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Working together to alleviate poverty

By Dominique Heffes-Doon



To commemorate World Day of the Poor, November 14, 2021, CCSJ hosted, with His Grace, an interfaith conversation, comprised of key religious figures in T&T.

Collaboration is essential if we are to ease human suffering, exacerbated by the global pandemic. In keeping with the Synod 2021–2023 process, this event allowed us to listen to the voices of our brothers and sisters from different faith communities.

CCSJ will be serialising the transcriptions of the conversation over the upcoming weeks. Let’s together discern how we can move forward in harmony as a nation.

During the virtual conversation in November, each speaker was deeply moved by the call for collaboration, which came from Reverend Dr Knolly Clarke of the Anglican Church. We share some of his words:

“… I want to move away a little from the idea of individual communities talking about their own response to poverty. I want first to praise so many of the persons who have spoken here. They are special. However, I think it is time that we don’t just talk about things that we hand out, but about how we are going to empower the poor.

Poverty my brothers and sisters, in my own theological reflection, is not just giving charity. It is empowering the poor to engage in their own future. Maybe we should have an institute which would enable the pastors, imams etc., to enable the poor, because the poor are people who need to engage in their own future.

We must not only give them things. I remember when [the late] Dr Hamid and myself ran what we called the Caribbean Ecumenical Programme. Our response to people was to provide them with projects, programmes to empower themselves.

Take, for example, the men and women who were in the cane fields in the days of sugar, particularly the women. We had what we called a Rural Aid Programme, and a whole group of people enabled those women. Some of them could not read; they could not write.

We did that work, and we also provided them at Christmas time an opportunity to work with their hands. They had great skills. They made toys and gifts which they sold. They had bazaars and we used St Andrews Theological College, where I was a lecturer. The CCC [Caribbean Conference of Churches] had a programme there. We brought people there to train them, to empower them.

I want to compliment so many of you for your outreach. We do that kind of thing too, but I think we’re in a phase now whereby we have to empower the poor to take hold of their future. Unless we do that, we will only be giving to the cycle of poverty.

Let’s organise workshops for the poor. I think if we can do that, as a community, as religious communities, it would be a very important exercise for those in our country because a lot of the poor are being exploited. The whole question of the man-woman relationship. Too many of our women are being violated because they depend on [men]. When I look at [Insp Roger] Alexander’s programme (‘Beyond the Tape’ on TV6); he and Marlan [Hopkinson] are begging men to take hold of their responsibility, and women too.

We want to transform, to heal this thing of poverty. People are wounded by their poverty. We have to help them take seriously this question, that they are human beings, and they can be instruments. God has made them, and they have gifts.

We must begin with the family at home. There is where we have to give our children, a sense of purpose, a sense of direction, a sense of focus, so that they could really take hold of their future. That is the challenge I think we have as religious communities. Teach them art; give them direction. We must do this together.

…We need to carry this exercise further, to work with the poor in a new way. We all have a lot to give. It must not be one religion, or one religious group; it’s the TEAM, working together.

The Anglicans working along with the Muslims; the Catholics and the Anglicans, and all of us; the Christians, the Hindus, all working together in temples –  in different places, working TOGETHER to empower the poor.”

Make sure to check the highlights of the inter-religious conversation in CCSJ’s column for January 2022 and visit to download the full E-Book.

Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ reminds us of the importance of the State and faith communities/the wider society, working together to promote integral human development and to build the common good/a just society.



“We need only think of care for our common home. The environment, in fact, ‘is on loan to each generation, which must then hand it on to the next’. We ought to esteem and encourage all those young people who work for a more just world, one that is careful to safeguard the creation entrusted to our stewardship.” (2)

– Pope Francis, 55th World Day

of Peace 2022

CCSJ Social Justice Education Committee