As part of my campaign in helping with the development of the youth, I will be featuring outstanding young men and women who are role models and an example to others with their exceptional leadership qualities and abilities. There are many young people who are using their talents and skills in a positive way, and it´s important that we encourage and support them on their journey. Every week, I will feature one “Loverly” individual who is defining their own life while inspiring and empowering others in the process. If you know of someone who you think should be featured, please contact me and tell me more about this person.
Tropicalfete’s Keran Deterville Chats With Author Loverly SheridanPublished: May 2, 2013
Feature #12: The Brilliant Professor and Aspiring Scholar – Dr. Tesa E. LeoncePublished: April 16, 2013
There are some women who encompass the most amazing grace and character. Their entire aura and being reflect excellence and greatness, and there is no need to convince anyone of it because they lead by example. Dr. Tesa E. Leonce is the epitome of this description. An outstanding young Saint Lucian woman, whose discipline, hard work, and determination allowed her to attain the highest level of education – P.H.D in Economics. Dr. Leonce applied herself and utilized all the opportunities available to achieve her dreams. She remained focused and grounded, and is now proud to be an Associate Professor of Economics at Eastern Illinois University, in Charleston, Illinois located just a few hours south of Chicago. I know that her story will be a source of inspiration to many, especially the youth with hopes of becoming doctors in their respective fields one day. It is an honor to interview her and feature her as of one of my ‘Loverly People.’
Lovee: Hi Tesa, I know you will cringe at me calling you Dr. Leonce repeatedly, so I hope the first name basis is ok with you…(Laughing out loud)
Tesa: …and that would be an accurate prediction my dear Lovee, I’m very happy with Tesa – thanks! You are so kind, what a glowing introduction; I am so humbled to be recognised by you in this way. (smiling)
Lovee: (Smiling) You’re welcome, that was easy. I am really grateful that you took the time out of your globe-trotting schedule, (Laughing out loud) to perform this interview. I see you’ve been busy exploring this fascinating planet again with your recent trip to Spain and London- how was it?
Tesa: Ha! Somehow the idiom “pot calling kettle black”, (the West Indian version that is) seems to apply here! Lovee, I’ve said this to you so many times, and now I’m happy we’re going to document this. I have been so inspired by your own fascinating adventures! You have helped me realize that there are just so many places to discover, exciting cultures to explore, and other hidden treasures to uncover…so much to do, so little time. My contribution to this finding is that one has to create time, i.e. prioritize. We all make time for things that are important to us, it’s not even a choice in my opinion; it’s innate. So, like you, I have decided to make discovery a priority…all types! But to answer your question, yes, I’ve carved out this time to have this great dialogue with you! Spain was amazing. I had read so much about Barcelona, the intrigue brought me there first. I then migrated south with the birds to Madrid, not really in search of warmer weather (it was March, so no such luck!), but to experience Spain’s bustling metropolis, in stark contrast to Barcelona’s more laid back atmosphere. But as I said, I’ve seen your travel blogs, and I know I’m preaching to the choir, Lovee! London was amazing as well, I’ve been a few times now; I was happy to spend time with my Aunt Catherine and Uncle Brian who reside there. Thanks for asking.
Lovee: Thank you for those kind words, but don’t get me started on all the wonders and benefits of traveling, we will be here all day! (Laughing out loud) It really is an eye opener and life altering experience. Is traveling also a passion of yours? What do you love the most about discovering new places and cultures?
Tesa: Well, I truly mean them, Lovee, and you’re right, this conversation can last a lifetime! Re: travel being a passion – emphatic yes!…and one that is growing in intensity too. You know, I don’t know that I particularly enjoy the extended hours on planes, trains, and automobiles, but my inner Economist kicks in every time when I come to the same conclusion after getting done with a trip – no, let’s call it an adventure, because trips always evolve that way – the benefits I receive when I get there definitely outweigh all of the costs associated with travel that one can fathom. It’s not just the money, there are several other opportunity costs as well including time spent away from family, work-related alternatives, and sleep, to name a few! What I find particularly fascinating about new places in addition to their rich history, architecture, etc. is the fact that when you get there, the way of life is new only to you. Let me explain what I mean by that. When you get to a location, many things seem so different, like the way people dress, the language they speak, the food they eat, and what they deem as entertainment is just so varied, but the thing is, to everyone else, it is just the norm! So you can either decide to stand on the sidelines and gawk in discomfort, or you can jump right in and immerse yourself in the culture and be totally transformed by yet another amazing experience that you would never relish had you sat in your office chair or your sofa at home! The truth is people all over the world are so different, yet so incredibly similar.
Lovee: I say it all the time, we (as in people)are more alike than we are different, and when we take time to get to know each other, we realize that. What is the most impressive for me is that you go on some of your journeys solo…WOW! I thought I was the only crazy one (laughing out loud) but in all seriousness, it’s great to know a woman with the same adventurous spirit. A friend recently asked me to accompany her on a trip because she didn’t want to go alone. I told her that going solo is probably the best thing she will ever do for herself, and that the things she will discover about herself and others will broaden her horizons in ways she never imagined. How has the experience been for you?
Tesa: Actually, Spain was my first solo adventure believe it or not. I have always gone with family, significant others, or friends in the past. My mom, Olive, really played a huge role in developing my travel curiosity from early on. As a matter of fact, my first ‘big’ trip was a gift from her which she felt I deserved based on my performance on A-level exams. What a treat it was to board that flight to visit family in Jersey, and then clear across the country to California! My mom and I have clocked the most travel miles together out of all my travel partners, and believe me, my mama is a travel trooper. You give her one piece of luggage and a plane ticket…and she will be bright-eyed every single day, anticipating the next excursion.
I am becoming more like her, but I didn’t start off that way. Initially, I found it hard to adapt to functioning with only a few choice items that could fit in a 50-lb contraption…lol. However, I have learned to pack efficiently and to embrace what I discover at the destination, not what I bring to it. That principle has actually made the transition from group travel to solo travel a lot smoother. I had racked up a few miles over the years, so I finally decided to ‘cash in’ on some of them this past spring break. That was the best decision ever. I referred to it as my version of Julia Roberts’s Eat, Pray, Love movie which focused on self-discovery, choice, and relationships. I have to admit that traveling solo did seem daunting at some points, and I knew my family would have probably shared that opinion, so I deliberately decided to make all the travel arrangements and such before informing them.
In a sense, I was holding myself to that choice, not leaving any room for a change of heart. I did run the idea by my bestie, Kay Doxilly, she has always been an objective sounding board and dishes out the best advice. She said, “go for it!” We started referring to it as my ‘big girl trip’ from that point on. We all need a Kay in our lives. But you know Lovee, as I discovered an increasing number of reliable online travel resources, and as I leaned on all my prior travel experiences where I had done the bulk of the planning, it became so easy, so natural, and that initial apprehension quickly turned into excitement. I was literally giving myself pep talks as the travel dates approached…. “it will be fun, Tesa! You’ll meet these incredible people, learn so much about yourself, be on your own schedule, you can change your mind about anything at any second with zero major repercussions”.
The perks of solo travel seemed endless (smiling) Well, truth be told, sometimes we seek some sort of external validation…confirmation that we’re making a rational choice, so I subscribed to a travel networking site I discovered online. When I began interacting with these travel veterans, oh my goodness, I felt so empowered. Gosh, what was I thinking, I certainly was no pioneer in solo traveling, the world had been doing this all along! What took me so long?! When I took this enthusiasm to my family, they were right on board with me cheering me along, and that was icing on the cake. Lovee, this is the best advice you could give to your friend. Looking back at this solo adventure, there were definitely instances where I thought, you know this activity could have been more fun with someone else, but then when you get there, wherever ‘there’ is, you meet people, it forces you to get out of your comfort zone, begin dialogue and share experiences with people who were once strangers. I would highly recommend a solo travel experience at least once.
Lovee: You said it all so well. Thanks for the acknowledgement. Traveling really changed my life, and opened up my eyes to a whole new world, and provided such a broader perspective of the world and others. It truly broadened my horizons beyond anything, and I would encourage anyone if they wanted to truly invest in something worthwhile, they should invest in traveling and exploring this fascinating world we live in. We are both blessed to be able to travel with our mothers. My mom travels everywhere with me, and I can’t tell you how much of a blessing that is. She is such a great travel buddy and her reactions to certain things are priceless! (Laughing out loud) So, of course, we went off subject (smiling) and delved into a topic we both could talk about for hours, because of our mutual love for traveling, but as a little girl growing up in Saint Lucia, what was your dream for your life?
Tesa: Hmm…my dream was to not have to dream! Does that make sense, Lovee? I didn’t want to have to dream for too long. I totally get that there will always be things to strive for and milestones to reach, but I always wanted to be proactive enough where dreams were only short-lived, at least until the next one rolled around; they would be short-lived because they became reality. My parents instilled the importance of education not just as an accomplishment in itself, but as one of the primary means of converting those dreams.
Lovee: Ahhh…interesting. Love that perspective. What was it like growing up on an Island?
Tesa: I had an amazing childhood. Looking back, I can say so wholeheartedly. One thing I credit my parents for is allowing my three siblings (Livia, Nelma, Lennie) and me to live life without any adult care in the world. We were never burdened with any issues of finances or any sort of instability. On a different note, like many other island natives, I didn’t really take full advantage of all the island had to offer. For instance, we only did the beach excursions on major holidays, even when we lived in Reduit Park, less than five minutes from the beach in Rodney Bay. We didn’t bask in the sun every weekend, go hiking, or lounge poolside. We didn’t schmooze with the socio-economic upper echelons; my parents always emphasized modesty. We didn’t do name brand anything, even though they could afford it.
To some degree, I think growing up with that philosophy had the opposite effect than what was intended; it actually fueled my ambitions to be able to afford those very things. I at least wanted to allow myself the option to choose. I didn’t want to have to dream or wish…I just wanted to work hard and achieve. For my parents, it was paramount to teach us to remain humble and to value the important things in life. Life mainly revolved around enjoying the company of family and friends. I spent many weekends with my maternal grandmother, Aunt Hilea and other extended family. I grew up in a relatively conservative household where faith was central and still remains that way for me. Much of my youth experience was within the context of protestant churches and catholic schools. So in addition to my parents, Leonard and Olive Leonce, people like Pastor Marcellus Henry and Sister Claire played major roles in my early years on the island. Funny enough, when I reminisce about growing up in St. Lucia, it is always within the context of a core group of classmates who are still very dear to me today. Overall, growing up in St. Lucia was enjoyable, productive, rewarding, and memorable.
Lovee: It’s funny because when we tell others that we’re from an Island, they instantly think that we get to do all these fun, adventurous things all day. But, like you, we rarely enjoyed all the wonderful things our Island had to offer, and I think that’s sad, because we are from a place like no other, and we should enjoy the best of our homeland. Were you always a disciplined student at school, and did you excel in every subject?
Tesa: It’s so true, Lovee. I appreciate St. Lucia so much more now. Whenever I go, at least once every year to visit family and friends, I deliberately incorporate at least one ‘touristy’ activity. That’s my measly attempt at making up for lost time! (smiling)
Was I disciplined…well, it depends on how you define ‘disciplined’…lol. My dad always accused me of studying in my dreams – ha! He had purposely incorporated a study room for us when he developed the blue print for our dream home almost 25 years ago. At nights, he would do his usual unassuming study patrol. My brother was still very young at the time, so my sisters and I were the usual inmates…lol. I think I could have been a bit more diligent with my studies, it’s just that I really didn’t appreciate being uncomfortable. I didn’t see the point of pushing oneself to stay awake when clearly there were physiological demands for sleep! When I was awake though, I did work really hard; I enjoy learning, particularly when a light bulb comes on – it’s a great feeling. I always sought to excel in whatever I did, although as expected, it grew more and more challenging as time progressed. My parents still keep a little ‘shrine’ in our living room with all of our achievements to date.
Lovee: (Laughing out loud) A little rebellious spirit I see. (Smiling) How much of it came naturally, verses you having to always apply yourself and work hard?
Tesa: I believe my hard work is only part of it. I have studied many hours, and that discomfort associated with lack of sleep which I tried to avoid in my high school years soon became routine. So many sacrifices you have to make, it’s part of the deal, Lovee. By definition, in order to excel, you have to push yourself to the limits and sometimes beyond. The other component is my faith in God; that continues to be at the core…it keeps me focused and allows me to keep things in perspective. You know, as I get older, I keep a growing log of defining moments where I know with certainty that only divine intervention got me through. So to answer your question, I believe the instances when we perceived success to come naturally (because there was no explicit effort on our part) were really the moments when God took over. He just says, “I’ve got this one, you can relax”.
Lovee: He sure does! I love that! Ditto my friend, ditto! I take it, you’ve always enjoyed learning?
Tesa: I wouldn’t say that I always enjoyed it. I enjoy some elements of the process, for instance the times where I have discovered interesting findings, and have been able to make practical applications, but learning also entails hard work. Again, I’ll refer to economic theory – a conventional school of thought is that we tend to derive disutility from working, but we choose to engage in the process regardless because it provides a means to earn an income, which then allows us access to items or experiences, which then in turn do bring us some degree of happiness. I regard learning in that light, it’s a fulfilling process, but I more so enjoy the perks that come upon its completion such as being able to impart that knowledge to others and being able to use the results to positively impact someone else’s existence. The learning process is life-long, so when I say completion, I’m really referring to completion of a specific stage.
Lovee: Love the part about imparting that knowledge unto others. That’s truly what it’s all about. I know that you have a wonderful relationship with your parents, how much of their influence helped instill that discipline and work ethic?
Tesa: I do; thank you for acknowledging that. It really laid the foundation for a lot of things. A sound relationship with my parents provided emotional stability, and that environment definitely fostered discipline and strong work ethic. My parents have always had high expectations of my siblings and me. However, they coupled that with support. . I think this combo has worked out really well for us ‘kids’. My eldest sister, Livia, attained a Master’s degree in Nursing, specializing in Emergency Room care and Geriatrics in Canada; my sister Nelly is a practicing dentist, and is currently pursuing graduate studies with a University in the UK while working full time with the St. Lucia Government and private clinic. My brother is a shrewd business man and built his Hauling Business from the ground up and is expanding his client base as we speak. We all took different paths, but my parents are equally proud of our achievements.
My mom in particular is my biggest cheerleader, always has been – “pompoms” and all! The lady believes I am super woman…lol. In the past, I think I may have misguidedly transitioned those expectations to self-imposed pressure to excel, and that wasn’t always healthy. However, it was the same healthy relationship with my parents which encouraged open conversations reiterating that my best is the most they could ever demand, a level that was definitely attainable. My dad has his own unique way of letting me know that he is ALWAYS there. He is more reserved, but always equally proud. His priority was always to work really hard to ensure that we had what we needed. When it came to his children, my dad is the most unselfish person I know. I don’t mean to paint a perfect picture though; as with any other family, we had our dark moments, but thinking about my parents and everything they have done for me really makes me tear up and I thank God for them. I love them dearly, Lovee…can you tell? (smiling) You know, this is the best gift parents can give to their children – support – the reassurance that they will always be there to cheer them on. I am grateful everyday for a present mom and dad.
Lovee: It’s the greatest gift, and you are blessed to have such nurturing and supportive parents. They make all the difference. Always give thanks. Quite an accomplished family, cheers to all of you. I have to tell you that’s it’s great to do an interview and get to say the word “parents” and not just mother. Mothers are great, but I also love saluting the fathers, seeing how their presence makes such a big difference. Did your father play an instrumental role in your life and success?
Tesa: I am forever grateful for the fact that I grew up with both of my parents. Yes, in my formative years, my dad took on the role of strict disciplinarian almost to a fault. He was always one to swim against the tide and he taught my siblings and me to stand for something, even when it may not have been popular. He was also a top achiever in his day. My dad was awarded a full scholarship and successfully completed a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Engineering at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. That was quite an impressive feat for a young man coming up from humble beginnings in Babonneau in the late 70s. His achievements have always been a source of inspiration to me. In fact, I’ve since hijacked his diplomas which were once curled up in scroll-like fashion in a dresser drawer somewhere at home; they’re now featured prominently on my living room wall, and I still well up with pride every time I see them.
Lovee: Fantastic! Continue to celebrate him and his greatness. You should be proud. There are many great men like your father in the Caribbean, and we need to acknowledge them more. You attended the St Joseph Convent, one of the oldest and most reputable institutions of learning on the Island, but also one of the strictest. How did that experience mold you into the woman you are today?
Tesa: When I think St. Joseph’s Convent, I think Sister Claire! I think she was the most widely known principal on the island. Her reputation for enforcing discipline preceded her. So there! I got it from home AND school; there was no running away from it. The bar was set very high at the Convent. There were a number of incentives provided to students…positive reinforcement, but just as well were there severe consequences for what I’ll refer to as infractions. (Smiling)
My experience there taught me about the power of relationships and networking. It is an all-female institution, and many of my classmates would agree that it nurtured a sisterhood which transcends loose adolescent ties. I was surrounded by the best and the brightest minds, competition was palpable, and I was always driven to achieve in those ‘hallowed walls’ as they are referred to in the school’s anthem.
Lovee: It definitely worked in your favor. The older I get, the more I realize the importance of surrounding ourselves with people who challenge and empower us to do and be our best. It’s imperative! It’s the only way we can truly reach our full potential and realize our greatness. What do you value most about the education system in the Caribbean?
Tesa: The intricate weaving of diligence and achievement – that’s what I value most about the fabric of our education system. There is no quick fix, no ‘cracker jack box’ diploma or degree. Students are expected to work hard, think critically, and write intelligently and creatively, and yes, commit things to memory. There are no cheat sheets, extra credit opportunities, or review sheets of what’s coming on the exam. Everything is fair game, why? Because it’s all important! Of course, different components have different degrees of relevance, but important nonetheless.
Lovee: Well said. I think I will be quoting you in the future with those words. (Smiling) And having gone through all the ranks of education, now a professor, what do you think we need to improve on overall?
Tesa: I think we need to cultivate an environment of innovation in the classroom, and to reward students for being creative. I think sometimes students get overly consumed with becoming sponges in unfiltered data pools. Sometimes the assessment methods used in our education system encourage students to simply regurgitate material acquired from documented sources, rather than apply that data appropriately to consider practical applications and form policy implications. I think we need to encourage our students to complement the lenses of their learning microscopes with those of ‘macroscopes’ – the big picture! We need to nurture the inherent curiosity among our students rather than suppress it with the status quo.
Lovee: Ahhhh…brilliant! I know my friend, CXC registrar, Dr Didacus Jules will be reading this interview, and I’m sure he will appreciate your sentiments. I asked because he and I are constantly brainstorming about ways in which we can connect with the youth and make learning fun. How do you make learning interesting for your students?
Tesa: Students like to feel empowered, they appreciate guidance, but they are motivated when they have some degree of ownership in their educational experience. You can spend countless hours developing an amazing lesson plan which involves you dictating in front of the classroom all day long, or you can get their input. I believe that learning becomes fun when it becomes relevant. It has to matter to them, to their personal lives, professional ambitions; it just has to matter. Content – that’s the first thing. The next is pedagogical approach. I think as educators, we have to determine what they consider to be ‘fun’.
A few years ago, my colleague Dr. Linda Ghent and I led a study abroad program to Barbados, where our students were able to make things relevant. They weren’t all Economics majors, in fact, only two of them were. We had Education majors, Photo-journalism majors, Political Science, Nursing, and Foreign Language majors. Built into the curriculum was the opportunity for them to perform comparative studies in their respective fields. They got to interact with peers across the Atlantic with similar field interests, but in many cases totally different approaches to achieving end goals, and that made the course material and their unique experiences relevant.
Many of my classes involve student role playing. They’ve been CEOs of major corporations, government officials, disgruntled consumers or employees, production managers, mediators, and the list goes on. I also find myself using more media in the classroom. I have YouTube playlists dedicated to specific courses. Students love when you break the monotony of class lectures. They want to learn from people’s experiences. They want our theories to be validated by other authorities in the field, or better yet by the experiences of everyday folk like themselves. Then, it becomes relevant and memorable, and applicable, and then yes, you guessed it – fun!
Lovee: I think you better get started on that book soon my friend; you have some innovative and brilliant ideas. You are now an Adjunct Professor at Eastern Illinois University. Did you always want to become a professor? What made you decide to pursue that path?
Tesa: I didn’t start off wanting to become a professor. I was either going to return to the corporate setting or work at a major think tank or policy institution. Again, I wanted to be relevant and I wanted to impact lives. That was one of the reasons I had pursued an internship as a graduate student with the United Nations Secretariat in 2005. I worked with the Office for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Countries, and Small Island States. It was a very rewarding experience. However, as I progressed with my doctoral program, I got more engaged in the world of academia.
Actually, I never assumed adjunct status; I started off as Tenure-track faculty in 2007 after I completed my doctoral studies that year. The official title in the US ranking is Assistant Professor. Although I tend to remain private about these things Lovee, I will tell you that less than 24 hours ago, I got the official letter from the university authorities confirming that I was awarded Tenure, and will now be promoted to Associate Professor status, effective fall 2013. Yay! It really is a big deal in the world of academia mostly because of the job security and other perquisites it provides. For me, it’s simply another springboard for the next jump! (Smiling)
Lovee: CONGRATULATIONS! YES, THAT IS HUGE! (Smiling) BIG ACCOMPLISHMENT FOR A YOUNG WOMAN AS YOURSELF! I GOT GOOSEBUMPS WHEN YOU SAID THAT! I AM SO PROUD OF YOU! SO PROUD! GO SAINT LUCIA! (Smiling) I’m sure Sister Claire will be smiling too. Once you graduated from University, was the transition into the work place a difficult one? Was it difficult finding employment?
Tesa: Thank you so much, Lovee! Girl, all things are possible with God. I’m still thanking Him for the times when He told me “Relax, I’ve got this”(smiling).
2007 was a good year in the US Labor Market. It was the calm before the storm. I had decided to pursue the professor route, and there is a clearly defined system in Economics. Universities would post openings from July or August. To give yourself the best shot at landing the job that next fall, application packets had to be out to prospective employers by September, a full year in advance. The interview calls would come in towards the end of November, and campus fly-outs for the short-listed candidates took place in January – February, with final offers made in March. I was fortunate to have secured over twenty interviews with several reputable institutions that year.
Eastern Illinois University had mastered the ‘game’, they interviewed early to increase their chances of securing their top candidates. I can never be sure if I was their first pick, but I was so happy to have received the job offer in February of that year. The transition was relatively smooth; I had now assumed a leading role in the learning experience of others. I work with a great group of colleagues, so it makes for a good working environment.
Lovee: People know greatness when they see it. And you are great, and you deserve nothing but the best. You know, the road to success is not a smooth or easy one. I know that there will be young people reading this wondering what were some of the challenges you faced on your journey, and how you overcame them. Would you like to share any of them with us?
Tesa: Challenges – where do I begin?! (Smiling) Let me preface my response by saying they are inevitable. One of the big challenges for me was coming to terms with the fact that everyone around you is not necessarily there to embrace you or your successes. Sometimes you just to put on your big-girl shoes and charge right on. I left home to pursue undergraduate studies at Midwestern State University when I was 19 years old, young and somewhat impressionable. Having to navigate life – ranging from basic day-to-day housekeeping factors, career paths, to even relationship choices – was challenging. My own complacency in some areas was a challenge, and dealing with failure was particularly difficult for me because I got used to the initial success.
Lovee: Ahhhh…Those Aha moments! We’ve all been there, and we will continue to have those moments. C’est Lavie (Smiling) But, they really place everything in perspective though, and in the end, all we can do is be thankful, because it strengthens our core, it makes us better, with some added humility, which is always a good thing. What advice would you give to anyone with a dream or goal faced with obstacles and challenges?
Tesa: I would tell them what my dissertation advisor, Dr. Jason Shogren, would tell me, “Keep going”. Every time I came up on another hurdle, he maintained that consistent coaching line. It was simple, but effective. You have to be motivated by something or someone meaningful, that way the medal always makes the race worthwhile. I would also tell them what my mom would tell me, “pray, and then work hard”. Then I would end with my advice, failure does not mean the end, it’s another shot at a new beginning. You know, come to think of it, I may actually be paraphrasing something I read in your book “A Girl Like Me”. I’m almost certain of it now.
