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Rose Hill RC pupils in TTPS programme: ‘Who’s Writing Your Story?’

By Lara Pickford-Gordon

The Victim and Witness Support Unit (VWSU) of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service in collaboration with the Catholic Education Board of Management hosted ‘Who’s Writing Your Story: Fear to Freedom’ at the Rose Hill RC School, East Dry River. It was a response to the trauma experienced by the children in the aftermath of gunfire from rival gangs in the community on Monday, October 31.

The impact on the pupils was captured in a viral video showing children in an infant’s class lying on the ground, heads propped on their arms and a female teacher instructing them to be silent. Classes were temporarily suspended at the school.

‘Who’s Writing Your Story’ began last November and concluded with a mentorship workshop ‘My Life Vision’ on August 10. According to a release from the TTPS Corporate Communications Unit the workshop aimed to nurture empowerment and bolster resilience in pursuit of future aspirations and insights were given into various professions.

T&T’s Olympic Champion Emmanuel Callander also inspired participants to believe in themselves and write their own story. Thirty-eight participants from the Standard Four and Five classes were involved.

“Students partook in a series of intimate group sessions with designated mentors,” the release stated. Mentors were: Jessie Mc Barrow, a mindset coach, author, and entrepreneur; Jason Hospedales, artist and art educator; Shaniqua Bascomb, a national track and field athlete; Niquisha Hassette, a licensed massage therapist and business proprietor; Constable Deon Madeira of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service; and Divisional Fire Officer Dave Issac and auxiliary firefighter Isaiah Archibald of the Trinidad and Tobago Fire Service.

The workshops dealt with subjects such as goal setting, positive behavioural refinement, financial literacy, and time management.

The release reported that at the closing principal Charlene Ross-Quamina “expressed deepest gratitude for the programme’s profound impact on the students’ self-esteem and empowerment.”

‘Who’s Writing Your Story: Victim to Victors’ was introduced in 2020 as a collaboration with NALIS (National Library Information System) targeting boys 14-18 from secondary schools. It was intended to be a pre-emptive

response against youth involvement in crime. A second instalment was held in 2021 face-to-face with a smaller number from the group.

The focus of these short programmes were males attending secondary schools. However, the VWSU realised to make meaningful impact they should “work with primary school students, to become change agents who are resilient, so they may be less influenced at the secondary school level,” said Janelle Sebastien-Reyes, Supervisor of Operations, VWSU in an interview with The Catholic News.

She said following the gunfire incident, Head, Social Support Services, TTPS, Aisha Corbie and Deputy Manager Kirk Pierre “saw an opportunity to partner with Rose Hill RC and make an intervention at the primary level”.

“The principal welcomed the partnership as well as the Executive of the TTPS… our team evaluated the ‘Who’s Writing our Story’ programme and came up with a model that will leave meaningful impact within the lives of our participants and their families,” Sebastien-Reyes said.

At Rose Hill, the first phase began in November with weekly sessions on Thursdays. Twelve personal development topics were covered including ‘Self Esteem’, ‘Building individual strengths’, ‘Discovering Your Purpose and Why’.

She said, “as the VWSU seeks to bridge the gap, the students are building a relationship with the Police Service, as well as understanding, there is no barrier, and it’s not them against the police. We went into them, and we showed we are here to partner with you.”

The second phase was “speed mentoring” in which persons were identified as mentors based on some of the ideas given in the ‘Discovering your purpose and why’.

The mentoring workshop is over but Rose Hill students can still receive mentorship support. VWSU personnel who presented on topics will be assigned to groups of children.

Sebastien-Reyes said, “We have persons they will be able to reach out to…they’re having a problem in school, need assistance with schoolwork, things like that. We really want them to not fall through the cracks. ‘Sometimes help is just knowing where to go’, is a tagline we use. “

The third phase was two whole-day workshops over two weeks for parents to share issues they are facing. A WhatsApp support group will be created for parents.

Sebastien-Reyes added, “what we would have seen happening, issues that would have happened in the household, we would have had maybe three or four

parents of the students would have reached out for us to give further counselling to them”.

In the beginning, there were children with the attitude of ‘I don’t want anything to do with the police’; they were less defensive by the time the programme ended.

Sebastien-Reyes said, “In some of these cases, there would have had bad incidents where the police may have killed their parents…some of these same young men who didn’t want anything to do with the police, when issues start to happen at home and their parents reach out, when we call them, they [the children] are receptive and come into the station for counselling”. The official programme has ended but parents have been assured VWSU will continue to assist.

The fourth and final phase of the programme is integration and volunteerism. The children will be invited to events hosted by the TTPS for example, a walkabout sharing information about the VWSU. “It is not always just us against them. Through help, transformation can happen with the right support,” Sebastien-Reyes said.