips which exposed them to the possibilities that existed outside of their community, and outside of what they were accustomed to. These trips included visits to a music production studio, a television studio, the University of Trinidad and Tobago, beach clean-up and much more!
As the programme came to an end, many participants signed up for trade and academic courses run by government entities, mainly through the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), MIC Institute of Technology (MIC) and University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT). Most of the youth have now moved on to Phase Two where they are now being trained to be Youth Peer Mentors and Peace Ambassadors.
And Jeff, an exemplary participant of the programme, is now employed at the UNDP as a Temporary Programme Assistant. In his valedictory speech at the Closing Ceremony he expressed the desire for his peers and himself to be positive influences in their community.
“The team and I hope that we will gain the opportunity to work with other communities and youths where we share our experiences and how we benefited from the programme and slowly but surely we can bring change to make our country Trinidad and Tobago a greater land.”
Leaving no one behind requires us to pay greater attention to underserved communities and youth. The Positive Deviance Pilot Project in Mon Repos, Morvant showed the importance of Sustainable Development Goal 10 which speaks to reducing inequality in all forms. It emphasized the fact that if given the opportunity, youth from any environment, can transcend their limitations.