Lovee: Yes! Keep going, my wise friend Freddie’s words to me always. Life will throw some really tough challenges and situations our way, but we have to keep going. It’s the only way. What advice would you give to the youth about success?
Tesa: Demand it from yourselves. Sometimes, we can be our own setback. Don’t gauge your success against mediocrity; always look to the people who have surpassed your achievements by leaps and bounds, because success is always relative. If your success doesn’t drive you to achieve the next big thing, then it will be relegated to transient accolades in a world with a disturbingly short attention span. Keep going! Complacency feeds mediocrity.
Lovee: Ditto! Very well said! I always say, you can’t demand from others what you don’t demand from yourself. You often hear people say I want/expect this and that from others, but are YOU all of those things? What we demand from others, must be a reflection of us. SET THAT BAR HIGH! An idle mind is truly a devils workshop. It’s scary. It’s very important that we surround ourselves with people with a sense of purpose. People who are so busy in their own lives, with their own goals, that they have little time for anything else. As you continue on your journey, what is the ultimate goal? Where do you see yourself in let’s say ten years? Apart from globe-trotting of course, (Laughing out loud)
Tesa: I agree with you wholeheartedly! Well, when I’m not trying to follow YOUR footsteps across the globe Lovee –Lol – I try to think ahead. I’m definitely a Type A ‘kinda gal’ (this is the Texas and Wyoming influence). My ultimate goal is two-fold: to be fulfilled and to impact positively. I’ll start with the easy part…I would certainly love to progress professionally. I would love to advance in academia with respect to my research and scholarship, and ultimately climb up the administrative rungs to the position of President at a reputable university. Hey, I’m taking my own advice – aim high! I would love to have formulated a system of paying it forward and empowering our youth. But you know Lovee, at the end of the day, I still return to family. I would love to be married and nurturing a family of my own. I’m still traditional in that sense. Lovee, you know I’m really private about my personal life, but let’s just say I’ve been making strides in that area– wish me luck! LOL. I would love to be in a position where I can care for my parents comfortably. I hope to be embracing my forties, instead of fearing them…lol. I think these are all attainable.
Lovee: From your lips to God’s ears! It will all happen for you my friend. Inshallah! Any plans on returning home (Saint Lucia) one day?
Tesa: I get that question a lot; that will be determined by several factors – family commitments, employment opportunities, unanticipated priority reshuffling. I can’t say definitively that I will resume full residency at home. What I can say is that I plan to play an active role in the development of, not only St. Lucia, but the Caribbean region. The most natural route for me would be via education. I believe education empowers. I would like to work with policy makers to make higher education more accessible to our youth. So many of them are competent and possess academic drive and career dreams; however, they lack financial capital. We need to address this problem in St. Lucia and the region, we need to develop solutions. My former employer and mentor, Mr. Lisle Chase, and his colleague Dr. Stephen King recently approached me about getting involved in a proposal that is already on the table designed to tackle this very concern. The plans are still in the preliminary stages, but I hope to pursue something along those lines.
Lovee: Indeed. Love your reflections. No matter what you decide, your light will shine wherever you go, and I know that Saint Lucia is proud and honored to have you as one of its own. I also know that God will continue to use you to make a difference in the lives of all you meet. And I must say again, thank you for always being supportive of me and my work. It meant so much to me when you flew in and attended my first book launch in Florida. I can never express enough how much it meant to me. And you were one of the first people to give a review of my book, a good one at that, and it meant so much. We truly never know how in our own unique way we can inspire someone and change their lives, so again, thank you for being a light in my life and in the lives of so many. Continue to soar and be an example to us all. God bless.
Tesa: It was truly a pleasure, Oprah – I’m sorry – I mean Lovee (smiling)! You really do have the gift of communicating, and you do it well. You choose to inspire, and that unselfish charm is hard to ignore. Congrats to you on all your achievements. Its been a whirlwind of amazing moments for you, and I will always be in the cheering section. I promised I would be there, wherever that first book launch was going to be, I would not have missed it! What a great story you continue to tell, Lovee.
Thank you so much for the opportunity to be featured as one of your “Loverly People”. It’s an honor really. I hope my story inspires someone out there to spring into action to achieve his or her goals. By God’s grace, keep going!
Lovee: I am sure it will. It is my honor and pleasure. Thank you for those inspiring words. God bless.
Feature #11: Humanitarian, Visionary and Travel Enthusiast – Nicole RegobertPublished: January 14, 2013
Nicole Regobert is a travel enthusiast, who is determined to use her life in the most altruistic way by giving back and helping others in need. An engineer by profession, she decided to combine her skills and passion to team up with a group of innovative and dynamic individuals, EWB-“Engineers without Borders,” to build a school in Zambia! This dynamic and courageous young Saint Lucian woman is one on a mission, and is the epitome of what it means to live life to the fullest! She recently returned from her Zambia mission, and I am honored that she is willing to share the experience with me and my readers.
Lovee: Hi Nicole, thank you for agreeing to share your wonderful adventure with me and my readers. I am really excited about sharing your story, because I always try to encourage others to use their gifts, skills and talents to help make a difference in the lives of others, and you are the epitome of someone who is doing just that!
I can remember when you mentioned that you would be going to Zambia, and told me about your project, I was overwhelmed with joy! I knew it would be a life changing experience for you, and by the look of the images and videos it was! Kudos to you!
So, how did the Zambia project come about?
Nicole: Thank you so much for interviewing me! I am so honored to share this story with you as we definitely share a passion for giving back and travelling! (Smiling) The story behind this project is quite interesting. It started when a Peace Corps volunteer who was assigned to the village in Lumwana, Zambia died unfortunately in a bike accident while on vacation in South Africa. Her parents visited the village thereafter and quickly recognized the major need for education. Not only did school finish at middle school level (around age 13) in the village, but the nearest high school was very far and expensive so few students continued. Moreover if a family had to send a family member, they would choose to send the boys instead of the girls.
As a solution for this, her parents started an organization called EBZEF (Elizabeth Bowers Zambia Education Fund) in her honor to fund high school education for some of these girls in the village (who became known as Beth’s Girls) and in time also built a small library for the village. However, realizing that funding for the girls may come to an end in the near future they reached out to Engineers Without Borders USA (EWB) to build a high school in the village as a more beneficial solution so that these children wouldn’t have to travel so far to attend. Some of the volunteers who had worked on the library were also part of EWB in Washington State and they spread the word quickly about this. That’s where I came in…
Giving back has always held a significant role in my life as a way of using our talents to help people. Being in the engineering/project mgmt. profession provided such a tangible way of doing this. I had just moved to Washington State and felt like I wasn’t making the most of my life/time, so I started looking for volunteer opportunities (it actually was my New Year’s resolution for 2010).
I became involved in a number of community volunteer programs with Habitat for Humanity and my local PMI chapter but when I was approached with this project it immediately touched me, as I knew we had a profound opportunity to really make a valuable difference in the lives of this community and I was so energized to start. I started doing the project scheduling to organize all the tasks we had to do and then became Project Manager and have been heavily invested ever since.
Lovee: WOW! It’s amazing how things align themselves. It is very sad the passing of that Peacecorp volunteer, but I’m so happy her parents were able to honor her memory with this foundation. Was it difficult getting team/sponsors to support this initiative?
Nicole: Yes, funny how things happen. Her parents have really initiated some amazing things for the village. With any volunteer work of that nature I think the most difficult part is not really getting people initially interested but getting long term commitment. People are volunteering their time and skills without getting paid so as a group leader you have to tread a fine line in keeping people motivated to stay the long run. I always say, if you can succeed within a leadership role in a volunteer organization you can be a leader anywhere!
EWB consists of student chapters and professional chapters. Student chapters have the benefit of having students with a lot of free time although not much experience, however, professional chapter like ours have the opposite problem – a lot of experience, very little free time. A lot of the members had full time jobs and families etc, so the challenge was aligning the right people with the right tasks so that they were not overwhelmed, and that it fit into their work/home schedule. In addition, although we gradually got support from community organizations, it was also initially challenging to get support from my job in the form of resources etc. and an understanding for what I was doing, but this changed greatly over time and they became one of our core sponsors.
Lovee: What an accomplishment! I am so happy you did not give up! I know just what you speak about when you say it is difficult to get others to share the vision and commit long term without any financial reward, but more for the common good or betterment of mankind. What were some of the other challenges you faced putting such an extensive project together?
Nicole: Yes, the motivation has to be there solely for the purpose of goodwill but even with that people have things that come up that sometimes take priority. There were a couple of main challenges – Getting a strong committed team together, distance, fundraising and support. I was able to overcome the 1st one by learning how to gain a diverse group of people who can each help in whatever way works best for them (many work tasks off and on such as looking at a calculation or just one main task for a longer period of time). We also were able to work with the students in the local university (WSU) who have more free time. Secondly, coordination with the Zambian counterparts was difficult and delayed because of the distance, challenges in technology as well as the time zones.
We overcame the fundraising/support challenge by diligently working on our grant writing to local and international companies such as Rotary International and were rewarded greatly for our perseverance. Through this process, my company, Bechtel became one of our top sponsors in conjunction with its new focus on sustainability and volunteering as a key company initiative. They developed a whole new ‘Stewardship’ department with focus on this, and now support our project with funding and technical resources and have even joined the EWB Board! It was like everything fell into place! All that was left to do was to make the best of it.
Lovee: Again, you prove what perseverance, hard work and commitment can do. You overcame all the road blocks, and in the end, even established a department within your company. Great work! So, once everything came together, what was your greatest fear as you got ready to leave?
Nicole: Thank you! (Smiling) It may not pay off right away but this has really shown me that it does in the long run and the universe will align your path to make things happen. We sent teams to the village in 2010 and 2011 to do water and structural assessments so we had a good idea of the community. However, this was the implementation trip to actually break ground so I was very apprehensive of all of the potential unknowns. We only had a very short period of time to conduct all of our foundation tasks as well as organize procurement for the next stage and each task depended on another. My greatest fear was that one thing would go wrong and affect everything else down the line with no time to fix it! We were also a little nervous about the safety and health risks, so we made sure to work with EWB Headquarters, World Vision and the embassy ahead of time to take all necessary precautions beforehand and while we were there.
Lovee: We do the best we can, but we must never underestimate the power of faith. I know you travel extensively for work, but had you ever visited any countries in Africa prior?
Nicole: No! I had never been to Africa before so it was such a wonderful opportunity to visit in such a profound way.
Lovee: I bet! What was your first impression once you arrived in Zambia?
Nicole: I actually had a few first impressions!! (laughing out loud)
1. I felt at home. Their culture was so much like our West Indian culture! From their folk singing to their dancing to their mannerisms – everything.
2. The people were so warm and hospitable.
3. The children were so full of joy and so eager to learn. It made me want to hurry up and get the school built to give them that opportunity. Who knows, the next Zambian leader may be one of them!
Lovee: Indeed! And that’s one of the great things about implementing and creating such wonderful initiatives. The foundation we are building and the opportunities we are creating for the youth. They are the future. I share your sentiments about the people and the similarities in our culture. Africa is indeed our motherland! As the days passed, what were some of the harsh realities that you were force to face, and was the transition easy for you?
Nicole: Well some of the realities were what I expected. Work wise – the procurement organization took longer than expected due to lack of stock. The rainy season had just started so we had to stop for a few hours every other morning or so to wait for the rain to stop and then resume work in the mud but it gave us an opportunity to take a break and also gain some serious dance lessons from the workers. (smiling)
There was no electricity, running water or toilets so we had to adapt to the village’s way of life but it was definitely a humbling and learning experience – in a good way! (laughing out loud) Oh yes, let me not forget the bugs. Africa has some serious wildlife and that includes giant bugs!! But we adapted quickly…eventually. (Smiling)
Lovee: (Laughing out loud) I did see those dance moves you captured in pictures and on video! That’s what I really loved about your trip; you really immersed yourself in the culture, and lived like a true local. A lot of people go over to Africa to do missionary work, and in the evenings, they stay at the Hilton hotel, so kudos to you for going the entire mile. Once you and your team started with the building phase, what were some of the challenges faced?
Nicole: As mentioned, the rain became a challenge as well as the procurement. We did not have many of the materials in time and so there were short delays while we had to go back and forth to the nearest town (which was about 3 hours away) to obtain them which affected the schedule a bit, but we were able to get back on track. In addition, while surveying we realized that the land was on a slight hill (not visible to the eye) and that affected our staking. We also hit rock while digging and had to make adjustments to our calculations to raise trenching and allow for this as well.
Lovee: We can plan for everything, but we can’t predict the weather. (laughing out loud)How did the people in the community respond to you’ll efforts?
Nicole: I have honestly never met a more hardworking and welcoming people. It was very clear that they recognized the importance of education for their children and the benefit the school would bring, so they were very appreciative of our work. They helped us in any way they could and really went out of their way to make us feel comfortable. The headmaster accompanied us on all our trips, translated for us and took care of any needs we had. The other community members were highly participative throughout the duration of the project. The librarian, Sandra, cooked food for us daily and prepared hot water for bathing. The core construction workers were 8-10 men of varied age from the village or surrounding areas who were chosen to work on the project. These men were eager to help and were excited to learn new skills and use the tools we brought. They volunteered their labor for the footing phase of the project without payment and worked extremely hard to finish on schedule. They even started building the brick way before we even got there!
Lovee: Don’t you just love humility and gratitude! (smiling) It really ignites the spirit and motivates us to give more of ourselves. Once in an interview, Oprah Winfrey echoed your sentiments about the graciousness and humility of the African people, when she too was building a school there. She expressed their enthusiasm for learning, and their eagerness to always give a helping hand. It inspired her to want to do more, because she knew that her efforts, time and resources were appreciated and making a difference. Something often taken for granted in the Western world. What impressed you the most about the people?
Nicole: I think what impressed me most was one how very happy they were! They may not have had much but they took joy in every part of the day and this started from the kids up to the adults. They literally were always smiling and took every opportunity to laugh or sing or dance (like during the rain spells). Some of them did not speak English very well but I was able to communicate in that way just through their open and joyful spirit. Secondly, they were so very respectful and hardworking. There was a quiet dignity that I will never forget and it was clear that they took pride in themselves and their surroundings. I learnt to take time to enjoy life one day at a time and to never forget my dignity.
Lovee: I love that! I felt the very same way being there. It really takes you on a spiritual journey and causes you to look inward. It just allows one to realize just how blessed they really are, and how we should never take anything for granted. I’m sure with every passing day you found many reasons to be inspired, and it probably opened up your mind and heart to so much. Describe that feeling.
Nicole: Yes! It was such a life changing and inspirational trip. I have never spent time anywhere else that has changed my entire view on life in the way that this trip did. My heart was filled to the brim with love and in awe of the community the entire time and every day brought a new opportunity to learn.
Lovee: And that in itself makes the bug bites all worth it! (Smiling) Those defining and “AHA” moments in our lives, thank God for them. The opportunity to evolve, to grow, and to use our lives to be and do better. Through your pictures, I could see the joy and appreciation on the people’s faces, especially the children. And one thing that really inspired me was the fact that they were always smiling, despite their meager circumstances. Mother Teresa was right, “we can learn so much from the poor.” Describe the one thing that resonated with you the most.
Nicole: No bug bites, thankfully…I would’ve freaked! (Laughing out loud) Mother Theresa is definitely right! I don’t think I can pick one thing …there were so many. We went over there to help the community by building the school but the lessons they taught us were so much more valuable. I learnt from the kids how to be joyful and to make the most of life regardless of my circumstance – simple joys! I learnt to take time to relax. Electricity has brought us many positive things but I think it has in a way made us more stressed. I can definitely attest to that. I am used to doing everything really late at nights. When you don’t have the luxury of inside piping/showers or electricity you are forced to do everything that has to be done while it is still bright outside. As a result we were able to go to sleep earlier and actually relax and have a chance to reset our internal clocks. I learnt how important that is (and so did everyone else – I was less snappy -laughing out loud)
I learnt dignified humility and respect from the community - the way they greeted each other with a respectful bow, to their quiet and observant disposition. This trip solidified my pride of my African heritage. They were so wise beyond anything a book could teach them but I also saw where opportunity could bring them. I am where I am today because I was fortunate to be given opportunities that allowed me to succeed and I was so honored to be able to pass on opportunity in that way to them.
I especially felt honored in giving inspiration to the women. They were all pleasantly surprised to see a woman in construction and were very interested and supportive. Go ladies!! (laughing out loud) I think what inspired me the most was being able to contribute to that cycle by not simply building a school, but in doing so also giving them the means by which they can continue helping others. Their library is already being used by nearby communities and in the same way I can envision the school lab being beneficial to not just them, but others as well.
Lovee: WOW! Listening to that got me emotional! So profound! I can attest to every word! And I especially love the part about how smart and wise the children are, and the only thing that distinguishes you, us, from them is being blessed with an opportunity to shine. I am so happy that you can now pass on that torch in your own way, and allow them to shine! And I love your take on electricity and its role in our lives. I saw that you immersed yourself in the culture; you even participated in some local dance moves. (Laughing out loud) What was the most fascinating thing about Zambian culture for you?
Nicole: (laughing out loud) Yes, I couldn’t resist! I could clearly see where we got our music/dance culture from! I think the most fascinating thing is how they truly enjoy what life has to offer in every way. They are strong, hardworking and fun loving people, and I am very blessed to have been touched by them. I was also fascinated by how similar their culture is to us West Indians.
Lovee: Indeed! (Smiling) Did you get to travel to anymore countries while there?
Nicole: Yes! I travelled to Zimbabwe and Botswana to see the Victoria Falls and for a safari. What a positively phenomenal experience. I was truly impressed with how wildly beautiful Africa is.
Lovee: An abundance of beauty! God blessed it; man cursed it, in many ways! I know that this project is still ongoing, what’s next?
Nicole: We did the first foundation stage of the school. The next stages will complete the walls and roofing. Concurrently, we are working with regional contractors to design and build a water filtration and piping system so that they can get water from a well to the school, clinic and houses as well as solar energy. We also have plans to implement agricultural/farming training in conjunction with Peacecorps/World Vision and social/life skills training for the young men/women.
Lovee: I look forward to seeing the developments and sharing it with my readers also. (Smiling) What advice would you give to anyone who wants to do something similar, or is interested in making a difference in the lives of others?
Nicole: I would tell them that there are opportunities both big and small to do this all around us. Start in the community around you and definitely don’t be afraid to get out there and do it – every bit counts! If it’s already in your heart you are halfway there. Actually doing it and making a difference is just a small step away. I cannot think of any greater accomplishment than the use of our skills and time in service to the greater good of our fellow mankind.
Lovee: Most definitely! With time I have come to understand the true meaning of Ghandi’s quote, “To find yourself, lose yourself in the service of others.” Words never rang more truth. To live beyond the “I” is the most fulfilling thing. So, now that you have done this, do you have any regrets?
Nicole: None! Except that I wish I had started sooner! (Smiling)
Lovee: (Smiling) Better late than never, and you are very early! So young, so daring, so accomplished! Thank you for taking the time to share your story with us. I love to be inspired, and I love when others challenge me to use my life in such an altruistic way, like you have. Cheers to you for giving back and making a difference in the lives of so many. You know I am proud of you, and I wish you all the best as you continue on with this project and the many more to come.
Nicole: Thank you Lovee! Your inspiring words and support mean so much. I am proud of you also for your many accomplishments and wish you the same. (Smiling)
Feature #10: UNICEF Child Sexual Abuse Advocate – Karlyn PercilPublished: December 3, 2012
Karlyn Percil is a young Saint Lucian beauty who embodies great strength, courage and an undying determination to use her life and voice to make a positive difference in the lives of others. A former model, now motivational speaker, entrepreneur and author, she is now lending her voice with UNICEF’s ”Break the Silence,” initiative to end Child Sexual Abuse in the Caribbean, in an effort to help break the stigma and stain of Child Sexual Abuse, having been a victim herself.
Ms Percil only recently revealed this “elephant”, as she calls it, to the world, and she now feels a renewed sense of purpose and direction in her life, and looks forward to working with the Caribbean community to help fight Child Sexual Abuse in the Caribbean and the world. A practice that is quite prevalent and often seen as ”Taboo,”to discuss in Caribbean culture. I wanted to speak with her to learn more about her new role, purpose and challenges ahead. I know that by her speaking out, her story will inspire many who struggle with the shame and stigma of sexual abuse, and provide much needed strength and inspiration to others.
Lovee: Thank you Karlyn for taking the time to be interviewed. This interview is actually long overdue, but it just goes to show again, nothing before its time. (Smiling) You have added such an important role to your work, something I’m also passionate about, and a voice that is very much needed. I am happy that you have been chosen to lend your voice for such a worthy and important cause…
Karlyn: Oh yes! Nothing before its time. LOL. (laughing out loud) I believe that God has everything lined up for each and everyone of us and when the time is right, everything will fall into place. Thank you so much for doing this. I love your series of interviews, it provides a real voice on what we go through in life.. Sometimes we get caught up in the ”surface” stuff and miss out on having real conversations so thank you.
Yes, a very worthy and important cause but also very sensitive for a lot of people. It is a journey I know that will be tough but I look forward to making a difference in the lives of women, girls and boys as well. My focus is mainly girls because sexual assault affects a staggering 150 million girls worldwide (double the number of boys).
Lovee: WOW! And that’s only what’s documented… Before I proceed, I know that many people like myself are wondering, why now? Why did you decide to reveal this ”elephant,” at this stage in your life, and what inspired you to do so?
Karlyn: Oh boy! Where do I start? (laughs). Why now? Because like you mentioned before nothing happens before its time. And the time slowly revealed itself. When we pay attention to our lives, we will actually see the clues laid out for us. I actually started on my journey of healing several years ago, when I made the decision to stop asking :”Why?” I stopped calling myself a victim and started seeing myself as a survivor. When you see yourself as a survivor you see your obstacles from a different set of lenses. So, I have been working on me for a number of years and last year I deemed 2012 as my year of nakedness and my year where I will confront my ’elephant” – meaning ALL of my fears, all the dark areas in my life.
The thing is, I couldn’t continue writing inspirational thoughts or my Beauty Affirmations to my readers without acknowledging where all of this came from. Sometimes I felt like I was editing myself too much because I wanted to make sure that I didn’t reveal my ”elephant”. There was so much energy being dispensed trying to do that, that sometimes I felt like my message wasn’t authentic. I told my followers most of it is written for me, which is true. My writing was therapy for me. I wrote myself to a better place. It was my online journal. I was also tired of seeing the horror stories of more children from the Caribbean being hurt and I stood by silently like everyone else, too ashamed to reach out and do something. So my inspiration is to make a difference in the lives of women and girls, in my own way. I didn’t ask for this to happen to me, so why am I letting it hold me hostage? I wanted to live an authentic life and reach my FULL potential because I deserve it. I wanted to reveal my truth but didn’t
Lovee: Great self reflection. I like how you can be your own self critic, and acknowledge the things about you that you felt needed work, and needed to be changed to live your best life, to be your authentic self. Showing weakness is strength, and I believe the first step to healing is acknowledgement, and you are definitey doing that! Also, you are indeed right, ”God gives us exactly what we need, when he feels that we are ready.” One thing for sure, having known you for many years, there was always this drive and passion within you to succeed, and to have your voice be heard. I can remember our first modeling session back in the day, you definitely stood out, because you would put your all into it, you always gave a little extra, you wanted to do it right, like a real supermodel. LOL…Often, as Oprah once said, this passion, drive and sense of purpose derives from pain and struggle, and the individual’s need to feel empowered, and to empower those around them. I’m sure you know Oprah’s story since you are a huge fan, and her having to overcome so much, including being sexually abused by an Uncle at an early age, would you say that your horrible experience had alot to do with that undying need to succeed and make a difference in the lives of others?
