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Integrating Venezuelan migrants through home-based agriculture

Story and photos courtesy Matthew Pierre

On Saturday, May 6 a graduation ceremony was held for a migrant training programme in Arima.

The programme focused on migrant women, many of whom were mothers, in  two practical courses over four months: Conversational English, and Agricultural and Entrepreneurial Skills.

The project was administered by the Venezuelan Integration Development Association (VIDA) project, funded by the Santa Rosa & Malabar RC Parishes Cluster Migrants & Refugees Ministry (SRMMRM) and the Automation & Technology College (ATC).

The graduation ceremony for the first cohort of students was hosted at the Santa Rosa RC Church and was celebrated in both Spanish and English, demonstrating how the local, migrant and refugee communities can come together and understand each other.

Mutual understanding and coming together are what make the VIDA project special. In the words of one of the project’s coordinators, Maria Chirino, it “…was born of a desire to see greater integration amongst our migrant community in Arima and environs.”

She noted that the project was organised by several coordinators and their family members belonging to the SRMMRM. VIDA was initiated in January 2023 during which ten migrant students were exposed to two courses simultaneously.

Chirino said that VIDA’s agri-business course taught sustainable, home-based agriculture techniques, agri-business basics and entrepreneurship.

The English course exposed students to conversational English for professional and social usage.

VIDA students, under the guidance of ATC’s agriculture teacher Deon Neaves, were taught how to construct, fill, plant and maintain the vertical gardens.

Chirino highlighted that these vertical gardens facilitate small-scale agricultural production.

During the ceremony, there was a photographic display of dishes created by the students from the vegetables and herbs harvested from the vertical gardens.

Director of the SRMMRM, Matthew Pierre initiated the ceremony with a prayer asking that migrants and refugees be integrated with the wider Trinidadian society as “Jesus Himself was a migrant”.

Pierre, and the ministry he leads, is no stranger to the landscape of humanitarian work under the umbrella of the Catholic Commission for Social Justice (CCSJ), Archdiocesan Ministry for Migrants & Refugees (AMMR) and through collaborations with various stakeholders in the humanitarian community such as R4V Platform Partners.

Chirino noted that it was thanks to the support from the SRMMRM, the VIDA project received all that was necessary for both courses to be taught.

Representatives of ATC, another key partner in the VIDA project, which provided certification for the agri-business course, also spoke at the graduation ceremony.

Both Dr Sandra West, Principal of ATC, and Director Ryan West were actively engaged in the project’s development from inception.

Dr West detailed that ATC has also been involved in the social sector, voluntarily giving solar, agriculture and IT courses in conjunction with organisations such as the Ministry of National Security, Vision on Mission, the National Domestic Violence Shelter, and St Jude’s Home for Girls.

VIDA project coordinators thanked West for his brilliant vision of sustainable home-based agriculture. Mentioned was that he was the key impetus for this project, offering feedback and guidance along the way.

Also present at the graduation ceremony were representatives of the Andrea Project, an NGO which applies technology to tackle gender-based violence in Trinidad and Tobago.

James Walker of the Andrea Project spoke in both Spanish and English on the various tips and techniques available to both migrants, refugees, and locals alike to keep themselves safe. The Andrea Project also hosted an informative sign-up session in the latter part of the ceremony. As many of the students who graduated from VIDA were women, the Andrea Project certainly sparked much interest in its goals and objectives.

As part of the entertainment, James Castillo, and Maria Nuitter Espinal performed pieces of song and dance. Castillo, a descendant of Venezuelans who migrated to Trinidad three generations ago, sang and performed various popular Venezuelan folk songs on the cuatro. ‘Pajarillo’, originally sung by Venezuelan llanero artist Luis Silva moved the crowd to get up and dance.

The story of ‘La Burriquita’ was told by Venezuelan folkloric artist Nuitter Espinal in both words and movement. With Nuitter Espinal’s colourful costume which imitated a rider on a donkey, she bridged the gap between Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago to the delight of all attendees, to a song aptly named ‘La Puente’ (The Bridge). The song fused Venezuelan folk rhythms with Soca music.

When asked what the plans for the VIDA project were, Chirino noted that “…while this programme was designed for Venezuelan migrants, it has amazing potential for expansion into other areas, for example, at primary and secondary schools nationwide.”

She explained how urban agriculture can impact youths to appreciate the world around them and sensitise them to domestic and social responsibilities. She concluded that the VIDA project does plan to run future cohorts through continued partnerships with both the SRMMRM and the ATC.

Chirino ended saying, “We have so many learnings from our pilot project…let’s make a positive impact on our society by planting more seeds of hope!”.


Persons interested in volunteering or contributing to the VIDA Project, coordinators can be contacted through Matthew Pierre, via WhatsApp 376-0040, email, or call (1-868) 718-1849. They are present on social media – vida_proyecto and VIDA NGO TT on Instagram, and Facebook as VIDA NGO TT.