By Kaelanne Jordan
As Amílcar Sanatan tells it, social justice was part of his world from birth. Both his parents were profoundly committed to the cause of social justice, providing technical leadership, co-created communities of practice and professionalised social justice work in the national and regional community.
“They never desired to be ‘in front’, neither did they work for recognition. They served their terms because they had a duty to the people they chose to serve,” Sanatan told Catholic News.
He and his brothers were each named after Third World liberators and on his mother’s insistence, their middle names were drawn from Catholic saints.
Sanatan, Catholic Commission for Social Justice (CCSJ) Board member opined many people think that his social justice orientation was established by the political and ideological socialisation he had.
Truthfully, the first activist experience he had was in the church, “…assisting my mother with the development of a human resource directory, setting up chairs for community meetings… seeing the importance of a strong moderator who discerns village bacchanal from urgent issues to address on the conference floor… made it clear to me that ideas needed to be driven by action.
“Even seeing my aunt reflect on the gospel and write her interpretations of them with intention shaped my activism. I knew that the work with people was about empowerment and leaders must be prepared and elevate the understandings and experiences of their people,” Sanatan said.
He shared that he has long followed the work of the CCSJ and described former CCSJ Chair Leela Ramdeen as one who has had a good working relationship with key players at The University of the West Indies and civil society organisations.
“I saw her at various events over time. Finally, I reached out to her earlier this year to discuss the interventions of the Roman Catholic Church in Sea Lots and Beetham Gardens. By the end of the conversation, she extended an invitation to join the Management Committee of the CCSJ. I submitted my CV, and the members of the committee approved my nomination.”
Sanatan mentioned that in the first meeting, he committed to advance youth and student development, gender justice and inter-faith dialogue.
“Of course, all of this work is informed by the preferential option for the poor. I also made it clear that I am not a practising Roman Catholic. I sit in churches to get away from the exigencies of professional and island bacchanal life. I cannot stand on a position of authority regarding faith, but I am willing to walk with others – teaching, learning, and sharing – to advance a theology of liberation and justice for the poor and excluded,” Sanatan said.
A belief in duty
Sanatan also serves as Project Coordinator for Socio-Economic Projects and Programmes at the East Port of Spain Development Company (EPOS). EPOS is a special purpose state company established to lead physical, social, and economic transformation in urban communities on the peripheries of the capital city.
He presently coordinates food entrepreneurship, sign language, Spanish language, parenting, social media marketing and music video programmes in Laventille, Morvant and Beetham Gardens.
In addition to this, he evaluates the impact of the Latrine Eradication Programme on the improvement of material and social well-being of East Port of Spain residents.
“The fact of the matter is that East Port of Spain is deserving of the best in the world. The idea that our contributions to these urban communities is something exclusively ‘for a man pocket’ or ‘ting a yute who can’t read to understand’ has no place in my mandate….Whether you have zero O’Levels or two university degrees, my job is to create the conditions for you to assert your equal place in this society and economy,” Sanatan asserted.
He underscored while he has his fears and no two days are alike in these communities, “I rise again because it is my duty. I hear the feedback from residents in Sea Lots and I know that Sister Deborah de Rosia is making an impact. If I am one third of the visionary and labourer Fr Michael Makhan was then I would have made an impact in the communities as I hoped for.”
I am RastafarI
According to Sanatan, his embrace of RastafarI is not unique. He noted many Roman Catholic boys and girls who have been transformed by reggae music and the necessary disturbances of Bob Marley. “This is a reality of our context. In RastafarI, we discover a simple and radical evangelical message for the poor, racial and reparative justice, and rights for the dispossessed. Politically, I am RastafarI and I am committed to improvement of the material and social conditions of people of African descent in the Caribbean and around the world.
“My love for the environment and grounded approaches to development are rooted in concepts of ‘ital’ and ‘livity’.” ‘Ital’ is a lifestyle which considers not only the diet consumed, but the way the food is produced in harmony with the environment. ‘Livity’ refers to the customs and cultural traditions of RastafarI which are meant to bring balance to people as well as the environment. Ital is an inextricable part of livity.
He said his identification with RastafarI allows him to move with less restrictions to mobility through the ghetto. On the other hand, Sanatan said he has been aggressively stopped and searched in airports and on the roadside by authorities. Despite this, “I persevere and try not to internalise the aggression and self-doubt of those who oppose I/me.”
Commenting on the pressing social justice issues facing society, Sanatan said he would love to see Sign Language as a CXC O’Level subject taught across schools in the region and the government invest $1 billion to end gender-based violence to sustainably fund the social sector.
“Overall, I would love for the political leadership and people on political party floors to promote a model of governance that has a conscience.” He believes one of the steps in developing a just society is to mainstream youth in development and public design, planning, decision-making and outcomes.
“In the total transformation of the relations of power, youth participate and lead in transformative ways. Institutions do a lot of talking about youth empowerment, but they see what they lack, instead of what they possess. The youth mainstreaming approach is one of the primary instruments needed for a just transformation of our society,” Sanatan said.
Culturally Roman Catholic
Sanatan said during the period of his preparation for Confirmation, he took public transport to different churches on Sundays. “I enjoyed connecting with other young people and seeing the dynamics of their congregation. Mt Lambert, St Joseph, Tunapuna, Cathedral and San Juan were the ones I attended most. The Catholic Church in Blackrock, Barbados was also important to the development of my Caribbean consciousness and intimate understanding of people from the Eastern Caribbean,” he said.
Contributing to the Church selflessly is his way of expressing the love he has for his mother. The images of Our Lady of Guadalupe and St Martin de Porres are tattooed on his body. These iconic images, he explained, represent the contradictions and possibilities for liberation in the Caribbean and Americas.
“I do not think that my colleagues in the CCSJ and people in the Church brought me as an authority on theology or the affairs of the Church. They welcomed me for my perpetual search and questions which are relevant to the institution in this time. I am an intervention.”