Karlyn: Oh my! I LOVE Oprah and the funny thing is, I have always admired her for so long!!!! Not for the reasons others do but for exactly what you spoke about. I used to watch Oprah in awe and Iyanla as well as she spoke about her story so openly and freely. I cried hearing her talk and asked God to allow me to be strong like her one day. That’s why she is my hero. I wanted to be her. I wanted to break away from the fear this violation had on me. I wanted to speak openly about my truth like Oprah and Iyanla. And isn’t it ironic that my first public talk about this is on her network? (it hasn’t aired yet). That’s the real reason I admired her so much, but I couldn’t tell anyone that. I just let everyone else assume it was because of all what she has accomplished.
I grew up with very little, no electricity, no running water, I did my homework by candlelight and had to walk an hour and a half to catch the bus to go to school. While we didn’t have much, I always felt that I was equal to everyone else. That’s one thing my parents gave us—a sense of pride in who we are because she taught us that beauty is character. That helping others around you is what life is about. This horrible experience – yes it is the catalyst for where I am today. I mean when I look at my life I can now see why God has designed it the way he did. People often laugh at me when I tell them about my ”Princess Story” –growing up in the woods with trees and birds and bees as my friends. But I am grateful for everything he has done for me.
So women like Oprah and Iyanla gave me the strength and courage to realise that one day I will be able to face my fear and own my story. I had to work to get to where I am today. I had to fight through the scars and ugliness this violation placed on me. Hence my mission to redefine beauty and to help women reach their full potential.
Lovee: It’s amazing how one’s story can inspire and empower another. Look how Oprah and Iyanla’s story inspired you to speak your truth. We all draw strength and muster courage from eachother, which is why I love learning about, and sharing the stories of others, because when we understand eachother, it eliminates so much of our own fears, prejudices and judgements, and allow us to be more tolerant and compassionate towards eachother. The truth is, no one likes to feel like they’re in the struggle alone, and when they find out that others can identify with them, it gives them that extra strength to keep going.
Karlyn: Oh yes! I strongly believe that sharing is caring. There is an indescribable strength and power that comes from speaking your truth. When you face it, it is then you realise that it cannot hurt you anymore than it already has. And yes, we are all going through something. We are all hurting. And that’s why I encourage women to face and share their ”elephant’. Sharing reminds us that we are not alone and that the reason why some people hurt each other is because they are hurting too. I always tell my friends ,”Hurt people, Hurt people.” That’s why very soon on my website women will be able to share the elephant they are dealing with as a means to break the shame and fear surrounding it. The funny thing is Lovee we are all hurting and we are all struggling and when we help another woman – we are helping ourselves with our healing. When we keep on hurting each other, we keep pushing ourselves into the dark.
Lovee: And it’s important to stress to others that they all don’t have to share their struggles openly and with everyone also, but with someone they can trust and feel comfortable in doing so, in an effort to start with the healing process. How did that experience affect you as a young woman growing up?
Karlyn: It affected me in a very different way. I have connected with other women who have been through a tramautic experience and we talk about that very fact. Why is it that some women continue in life and achieve success and others go down that dark path? It’s something that’s puzzling to me. It affected me in my personal relationships. I didn’t believe in love and had this HUGE wall. I remember telling my first boyfriend: ”If you tell me you love me, I am leaving you. So don’t ever say these words to me.” LOL. Terrible wasn’t it?
Lovee: LOL…I guess it was your way of dealing with it then…
Karlyn: LOL…So for years I used that wall to hold people at arms length because I felt that I didn’t deserve love, that no one would want someone who is ”broken” and ”tainted”. No one. So I focused on doing what I can do best. I can work. I can do anything I set my mind to when it comes to work. Love – that’s a whole other story…LOL. My can-do attitude and strong work ethic is why I am where I am today. And once I took away the limitations I had placed on myself I discovered that Karlyn is more than doing what people tell her to do. She has a creative side. And if I gave her a chance, if I believe in her just a little bit, if I gave her some love, that she would accomplish great things.
So once I did that, the path to survivorship gave me permission to allow my best self to emerge. This is where Bellemoun and my books came from. This is where the need to redefine beauty came from. Because no matter what people told me, ”You look beautiful, You are beautiful. ” I did not feel beautiful. I felt many different things but not beautiful. But once I focused on grooming me again, I went back to the good ole values my mother taught me, respect, kindness, being accountable – I applied them to my life and they did wonders for my self-esteem. And this is what I would like to share with women and girls globally. That there is more to someone that meets the eye. There is more to beauty and that is the Beauty Code. RRK – Respect, Responsibility and Kindness.– Respect for you – if you respect who you are, you won’t allow anyone to take advantage of you knowingly, so if they don’t serve you or your purpose in life, get rid of them, be kind to yourself – we have been through enough. We have suffered at the hands of others, why should we continue putting ourselves through pain? So I promised myself to be gentle and kind to me always – no negative self talk. And Be responsible for you – I had to stand up for me and OWN my story. Yes I can’t change my past but I can change my future!
Lovee: Well said!…I have to tell you that although we all know that everyone one of us has some kind of ”elephant” in our lives, some of us just simply mask it alot better than others. Truth is, we all just find a way to deal, to overcome, and to survive in what can be a very harsh world. But, boy did you wear that mask well! LOL… One would have never thought! You just always seemed so filled with life and positive energy. Just goes to show, we are all fighting a battle…you just never know what someone is going through, what burden they’re carrying, so the lesson here is tolerance and not judging, but after all, we are all human, and we will faulter in that regard, but everytime we learn more about others, we begin to understand them and their behaviors so much more …and in the process even gain a greater understanding of ourselves…
Karlyn: Yes we all have a burden to carry and some of us mask it in different ways. For me like I said before it was a wall. I had a very difficult time trusting others and allowing myself to fall in love because I felt like I didn’t deserve love or didn’t deserve a good man. I was able to function in other ways – I am successful in my career and I am very active in the community. I get things done. My friend Komal said it’s the survival instinct of kids who have been through some sort of trauma. Their instincts kick in, and some perform at a higher caliber than others. I have been able to perform well from a very young age. In some ways I think it was my saving grace.
Lovee: Your friend Komal is very smart. We all find a way to deal, that survival instincts is a fascinating thing. However, I have to commend you on channeling all that pain and suffering into transforming your life, and being such a positive voice in the world. Not many people can do that. People respond to pain and suffering differently. Alot of people get self destructive, negative, outlandish, and even succumb to their circumstance, but you always seemed to find a way to turn that pain into power, and I can only commend you for that. He chose not to be a life long victim, kudos to you! Where did you find the strength and power to do so? Because we all know, it’s so much easier to be negative than it is to be positive…
Karlyn: It’s funny that you mentioned that. In my monthly group called ”SisterTalk,” we talk about that. Why is it that some people are able to survive and thrive while others go down the road of destruction? If someone is doing or did a research on that I would love to know!..hahahahaha… but I truly believe that God and being a part of the church saved me! Growing up I was actively involved in the church, doing Youth Service and AY and Pathfinders…LOL..I grew up as a Catholic but spent a lot of time in the Seven Day Adventist Church. And honestly, my mom always had someone we either had to visit or help. So I grew up with not having much and having to wear the same shoes term after term, year after year. My Chinese shoes were always scrubbed clean! LOL. But because I was focused on others, I didn’t have time to focus on my pain. So I am grateful for the church and for my mom for getting me involved in the church.
A lot of my strength came from reading as well…I read a lot of inspirational books and listened to a lot of music..We had a radio and when we had new batteries. my sisters and I would listen to the songs on cassette and would write down the words and sing along after…LOL..Not that I had a choice with no electricity or friends close by – reading and singing was my entertainment. Thank God no one lived close by, I could sing out loud – off key without a care in the world…LOL… So I grew up with a love for escaping in books, from Nancy Drews and Hardy Boys and Jackie Collins. I also read my bible alot, and then I discovered Iyanla Vanzant. I cried the first time I read her story. I couldn’t understand how someone could go through such pain and still live to tell it. This was another glimpse of what it means to survive.
Lovee: Who woulda thought, ”A Girl Like You?” LOL…Thank you for bringing back memories of the ”chinese shoes!” I took such pride in wearing mine also! LOL….Oh the good ole days! LOL…
Karlyn: Oh you too?! My chinese shoes and socks were always clean and my uniform was pressed with perfect pleats. I guess that’s why people never believe me when I tell them I’m a country girl. LOL…For some reason they expected people like us to be unkempt and unruly. But my mom and dad raised us all with pride and very good manners. The Percil’s are always well dressed and they were polite children. My parents worked hard to send us to school and I will always cherish my ”Chinese” shoes..LOL…
Lovee: LOL…you better! Chinese shoes rock! LOL…Ok, so when did you decide, or what happened which made you say, Ok, I’m tired of dealing silently with this ”elephant! ” I am going to deal with it head on, even if it means that I may feel completely naked to the world, but I have to be at peace with myself, because I believe that the only way to peace and happiness is through truth, and it doesn’t mean you have to speak it out loud to the world, but at least to yourself, and make changes where necessary. That’s where true healing begin I believe. In your case, you decided to speak it out to the world… so when did this ”AHA” moment happen for you?
Karlyn: To be honest it was a work in progress. It wasn’t a ok let’s do this and bam! I’ve been working on myself for several years. Like really working. I first had to acknowledge that I am a survivor of Child Sexual Abuse, and that I have a wall and that I had issues..LOL. It wasn’t easy but I had to face my truth. I had to learn to be OK with who I am – ALL of me.. I had to learn to love me again. To be kind and gentle with me and to tell the little girl that it is not her fault. I had to know and believe that I was beautiful. That I was worthy. I told myself to stop asking ”why me” and stop playing victim. I made the decision to become a survivor. When I was strong enough and OK with being me, I said that one day I will find the courage to tell my story. I allowed myself to open up and here we are today.
Lovee: We are always a work in progres. It’s funny how God works in our lives.You know, as I mentioned in my book, ”A Girl Like Me,” I believe that some people will have to suffer publicly for the millions of people who suffer privately, because the reality is not everyone will have the courage like you or me to be so outspoken, and respond to such pain in a positive way. Not many people will be empowered to turn that pain into power, or feel like they are able to forgive, reason why I think the higher power uses some of us to be a voice, a force, or some form of inspiration to help others find that much needed strength that they need to know that they are not alone, and that they can overcome. Do you sometimes feel that God is using you in that way?
Karlyn: I believe that some people will have to suffer publicly for the millions of people who suffer privately- I LOVE that quote!!!! When I saw that quote in your book I was like WOW did she write that for me? LOL …And I can’t remember if I emailed you about it but it was profound to me. God is so amazing. We have been through alot. We’ve had our share of ups and downs. When I look back I think that yes he is using me. He designed my life this way for a reason. Joel Osteen said something that I always reflect on during my dark days: ”The depth of your past in an indication of your future.”
So I know that he is using me for a reason….
Lovee: Indeed! We can’t choose the cards which we are dealt, but we have control over the hands that deal them, and you are certainly dealing with yours in the right way. In our culture, almost any topic apart from Politics seems taboo. There are alot of things we don’t like discussing out loud. There are alot of things we like sweeping under the carpet, and prefer to play a deaf ear or blind eye to, than addressing. Often in fear of shame, or fear of being judged, criticised, etc. You really can’t blame others, because we all know our people can be tough! But when we continue to do so, our society continues to decay, our children continue to suffer, and the vicious cycle continues….sadly. My dear friend, Velika Lawrence, I know you’ve read my previous interview with her, is a strong voice on the issue, having been a victim herself. She has formed her own Organisation called PROSAF, to help fight the stain and stigma of Child Sexual Abuse, and give children a voice. I hope you both can work together in the near future…
Karlyn: Yes! It is quite sad that adults are willing to put what others think about them when two year olds are being brutalised. Have we as a scociety lose sight of what really matters? Can we all silently stand by and continue to ignore that many young girls are suffering and are doing drugs, transactional sex and teenage preganancy? We have become so dissensitized that mothers feel that it is OK to sel their daughters for sex. How can we expect our young girls to become leaders when we continuously break their legs? We need to protect them. We need to stop blaming the victims.We need to go back to what really matters. Our girls…our children..our young boys. And to your point about the cycle continues. When I listen to some of these mothers who turn a blind eye, I can’t help but wonder how many of them were abused? How many of them think that they don’t deserve better that they actually think that what they put their children through is OK. In addition to my work with UNICEF, I will be reaching out to others and would love to connect with people like Veleika.. I’m so happy to see her sharing her story and adding her voice to breaking the silence. I would like to say Bravo to her and her organisation and to all those who have stepped out and who are doing their part.
Lovee: Yes indeed. I am so proud of her. When I first read her story, I was in awe of her strength and courage. I know she will make a difference with her work. The reality is, no one one’s to be the voice for Child Sexual Abuse in Saint Lucia or the Caribbean, because no one one wants to be the one to expose the father, uncle, friend, politician, cousin, brother, sister, pastor, priest etc who is doing this. Coming from an island, everyone seems connected in some way, and even though our country is founded on christian values, in such cases, ironically, most people tend to be silent on the issue. Children as you said, often feel shame, and like this sick act is their fault. How do you intend to use your voice to help to get people to ACT, and to do alot more than just talk?
Karlyn: I will be using the key messages from UNICEF to create a Social Media strategy and to get Caribbean Nationals to take pledge and break the silence. A take-away from the two day conference in Barbados was an Action Plan and a Declaration which the Caribbean islands will be committed to once it is ratified.
I need all Caribbean Nationals to Take the Pledge and to Break the Silence. My goal is to create a culture of zero tolerance and to get everyone talking about it. I want the young children to hear us talking about it on the radio, on the television and all forms of media so that they know that they are not alone and that we are working on their behalf to ensure that the elected officials work in their favour. Through this, I hope to send a strong message to the offenders that the community will no longer stay quiet about this. We will keep on talking and holding the elected officials accountable as well. Legislature needs to change. It’s a multipronged approach and I am proud to be a part of it.
Lovee: Great approach. We can’t be afraid to talk about the issues that affects us all! Saint Lucian judge, Justice Redhead once said, and I quote. “It is like a disease in St. Lucia -six year olds, nine year olds, twelve year olds. Why are they doing this? What is wrong with St. Lucia? Perhaps the court is too lenient. I think the courts need to send out a stronger message.”
Do you agree? What do you think needs to be done to help stop this, and bring some men and women to justice?
Karlyn: He is right. It is not only the courts or Government who needs to do something. It is also us – you and me. We need to say something. That’s why I am so happy to be an advocate for UNICEF’s approach. AS UNICEF stated in their communication, ”It’s a multi-pronged approach to protect children against sexual abuse and the risk of HIV. On one hand the initiative aims to reach victims and their families with a message to speak out and denounce, to break the stigma and shame that surrounds the issue. At the same time, it is an advocacy platform directed at policy makers, health workers and the police to create effective protection and treatment services.”
Lovee: I know that you are aware that you have a huge challenge ahead of you, so did you ever ask…why me? Why did God choose a girl like me to help fight such a cause, and if it would be to big of a responsibility for me?
Karlyn: I really couldn’t understand why me…and I prayed and asked Him : Why me? Alot!..I used to beg him, asking him why couldn’t he give me a normal childhood? Why couldn’t he make me normal. Why? Why? Why? I went from being angry at him to thanking him and acknowledging that he has designed my life exactly as it should be. For I am grateful that he is using me to do his work. He is using me to be a voice for millions who is affected by this. I grew up in the bush for a reason. Like everything he has done, there is a reason. So I have learned to trust in him and to follow my heart when he speaks. When I think about how my work with UNICEF came about, it was all his doing. I read a quote that says: ”Our intuition is God talking to us.” So I am so happy that he spoke to me . The more quiet we are, the more opportunities we have to hear from God.
Lovee: ”Knowledge speaks, wisdom listens.”….(Smiling) What is your new role as an Advocate to UNICEF?
Karlyn: My role is to Break the Silence and to put a real voice to the issue. We the survivors are people you know. We are real. We are not victims. My aim is to get as many pledges as possible from Caribbean Nationals and to take that back to UNICEF and the elected officials to show that we are standing up for the children of the Caribbean. We need to send a strong message to the Government and other key individuals who can change the health or legal framework to better protect children. I will need your help and the help of every individual out there to break the silence and to get loud about what really matters.
Lovee: Count me in! How are you today? How are you coping with being a victim of child sexual abuse, and how are you fighting or dealing with those demons on a daily basis?
Karlyn: I am doing great! Prioir to sharing my story publicy I had a few mini heart attacks…LOL..I had anxiety attacks, I cried for no reason! I was a total mess…LOL. But I have a great support system. My family are my biggest supporters, my mom, dad, brother and sisters , my cousins, my BFF Heidi – gosh I don’t know what I would do without her – they are amazing and are great cheerleaders. My incredible boyfriend Jason who has
Lovee: Those support systems or ”circle of light” as I call them are so important, so needed. Happy you have them. I would be nothing without them. What advice would you give to anyone reading this interview who is a victim, or was a victim of sexual abuse?
Karlyn: First thing I would say is that it is NOT your fault. You didn’t do anything wrong. And YOU are NOT a victim! If you are here, you survived. You are not what happened to you. We have suffered enough. We’ve been through the nightmare. And we have carried the blame, fear, shame and guilt for years. It is now time to act like a survivor and take your power back.
Get the help you need to get back on track to reaching your full potential. Child Sexual Abuse is a Human Right Issue and you have a right to feel beautiful and most importantly you have a right to reach your full potential. And I would give them a hug as well. (smile)
Dr Brene Brown, a vulnerablility and shame expert and one of my fav authors said this:
“Shame hates it when we reach out and tell our story. Shame can’t survive being shared. Shame loves secrecy.”
So I am telling my story and defying shame and I hope that one day in their own way that they too can tell their story.
Lovee: Kudos to you! I know you will inspire many by sharing your story. When you initially told me that you were going to reveal something to the world that would change your life, I encouraged you to speak your truth, but we all know that sometimes the truth can come with much criticism and feeling a bit vulnerable, it’s so much easier to wear that mask right?:) But I can remember telling you that it will be the most liberated you will ever feel, and probably the most at peace too. I know you’ve only just revealed this news, but now that you’ve revealed this ”elephant,” to the world, do you feel liberated and at peace?
Karlyn: I feel like a heavy weight has been lifted! LOL. I feel stronger walking in my truth. I feel authentic that I can finally speak from my true voice – from sharing where I found my strength. And I feel that I have permission to visit my darkest days and to talk about them. I am no longer afraid when I go there. I can acknowledge it –publicly! LOL.. And while facing my elephant doesnt take it away, it definitely haschanged my approach to life. No more editing and putting a part of me in a box. All of me is showing up for life, so watch out world!.:)
Again I love this quote form Dr Brene Brown.“Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
Lovee: Cheers to that! I’m loving the new YOU!:) You will soon begin to see that by taking the first step, God will lead you to the entire staircase, and your true purpose and destiny will be defined. And, it won’t always be easy, to whom much is given, much is expected and required, and those TESTS, they just never seem to end,LOL… but something tells me that you will be just fine. (Smiling) I’m proud of you, and I pray that God continues to give you the strength, courage and wisdom as you continue to use your life and voice to make a difference in the lives of many, especially children. If I can ever be of help, please, don’t hesitate to ask.
Karlyn: Thank you Lovee (Smiling) You know I will be calling upon you for help. And thank you for the prayers, I will always need them. Secrecy around child sexual abuse is a warm and safe place for lots of people and I know that lots of people will be angry that I am threathening their warm and safe place but it’s time. And I am looking forward to having all of you join me to help me Break the Silence. Thank you for the opportunity. It is a pleasure as always chatting with you. You’re an inspiration to us all, inlcuding me and I love your energy and drive. You too have shared your ’elephant’ and I know that you have inspired many. We need more women facing their truth. To all the women reading this: Know that you are not alone. Whatever your ’elephant” is – you have the strength and the courage to face it. It lies within! Pretty soon women will be able to share their elephant and also take the pledge to end Child Sexual Abuse via my website.. It’s still under construction but will be fully functional in about two weeks. Keep doing what you are doing Lovee! The world needs more women like you. *muah*
Lovee: Thank you for the kind words and encouragement! Like you, I am always a work in progress, but all we can do is try to live our best lives and be our best selves, no matter how many times we fall and faulter, we just have to keep trying and keep going. When we know better, we should do better. I’ll keep trying, and in the process encourage others to do the same…(Smiling)
To learn more about Karlyn Percil, visit her website at www.karlynpercil.com
Feature #9: Entrepreneur and Grooming Extraordinaire – Adrian FanusPublished: September 4, 2012
Adrian Fanus is a young, respected and successful entrepreneur of a one of a kind grooming business in Brooklyn New York called, ’Adrian Fanus Grooming INC.’ Although his clientele consists of ”A List” celebrities such as Chris Brown, John Legend, Grant Hill, Idris Elba and Forrest Whitaker to name a few, this native of Micoud Saint Lucia hasn’t forgotten his roots, and gives back to his community through various recognisable charitable efforts. He is notably a man of great depth and calibre, which is examplified through his daily positive and uplifting writings to family, friends and fans via his facebook profile. Excellence signifies him, and it is depicted in everything he does. I know that Adrian’s story will be inspiring to everyone, especially young men who aspire to live and lead their best lives.
Lovee: Hello Adrian, thank you for being so gracious and accepting my request to be interviewed. I was impressed by your kind approach to me when I launched my book, ”A Girl Like Me”. Although we did not know of eachother, as a fellow Saint Lucian, you wrote to me and congratulated me on my success and wished me continued blessings. It spoke so much about the man that you are, and how important it is to you for us as a people to encourage and support eachother, so thank you (Smiling).
Adrian: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be a part of your movement…(Smiling)
Lovee: What really stood out for me is the positive energy you continually put out there to others. Also, your intense passion for life, and your pursuit for excellence through your various initiatives, including your one of a kind grooming salon, which is really like no other. It is always refreshing to meet respectable and passionate young men as yourself, so I felt compelled to share your story, so it can serve as a source of inspiration to others. I have to ask, what inspires you to continue to be so positive in a world that can be so negative?
Adrian: I truly love life and understand that we are all here on borrowed time. Tomorrow is not promised and coming from humble beginning, I appreciate all that is good. I focus on the positive and magnify it. It can always be worse is one of my personal mottos. I was put here on this earth for a purpose and I can’t take anything that I accomplish with me. If my life does not add value to the life of someone else, then I have lived in vain. I want to be an ambassador for positive change and inspiration in the lives of as many people I can. This mindset keeps me positive and grounded.
Lovee: And that is indeed a life of purpose and depth. And of course, the high standards that you set for yourself is apparent, because you have managed to turn a regular hair cut into an entire grooming experience, in your words, ”it’s about impacting somebody’s life.” How did the concept for your salon and the grooming experience come about?
Adrian: I truly love people and making them feel good. I realized that guys would not only come for a haircut but also for the conversation. I wanted to create an oasis where people could come and unwind after a tough week of work. An escape, their home away from home that incoorporated an environment for privacy, relaxation, comfort and a haven for growth, networking minus the pretentiousness. I realized that this did not exist and wanted to create it.
Lovee: And you sure did! That is a brilliant concept. What has the journey been like for you getting to where you are now?
Adrian: I moved from Saint Lucia to New York on April 2nd 2001 with $200 in my pocket and a dream. After I bought my clippers I had $25 left to my name. I was nervous. A friend had already arranged for me to work at a barbershop in the crown height section of Brooklyn. I started work the following day.
Imagine my surprise when I made $250 the first week of working. I was estatic and considerd myself a success with a $50 profit on my investment (laughing out loud).
Working at the barbershop taught me alot about myself. The road was rough, and I had to watch my temper, as the owner would short my wages. I would not be here today.
I failed the first time I took the New York State Barber Exams and was devasted, but this encouraged me to learn my craft better. I left that shop after two years and went to a new barbershop and started buliding my clientel all over again.
My focus became not just giving someone a good haircut, but to get them to come back because I did an excellent job. I must have passed over 10,000 business cards on the trains, people’s doorstep, in traffic and every business I went. ”paying my dues”.
Word spread and opportunities presented themselves. I was introduced to a few people who helped me become the grooming editor of a magazine, and then meet celebrities such as Forrest Whitaker.
I also learned to do makeup along the way.
Lovee: What a story! I am so happy you overcame all odds and persevered. How do you generally deal with obstacles and adversities?
Adrian: I read this book a long time ago called, ” Who ate my cheese”. It was about two mice who had a large supply of cheese and didnt realize that it was slowly finishing. One day, no more cheese was left. One mice stayed there and wallow in self pity and the other was proactive and went to search for new cheese. I became that second mice and realized that I can’t change a situation once it has happened but I can control how I respond to it. I don’t allow myself to stress about anything anymore. I just focus on solutions.
Lovee: Great approach! (Smiling) You are a native from Micoud in Saint Lucia, what was it like growing up in Saint Lucia, and how has it contributed to the man that you are today?
Adrian: I can appreciate growing up in Saint Lucia a lot more now than ever before. Growing up and having to wear a uniform at school gave me a certain discipline that I still carry with me. My friends became my brothers and the love we shared for each other taught me loyalty and love. We played football, cricket, fished and spent green days by the river and hot days on the beach. St Lucia taught me to never take anything for granted.
Where it all began. The old barber shop in Micoud Saint Lucia, where Adrian worked
Lovee: I am surely attest to that. Those days were truly priceless, and it does instill a certain humility and appreciation for life and everything in it. As a child, what were some of your dreams and aspirations, and did you always display such great characteristics, or did it develop overtime?
Adrian: As a child, I wanted to be a pilot and then as I became a little older I was consumed with the dream of being a fisherman. I wanted to buy a boat then another and then a large fishing troller. No one would belive that now (laughing out loud). I was raised by my mother and grew up with my older sister. We came from an extendend family and they were supportive and loving. I was raised around women and the presence of men was small. For a young boy, that created a feeling of being lost, and you start searching for male influence. Most of my friends were in the same situation, so growing up, we became male role models to each ther.
Lovee: That is profound! ”We became role models for eachother.” It’s great that you all could have been that for eachother. You now live in New York. A place you call home. How has the transition from the islands, to living in a vast culture like New-York impacted/changed your life?
Adrian: I started visiting New York from the age of ten, and would spend the majority of the summers here. I hated NY at first. Concrete City was my name for it. I did not have the same freedom here as I did in Saint. Lucia, and would always look forward to going back home.
Now I love New York, especially for the diversity and culture. I became a man in New York. My transition from Saint Lucia was a slow one. When I moved at nineteen years old, I was ready and focus. Coming from a smaller island creates a need to over compensate and want to accomplish so much. I felt I had to make my whole community proud of me.
Lovee: Most of us from the islands sure feel that need and pressure. I know that your mother, Ms Austina Fanus, former political nominee for the Micoud North constiuency in Saint Lucia plays a major role in your life and your success, tell us a little more about her, and her infleunce in your life.
Adrian: My mother is such a strong woman. She always kissed me and told me she loved me. I admire and respect her so much. My mother has always been the breadwinner for the family and it shows in her work ethic ( I got that from her). She is such a selfless person and would give her last to help anyone in need. She made sure I had the best and was well traveled and cultured. Thats my ROCK!!!!!
Lovee: Awww, it’s always great to hear a man speak so highly about his mother. It says alot. She must be so proud. One of the things that is admirably about you is your ability to speak openly and candidly about issues that are often difficult for men to discuss even privately, and you put yourself out there in a way that is not customary of black men. Have you always been so open and candid with expressing yourself to others? And do you think it’s important for men, especially black men to show more of a softer, emotional side? And how do you find the courage to do so?
Adrian: I know who I am because I know who I am not. Too many times black men manhood is challenged when they express their emotions. My mother is a very open and vocal person and I got that from her. My friends were never in the habit of telling each other ” I Love You”. It is considered taboo for a man to say that to each other and I changed that with my family and friends.
If you live your life worrying about what people say you will die very unhappy. I choose not to. We are facing an epidimic out here of self destructive lifestyles that is promoted in the media and music and I want to encourage young men and women to do better.
Yes, men need to be honest with their emotions and feel free to express them. Find people who you can talk to and give you constructive advice.
Lovee: I am loving you! (laughing out loud) You hit the nail with every word. Wish every man who is struggling with their manhood could read your words. I especially love what you said about knowing who you are, because you know what you’re not! That’s deep! (Smiling) What are some the great challenges that you were forced to face with on your journey?
Adrian: One of the greatest challenges was moving to New York and being away from my family and friends. It took me eight years before I was able to go back home. To long for the nostalgia of Saint Lucia. I was sick. I tried not to think about home. That was rough. That was part of the sacrifice I had to make to be out here.
Lovee: There is always a sacrifice or a price to pay. I know many people can empathise with your struggle. That is one of the hardest things for many, not being able to go home. But thankfully, no situation is permanent. You are also the father of two handsome young boys, how have they changed your life and the man that you are today?
Adrian: My sons have kept me grounded and saved my life. You become a lot more aware of the decisions you make knowing that they will affect your kids so you have to choose wisely.
I know with kids, their ears are closed to advice but their eyes are always open to example. I am mindful of that and wanting to leave them with a great head-start on life is my misson. I work for them. I want to leave a name behaind that means something and a legacy they can build upon.
Lovee: I know your children will be proud. What was your relationship with your father like?
Adrian: I do not have a relationship with my father. I am okay with that now. I understand that children may come through you but are not from you. He is the second half of the vessel that I came into being but not the source. The source is the universe. I have made my peace with the situation.
Lovee: ”The source is the universe.” Well said. We are indeed all children of the universe. You know, this is something I have observed, and since I am passionate about the youth, and I know that you are too, I have to ask this. One of the things that is apparent in our culture is the absence of fathers in their children’s lives, and the high percentage of single mothers in the home. In almost all of my past interviews, most of the fathers were noticeable absent, including in my life. Often, these young men and women grow up to be outstanding individuals without their father’s presence, but there are many who fall through the cracks. How do you think we as a people and culture can help end this vicious cycle, and get our men to take up their responsibilities as fathers?
Adrian: Life is all about choices. Young men and women need to understand the word RESPONSIBILITY! One of the main reason of sex is to procreate and this have gotten overshadowed by just the object for pleasure. Young men and women need better sex education and working on being independent, self sufficient and to follow their dreams before focusing on a family. We need to raise the value and the importance in the media. Magazines and songs that promote being a responsible parent is honorable.
Lovee: Great advice. Responsibility and accountability is definitely something we need more of in our culture. I know that you have a few causes that you are actively involved in back in Saint Lucia. What are they? And why is it important to you to give back?
Adrian: Part of my company is called AFG CAUSES. We have provided relief for the victims of the earthquake in Haiti, the landslide in St Lucia, and recently we worked on a project to provide school bags and supplies for students in St Lucia.
It is important to give back because it is our human obligation. We would not be here if our mothers, doctors and nurses first neglected us when we were first born. Our whole existence is dependent on others. We should not turn a blind eye and always be mindful of that.
Lovee: Well said. Ghandi said, ”If you want to find your self, lose yourself in the service of others.” I believe this to be true. If there is any advice that you could give to the youth about success and what it entails, what would it be?
Adrian: What is it that you can think about doing for free? Then pursue that and you will be successful. Success is not about having lots of money but doing that which you love and make you happy. It requires sacrifice and hard work. Not everyone will believe in your dreams and that’s why it is your dream. Hold it close to your heart, do not let go, and keep working on it. Remember it is never failure until you stop trying.
Lovee: Great, great advice. ”It is not failure, until you stop trying.” Indeed. You have already attained quite a great deal of success. What is your ultimate dream for your life?
Adrian: My dream is to develop AFG into a global conglomerate that can help provide employment for over 50,000 people.
Lovee: Very ambitious, but I believe that you have what it takes (Smiling). I wish you all the best as you push forward. I ask this questions to all my guests, what would you like your legacy to be?
Adrian: I would like people to say that he lived a life that added positive value to the life of everyone he met. He lived a selfless life and gave of himself.
Lovee: Something tells me that your legacy will come to pass. Thank you for such profond and uplifting words. I know that God will continue to use you as an example, and use your life to inspire others. Continue to be a positive light to all you encounter. God bless.
Adrian: Likewise. Thank you and God bless.
Feature #8: The “I’m-Possible” Pilot – Kay DoxillyPublished: July 31, 2012
Kay Doxilly is a courageous and determined young woman who in every way define the word possible. As a young girl growing up in Saint Lucia, she thought her dreams of becoming a Pilot was shattered after learning that she was pregnant and would become a teenage mother, but despite her circumstances and setbacks, she maintained her ‘quiet determination’ to succeed and followed her dreams. Today, she has conquered some of her greatest fears and risen from some of lives greatest challenges, to go on and fulfil her dream of possibly becoming the first female pilot from Saint Lucia. I know that Kay’s story will serve as an inspiration to young women who dare to dream the impossible, and understand that all the word impossible is saying is simply, I’m-possible!
Lovee: Hi Kay, thank you for taking the time to speak with me, and for willing to share your story with others. I am really excited about this interview for so many reasons. The main one being that you have managed to conquer one of my greatest fears-flying! It’s pretty ironic, I know, since I wrote a book about traveling the world. However, every time I get on a plane, I am indeed facing my greatest fear, and it just does not seem to go away!
Hence, as you can imagine, I wanted to learn more the woman who seem to have conquered my fear, and explore your beautiful mind. I also thought that your story in some way could be inspiring to young women from the Caribbean who has goals/dreams of pursuing careers within men dominating fields, to consider the possibilities, and to keep believing.
One of the things about you that really stood out for me is your determination, passion and perseverance, and I know that your story will inspire and empower others to continue to believe in the power of the dream and in them-selves.
Kay: Thank you Loverly for such a generous introduction. I think by facing your fears with every flight you are a winner. Perhaps, the most pure definition of courage. Also, thank you for giving me the opportunity to have this conversation. If my story helps make a difference to at least one person, I will be even more grateful for having shared it.
Lovee: I am sure it will (smiling). As for facing my fears, we both share a love for Nelson Mandela’s quote. He Said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” I try to conquer my fears, and not allow them to conquer me. I won’t attempt to fly a plane though (laughing out loud) I will just fly in one instead.
Kay: Yes indeed, I do love Mr. Mandela and what he stands for. Funny what you say about flying, my instructor told me from my first flight “no matter what never stop flying your aircraft, you fly it, it does not fly you.” (Laughing out loud).
Lovee: You got that right! Especially if I’m on board! (laughing out loud) Ok, so you know my first question right? (Smiling)
Kay: (Smiling) Why a Pilot, why now?
Lovee: (Smiling) close enough…as a little girl, did you always dream of becoming a pilot? If not, when did this dream materialise?
Kay: As a child, I liked being high. I loved climbing trees and this was one on my favorite places to be. I did all kinds of acrobatic tricks on trees… (Laughing Out Loud). I verbalised my dream of becoming a pilot to my dad in 1990. He had just come back into my life after a long absence on February 11, 1990, a memorable date for so many reasons.
Lovee: Indeed. I can see why. What was it like living without your father for many years?
Kay: The truth is for the most part I felt vulnerable, unprotected. And it was not like that of being afraid of the dark or frogs…it was a sense that there was no one to really stand up for me. I think in a way not having either of my parents in my life as a child lead me to shield my son and be so protective of him. I had to ensure that no matter where I travelled he was with. I did not want to have my son deal with so many types of abuse that can be inflicted on children.
Lovee: It’s good that you turned that experience into something positive by being protective of your son. I guess that’s what life is all about, turning the negative experiences into something positive. What were you like as a little girl?
Kay: I was a girlie girl; well, I guess it was just part of my conditioning really. My hair was always kept washed and combed, and I couldn’t dare be caught walking the yard without shoes on my feet, “cleanliness was next to Godliness,” was a constant reminder. I am an introvert by nature but have learned over the years to be an effective communicator. It may even seem that I am a people person but the truth is I am happiest in my own space spending time with me. Growing up my time was spent reading, writing, chasing butterflies and enjoying fruits on a limb of the nearest tree.
Lovee: I can identify a lot with being the happiest in one’s own space. It is truly how we stay connected to our core and inner voice. I try to never lose touch of that. You are also a fellow Saint Lucian, what was life like in Saint Lucia growing up? Did you have a happy childhood?
Kay: I grew up in an extended family system, with my uncle, grandmother and cousins, living in the same yard, separate houses. I spent time on the family’s plantation helping my grandmother prepare food for market. (Laughing Out Loud)…can you picture me with my ”shy” (heavy) load on my head…Life in St. Lucia had its challenges; I did not grow up with my siblings as my mom sent me to live with my dad’s family from a very young age.
My dad was also absent as he had migrated. I primarily stayed with my uncle, his wife and their kids. I was the eldest child so I had the bulk of the responsibility to keep the house cleaned up after their children among many other chores. I learnt from very early what gratitude was. I understood that everything they provided was not being provided by my own parents and for that I will always be thankful. Growing up for me was not a bed of roses and I think for the most part my happiness then came out of my will to get through it.
Lovee: My imagination has already taken me to so many places with the little you’ve said. I can picture it in my mind. Just the word plantation really irks me, for so many reasons. The extended family is important in a child’s life, but when the parents are absent, it’s a void that can never be replaced. How do you think not having your parents and siblings around affected you overall?
Kay: For the most part I understood even then why I had been sent to live with my father’s family. My mother saw a potential in me that she did not think she could nurture. However, even times when parents attempt to do what they envision as right, there can be so much damage caused. I learned many great values from my grandmother, and got an opportunity to a more “normal” family environment with my uncle and his family, but that is not enough for a child. There are bonds that we develop with those people who we are most intimately connected with that just cannot be adapted to. Today my sisters and I speak on a daily basis, but it took years to get to the point where we got past being born of the same mother to developing a true sisterhood.
But as I said before, I learnt gratitude early on, because sometimes, to really endure we must hold on to the good and use that which can be negative to propel us and lift our feet to the next step. Besides, I think perhaps my greatest gift from God is my depth for forgiveness. (Smile)
Lovee: And that is one of the ultimate gifts, so you are indeed blessed. Only the strong can forgive. Very powerful words and your ability to decipher it all with such humility and grace saids so much about your character. What were some of the obstacles or things you struggled with as a child or teenager?
Kay: I was teased and called so many names growing up, from Miguen (mosquito), to Olive, to “megzora” (skinny)…(laughing out loud)…but I have never once shed a tear over name calling. In fact, I can count the number of times that I have actually cried in my life, and amazingly preparing this interview has just brought this realization. To say I’m not a crier would be putting it mild.
I think my biggest struggle was not having my siblings and parents around. I was not allowed to really explore many things that I loved. I wanted to learn piano and take part in extracurricular activities, but was told I was looking for excuses to see boys. But I have always had a quiet determination, and I was able to take part in a few, like drug free club and Girl Guides because I could not accept no without just cause or reason.
Lovee: Oh the name calling! Children can be so cruel, and are unknowingly aware of the damage that they can cause to their peers. I am happy you allowed it to empower you more than anything else. “A quiet determination,” I like that! (smiling)
I chuckled at you being denied extracurricular activities, because of the idea of wanting to see boys. Although not funny, I think a lot of young women, including myself, was told this by our parents or families growing up.
I know I got that from my grandfather all the time, among other things (laughing out loud). It’s amazing how certain things are inflicted upon us as children, even when we are totally innocent or oblivious. I can honestly say that boys were in no way a part of my thought process when those accusations were being made. Parents and families need to be careful not to in still their own fears and insecurities in children, which can open the door to so many other issues.
Kay: For sure, I can imagine what you were told for I really watered the comments down to that one line (Laughing out loud). On a more serious note, it is really sad that they behaved the way they did, but it was from their own insecurities and ignorance though. I now have to practically beg my son to get out and get involved in activities. I encourage him constantly to mingle with his peers and to develop relationships in positive environments. This is so vital in a child’s development and decision making process.
Lovee: It’s great that you encourage him to do so. The greatest thing we can do for those we love is to trust them and allow them the freedom to grow, evolve and be themselves. I like how you seem to turn your negative experiences to something positive. You then made the transition to Canada. How was that experience for you?
Kay: By the time I moved to Canada, it was an easier transition. I had first moved to the United States Virgin Islands (USVI), to the University of the Virgin Islands, to pursue an Undergrad degree with my son when he was only 2. We had also spent some time in the U.S when he was 6, and we migrated to Trinidad for almost 3 years in 2005 when I pursued my accounting certification. So by 2009, when I decided to move to Toronto to specialise in Fraud Examination, I had no second thoughts. I learned early on that to really achieve one cannot really hold on to the material items. I sold or gave away all my belonging and made the trip. You can only go with your gut and the will that you can do it.
Lovee: Indeed! We can never take the material with us. Everything we truly own is within us. How has living and going to school in Canada enrich your life and your dream of becoming a pilot?
Kay: Living in Canada has provided opportunity. As anything else, it is not easy to leave one’s own lifestyle and comforts behind, but I am open to learning and appreciating new cultures. Though there have been many challenges, I have been able to be here, earn a graduate certificate in Forensic Accounting, be involved in my community in meaningful ventures and now have the great fortune of soaring the skies. Being in Canada at this point in time has allowed me to pursue my dream of learning to fly and has made me aware that I can truly do anything that I set my mind to.
Lovee: Fantastic! There is always a price to pay when we decide to follow our dreams or attain success. There is always something we have to give up to get what we want. There is a quote, not sure who said it. “We have to do something we never did, to get something we never had.” It’s the story of life, but when we know what we want, it’s easier to adjust/adapt and endure. Once you decided that you were going to pursue your dream and go to flying school, what were/are some of the obstacles and challenges that you were/are faced with?
Kay: I thought perhaps I was too old. At 34, I was in a class with teenagers, students in their early twenties and not to mention being the only female and person of colour, but as everything else I saw this as an opportunity to shine and prove that I too deserve to earn my wings. Also, I had to make a huge financial commitment. It is quite an expensive undertaking, but for me I think being able to invest in one’s self for something which means so much is well worth it. Some people may think that I am rich or don’t have to worry about finances, but that is not the case at all. I have to sacrifice every day to make this dream a reality. It is a decision of what is most important. Getting a new pair of jeans or paying for an hour of flight time…we have to have perspective in every important decision in our lives, because that may very well be the deciding factor between reaching the next level or not.
Lovee: Very well said! Some people fail to realise that. Achieving anything great requires great sacrifice, nothing good comes easy. Prioritising and simplifying is key, and of course, being sensible. Most people want to have their cake and eat it too; it just doesn’t work that way. Granted, there may very well come the time when you won’t have to choose, but to achieve your dreams, sacrifices have to be made. And sometimes, you have to be willing to lose it all.
Kay: Funny you talk about losing it all…my quest for education has in effect caused me to lose my financial stability, but I have never felt more empowered than I do now. I have such an intoxicating sense of purpose at this point in my life. I had signed up for flight school back in 2007 when I completed my studies in Trinidad, and often times I questioned myself as to why I did not go for it then, but now that I am really pursuing my dream, I can only think that this is my time, here and now.
Lovee: You have the right attitude. This is your time, and this is your NOW, and everything you need and want you have it NOW, so just be happy in the NOW and make the best of it. You’ll only go this way only but once! (Smiling) How do you keep motivated and keep positive in the face of adversities?
Kay: I meditate, or simply take time off, me time…I have a very strong sense of self…perhaps some may call me vain or self centered, but I know and appreciate that there are times when I have to shut out many things including people and negative relationships to truly move forward and achieve. So what may seem to some as be being “stuck up” is simple me keeping focused on getting to the next level. I also laugh a lot, I speak to my sisters and closest friends on a daily basis, no matter how busy they are or I am we find time to inject humor in our day. I think I am most motivated by my determination to be my best self, and to live my life knowing that in everything I gave my all.
Lovee: I think it’s great that you know that you have a strong sense of self, and you are not afraid to say it out loud. Some people may see it as not being modest, but I think it’s great that you can acknowledge that about you.
You should make no apologies for this, despite how anyone may perceive you or it. Space is important for growth and transformation-the need to hear our own voice more than anyone else’s, and the need for solitude and silence. It is vital and necessary, and the older we grow, the more we should realise that, and respect that for others also.
Furthermore, I’ve learned that you never have to explain the need for time and space to people with a purpose driven life, and a strong sense of who they are. If you need people around you all the time, it’s time to check yourself. As for humour, I live for it too! (smiling)
Kay: We should not feel the need to apologise because people are too caught up in mediocrity to recognise the immenseness of life and its gifts. But, still sometimes they do provide a great laugh so overall it just goes to show that we do need all types of people in this world (smiling).
Lovee: Rightfully so (Smiling). Are there days when you feel like, ”I can’t do this!”, or, ”I want to quit?”
Kay: There are definitely days when everything seems overwhelming, but I do not believe in quitting. Sometimes we all need a little down time, and we have to be at a place where we recognise that in ourselves so that we do not get burnt out. I have over the years spent many hours examining my life, my decisions and choices. I have come to know myself and appreciate who I am. This is a necessary thing for persons to take the time to do. By so doing, I think that we can make better decisions for ourselves and recognise signs of fatigue and anxiety. Then we can breathe and recoup and perhaps make alternative decisions on a way forward. I consistently strive for completeness in my endeavours, and recognising the points at which I need to take a break have become critical in allowing me to do that. Being a single parent for the last 16 years doesn’t allow me the luxury of quitting.
Lovee: Precisely! Reason why space and solitude is so vital. We need that time to reflect, to regroup, to grow, and to make those necessary changes. As a single parent of a teenage boy, which is quite surprising, since you look like a teenager yourself, how is it balancing it all?
Kay: (laughing out loud)…moi, a teenage looking mama? (blushing) Thank you. It has become easier, and I hope as he matures into a man it will be even more so. I had my son just shy of my 18th birthday and we have been a team ever since. He has been my biggest supporter of going back to pursue my pilot’s license and so that in itself has made the transition a bit easier…Parenting does not come with a manual and even if it did maybe most of us would have it in the kitchen drawer, unopened anyway. But it is a challenging endeavour to say the least. I am thankful that my son seems well balanced despite the fact that he never had a father taking part in his day to day life. We have come this far together, I look forward to sharing in his achievements as he has been there with me when I achieved and grew into an adult.
“Being a single parent for the last 16 years doesn’t allow me the luxury of quitting.”
Lovee: I have so much more respect for mothers now that I am a mother, and an even greater respect for single mothers, because I know first-hand, how challenging it is. And for you to have had the strength and courage to go on and achieve success and pursue your dreams despite all odds, cheers to you! You could have had a million excuses, but you didn’t. I am proud of you! (Smiling)
Kay: Thank you Lovee. I think that in circumstances when someone else gives you just a nod, to indicate that things will be ok, you almost do not have a choice but to ensure that you do your best to achieve the best outcome. I entered the A Level College knowing that I was expecting. At the time Dame Pearlette was the Principal, Father Clovis a Dean; with the help of a friend I approached them about my pregnancy. Understandably, they were all disappointed in my poor choice, but those 3 adults reminded me of my potential and supported my decision to have my baby and continue with my education. So, sometimes, even when we have messed up in the grandest fashion, a better choice can turn that one bad decision around and when one or more persons can help empower that individual that can result in a force of determination that can far surpass anything else.
Lovee: I say this all the time, we have to give thanks for those earth angels. Those who give the nods, helping hands, positive reinforcement, time, etc. They really do make a huge difference, like in your case. We need more people like this on our culture who won’t give up on the youth when they make poor decisions and bad choices, but instead counsel them, or encourage them to continue on their journey and learn from it. Who would you say are the people who have contributed greatly to your success?
Kay: WOW! I have had so many angels in my life. The persons mentioned above. My son Dwight has been my saving grace. When I think of where I was mentally during those last two years of high school and the realization of not being able to pursue my dream of flying. The decision which leads to me becoming pregnant with my son and finding out that in fact I was going to have the responsibility of another life just awakened a whole new purpose for my life. I remember not telling my closest friend Tesa about my pregnancy because I did not want to have her cover for me. I can truly say that I have a friend in her and her family. At a time when her mom could have asked her to stay away from me for being a bad influence to her daughter, she did not. Today we have only become even better friends; lol is that’s even possible. My sisters who ensured that I was taken care of at perhaps the most fragile I have been in my life and who never once criticised me. My mother, despite her being disappointed that I may have thrown my entire life away by getting pregnant, made sure that I was feed well and remained healthy throughout my pregnancy.
In 2003, I was at a pretty comfortable place, making money, starting out my own company, but I met a wonderful friend and that person saw even a bigger dream for me that I had not even envisioned. I embraced that vision and turned it into action, and set out to grow even more. My family and friends have continuously embraced my achievements and have been so encouraging throughout my studies and development.
Lovee: Thank God for those people who believe in us and stick with us through the testing times. I share the same admiration and respect for our mutual friend Tesa. She is another phenomenal woman, who is a light in this world and in the lives of many. She is ever so positive and encouraging of all, and has been very supportive of me on my journey. We are blessed to call her a friend.
Kay: She has such a beautiful spirit. Intelligent, sophisticated and so down to earth. Definitely another remarkable daughter of the Fair Helen. Dr. Leonce has served our friendship well, a rare and cherished gift.
Lovee: Indeed. (Smiling) I have to tell you, that you are the first female pilot that I know of. And perhaps one of the few, if not the first from Saint Lucia, do you know of any other?
Kay: I do not know of any other female pilots out of St. Lucia, but I would not be surprised if there are some out there. St. Lucian women are strong and determined individuals.
Lovee: They sure are! I discover more of them every day! (Smiling) In all fairness, this is a huge accomplishment by itself. It’s not often that you hear young women from Saint Lucia or the Caribbean becoming a Pilot, so kudos to you! As I said, extraordinary is ordinary people doing extraordinary things. This is a field that is primarily dominated by men, do you ever feel intimidated?
Kay: Thus far, I do not feel intimidated by the men in the industry. If anything, I try to learn as much from them as I can. The intimidating thing is the weight of responsibility that comes with the profession, but my strategy if to learn and grow in this field and do my utmost to excel.
Lovee: Great approach. You know, people will look at you, and would probably never place you flying an aircraft. (Smiling) With your petite frame, pretty face and wondrous smile, most would probably think of a career where you would always be seen, and definitely not in a cockpit! (Laughing out loud). Do you have to deal with many stereotypes in that regard, (the ”I am more than just a pretty face”) and has it worked for or against you?
Kay: (laughing out loud)…ironically, I have never seen myself as pretty or beautiful. It is not something that I heard growing up. No focus was placed on looks other than being presentable in my appearance. I remember the first time I actually thought that perhaps there may be some truth in my being pretty; I stared at myself in the mirror for what seemed like hours, trying to see what that individual and others may be seeing.
Today, I have accepted that I am pleasant on the eye and I know from experience that I need to be even more appreciated intellectually. I recognise that being a woman and having a good appearance can work in my benefit but that does not let me forget that I need to keep in the pack and ahead by being as informed and maybe more so than my male counterpart.
Additionally, I think that people have come to appreciate my warm and tolerant nature and I think that, if nothing else has allowed me to be embraced in the various areas of my learning.
Lovee: Beauty, brains and humility, it’s a formidable combination for success, and you’ve got it! (Smiling)
Kay: Thank you Lovee, and to that I say, “still I rise…” We are so fortunate to have so many phenomenal women who went before us and set a blazing path of accomplishment.
Lovee: Thank God for them. What advice would you give to young mothers who have a dream for their life, but feel like having a child limits or deny them that opportunity?
Kay: Having a child as a teenager, should not be any young person’s first choice. There is so much to explore experience and achieve in life. However, if it does happen then that child should be a driving force. It should be your constant reminder and the most important reason to succeed. I will not pretend that it has not been a challenge, but I have not made my son the excuse to not achieve. I did not ever want him to think that his presence denied me an opportunity. Children are very perceptive and our attitude and aura forms an integral part of their own development and growth. I did everything I have done to date in spite of being a single mom and perhaps because I was a single mom I relish my accomplishments even more.
Lovee: As well as you should! You deserve to! Because there are people who have everything laid out out for them and they still make excuses as to why they didn’t or couldn’t, so be proud of your accomplishments.
During some of my motivational speeches to students in Saint Lucia, I urged them to challenge themselves and pursue careers beyond the traditional ones that they are used to hearing about, like: doctors, lawyers, teachers, nurses etc. And of course, there is nothing wrong with pursuing these professions, because we do need everyone for a society to function effectively, but I think that there are other careers and industries that need the attention and expertise of our young people to help move our country forward. And I also think that it’s very important for young people to know about people like you, who are a living example and testimony of that, and the possibilities. Would you agree?
Kay: I agree 110%! Over the last three years being in Canada, I have served on committees and had the opportunity to work closely with administrators of the Toronto District School Board. This experience has further confirmed to me that we are lacking so much in our education system in St. Lucia.
When I was at the St. Joseph’s Convent (SJC) at the end of my 3rd year, I chose to go to a science class to do physics and chemistry and geography, I was not granted a space in that class because I did not choose to write Biology. I begged the then principal and told her of my plans of becoming a pilot and that I did not have to do Biology, but I was denied and sent to a business class without even being interested in business subjects.
I decided then to not let the time go to waste and picked up accounting lessons as accounting was not offered at (SJC) then as it was thought to be a male dominating subject. All this to say that we need a better framework which allows our youth to explore their full potential. We need career guidance and counseling so that children know of the numerous career paths which are available and that they are capable of much more than simply finishing high school.
In addition, the infrastructure needs to be in place for students and families to finance those dreams. I had to work and buy property to be able to obtain a mortgage to finance my education. And even then it was such a struggle to get the bank to finance even part of my education.
Lovee: This is brilliant! I share your sentiments wholeheartedly. We have to be open to reform and change, because the old way is not necessarily the right way. Coincidentally, I was just speaking with a friend about the structure of the education system in the Caribbean, which I also speak a little more about in my book, “A Girl Like Me,” and how much colonialism still play a major role in the design of things. My friend spoke about her having to fight to take one of her classes as a general subject and not a basic subject. She was happy she fought for it, because she was able to get a general one in the subject when she took her exams. Had she accepted taking it at the basic level, it could have affected her enrolment into University abroad later on, so there is a lot to reconsider on the education front. Ok, so when is the big day? The day when you officially become a Pilot, and I get to call you captain, or is it first officer? (Laughing out loud)
Kay: (laughing out loud)….There is no set day, but I earn my wings, Private Pilot License (PPL) by the Fall. I then go on the commercial leg of my training which can take another year, as there are weather constraints here in Canada. But the day is near God willing.
Lovee: Inshallah indeed! Once you’ve become a Pilot, what’s next?
Kay: (big smile)…the world waits. I am open to exploring opportunities which this new profession will allow. I would ultimately like to fly charters and perhaps someday be able to offer my services to the Caribbean on my own aircraft. Perhaps, maybe then I may meet a life partner to share some of life’s wonders with.
Lovee: I don’t think you will have any problems there. (smiling) And the Caribbean could definitely use your services. What is one of your favorite quotes and why?
Kay: ”To thy own self be true…” I try to live by that. I think more than anything I want to lead a life where I am at peace with myself.
Lovee: One of my favourites too. If we have inner peace and love, we have everything. Wondering, did you ever think that all this was impossible?
Kay: I have had so many dreams of flying over the years. The ironic thing or maybe it’s just psychological is that ever since I actually started my program I have yet to dream of flying at all! I thought that perhaps becoming an accountant and further specialising would have quenched that burning desire. But, the longing to fly never went away and I am happy that I found the courage to start; for often that is the most difficult part.
Lovee: The dream may leave us for a moment, but it never really goes away. I am happy you found the courage and strength to start! When we take the first step without seeing the staircase, God then leads the way. What advice would you give to any young person with dreams of becoming a pilot?
Kay: I think if one has a dream the ultimate goal is to pursue it…If you want to fly research it. Speak to people in the industry. Become intimately aware of what would be required. Remember that some destinations do not follow a straight path…but in everything you do keep your focus and remember the ultimate goal. Bear in mind that decisions are open ended, every decision leads to one or more outcomes and it may be one that you may not like but always be prepared to deal with the consequences of your decisions. So take the time to weigh options and choose that which is best for you and which you can live with.
Lovee: Well said! Listening to you and your story, I can’t help but think, “Wow! Yet another girl like me!” There are so many of us with such powerful, compelling stories, and I am happy we can muster the courage and strength to tell it. Who knows whose life we are making a difference in, and often when we tell our stories, we are not only empowering ourselves, but also empowering and inspiring others, to dream, to live, to overcome, to forgive, to love, to thrive, to strive, to endure…etc.
Kay: I am happy to share. I cannot stress enough how important it is to try. I may have been blessed with an unending determination, but someone else may have unending talent and just need to surround himself/herself with the right people and circumstance to let that light shine. We all have the power to make a difference for ourselves, whether it be through our own drive or realising that you need to ask for a helping hand. No one man can do it all alone, there comes a time that we all need to be pulled up to reach our true potential.
Lovee: I love this! Great and useful advice. One should never underestimate how much power there is in trying. I ask this as a final question to all my guests, what would you like your legacy to be?
Kay: Someone who lived life her way…a great parent, a true friend…a lover of simple things but someone who had insurmountable passion to achieve. Someone who never remained grounded, no pun intended (smiling)… “There is no downside to doing the very best you can each and every time..”
Lovee: Deep! I like the twist on grounded! (Laughing out loud) I’m always high on life, and I don’t even smoke, so I know just what you mean (laughing out loud) Kay, stay high, continue to dream, continue to soar and keep believing in yourself! You have defined possibility, and defined your own life despite all odds. I believe that God’s gift to us is life, and what we do with that life is our gift to him. I know he is proud of you, and how you have and continue to utilise your gifts, talents and skills. I know that he will continue to use you to inspire others by living your best life and reaching your fullest potential. God bless you always.
Kay: Thank you so much for such great hopes for me. I believe that God is a being of great humour, so that would make me one of his favorite persons (smiling). Continued success to you Loverly on your journey as a mom, professionally and most importantly as you grow into a more aware person every day.
Lovee: Thank you. (Smiling)
If Kay’s story was an inspiration to you, feel free to leave kind words of encouragment and support. Thank you for taking the time to read. :)
Feature #7: The Soaring Eagle – Lisa Hem-LeePublished: July 14, 2012
Lisa Hem-Lee is a courageous Trinidadian beauty who overcame all odds by stepping outside of her comfort zone, and facing her greatest fears. She now flies the skies with the largest and most reputable airline in the Middle East- Emirates (UAE), and have seen and explored some of the most fascinating countries in the world. I believe that Lisa’s story will be inspiring to anyone who has a dream for their life to not allow their circumstances to define or deter them, and to not be afraid to step outside of their comfort zones. I am happy that she has decided to share her story to help inspire others.
Lovee: Hi Lisa, Thank you for taking the time to speak with me. While on a ten hour plane ride to Europe, I was thinking of who I would like to interview as my next feature. Many came to mind, but one of the things that is important to me with every feature is for the person’s story to serve as an inspiration to others, and empower them to live their best life. I believe that your story can be empowering to young women, especially in the Caribbean who have a dream or goal for their life to continue to believe in themselves, and broaden their horizons to achieve what many may deem as impossible. I believe the word extraordinary simply means ordinary people who do extraordinary things daily, so I am happy to have a phenomenal woman like you share your story with me.
Lisa: I am so honored that you would even consider me in such high regards. It’s both humbling and encouraging, thank you so much. I strongly believe that all women have the capability to become extraordinary in their own way. Phenomenal women are everyday women. Women who are able to work on themselves, and encourage everyone around them to become the best that they can be. They are women who are not defined by what society, culture, or gender define them as, but for what they have envisioned for their own life. That to me is what it means to be a phenomenal woman. I am so happy to share my journey with you today.
Lovee: You’re very welcome. You have just defined yourself above(Smile). What makes this interview fascinating is how we met (laughing out loud). That is an interesting story by itself (laughing out loud), but I will save this story for another interview. We aren’t even suppose to like eachother, much less support eachother! (laughing out loud) It really just goes to show how the Universe can connect people in the most unusual ways. Knowing you has definitely been a positive experience and taught me more about myself, and the power of the human spirit (smiling).
Lisa: (Laughing out loud) Yes, the circumstances in which we met is one for the books. It certainly taught me a lot about digging deep for the level of maturity that women should strive for when it comes to the opposite sex. There is always a reason why God takes you down a path. It should never be questioned or tampered with for our own self needs. I must say that our interaction until today has always been in a positive light and you have inspired me to be that mature woman that I needed to be. The time of our encounter, I was going through one of the most hurtful times of my life and reaching out to you was a decision I never regretted. Life has a way of teaching us the things we need to know. It is our responsibility to accept it, learn from it and move forward. And yes, in the next interview we shall reveal all (laughing out loud).
Lovee: Indeed! I have already told the readers a little bit about you in my introduction, but tell us a little more about yourself and your story.
Lisa: I am a small town girl from the beautiful Island of Trinidad & Tobago. I grew up in the area of Tunapuna with my mom, dad, sister and grandfather. Growing up for me was a like an adventure at a theme park (laughing out loud). It was filled with ups and many downs. Things were not always easy for my immediate family. There are so many aspects of my life that I have chosen not to focus on to the extent that I have not thought about it in a very very long time. WOW! You have really taken me back to an era of my life that has shaped me to be the woman that I am today, just goes to show that not every struggle or hardship can define one’s future.
Growing up, I was described in many ways by others, but according to my Papa, I was like ”Pepper sauce” (laughing out loud).I was always the one who had an opinion, and was not shy to speak my mind. The area I lived in was relatively poor to middle class families, but the part I grew up in, most would refer to as the ”Ghetto.” It was rough. Often the neighborhood was riddled with gunshots, people running through our yard from the police, or just a lot of young people who unfortunately didn’t have much guidance, or had parents who were basically simply trying to make ends meet to take care of their kids. For example, my mother, the woman whom I admire most, my phenomenal woman, was for a very long time the sole bread winner of our household, even though my father lived with us until the age of twelve.
From what I can remember, he did not play an active roll in the finances of the house, or took on any of the major responsibilities which a father should. I think my father was not ready for family life, especially since he and my mother got married at a really young age, after only knowing each other for six months. Things in my household was very violent. My mom and dad would get physical quite often. The house was filled with screams and tears, and usually us begging for them to stop, with no avail as my father would still try to hit my mother even with us strapped to her leg. It was not a pretty sight. I would never wish this for any woman. This is the reason why I am a firm activist against violence, and would encourage women to walk away from any abusive relationship- mental, physical, emotional, etc. In a positive light, my Grandfather was somewhat of a father figure, sadly he passed away a few years ago, but I have some very good memories of him. He was always amazed of my outspoken nature. Growing up in my times, to be outspoken meant that you were ”rude,” but he understood me, even if he got annoyed at times (laughing out loud). I can still remember him often calling me for food. He knew I love to eat (laughing out loud), so he would shout out to me from his home as he lived in the house next to ours to come for food. I oftened watched him cook and I have yet to taste better fried chicken from anyone. He was a good cook. I grew up with people who love to cook, so for me cooking is a passion. I especially love to cook for other people. Somehow, I feel happy doing this. I guess, it stems from my mother always telling me ”never refuse food to anyone.” Often there would be homeless people calling out to my mom at home for food, as they knew once she had food they would be able to get something to eat. This was one of the many things I loved about my mother, even though we didn’t have much she would always share with others.
I am still a work in progress. But I try to always define my own life, and not by society’s defintion of ”women.” I like to explore, question, share and be open to everything in life. I believe in God. Although not very religious, I am very spiritual.
Lovee: WOW! For a minute, it felt like I was reading an excerpt from my book, ”A girl Like Me,” especially the part about your grandfather. We are all really connected. As a little girl, what was your dream for your life?
Lisa: I had many dreams. One was to be a police woman (laughing out loud), which I can laugh at now as am not sure how good I would have been at that. However, growing up, I thought about many things, but my biggest dream was not to become what society had already set out for me. A young girl coming from a broken, poor home often equates to another high school drop out with a baby, living on welfare and another dependant of society. I didn’t want this for myself. I dreamt of becoming someone that my mother would be proud to say, ”that’s my daughter.” I wanted her to be happy knowing that I tried my best, and became the best that I could be. This was my dream.
Lovee: Quite profound.When you were growing up, what were some of the things that you were curious about? I know that I was curious about everything, and asked a lot of questions, but I was especially curious about the outside world, and how life was like for others there. Later on, I was amazed at how my curiosities manifested itself into something real.
Lisa: I was often curious about different religions, because I grew up in a mixed race home. My father is half Indian and Chinese, and my mom is of African descent. The differences was a big issue and ever present in my home, yet I didn’t know much about all of them. My dad was a Catholic, my mom Anglican, my grandfather Baptist, my Grandmother was Hindu and I had other relatives and friends who practiced other religions like Seventh Day Adventist, Pentecostal and much more. I always wondered and was curious about this.
Lovee: I can see why, quite diverse. At an early age, did you display any special talent or abilities that was different from your peers?
Lisa: Cooking, I think I cooked and baked more then than I do now. I was always going to the market on Sundays with a list from my mother to cook up a storm (laughing out loud). I still love cooking very much. I was also good at sports. I think it was in my family genes because most of us were athletes growing up. I was part of the track team in school. I also played netball from a very young age as well as table tennis.
Lovee: I can see that, you have the physique for it. Ok, so you endure all of this and grow up to become a beautiful, smart young woman.What was life like for a young woman like you in Trinidad, and what were some of the challenges you faced then?
Lisa: By the time I became a teenager, I was living with my single mom and sister. My mother’s ultimate goal was to keep food on the table, and provide us with the means to educate ourselves both with book sense and common sense. Lovee, growing up as a teenager in Trinidad with all the odds against one can be very difficult. In my mind, I always had hope that my circumstances would not define my life . It is so important to have proper guidance while you are young. It was very difficult to keep positive while every aspect of my surroundings was negative, so school was basically an escape for me at times. My teenage years was a confusing time. I lacked proper guidance, and even though my mom was a good mother she was not well educated and also worked a lot to provide for us. I was also considered under develop (physically) compared to my peers. I remember being called Olive Oil (laughing out loud). I was tall and very skinny with acne which I still have sometimes (smile).
I used to compare my friends lives with my own quite often, especially those who lived in nice houses. Back then, we lived in a ”board” house. Although in some parts of the world this is normal, in Trinidad ”board” houses are usually associated to the poorer community. I sometimes wish I had a nice home like my peers and my parents would be rich and everything would be perfect, but later on in life I decided that I would never compare myself or my life to anyone. Everyone has their own paths and experiences to go through, which ultimately shapes them into the person they are intended to be.
Lovee: Well, that Olive sure grew up to be a beautiful swan (Smiling). Goes, to show, we just never know what’s in store for ourselves and others. Be kind to everyone! Listening to your words gave me chills, especially the latter part. I share those sentiments wholeheartedly. As a child, I too struggled with so many of my own insecurities, similar to your own, and as I evolved, life showed me first hand that indeed, we should never compare ourselves to others, because everyone is in the struggle, or fighting some kind of battle. The biggest house is not necesarily the best home, the greenest grass requires alot more maintenance and often the man with the least is the man with the most to give. I know first hand some of the challenges faced by young people growing up in the Caribbean. Although we will both attest that it is a wonderful place to be born and raised, there are many harsh realities, including limited opportunities for young people with big dreams. How did you remain optimistic and kept working towards your dreams/goals?
Lisa: I kept God first. I use to write down all the things that I would like to do, such as buying my first car and many other things. I worked towards it daily. However, I must give credit to two of my college teachers. They were brothers and both worked at my college. One was the principal, and the other a teacher. At a late stage in my teenage years, I repeated a few CXC subjects at a local college called Eastern Community College where I met them- Mr. R. & Mr. B Daniel. They both encouraged me and talked to me constantly about reaching my full potential. Through their eyes, I saw that many things where possible. There were many times my mother would not have the money to send me to school and they would call and ask me to come in. Once, I was sick and I can remember Mr. Beres took me to the doctor’s office and paid the bill. He then took me back to the school, and not once were they ever out of line or wanted anything in return, I respected them so much. This kept me optimistic, and caused me to believe that there are good people out there, and that I can aspire to attain all my dreams and become all that I can be. Also personally, I always wanted more, more for myself and my family, this was my major driving force.
Lovee: Thank God for those earth angels who are good for goodness sake, and for nothing else! Those who take the time to give a helping hand and say, ”I know you can!”. I’m so happy you had a dream for your life and worked hard towards it. Everything first starts with us. We have to believe in ourselves and want more for our lives other than the one society has planned for us. Today, you are an Airhostess for one of the most reputable and luxurious airlines in the world-UAE. You now live in Dubai, one of richest and most fascinating countries, and have since traveled all over the world, and had some amazing experiences. You’ve gotten to see and experience people and cultures in a way many will never get the chance to. I still continue to live vicariously through your amazing pictures. How has that experience been for you?
Lisa: WOW! It has been a world wind of different emotions- life changing I must say. I have met people from all over the world and I can tell you we are all different, but yet the same in many ways. I will take this experience, learn as much as I can, cherish it and keep it in my heart forever. Moving to Dubai was one of the hardest things I had to do, as I would have to leave my country, my culture and all that I have grown to know, as well as my family behind. I had to step out of my comfort zone and broaden my horizons, and open my mind and heart to people who came from different walks of life. Dubai took a bit of getting use to, but it is the place I call home for now. I feel safe and very comfortable here. I have made a lot of friends many from countries such as India, Romania, Serbia, Australia, UK, Seychelles, Greece, Philippines, Thailand and much more. I appreciate the experience a whole lot, and wouldn’t change taking that step out of my comfort zone for anything. It’s something that we must always strive towards. There is a world out there that needs exploring (laughing out loud).
Lovee: …and conquering (laughing out loud). What are some of your favorite destinations?
Lisa: So many (smile), but the few that stood out for me are: Italy, France, Thailand, Seychelles (as it reminds me of home) I also like Singapore as it so green and fresh I love that.
Lovee: Some of my favorites too. I am looking forward to exploring Thailand in the near future.We have something in common, we both love to travel! I have discovered so much about myself through my travels. I write candidly about it in my book. One of the things I learned the most about myself and others on my journey is that know matter who we are or where we are from, we all just want to feel loved and like we matter. We are all just trying to survive in this enigmatic world.What has been some of the most valuable lessons for you through this experience?
Lisa: To be humble, and that once we are open to accepting people for who they are and where they come from, and not attempt to force our beliefs upon them, we can be best friends with people completely different from us. I have learnt to accept being different. Also to be open minded, non judgmental and not listen to what anyone tells you about a specific race or culture. You simply need to go and gain that experience for yourself. In the Caribbean, I find that some people are somewhat closed minded about many things even though we are a diverse society and culture.
We still have ideas about certain races or what they are like, who they should be, date/marry as in not mixing with other races, or what they even smell like! (laughing out loud) ”Can you believe this?”
Lovee: I sure can (laughing out loud)…
Lisa: I once had a friend in Trinidad who told me the most ridiculous thing. We were having a discussion about dating a specific ethnic group since I was dating someone from that ethnicity, and he turned and siad said to me, ”ewww but they smell fresh and they don’t shower!” I got really offended, angry and sad all at once. I then turned to him calmly and asked him to tell me how many people he had met from that ethnicity in person. He began to stumble on his words. I was adamant and kept insisting that he answer me, because I believed it was wrong for him to make such a statement without justifying it. He then bowed his head and said he had met one guy who came to deliver something to his office. This is the mentality and mind set of some people. I gave him a long speech about not judging people on how society had labeled them, and to give each individual a chance to prove themselves. Our opinions should be based on our own experiences not others or societies. So many of us have so much to learn about others. We should honor ourselves by making that effort.
Lovee: Well said. This is one of the great lessons we learn when we encounter people from different races and cultures-that there is very little that we actually do know about eachother, and most of what we think we know are based alot on stereotypes, generalizations and our own perceptions. It truly opens up our minds and way of thinking in such a wider context, and we begin to realise that much of what we know and believe is widely based on our environment and what is told to us. We have a personal responsibility to educate ourselves about others, and not base strong opinions without getting to know them. One of the great things about stepping outside of our comfort zones is that in the process we get to see our own selves evolve and even transform while trying to maintain the core of who we are. Has immersing yourself in other cultures allowed you to appreciate more or less of your own culture?
Lisa: Definitely! Living abroad can be very difficult not only do I appreciate my culture more, I now have a new found love for my country and every aspect of its being. Its calm beauty, wonderful diversity, its great people and its wonderful nature. In Dubai, there isn’t much natural greenery, so for me, going home is literally a breath of fresh air. I feel an intense sense of pride when I see my country in any event, or just basically going home and hearing the PA say, ”Ladies and Gentlemen we are now starting our decent into Piarco International Airport!” (laughing out loud) It’s a great feeling! Home is where the heart is and at the end of the day, Trinidad will forever be my home.
Lovee: Oh do I know what you mean! That’s exactly how I feel about my beloved Saint Lucia. (smiling) One does tend to gain a greater appreciation for their home and where they are from once they venture out, and begin to embrace alot more of their own identity. I know such is the case for me. Interestingly enough, I think because of all the experiences life afforded me on my journey, I gained such a greater understanding of who I am as a person-flaws and all. I felt compelled to tell my story, both the good and the bad, because I knew that without those experiences, I would probably still be in the dark, burdened with insecurities and searching for that validation on the outside like most of us do, but by gaining a greater understanding of the world around me through my own vision, it really allowed me to appreciate and embrace who I am and where I am from so much more. I hope that by telling my story in my book that it will allow others to do the same. And I know many are always inspired to learn more about others like yourself also.
Lisa: I think its is not only important to hear about different people and their experiences, it is necessary. It’s a great way to help others understand that no one is perfect. We all go through struggles. Looking from the outside, things can sometimes seem to be easy for another yet we can never know what adversities they may be going through at that point in their life. Being able to admit that we have hardship or failures in life shows that we are all human. Humans who make mistakes, cry, laugh, hurt and yet recover. I love learning about others, hearing their story, and sharing mine.
Lovee: I live for stories! (laughing out loud) We are all connected. We all need eachother. We all grow, learn, become better because of each other. We are all here, so why not make the best of it with eachother? I believe we in the Caribbean have to step away from some of the colonial chains that keeps us living in bondage and thinking that we are defined by our circumstances, failures, mistakes etc. We have to learn to talk to each other, forgive eachother and learn from eachother. It is the only way we can grow and become better. All the constant fighting, criticism, bashing, finger pointing and judging causes us to keep living in a stagnant state, and divided. I call it modern slavery! It’s just not worth it! Ok, so Dubai is a dream destination for many, tell us what it’s like living there?
Lisa: Dubai is HOT (laughing out loud) well that’s during the summer time. I can safely say that living in Dubai takes a bit of getting use to but more or less its wonderful. I feel safe to a great extent. It has many activities for the active at heart. The culture is unique and they appreciate it very much…
Lovee: It is a place I long to visit. What has been the most challenging thing for you living away from home and settling into another culture, especially one as strict as Dubai’s?
Lisa: My Family! That’s definitely the most difficult thing. Missing family and friends at home, and of course I miss the food! (laughing out loud) Having a hot doubles would be great right now (laughing out loud)…If you haven’t tried it Lovee, it should be on your must taste list while visiting Trinidad, Ok?
Lovee: Girl, I live for doubles! I’m so happy I don’t have access to it often, because I would get fat off of it! (laughing out loud)
Lisa: (laughing out Loud) But also in terms of culture, although Dubai is not as strict as many Arab cultures, it took me a while to get use to certain things but now it’s fine. I believe that once you don’t have a problem with following certain rules and respecting other cultures, you can settle in well anywhere you go.
Lovee: Indeed, although there are a few countries that I can think of off my head that I won’t be able to settle into (laughing out loud), but i’m always open to trying new things. As much as living in another culture is a life changing, fascinating experience, I don’t think that many are willing to take such a big step and live outside of their comfort zones. It is a huge challenge. It definitely was for me in some countries, but I also believe that life begins when we step outside of our comfort zones. Would you say that life began for you by stepping outside of your comfort zone?
Lisa: Yes, I would have to agree. It is a fascinating experience and you must be willing to open your mind and step out of your comfort zone to not only leave your country, but to be happy in another. Life really did begin for me when I moved to Dubai. While living in Trinidad, I didn’t have much to compare to, niether was I able to make my own judgment about anything outside of the Caribbean. Now that I have seen the world, I have had many experiences that I can share and learn from. My life began when I placed myself outside of that box and it was truly worth it.
Lovee: Your life will never be the same. It can only keep getting better. It is so easy to get discouraged and want to give up, especially when there is a lot of negativity surrounding you, and very little options. What advice would you give to young people who have a dream or goal for their life and think that their circumstances define them and there is no way out?
Lisa: To never let anyone define your life for you! Always make decisions that you think would be in your best interest, and most importantly, do not let society pressure you into becoming someone that you cannot be proud of, or happy with, because at the end of the day, you have to live your life to please yourself. In life, we have many choices. We can choose to be the victim or another statistic, or we can become the person we want to be. Life is a journey. I always say it is better to keep walking than to be standing still. You may not be where you will like to be, but you should always make the best out of everything, every experience, even the bad ones. Keeping positive is a major key, and setting goals for yourself. If I allowed my childhood circumstances to define my life, today I would have been right where society expected me to be. Having a solid education is important. Educate yourself in every facet of life. Knowledge is power, and using this can benefit you in many ways. Last but not least, surround yourself with positive people. People who can encourage you to be better than you are.
Lovee: You’ve said it all! (smile) I know many people probably ask you this all the time. You know, the family question, husband, kids… (laughing out loud). There is always someone out there who is willing to make the ambitious, goal oriented woman feel guilty for not having a family at a certain age or not being married. How do you stay true to yourself when faced with such pressures?
Lisa: (Smile) The strange thing is I don’t focus on what others want or think is best for my life. I do what makes me happy and what is best for me. I always remember my mother’s words to me ,”Once you are happy I am happy.” To me, this is all that matters. The people that matter would not judge or pressure you to become who they want you to be. There is still time for me, maybe the husband and kids may come later on (laughing out loud), but it’s certainly not the light at the end of the tunnel for me. I believe that God has his unique plan for everyone. What may be good and well for one, may not be for another. I leave this in God’s hands and until he places that person in my life, I will continue to be happy, strong, humble and not do my own thing. He is the driver am just a passenger……
Lovee: I’m just loving you! (laughing out loud) It seems however, that there is a power struggle more than ever, and it’s not only in the work place, but also in relationships. Women wants to utilize their gifts and life in everyway, and the world is constantly attempting to make them feel very guilty for it. Sometimes creating that balance for women who wants to have a family and a successful career can be very difficult. Do you think women have to choose? And what’s your response to those who say they do?
Lisa: I don’t everything is for everyone, and it should be a personal choice for the woman and the woman only. I also think that people nowadays are to caught up with with society and its norms. I won’t go into the power struggle between men and women, this is an age long issue, and I think it’s about time that men stop being intimidated by independent, intelligent women. Instead, they should be proud of them (smile). It’s important to find that balance. It shouldn’t be a choice of who wants what for the other. It is what one needs for themselves to feel whole and be happy. Some women can be happy simply being a housewife, or some just focusing on their careers, while some need both. We must understand what makes us happy and having a spouse who can understand that as well is vital. If this is not understood, problems will arise. So for me, it’s about whatever makes that person happy and allowing them to do it. Also finding someone who allows them to express themselves freely. Love is about compromise, yes, but it’s also about acceptance and knowing your partner, so to answer your question, I don’t think anyone should try to make someone make a choice that ultimately they know will make that person unhappy. For me, I will like someone who can accept that. I would also like a family one day, but I do want to remain active in my profession.
Lovee: Food for thought for us all. I also speak openly and honestly in my book about my own struggles with creating the balance with my family and my own ambitions, among other things. My number one advice to women is to stay true tothemselves and to not feel pressured by society and others to live up to some ideal or unrealistic expectation. Superwoman is a fictional character. The one size fits all adage does not apply in this case. I believe when we go against ourselves, that’s the beginning of failure. So in all things, stay true to your authentic self and know who you are and what you want for your life before attempting to be anyone’s wife.
Lisa: I agree Lovee, this is so true! Be an original not a copy. Find out what makes you truly happy before you try to make another person happy. At the end of the day, if you are not happy, no one will want to be around you.
Lovee: If it looks good to the world and it does not feel right in your heart, let it go. I just wish women who actively learn to support eachother. Some of us are truly our own worse enemies. Ok, so what’s next for Lisa? What is your ultimate dream/goal for your life?
Lisa: My ultimate goal is to be happy in all aspects of my life. I recently received a scholarship to finish my few papers in ACCA which included a Masters in Finance, so my dream will be to finish this, open my own business, buy a boat and be relaxed and in good spirits. I try not to plan too much ahead and focus on it too much, as sometimes life has a way of taking you off track, and it gets difficult to manage if one is hell bent and focus on one thing. I am such a free spirit that I responsibly plan in terms of finances, but in terms of future plans on marriage, where am going to live, etc, I leave that up to God. I would hope that whatever is planned for me would be fantastic (laughing out loud) but we shall see.
Lovee: Great approach. Life is a daring adventure, or nothing at all! Have plans, but always be prepared for God’s plans as well (smiling). I ask this final question to all my guests, what would you like your legacy to be?
Lisa: I always thought of this and wondered! But I hope that people would just simply remember me for the person that I was. Someone who was a good friend, loving, kind and most of all true to myself and to others.
Lovee: I know I will of you (smiling). Lisa, thank you for sharing your story with me. I believe we grow and learn so much from each other when we understand and know their story. I know that your story will be inspiring to young women who are working towards their own personal dream and goals. God has blessed you, and he has provided a window of endless possibilities. I hope that he continues to use you in the most profound ways to inspire and empower all you meet. You are indeed “A GIRL LIKE ME!” Soar on eagle!
Lisa: Thank you Lovee. It has been my pleasure, and I hope that my story can inspire and give a lot of women young and older hope, inspiration and encouragement. Always keeping in mind that there are endless options in this life. Even if their circumstances may not be the best, they should always keep their dreams, aspirations and hopes high and close at heart. God is truly great and through him anything is possible. They can write their own stories and have a positive ending just like you, rather than letting society or their circumstances define there future. I want to encourage young girls, especially in the Caribbean to be proud of where they come from. Lovee, I hope God continue to richly bless you and I wish you all the best.Thank you for being a positive inspiration in my life once again.
Lovee: No, thank you ( Smiling).
Feature #6: Modern Style Icon – Shala MonroquePublished: April 30, 2012
Shala Monroque is a young Saint Lucian beauty who is being hailed by the fashion elites as a ‘modern day style icon’ and the new ’It’ girl. She has been gracing the covers of such famous magazines as Town and Country, New York Magazine and has been featured in Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue among others. She is also the Creative Director for ’Garage magazine’ where she gets to showcase her impeccable taste. She prides herself on being a Saint Lucian and for being raised in a culture with great values which have catapuled her to success. Through it all, she remains humble and embraces the true beauty and simplicity of being an ’Island girl.’
Lovee: Hi Shala, thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. I am honored for the opportunity and happy to reconnect with my fellow Saint Lucian.
Shala: My pleasure, and it’s so nice to reconnect with you too. You know, I have an image of you and your brother stuck in my head from thousands of years ago. It’s not so clear now but somehow I’ve never forgotten it. We are standing at the pedestrian crossing at the school. I’d just returned from buying ”sweets” at the ”co-op” remember that? I was about to go back to the school and the two of you were waiting, what for I can’t really remember now. It eludes me and I’ve always wondered if you remembered that moment.
Lovee: (Laughing out loud)I wouldn’t doubt that for a second! My brother and I were in the same class from primary(elementary) school througout secondary (high) school. My mom wanted it that way, so we were always together. I don’t think he liked that very much, (laughing out loud) but those are some treasured memories.
Shala:Yes, i can see it as clear as day that you seemed to be stuck together. I suppose that must have been a gift to spend the first sixteen years of your life joined to your brother like that. I’m sure he was annoyed though. (smiling)
Lovee: (Laughing out loud) back then i think we both saw it as a curse more than a gift, since my brother was very much the introvert and me an extrovert and some (laughing out loud). But, looking back, I think that experience created a bond between us that I believe will always be there and sustain us throughout our lives. (Smiling) Ok, so first off, i have to say thank you for taking the time to support me at my book launch in New York. It meant alot having a fellow Saint Lucian and a great role model as yourself showing your support, so thank you…
at “A Girl Like Me” Book launch at Club Element in Manhattan New York
all smiles at “A Girl Like Me” Book launch.
Shala: Remember that mantra we used to say standing at assembly every day in Primary School? No man is an island…
Lovee: Indeed! And we sure do we realise its true meaning as we grow. You know, when i saw you in New York after so many years, I just kept thinking to myself, ”Shala hasn’t aged (pyhsically)one bit since her days at Secondary (High) School in Saint Lucia!” (laughing out loud). What’s the secret? A side from good genes of course? (smiling)
Shala: I feel I’m at least maturing a bit. (smiling) But I would say that I at once take life seriously and then not so seriously, I roll with the punches. I understand that bad times are inevitable but builds strength and character, and I whole heartedly enjoy the good moments in life. That and good genes I suppose.
Lovee: Great approach, but good genes always help. I can still imagine you walking in the streets of Castries (Saint Lucia) in your green and white school uniform with all that flare and grace as you still have today. It was quite inspiring and refreshing to see that the subtle, humble, soft spoken and beautiful girl i knew of growing up in Saint Lucia hasn’t changed the core of who she is. How do you remain grounded having been thrust into the spotlight and attaining fame?
Shala: Well first off, as you clearly point out in your book ”A girl Like Me,” I do believe that growing up in St.Lucia we had a really good foundation to stand on! I feel that we grew up with great values. Respect, integrity, honesty, hard work, simplicity, fairness. Those are still the things I value today. Remember the motto on the front wall of the Sans Souci School that we walked up to everyday: PRAY HARD, WORK HARD, PLAY HARD. For a long time as a child growing up in a Catholic country I never understood why our Principal included the play hard part but she was so right, and I’m happy that this was instilled in me early on. It’s very important, it gives a sense of balance. And one thing I’m learning especially when there is a light placed on you it’s important to have balance in your life, and a good sense of judgement based on those basic principles that I mentioned before. God helps me with the rest.
Lovee: Well said! That was such a powerful motto. Happy you remembered it. It really did instill so much within us. What was your childhood days like, and as you get older, do you find yourself assimilating more into American culture, or missing more of your own culture?
Shala:I would not trade my childhood for anything! In a way it is my saving grace. I have that to go back to always. I loved to play. Loved loved loved to. Any excuse to be outdoors. There wasn’t a tree that I didn’t climb not even when I didn’t know how to get down from it. I was raised not just by my mother and father but by everyone around and that’s one of the great gifts. To have so much human interaction at such an early age. A sense that people cared about your well being, that you were made aware of boundaries. I think children need boundaries and I’m grateful that I had many. I had a city life and a country life. I gardened with my grand-mother and aunts and uncles and cousins in the country, swam in the river, went to Mass on Sundays. In the city, I danced at school, acted, was an athlete, read a lot. I was very encouraged in my curiousities, I was very free. Asimilating here was tough and then not so tough. The climate, the isolation, and remaining indoors for extended periods of time is very hard for any Island person to adjust to. But you learn. But then on the other hand I loved that I had access at first through libraries, to music, movies, and books, it was like heaven to me. I loved that I could get a weekly metro card and go anywhere around New York, the Bronx Zoo, The Cloisters, Central Park, The Moma, Chanel, 99 Cent stores anywhere. There is an openess in America that is wonderful. I will always have my culture within me, it’s my duty to carry it with me whereever I go. I used to miss St.Lucia a lot more but now that I understand that I carry it with me, it is easier to be away from home. I try now to take St.Lucia with me and show it to the world, just by being me, I carry my home with me.
Lovee: Very profound! Sounds like a script from my book. Our childhoods were quite similar. Right now, you are being hailed as ”a modern day style icon, a muse, the it girl,” and Town and Country magazine which you are on the cover of for their January edition reads, ”you may not know Shala Monroque, but you should.” WOW! How did all this begin for ”A girl Like You?” (Laughing out loud)…pun intended here. ..(laughing out loud)
Shala: (Smiling) Fate? I don’t know. Maybe because I carry my history, my home, my culture with me and I hope when I give it to the people that I meet, and I say this is me, this is what my mother taught me, what my country taught me, welcome to my home they are pleased, they feel warm just as if they had stepped into my mother’s house and she offered water or guava juice and a good story and a wholesome smile. I think there is a lot of value in that…
Lovee: I don’t think most of us realise how much beauty there is in loving and embracing our uniqueness, traditions, languages and who we are as a people. Having a sense of identity and belonging is so vital. I am happy you embrace that. Growing up in Saint Lucia, did you always know that you wanted to work in fashion?
Shala: My god! I was the girl who changed her mind every week! (laughing out loud) I wanted to be a nurse like my aunt, I realise now it was probably only because I liked the uniform. I wanted to be a school principal like Mrs.Renee because she was one of my heros, and then a carnival queen and then an actor and a model. I had no clue, in the end I just wanted to be where I felt I could be learning all the time.
Lovee: And you are definitely acheiving that. As a little girl, i always knew that i wanted to write and travel the world. I had visions of what i wanted my life to be like, and as i evolved, I was amazed at how much of those dreams became a reality. It felt like ”de ja vu.” Did you always dream of the life that you now have growing up?
Shala: I was always a big dreamer. And I never ever doubted that the things that crossed my mind if I wanted them could not happen. I used to watch the sun set into the ocean every night and dreamed of what was beyond the horizon, I just wanted to know what was behind the hill jutting out in the sea that the St.Mary’s College sat on. Where did the cargo ships come from? Where were they going? Why were there only white people on T.V? How did the CNN broadcaster make money, I couldn’t understand that someone was paid just to sit and talk, especially about things that didn’t seem to have relevance in my life. And because I’m inquisitive, I was going to find a way to get my questions answered, I was going to try to understand the world that I lived in. So I won a ticket to Florida, took the Greyhound to New York, fell in love with it and here I am. Nosy me. (smiling).
Lovee: (Laughing out loud) I love how your mind worked. Curiosity sure didn’t kill this cat! It propelled you to fulfilling your dreams!Thank God for our inquisitive nature. (smiling) I believe that preparation plus opportunity equals luck. How did you prepare yourself for the opportunities that presented it self to you?
Shala: I stayed busy. We are the sum of our experiences. In the end it all adds up. As a very young child I think beginning around age 8 or 9 I would write poems and read them on the radio. That was a big thing for me then. I was part of a dance troupe, I worked at a grocery store packing cans on a shelf, I took long walks alone in the forest, I took the train to Jones Beach in New York, I spoke to people I asked questions, I tried as much as possible to always enrich mind. You know it’s all good and well to want to get there, where ever that is for you but it’s nice to have something to share once you get there, you have to have something to give back. This is what I think makes the difference.
Lovee: Quite profound! It all really does add up. When i think of all the things i thought i did in vain, only to realise that it was useful to me later, and shaped my character. Everything is a stepping stone for something greater. Often times however, people think that they can acheive great things without hard work, perhaps they can, but it quickly fades, because they attract it for all the wrong reasons. Through your work, i can tell that you are passionate about fashion. You are a natural, even vogue magazine have described you as having impeccable taste. What inspires your style and taste?
Shala: You have to work hard. I think it was incredibly stylish of my grand-mother to get up in the morning, put on her dress, pick up her cutlass, go to the garden, carry her produce on her head then on Sunday get well dressed and go to Church or sit on her steps and share words and thoughts and sympathies and joy, with neighbours. For me that’s style. What are you if you are impeccably dressed with awful manners, if you are disagreeable? You don’t look so good anymore.
Lovee: Indeed! You have just defined what it means to be ugly-to me. I’ve seen some some your fashion photos, and you take great risks with clothes, perhaps that’s why you are loved for it. I love your simple, classical looks. Reminds me of Grace Kelly, Josephine Baker and Audrey Hepburn. I love how you mix and match with clothes and colors too. As a child, i would go shopping with my mom in a thrift store in Saint Lucia called, ”tout bagay,” meaning everything. I can candidly remember those moments. My mom would put the perfect outfit together, from hat to shoes to belt, and it would look like she was styled by a desginer. It is still soemthing that we enjoy doing together, and boy do we find some treasures in there! (laughing out loud) Who is your favorite designer?
Shala: (smiling)…Fashion is the surface of the change of the times, this is why it is constantly in movement. We are living in fast times, everthing is sped up. Fashion is sped up, the change of tastes and moods, and feelings is also sped up. It is difficult to say exactly who has the finger on the pulse at the moment, everything is just moving too quickly to say. I feel there are a handful of people in fashion who truly feel the times today. It is not just the designers who I admire, the list would be too long.
Lovee: You are so much more than just a pretty face, aside from fashion, your writing is also impeccable. I’ve read some of your entries on your blog ”shalasrabbithole,” and i love how you use poetry and art to describe your experiences and the world around you. You are also the creative director for ”Garage Magazine.” What is it that you love the most about what you do?
Shala: As a child I loved the ’bush’ meaning a terrain with no road. There was so much to discover, and maybe even one could leave a trail if one returned through the same path enough, and if others followed. Working with a group of individuals who are curious, who ask lots of questions, who are open to points of view that may be different with yours is similar to me as stepping off the path and peering into the ’bush’. Looking for pathways that do not yet exist yet, looking for ideas that have never yet been discovered, like a rare ant on a yellow leaf that has just fallen off a shrub. With Shalasrabbithole.com, I go there as well as with the Garage team, we love to explore and bring back what we see. That for me is very rewarding.
Lovee: I know just what you mean. The older i get, the more i seek to surround myself with positive, curious people, who question things, and challenge me as an individual. It is the only way we realise our true greatness. One of the reasons i like featuring great Saint Lucians as yourself is as a way of inspiring and empowering our young people to keep dreaming, and to aspire for great things. What advise would you give to young people pursing a career in fashion or the arts?
Shala: Embrace your individuality, once you do that you will have something to offer that no one else has.
Lovee: I love that! I empthasized on that alot in my book. Nothing beats originality! Aside from fashion, what other causes are dear to your heart?
Lovee: A great cause. How do you stay connected to your roots, and have Saint Lucians embrace you and your success?
Shala: I keep the memory of where I’m from very alive…
Lovee: You recently featured my book, ”A Girl Like Me” on your blog (www.shalasrabbithole.com/blog), and you gave a very powerful introduction, ”My story belongs to everyone, but only I can tell it.” Truly thought provoking. I know the world would love to read your story, will you ever tell it? (Smiling)
Shala: I will, Inshallah. (Smiling)
Lovee: Always in his time! (smiling)…When you’re not working, what are some of the things that you enjoy doing?
Shala: I’m a bit of a loner. I very much enjoy staying at home alone reading. It’s my favorite thing to do. I also love to go dancing althogh I haven’t done much of it lately which is extremely bad.
Lovee: Be sure to make time for that! We do need to dance every once in a while. (smiling) I always ask this final question to all my guests as a means of reflection. What would you like your legacy to be?
Shala: That I did goodness in the world.
Lovee: And you have. I believe that you are a beautiful being inside and out, and you exude all things great. I know you will continue to persevere and soar, and the world will get to know you for alot more than fashion, but also for your beautiful mind and humble spirit. As a Saint Lucian, i am proud to say i know you, and i wish you continued blessings and success.
Shala: Thank you. I wish you the same! (smiling)
To learn more about Shala log on her blog: www.shalasrabbithole.com/blog.
Feature #5: Musician, Poet, Humanitarian – Taj WeekesPublished: April 3, 2012
Taj Weekes is a musician, poet and humanitarian, who along with his band “Adowa” has been receiving great reviews for their positive and uplifting reggae music, which they perform all over the world. His voice is uniquely beautiful and his lyrics are enchanting and captivating. Although he is well known for his vocal talents, Taj is also admired and respected for his humanitarian work, and he continues to give back to his country Saint Lucia through various initiatives. He is the epitome of what it means to be a good human being, and I am proud to call him one of our own. I know he will continue to be an inspiration to many, and continue to use his life to enrich that of others through his music of peace, love and understanding.
Musician, Poet and Humanitarian-Taj Weekes
Lovee: Hello Taj, It’s an absolute honor to get the opportunity to interview you. I am humbled by your willingness to answer my questions. Thank you.
Taj: Thank you, the honor is mine.
Lovee: I have to admit that it was only recently that i heard and learned more about you and your music, which i happen to love very much. I was elated to know that such a great and talented man was from my country, but a part of me was also sad that i hadn’t heard about you before. I immediately wanted to feature you to tell all Saint Lucians about this great son of the soil. I know most of them probably already know of you, but for those who don’t, i think it’s so important for our youth to know about the great men and women from our country, so they can be inspired. Who was your inspiration as a child growing up in Saint Lucia?
Taj: Unfortunately i have no recognizable name or names to give you as my inspiration….my family was my inspiration, my mother and father and especially my brother Desmond (MPLA)
Lovee: I believe that these are the best people to have as your inspiration. What was it like growing up in Saint Lucia?
Taj: My upbringing was a typical Caribbean lifestyle, 83 and sunshine, sand and sea and unbelievable freedom. Schoolwork. football, friends, family. Nothing extraordinary, I had what i think every child should have and that was to live in the moment and take full advantage of my right to play.
Taj Weekes-Playing football in the streets of Saint Lucia with the local kids.
Lovee: Indeed. I share your sentiments in my book, “A Girl Like Me.”…Growing up, did you always dream of being a musician?
Taj: My dreams were of pirates, adventure, flying etc…never of being a musician. I lived around music, from singing in church and school to singing to my parents at nighttime to playing with my brothers in a band. I was in the music so it was not something unreachable to me it wasn’t part of my dreams but of my reality.
Taj Weekes in his Element
Lovee: Lucky you, or should i say blessed you (smile). You are an acclaimed musician, poet, and humanitarian, and you and your band Adowa are truly raising the level of social consciousness through your music which is also intellectually stimulating. Your music has so much depth and speaks to the core of one’s being. I was reading some of your lyrics, truly remarkable. I love your new single, “Janjaweed.” It is quite thought provoking, like most of your other songs. What inspires your music and your writing?
Taj Weekes with his band Adowa
Taj: The world that I live in moves me to write what it is that I write… its simplicity and confusion, the love and hate, the imbalance between the rich and poor, the over-privilege and the under-privilege, the wicked and pure of heart …the stubbornness of ideologies the reasons for war, the quietness of the night the noise of the city. There are lots of things to inspire if one is still for a moment.
Lovee: Well said. I believe that everything in life is about perception, and we often perceive things based upon our own experiences, circumstances etc. I perceive your music to be very positive and uplifting, while telling powerful stories. How does your perception of the world influence your music and writing?
Taj: I think my perception of the world is based on the collective experience of all my years and through it all i remain hopeful. I cannot subscribe to the point of view that man and woman for that matter is inherently evil but righteous. I believe we have just lost our way as a people and that is all people. Since i perceive, since i believe, since i know we are all good people gone astray I sing with a “wake the town and tell the people” kind of mentality. That’s how the way i see the world affects and influences my art.
Positive, capitvating and uplifting reggae music.
Lovee: That’s deep. How would you like people to connect with your music? In other words, what message are you trying to convey?
Taj: The message is very simple, if we don’t change our plan we will live in and our children will inherit a wasteland… and that one world is enough for all of us.
Lovee: Powerful message. I’m curious to know a little more about your single ”Janjaweed.” What inspired that song?
Powerful lyrics – JANJAWEED
Taj: The ‘Janjaweed” inspired that song. The devils who ride on horse back is the literal translation for the Janjaweed. People should google Janjaweed to get a better understanding of the conflict in the Darfur region between tribes and governments over land and resources.
Lovee-Will be sure to read and learn more. I hate comparisons, because i believe that we are born with our own uniqueness and greatness, but i know musically most people probably do compare you to the late great Bob Marley. How has his music influenced you and your work?
Taj: Minimally. I don’t listen to Bob before I write a song and don’t paraphrase him in anyway. My experiences are unique in that i am of a different place and time and completely different set of circumstances. Of course I admire the songs and musicianship but no more that I admire Peter Tosh or early Steel Pulse. What’s sad is that we have elevated only one reggae musician to that status of icon and have neglected the collective that made the music great so whenever we compare we only do it to one man and no other.
Lovee: Quite thought provoking words here. Your voice is uniquely beautiful. It is captivating, exhilerating and soothing. It draws one in. Growing up, did others embrace that uniqueness or were you discouraged and told that you didn’t have a chance as a musician?
Taj: No the people whom i grew up with were never that discouraging. I was always told that my speaking voice sounded a bit different but (so did my brother ‘MPLA’) never discouraged in any way.
Taj Weekes – A true Artist
Lovee: That’s great!…I ask because often times the youth gets discouraged by their uniqueness, which they often see as flaws and don’t embrace it. What advice would you give to young people pursuing any dream?
Taj: Pursue it…nothing more nothing less…but to pursue it.
Taj Weekes with his band Adowa
Lovee: Who inspires you musically?
Taj: No one in particular just good songs across all genres, the hit makers and the one hit wonders…i love the good songs, the melodies that stay with you long after the cd or radio has stopped playing.
Lovee: One of the things that i was captivated by, and admired the most about you was your commitment and dedication to giving back to the community. You are a great humanitarian and was recently recognized for your selflessness by being given the Distinguish Humanitarian Award. What did that award mean to you?
Taj: Getting the award means some more people know what you do and some more doors open up to help some more people, so we give thanks.
Taj Weekes receiving the Distinguish Humanitarian Award in New York
Lovee: I am happy that your efforts are being recognized and together with your nonprofit organization which you founded TOCO(They Often cry Outreach), I hope that you continue to touch and change the lives of many.
Taj: I hope so too…
Lovee: I know that you recently teamed up with the Ministry of Gender Relations and PROSAF to raise awareness about domestic violence with the “Clothesline project.” I think that was a very powerful initiative. Is domestic violence a cause that you’re passionate about?
Taj: We actually teamed up with Gender Relations and HTS, we met PROSAF in St. Lucia and embraced their effort in getting the word out on gender based violence. I am passionate about peace. Peace in the home, peace in the world. “Love your neighbor as yourself in this case it’s love your “LOVER” as your self and do unto others as you would have them do you.
Taj Weekes foundation TOCO launched the
Clothesline project to raise awareness about
Domestic Violence in Saint Lucia and the Caribbean.
Lovee: Indeed!….As a humanitarian, what would you like to see improve or change in Saint Lucia?
Taj: Life for everyone not to sound to Jesus like but that the hungry be fed, the children comforted, the sick…etc you know the rest.
Taj Weekes feeding the elderly
Lovee: I sure do know. Outside of music, what do you enjoy doing?
Taj: Spending time with family, playing and watching football (soccer) and enjoying the simple things.
Taj Weekes with local boys performing his other passion-football/soccer
Lovee: I know you get to travel all over the world with your band. Which country is your favorite destination and why?
Taj: Since we are always on the run and don’t get time to experience too many places for too long I will have to say St. Lucia, cause this is where my heart is.
Taj Weekes in beautiful Saint Lucia
Lovee: Home is where the heart is indeed. I feel the same way. Ok, so i always end with this final question. It is one of reflection. What would you like your legacy to be?
Taj: Musically, that i was true to the art form and that i never became gimmicky and sold out ….Philanthropically that i helped and encouraged and that i made life easier for some people.
Taj Weekes – A Living Legend.
Lovee: I know you have and will continue to do so.Taj, thank you for taking the time to speak with me. Thank you for being an inspiration to many Saint Lucians, and i pray that the almighty continue to use you to make a positive difference in the lives of others through your wonderful music and other great initiatives. You are indeed a true son of the soil. I am so proud of you and all you do (Smile).
Taj: Thank you.
To learn more about Taj Weekes and his work, log on to:
Feature #4: Community Activist, Writer, Poet – Velika LawrencePublished: February 9, 2012
With every feature, I am inspired by the beautiful young men and women from whom I’m learning so much from. I continue to be fascinated by their ability to define their own lives and follow their dreams against all odds. As I continue to interview more outstanding Saint Lucians, I feel a great sense of pride knowing that there are many others who share in my vision of working together to help inspire and empower the youth by willing to share their stories of triumph and struggle.
There are outstanding young men and women in our midst, and I pray that every interview is read by the people who need the message and inspiration the most, like Velika’s story.
Velika Lawrence is the type of young woman that puts the meaning behind the word courage. She is fearless, honest, intelligent, brave and wise beyond her years. When I first met her, I knew that I wanted to share her story for the many young men and women who suffer in silence. I hope that by her courage to speak out, many learn that they are not alone, and that one should truly not judge a book by its cover. Meet my fourth feature-Velika Lawrence.
Velika Lawrence: Community Activist, Writer and Poet.
Lovee: Hello Velika, it´s such a great pleasure to be able to interview you, to share your incredible story of courage, and your vision with others.
Vel: Hi Loverly (Smile) Thank you so much for choosing me. I feel honored to have a voice through your work.
Lovee: You’re welcome. I am so happy that you agreed to share your story with me and my readers. I can still remember when I was introduced to you by our mutual friend Caroli, and soon after I read an article you wrote. It was one of the most compelling and candid articles that I’ve ever read. I literally cried while reading it. I could have felt your truth and pain all in one. It was such an empowering article…
Vel: Thank you so much. Truth is something I have always valued, and its many faces are a big part of the message that I want to send to whoever needs to understand the meaning.
Lovee: I really admired your courage and strength to be able to speak your truth so openly and candidly. I think that article conceptualizes everything about your purpose and the way in which you´re using your life now to help make a difference in the lives of others. Tell us a little more about you and that particular article I’m referring to.
Vel: Thank you, it’s important to know that I have touched one person who is on a similar mission of empowerment and action. Oh boy what would you like to know!? I am passionate about fulfilling the basic emotional needs of the people whom I interact with. I grew up around a lot of broken people and I am grateful that though I have had my share of unfortunate experiences like everyone else, I was loved and I know love and until I am no longer breathing I want to spread the power of truth and unconditional love and respect in ALL areas of life- primarily within an individual and the family unit.
The article was written as an introduction to the mission of my developing non-profit organization-PROSAF. I wanted to explain to victims and survivors of sexual assault that they are not alone. I wanted to be one of the first to come forward and to describe to our country what that sort of violation feels like. I wanted to people to understand the pain and the struggles we face internally and how it affects our external lives. I wanted to introduce myself as a survivor and to declare my dedication to the promotion of awareness of sexual assault issues in our society. The article explains my passion for moving back home, my encounters with sexual assault and my mission to take action.
Lovee: It takes a whole lot of courage or “Kutzpah” as some usually say to speak so candidly about a topic that is so taboo in Saint Lucia and the Caribbean. No one wants to talk about the issue as Mark Hennecart rightfully calls, “Pedophilia-the continued cry of the Saint Lucian child.” This is very prevalent in our culture, and it´s not just happening among the poor, but in all facets of our society. How were you able to find the courage to come out and tell your story?
Vel: I am not familiar with Mark Hennecart’s article however, on the surface I would like to say that Sexual Assault is very misunderstood and that is why dealing with it is feared. Pedophilia is one part of the problem but it is important to deal with ALL aspects of Sexual Assault in our homes and in our society. It will be the continued cry of every child on earth until the people who are supposed to protect the children can decide to take action. Sexual Assault needs to be addressed comprehensively, like all other negative issues which affect individuals, families and societies.
My courage came from a few things, I wanted to take up my responsibility as a survivor to do whatever I could to spread awareness and provide support for those who may come after me. I know firsthand what the violation can do to a human being and I didn’t want to perpetuate the concept of silence. I took a very long time to allow the truth of my experiences to seep out but when I opened up, out of the frustration of dealing with my self-esteem issues, I realized that so many people in my life are living with the pain of the same experiences. I DECIDED THAT SOMETHING NEEDED TO BE DONE. I have tremendous support from my immediate family, a few close friends and my business partner and Co-founder of PROSAF, Souyenne Daythorne (if you think I’m strong then you need to meet her!). She was ready to speak out for a long time and I had been silently supporting her but I could never bring myself to actually MAKE A MOVE. After a talk in May I decided I was ready to TAKE ACTION, and so I called her and we began spreading PROSAF’s message: Positive reactions over secrets and fear.
Velika and Souyenne Daythorne:Friend and Business Partner
Lovee: PROSAF, hmmmm, sounds interesting. What is it about and why was it founded?
Vel: PROSAF stands for Positive Reactions Over Secrets and Fear. We decided on that name because we felt that was the exact message we needed to send to individuals, family units, governments, law enforcers, teachers and communities. My partner and I wanted to send a clear message that whatever is being done is insufficient and we will to do whatever we can to erase the fear of addresses issues which affect the family unit in society; specifically sexual assault issues. We both shared our stories in the local newspapers and on you webpages.
PROSAF operates under two branches: ThePower OfOne and Surviving Sexual Abuse in the Caribbean. ThePower OfOne addresses the all-round education and responsibility of the members of the family unit, throughout the lifespan. Surviving sexual Assault in the Caribbean is responsible for spreading the awareness about sexual assault and addressing how we cope with it in society. Sou and I shared our experiences in a local newspaper and on our webpages. We wanted to stand together to show that it can and will be done. We want to encourage others to speak out and eventually provide resources for treatment for survivors who are ready to accept it.
Lovee: In Mark Hennecart article, “Pedophilia- the cry of the Saint Lucian child,” he quotes Justice Redhead, and I quote. “It is like a disease in St. Lucia -six year olds, nine year olds, twelve year olds. Why are they doing this? What is wrong with St. Lucia? Perhaps the court is too lenient. I think the courts need to send out a stronger message.”
You think? I´ve said it before, and I will say it again, I believe that our society has failed our children in that regard. From the parents, to the churches, to the courts, to the teachers, to social workers, to the feminists, to the government, to the police officers, everyone has failed our children. No one wants to take responsibility or be held accountable. Who is fighting and being a voice for those kids? No one! I hear people speak fancy rhetoric, but who is exposing the culprits? Who is marching in the streets? Who is starting a movement? Who is making an example of these perpetrators? No one! And we wonder why this continues. Thank God for people like you, who are not afraid to speak out….
Vel: Thank God for the moment to moment opportunities that we all are given to make a difference in our lives and in the lives of everyone we touch. It is not enough to think about it or talk about it. We must all (family, friends, schools, law enforcers, community “ACTIVITSTS”, etc.) define our responsibility so that we can realize the value of society’s interdependence.
Lovee: Indeed! Once you decided to speak your truth, how was the response from others- family, friends and strangers?
Vel: Well like I said before my parents and siblings have been amazingly supportive. My friends have been mostly supportive and a lot of them have shared their stories and thanked Sou and I for coming forward. Many people are still very silent and I suppose “caught off guard” and uncomfortable or unsure of what to say about it. Like you said in the beginning, Sexual Assault is not something we were trained to speak freely about in St. Lucia. However, the response has been positive and encouraging, overall. I am not focusing on those who aren’t ready. There are many who are in denial but they will understand soon enough. Many people were surprised and said “AA Vel, I had no idea uh- I always thought that you were such a happy go- lucky person-who knew you had gone through all that” etc. etc. Of course I think to myself, well how would you knowJ? You must not judge a book by its cover. I suppose you can judge me by spine (smiling)- pun intended. I am here for those are ready. I do not need to convince anyone that the issues aren’t being dealt with. The facts and effects are evident. There is work to be done, so we have rolled up over sleeves, pinned up our hair and we are unafraid of the necessary blood, sweat and tears. We are committed to our movement’s goal and that is all there is.
Lovee: And you can judge me by my ribs…(laughs)…good one Vel…(Smile)
Vel: (Smile)… well that is clear…we can also judge you by your smile I suppose (smile).
Lovee: (laughs)…it’s a large one…(laughs) thank you. I know that there are a few projects that you are passionate about and are currently working on. Like the old folks loves to say, “You´re a chief cook and bottle washer” (laughs). You´re a lover of life and people, and it shows in every facet of your being. I know you recently graduated from University and moved back home. What did you study, and how would you like to incorporate that to help in the upliftment and development of our people?
Vel: (laughs) Loverly, I think I should just attach my resume. I am working but not receiving an income to date- FYI to anyone reading this interview “wink wink-hint hint” (smile).
Lovee: The best form of advertising is word of mouth, so why not? ((laughs).
Vel: Oh yes…(laughs) I moved back home in December 2011. I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from CUNY- Queens College in New York and I have work experience with Substance Abuse and Mental Illness clients, Parolees and Client who are on Probation, Juvenile Delinquents, At-risk youth and Mothers who are in need of alternatives to incarceration. I would like to provide counsel and prevention resources to people who are ready to accept that type of assistance in their lives.
I had the privilege of working with the most amazing staff at Counseling Services of Eastern District of New York , where I contributed to the treatment of Substance Abuse and MICA Clients and I have been working and volunteering as a mentor in the field since I left Sir Arthur Lewis Community College in 2005.
I am also a poet and singer and so whenever I am able to share a message through the song in my heart, I perform at open-mic events or whatever stage will have me. I continue to volunteer and learn more about myself by giving back to the community. I want to make a difference by incorporating my life experience, formal education and work experience to help raise the consciousness and level of awareness of issues in society. I want our society to have an appreciation for the importance of understanding (and accepting) who we are, who we can be. We need to realize the benefits of effective communication and the ability to take responsibility for how we cope with the issues that we face in our unique lives. It is all relative and all necessary.
My father always told me that he believes that I am destined for greatness and I would think…”you are my dad – you are supposed to say that” (smiling) but as I have monitored my growth, I realize that he is right. I was right too, he was supposed to say it and I am grateful that he believed it because now I do as well. I will do what I believe is positive, productive and proactive for the advancement of myself and anyone I know or work with. I want to take the knowledge I’ve learnt from my higher level education and communicate it with all levels of education in the local community.
Lovee: Well said, and your dad is so right. I love your confidence also (smiles). I know you got to experience this nightmare first hand, but for those who don´t know, please give us some examples of real life situations of children you have encountered who have experienced sexual abuse and what it´s like for them living with that guilt.
Vel: There are victims/survivors and predators/ abusers/offenders of all ages. Anyone who has been violated will more than likely suffer with self-esteem, confusing guilt, betrayal and trust issues, and body image issues to list a small few effects of the experience.
Note of guidance:
Be sure to give your children adequate and appropriate love and affection so that they never feel that it is ok to receive any kind of attention from people who are out to hurt them. Talk to your children DAILY about the events of their day. Listen to them in their silence, their body language will say a lot. The victim NEVER asks for it. The offender is the abuser. Also, parents who are genuinely vigilant must seek counsel as well because it is not easy to deal with the harsh reality that no matter how much you try to control a situation, it can and does happen.
Spiritual and Community Leader Betrayal
*8 year old girl from Micoud, St. Lucia who is now 54 and living in San Souci, St. Lucia*
-She was standing next to a French priest as she was waiting for him to translate a letter from French to English for her guardian. As she sat watching him read the letter, she began to feel his hands sliding slowly and deliberately up her thighs. She was able to find it in her to threaten to tell her father as the Priest’s hand made contact with her panty line and separated it from her groin. He angrily sent her on her way and told her that he would no longer be able to translate the letters for her guardian.
From that day she has learnt that you cannot trust anyone and that you need to be skeptical of where you send your children and who you leave them around etc. She has always made a point to ensure her children’s safety throughout their lives as best as she could.
Years later, her daughter (ME), encountered her first violation by her uncle who was also a child at the time.
The moral is that you can never be too careful and so you must ALWAYS be aware and be there for your children because you cannot trust the intentions of someone who is preying on their innocence or willing to use them to satisfy an immediate urge. It is not a lost cause- the facts are what they are- keep communication open and ALWAYS provide validation, comfort and justice in a case that has been reported. It is not easy for anyone to speak about these experiences.
*7 year boy from Long Island, New York, who is now a 59 year old Parolee receiving substance abuse counsel*
He explains that at age 5 his mother, who was a drug addict, abandoned him and that his father would leave him alone with his step brothers as he worked 16 hour shifts to support his new family. His 14 hear old brother would sodomize him, beat him with sticks and throw dead insects on him in his sleep.
He responded with that story as he explained for the first time, why he questions his sexuality and elaborates on how it has been for a lifetime gangster who is really so kind inside. He is finally able to come to terms with his experiences and is seeking coping strategies for building his self-esteem. He explains why he felt he needed to turn to the streets and the emptiness he has bottled up inside him all these years.
I’d encourage interested people to research and find all the past newspaper articles from our local archives. There are many stories of victim’s right here. I also encourage people to do their own private investigations and personal inventories into their own lives. There is enough going on within our homes and we need start these processes from the inside out. Take care of your own.
Lovee: WOW! Such heart wrenching stories. You gave some wonderful advices. I pray someone who needs it is reading this interview. Since we are from an island where most people know of each other, a lot of things are swept under the carpet to protect certain people’s reputations/image, or a family’s name, or some people choose to remain silent out of fear, shame etc. But sadly, the vicious cycle continues because most of those perpetrators continue to roam the streets, and are given access to these children in every way. What advice would you give to a child living with such a secret?
Vel: (Sighs)… If you are a child living with such a secret… I want you to understand and BELIEVE that it is not your fault and this abuse WILL NOT last forever. You will soon find it in you to tell someone you can trust; someone who will be ready to help you work through your feelings about what you experience. It is important for you to TELL SOMEONE as soon as possible. If it is possible and you are able, please NEVER DESTROY/HIDE THE EVIDENCE or anything that you have as proof of the abuse you endure. If it is ongoing, you may be able to document, record or video something that serves as proof- be brave- be careful. If the person who hurt you said that no one will believe you, DO NOT LISTEN/BELIEVE THEM, please tell someone who you can trust. If you tell someone and nothing is done, when you can TELL SOMEONE ELSE- never give up on you- you may be all you have- and YOU ARE WORTH IT. The goal is to find a place that you can feel secure soon- a new home if necessary. You will soon find someone who will defend and protect you against whoever decided to hurt you. I want you to give yourself a chance to be whoever you dream you can be. The pain and struggle is normal and there is nothing wrong with you. You are full of life and energy and YOU WILL BE GREATER THAN YOU IMAGINE RIGHT NOW. Trust me- I know.
Lovee: So profound and such powerful words! I hope you do public speaking also. It will inspire so many.
Vel: Thanks. Yes I have and I hope to take this and other messages to SCHOOL ASSMEBLIES and PTA MEETINGS. It is very important to reiterate words of encouragement in a world where being realistic usually means something negative or disheartening. The truth is that sexual assault is excruciatingly painful but it is not impossible to work through the effects, with time and support. I think what happens is that people are afraid and feel overwhelmingly helpless, and so they give up on themselves or whoever they know who may be enduring such traumatic experiences.
Lovee: What do you think needs to be done differently in Saint Lucia towards children who have been abused in any way?
Vel: I think that we adults need to grow up and stop being so afraid of everything. Stop caring what people will think and start working on and being part of the solution for what IS. We are their examples. You cannot tell the children one thing and then do something different and then scold them for becoming YOU. We are the children’s protectors. If one of us doesn’t step in- who will? It can mean a range of things and it will take time. Every case is so intricately different. LOVE AND PROTECT THE CHILD and PUT THEM FIRST- whatever that means considering the circumstance. DO NOT REST until you know in your heart of hearts that this child feels validated and secure and that justice has been served.
Lovee: And that my friend is the gospel truth. We are a society that is so consumed by what people think and say, and it is really keeping us back. Did you ever face your abuser, or get any kind of justice?
Vel: I have never faced any of my abusers (3) in the way that I would have liked to but at this time I don’t feel I need to. We will see though. Life changed for me and I was removed from the first circumstance/environment almost immediately. The second one; I see him on the street from time to time, and at that time it happened I pretended it didn’t so we went along like our friendship was normal because I felt embarrassed and afraid. I was a tomboy and I felt weak and I wanted to prove to myself that I could be ok. The third one, I called very soon after to inform him I never wanted to see him again and to inform him of the health condition that I had contracted from that episode. I had bigger problems as far as I was concerned. I felt worthless, empty and disgusting.
As far as “Justice”- I have found comfort in my beliefs of life and experiences. The support that I have received from the people who love me is humbling. I was raised with a foundation of Hindu Religion and I believe that according to the natural law of Karma, that I am alright and will continue to be alright. The people who I interact with in this life will receive their due experiences for the impact they made on my life, as I will also receive my just rewards. I expect that this is not a response that many can wrap their heads around but this is how I cope. I should have said something sooner but it is so hard to do and you only truly understand the “nature of the beast” (words of Souyenne Daythorne) when you have experienced it.
Lovee: Do you think that this is a permanent stain in our society? Is it a disease that cannot be cured?
Vel: I don’t know how to answer that question. I think the goal is to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. SPEAK OUT- ENCOURAGE SOMEONE- TAKE ACTION AGAINST ALL THE NEGATIVE ISSUES IN SOCIETY- sexual assault is not the only one. Let’s start somewhere. Let’s start now and see how far we get. For whatever it is worth, I believe that unless you are born with a disease it can ALWAYS be cured, in time, with the right form of treatment and natural/pure medication.
Lovee: You have managed to turn your pain into power, and continue to inspire and empower so many. What motivates you and keeps you inspired to do what you do?
Vel: (Smiling)… I smile with my heart and eyes from the inside out. My life is a prayer. I constantly take self-inventory. I perception -check. I LOVE LIFE! I LIVE IT! I RESPECT IT! I FORGIVE! I let me hair down and I dance, breathe and believe. I sing. If I could fly, girl, I WOULD DO IT TOO. I strive to freedom and liberation from the stressful bonds that I encounter. I face the issues and then I let them go. I trust that life will unfold as it should. I reread “Desiderata”!
I apply what I say I believe and if I find it’s too hard, I remain patient and silent until it becomes second nature to me.
Living with a smile.
Lovee: Ahhhh, I love that! You go girl! (laughs) I am sure some days are tougher than others, but how are you able to put this nightmare behind you and be happy again?
Vel: I cry! Then I breathe. I call my Mommy and my Brother to vent, I pray. I disassociate from the negative things, people or places. I search for some happy distraction- go for a run- or a swim. I rise to the test of the moment and take the lesson from it. I am more than my battle scars. I am who I chose to be. I constantly create affirmations for myself and then I mirror-talk until I believe them. I speak the truth and when that doesn’t seem to help I trust that God know the truth and eventually I will feel better. (laughs)l but mostly …I am a Scorpio- I just cry….it’s great therapy…it works (laughs).
When I feel discouraged I call someone who loves me or I go to the mirror and remind myself of why I started a certain journey. Hmm lots of mirror-talk…am I vain? (laughs) Kidding..Self-talk is great.
Lovee: (laughs) Oh do I know about the mirror talks! (laughs) We are both vain then! (laughs)
Vel: (laughs)…Well beauty is in the eye of the holder….and I don’t think we look too bad Lovee…but hey! But since we are on the topic for two seconds let me say that I feel that our beauty comes from within. I strive daily to be more beautiful that the day before and I think that it is important in our society to encourage our youth to nurture their inner beauty, build their character and confidence. THEY WILL NEVER REGRET IT.
The many talents of Velika.
Lovee: Profound! I talk a lot about that in my book also.I know that you are a proud Saint Lucian and who is interested in community initiatives to help move us in a positive direction. What do you think we need more of as a people to help achieve some of those goals?
Vel: Yes! I am a proud St. Lucian! I think we need to encourage all forms of education (academic and creative arts) for our children. I think we need to realize the difference in each child’s learning style and help them find their passions. I think we need to show them that there are many successful St. Lucians. The everyday man is a proud man and his story is very important. We need to teach individual and nation pride. We need to invest in the higher education of the youth and teach them to be independent and the importance of interdependence. We need less doubt and negativity, and more positive discipline and proactive strides to the sustenance of community development.
And! Teachers need to learn to love their jobs! It is not a last resort occupation. It has become the pathetic job that you take up when you cannot find a job in your field and so out of resentment you say “Woye I’ll just go un teach”. Really!!!? “Just” go un teach?…How is that being responsible and productive. When a child does not have a supportive family and he or she feels that the teacher believes they are worthless, slow or inadequate…how exactly does that help???
No matter where you are in life- no matter what job you find yourself in, please do it to the best of your ability. Be kind and considerate and responsible. Remember each of us have a direct and indirect influence on each other, whether you realize it or not.
Lovee: Everything you said here is the absolute truth, and we need to really think about every word. I love what you said about teaching being a last resort, which is such a big problem with our education system. Teachers who are not passionate about their job and doing it as a last resort. Tell us about the people you are working with on your projects who are making a positive difference in our society.
Vel: Right now the only person I am working with actively is Souyenne Daythorne- PROSAF www.prosaf.org Co-Founder and childhood friend. We are developing a non-profit organization to address the issues of Sexual Assault in Society and the Education and Responsibility of the Family unit in Society. Join us on Facebook, Twitter and read our weekly articles in the St. Lucian Voice Newspaper.
I am also working on a few other projects to contribute to arts, and folk-culture but those are underground projects at the moment.
Lovee: I know that you have strong family values, and your family is a very important part of your life. How has your encounter changed their world, and how did it affect you´ll relationship?
Vel: Only good can come of it! They are supportive. Of course they felt angry, helpless and responsible somehow but like I said it took years for me to explain what I experienced. We are one. My needs and theirs are the same. We will sacrifice anything for each other and for the truth. We are committed to our unit and that is the law we have always learnt to abide by. Love is all there is. Life is a test of unconditional love. I think it has made us closer and stronger and more aware of ourselves. I am the eldest and I constantly feel that mothering responsibility to protect my siblings and make sure they understand the truths of life’s experiences- not to scare them but to ensure that they are prepared and knowledgeable. That is what our parents did for us. God alone knows who I would have been without that strong team. We have our disagreements obviously but we always know to laugh at ourselves and learn the lesson and move on.
Velika in traditonal wear with her brother and sister.
Velika and her beautiful family
Lovee: In our daily lives, we have to fight and work really hard at remaining positive in a world that can be so negative. How do you deal with negative energy?
Vel: I try to remain calm. All energy is one. Things are as you take them and as you see them. Many things we initially perceive as bad or react too impulsively out of fear or misunderstanding, eventually show their purpose if you give them time. I value silence, patience and kindness. I use an equal and opposite force. Life is science (smiling).
Lovee: (Smiling) you are definitely something special. You are such a light in the world. You´ve come a long way, and God is still working on you. He has so much planned for you, and he will continue to use you to do great things. You are using all of your gifts and talents in a positive way, and you are helping so many people in the process, that´s what being a true leader is all about- being able to inspire and empower others with the gifts and talents we are blessed with, and getting people to act. I don´t care how long it takes, I know you will make a positive difference in our society, and will have a great impact on child abuse issues in Saint Lucia and the Caribbean.
Vel: Awwww thank you so much. I wish I could hug you (mental hug). Things like this are what I try to explain to people; the power of one person and the connection that we can make. I am so happy to have been given this opportunity and to be able to touch one person if I can. I feel like we have known each other for much longer than we have. We really live in an amazing age and we need to put technology to positive use because so many people are exploiting and abusing others but look at the wondrous magic you have created Loverly. You are truly an inspiration. God bless you and everything you hold dear and everything you touch. Your parents had great insight when they named you (smiling).
Lovee: Heartfelt. Thank you for that, deeply appreciated. Like you, I work hard at being a better person and encourage others to do the same. As long as we are here, we have to keep working on ourselves. “We are imperfect and inevitably flawed, and we are beautiful.” Ok, so I like asking people this question for so many reasons/ what do you want your legacy to be?
Vel: Ohhh boy! The miss universe question! (Laughs) !*scary pressuring theme music*
Oh no! I have no mirror-how will I answer this question Loverly?! (laughs).
Lovee: (laughs) And you have a great sense of humor, all around bless! (Smiling).
Vel: (laughs) Thank you. Let’s see my legacy hmm-I want to be remembered as a person who truly cared, tried, listened, gave and learnt. I want someone smile when they think of the very last time they encountered me. According my favorite Pink Floyd song-I want to love everybody that hates before it’s too late.
Lovee: I know I’m smiling. Thank You Vel for this eye opening interview. I look forward to working more with you on future projects. I will keep you in my prayers always. Continue to inspire and empower all you encounter. God bless you! (Smiling).
Feature #3: Saint Lucia and the Caribbean’s Premier Artist – Jonathan Guy GladdingPublished: February 8, 2012
My third feature is of Saint Lucia and the Caribbean premiere artist-Jonathan Guy Gladding. He is considered one of Saint Lucia´s very own; in fact, some of the people of Laborie (where he also lives) refer to him as “shabine,” (creole name for people of fair/light skin) because he is a true son of the soil. Jonathan Guy Gladding is an American artist who has been capturing the true essence and beauty of the Saint Lucian people and culture with his beautiful paintings. His paintings tell a powerful story of our uniqueness and who we are as a people, and although he is not a native, he has called Saint Lucia home for the past twelve years, and we have welcomed and embraced him with open arms. I believe that he is a great role model and outstanding individual, not only for aspiring artists, but to us all. It was a wonderful honor to interview him and learn more about his work.
Lovee: Hi Jonathan, Thank you for taking the time to speak with me…
Jon: I’m happy you asked, thank you! (Smiles)
Lovee: My pleasure (Smiles). As you know, I am one of your biggest fans, and I’m also happy to have had you designed the front and back covers for my book A Girl Like Me, so I am honored to learn more about you and introduce others to your fascinating work.
Jon: (Smiles)Thank you, it was really my pleasure to work with you on your book. You have a great story to tell and so many important things to say. I’m honored that I could be a small part of your project. People will love this book.
Lovee: Thank you. I sure hope so (Smile). Before I proceed, I have to say congratulations on recently having your work on exhibition by the Nobel Laureate committee where you celebrated a decade of painting…WOW! How did it feel to recieve such tribute/recognition?
Jon: Thank you. Feeling appreciated is the best reward you can have for your work. As an artist, 99% of the time you’re working in solitude, not knowing what people will think of what you are doing or if anyone cares at all. So those occasional moments in the sun mean so much. And when there’s some special acknowledgement made by the community that has been the subject of my painting the feeling is humbling.
Lovee: I am very happy that they gave you that small tribute and celebrated your wonderful paintings. Ok, so it has been more than a decade since you´ve been living in Saint Lucia. What brought you to our Island, and why did you stay?
Jon: Yes, in July it will be thirteen years. I volunteered for the Peace Corps and had the good luck to be sent to Saint Lucia. While serving as a Peace Corps volunteer, I started painting again to pass the time. I discovered I had a special feel for the subject matter. I loved the warmth and openness of the people in Laborie, and the feeling that I was part of a community. It’s harder and harder to get that feeling these days but it’s important. It’s good to feel that you’re a part of a place, and that was a gift that I didn’t want to give up.
Lovee: Definitely, it is one of the great benefits of being from an island. That sense of community and belonging. Happy you can feel that too, even as a foreigner.
Jon: Oh yes…(smile)
Lovee: You are able to capture the true essence of our people and culture in a way that can move one to tears (literally). I´ve always marveled at how you are able to paint every finite detail, like the skin tones, hair styles, expressions, and gesticulations—every minute detail! (laughs) What are you trying to convey with/in every painting?
Jon: Thank you. (smiles) I think it’s the details that are so interesting. Often when we speak to someone or look at something we fixate on one little detail and it is those details that we remember, consciously or subconsciously. How does the expression go- God is in the details. And the details always tell a story. I want those little details I paint to ring true, both to people who can relate to the Caribbean specifically, and also to people that are just relating to the commonalities of the human experience— childhood, age, friendship, schooldays, play, etc.And painting them is really just a matter of careful examination, patience, and a certain facility with your medium.
Lovee: WOW…I love that line…”God is in the details.” He sure is. How do you decide on what to paint? Is it from your own inspiration?
Jon: (laughs) I love how you are all about details too. (Smiles). As for what to paint and inspiration, I try to always walk with a digital camera. When I see something that hits me, both visually and emotionally, I snap away. Later I go through those pictures and decide which will work well for a painting. Sometimes I’ll have an idea and will look for what I want. Once in a while someone will give me a good idea, like once when you suggested to me a painting of children climbing a tree picking fruit. In that case I was lucky to see just that scene a week or so later so I took pictures and did three paintings on the subject. Most of the time I just try to keep my eyes open and have a camera at the ready.
Lovee: Thank you for taking up my suggestion. That was a beautiful painting. I can still remember when I came across your work for the first time about four years ago; I was moved to tears reminiscing on my childhood days and all the wonderful memories. Your paintings took me back to a wonderful time in my life, which I´ve written about in my book. Others have expressed the same sentiments. What inspires your subject or theme of paintings?
Jon: Maybe some of the same impulses you have that inspire you to write. We have stories we want to tell and use the means we are given. I want to tell stories about the beauty in life. Often simple things but worthy things, in my opinion. Seeing images of childhood can stir a lot of emotions. We’re reminded of when we were children, the fun we had, the lessons learned and we wonder when it stopped and does it have to stop. Sometimes I’m just inspired by the sunlight that bounces off a shirt collar and then illuminates a child’s cheek. Sometimes it’s the beauty of a landscape, or an old house.
Lovee: That´s beautiful. (Smiles) Your words are definitely resonating with me. I love this “the beauty in life, often the simple things, but worthy things.” Indeed! (Smiles) You remained loyal to the same subject matter throughout. Is there any special reason for this?
Jon: (Smiles) Thank you. Again, attention to details. (Laughs). As for the subject matter, well it’s a good subject matter and I think like anything else it takes practice and continued focus to get better. When you start to become known for a particular genre you do run the risk of getting pigeonholed, both by others and by yourself. So maybe it’s good to sometimes step out of your comfort zone, as you always say (smiles).
Lovee: (laughs) Happy to know that you´ve been listening. Some of your most popular paintings are those of children in traditional wear celebrating our traditions at Jounen Kweyol and La Marguerite Festivals, why is this subject especially important for you to paint?
Jon: The kwéyol subject fascinates me. You had two cultures– African and European, brought together under the most unpleasant and ugly circumstances, yet such a vibrant, beautiful culture was formed that lives on hundreds of years later. Amazing!
Lovee: You said it right! Amazing indeed! (smiles) With these traditional paintings, you are able to tell such a powerful story about who we are as a people, our uniqueness, beauty and sense of pride. It just makes one feel so proud to be a Saint Lucian and appreciate who we are as a people. Is that something that you also want to help foster with your paintings?
Jon: Ohh…. thank you. That’s such a wonderful compliment and yes, that’s the message I want to convey. You all have a lot to take pride in.
Lovee: Thank you. One of my favorite is the “standpipe” painting, which is also the favorite of many. I think it is something that probably every Saint Lucian has experienced, so it really resonates with them. It is such paintings that make your work so special and popular with the Saint Lucian people. Which is your favorite painting?
Jon: Standpipe is definitely one of my favorites. Someone once e-mailed me and said it was iconic of the Caribbean. And I like the light in it too. “Pon Lepotek “is another favorite that shows the typical informal activity in a Caribbean neighborhood illuminated by late afternoon sunlight. Assembly is another. It’s a lineup of children before class in the morning and each individual face tells a story. There are many other favorites of mine.
Lovee: You are an American, but you also consider Laborie (Saint Lucia) to be your home. Why Laborie? What is it about Laborie that makes it so special for you?
Jon: Well, Laborie was where I was sent when I joined the Peace Corps, and I was lucky because it’s a very special place. There is so much community spirit and pride and culture and tradition. And it’s a wonderful feeling to walk down the street and exchange greetings with friends and neighbors and hear children call out Mis-ta Jo-na-fun! (laughs) I don’t get that sort of thing in the states.
Lovee: hahahaha @ Mis-ta Jo-na-fun! (laughs) You got the dialect down! But you´re so right, that is what most Saint Lucians who live abroad misses—that sense of community spirit, where people know you by your name. (Smiles) You´ve been going to Saint Lucia for more than ten years, things change, but your subject remains the same. Do you ever get uninspired of painting the same subject matter?
Jon: Oh yes. Ten, twelve years is a long time to paint the same subject in sometimes I think maybe I’ve painted enough of these pictures and taken enough photos but then I get inspired again, sometimes because of the encouragement I get from the subject matter itself, sometimes it´s viewers who are nice enough to tell me that what I’ve done touched them in some way.
Lovee: I tell people all the time, we inspire each other, so thank God for the people who speak out and tell you how much your work has touched them. We all need that form of encouragement and feedback to continue to be inspired and motivated.
Jon: Most definitely, without my viewers/fans appreciation for the subject, I probably would have lost inspiration in the subject matter.
Lovee: I know that to work in the Creative Arts Industry one has to love it, because it´s not a field one enters to get rich. It´s not a field that one can succeed in without being passionate and loving what they do, and of course one has to be committed. What keeps you inspired to keep painting, and keep being an artist?
Jon: If you can earn a living, it’s a wonderful thing. Doing what you love and also what has meaning to others, being your own boss and having the freedom to work when and how you want– that is a dream come true whether you make piles of money or not. And I think people who are inherently creative just have a natural desire or a need really, to always be making something. And you always want to keep trying to make that perfect painting. Often the satisfaction of making something is a reward in itself.
Lovee: Well said, it´s what fuels us and keeps us going. I can definitely relate to that. There aren´t many people who are able to be an Artist full time. You have been able to achieve that for many years, even in some of the toughest Economic times. Is it a major sacrifice?
Jon: It takes discipline and a little nerve, because no one is giving you a paycheck every two weeks, paying your health insurance, or telling you what to work on. When I was contemplating painting full-time twelve years ago I tried to imagine how many paintings I could realistically sell per month or year and I just didn’t see how I would be able to make ends meet, but I was determined to try and I was pleasantly surprised. Sometimes the biggest thing is just taking that leap.
Lovee: (Laughs) you know what´s coming right?
Jon: oh oh, what?
Lovee: I´m going to quote you again…(laughs) I love that, “sometimes the biggest thing is just taking the leap.” Oh yes, it is! I talk about that in my book also (smiles)
Jon: (laughs) Love your enthusiasm, reason why I know people will love your book. (Smiles)
Lovee: Thank you (Smiles)
Lovee: I know that your work is being sold in galleries all over the Caribbean, and you´ve visited many of the other islands. Why did you decide to keep your subject matter Saint Lucia?
Jon: I’m sure there are other places that are special like Laborie that would inspire a lot of good paintings, but I have to feel very familiar and comfortable in a place to take the kind of photos I need for my paintings. In Laborie, I feel at home and hopefully most people realize by now what I’m up to and don’t mind me painting them or their village.
Lovee: Oh, I’m sure they see you as one of their own. What is your favorite thing to paint and why?
Jon: Probably children in kwéyòl costume. The faces are beautiful, the colors are vibrant and the subject tells the story of traditions continuing to be passed down from one generation to the next and the pride a care that is taken in making their children sparkle like gems. There are now children I’m painting whose parents I painted when they were children.
Lovee: What do you love the most about what you do?
Jon: I really enjoy looking at paintings and I love that I’m making the kind of paintings I’d like to see but really hadn’t seen much of. And whenever I discover that someone else likes the kind of paintings that do– it’s a great feeling.
Lovee: What do you think about the Creative Arts Industry in Saint Lucia and the Caribbean? Do you think that there is a great appreciation for Art?
Jon: A lot of people feel that art isn’t given enough support by St. Lucia’s government and other institutions and I’d have to agree. For example, so many years M&C had a wonderful fine arts exhibition and awards program. It was an important annual event for artists to showcase their work and receive recognition. M&C turned it over to the government to take it over several years ago and they just seemed to let it fizzle out. I guess they rolled it into a general “Arts” program which is really sad. Fine art deserves its own stage and it feels like that stage was taken away. But personally I’ve received a lot of support and appreciation by ordinary St. Lucians. They may not know a lot about art or have had much exposure to it but when they see something that celebrates them and their culture they embrace it wholeheartedly.
Lovee: That seems to be the general consensus about the Fine Arts, I hope the powers that be are listening. How would you like to see it improve?
Jon: I’d like to see the M&C Fine Arts show brought back to the way it was. More support for it in schools. Opportunities for artists in terms of public projects and commissions. The Tourist Board could include St. Lucia’s art and artists in promoting the island.
Lovee: That´s definitely something the Tourist Board should consider. Your paintings are a true reflection of the beauty of our country, especially the Piton paintings. Breathtaking!
Jon: Well, thank you (Smiles)
Lovee: I know that you´ve taught art at the local primary schools in Library. How have your students responded to it?
Jon: They love it. They ask me all the time when are we having art class again, but there is not always time for it in the curriculum I guess.
Lovee: Do you think there should be Art programs in schools?
Jon: Definitely. People are gifted in different ways: academically, musically, athletically, artistically. It’s important for everyone to have a chance to shine and develop their particular gifts.
Lovee: I hope we embrace that one day, that not every child is gifted academically, and we need to accommodate for the needs of all children, not just artistically and musically, but special needs children also.
Jon: Oh yes…
Lovee: What advice would you give to anyone pursuing a career as an artist?
Jon: Take it seriously and have a good work ethic. Don’t always look for the fast buck. A lot of artists get stuck painting things that they can sell quickly which necessarily would mean cheaply, so they don’t spend the time on a piece that would allow them to push themselves and reach their potential. And don’t overprice your art, especially when you’re starting out. Every time you do a painting you’re getting more practice so look at selling a painting as someone paying you to practice.
Lovee: Great advise. Ok, so let´s test a little bit of how Saint Lucian you really are…(laughs)…
Jon: (laughs) Jann Sent Lisi? Mwen mem? Lol.
Lovee: hahaha…mwen mem! (laughs)
Lovee: What is your favorite local calypso song? And can you sing me two lines?
Jon: The best one in recent years- no question- Suzette by Herb Black. The Laborie Steel Pan Group also do a really rousing rendition of it. I’m partial to a lot of the calypsos from the first couple years that I was in St. Lucia, songs like This Woman Vex, Lajan, Bianca, Manifesto Jam, etc. Yes, I can. But not very well. Lol.
Lovee: (laughs) you sure are well informed, I can´t even remember some of those songs…What is one of our favorite Saint Lucian expressions?
Jon: Waaaaaaaaaaaaaay misiay!
Di mama-ou mwen di howdee—tell your mother i say howdy.
What are yours?
Lovee: (laughs) I can´t say! (laughs)
Jon: Oh, (laughs) I know–it´s the “S” word? (laughs)
Lovee: (laughs) my lips are sealed! (laughs)
Lovee: How is your patois skills? (laughs)
Jon: Well, I can’t think in kwéyòl, so conversationally I can get myself into trouble. I have to translate everything in my head and by the time I do that there are two sentences ahead so I end up taking a chance and saying “wi” or I change the subject so I can use a sentence I’m capable of saying. (laughs)
Lovee: (smiles) it is definitely not an easy language. What is your favorite patois word?
Jon: meg- short and neat are so different from English.
Lovee: I know that you are involved in volunteer work outside of painting. Tell me more about that.
Jon: Well I’m part of an environmental organization in Laborie called ECHOLAB. This Earth Day will mark 20 years for the group. The members are ordinary Laborians–teachers, etc. who give of their time and energy preserve Laborie’s natural beauty, spread awareness and understanding of environmental issues, and we also initiate a lot of cultural projects. I still occasionally give workshops and hold art competitions in the local schools.
Lovee: That´s great. How have Saint Lucia and its people changed your life?
Jon: Well they’ve given me the best subject matter that an artist could ask for. I think the friendly, outgoing nature of St. Lucians has been a good influence on me too. I’m shy and reserved by nature and St. Lucians are so warm and gregarious and that’s helped to provide a good balance for me.
Lovee: (Smiles) Will Saint Lucia always be your home? Will you keep painting and returning?
Jon: I think so. It would be hard to imagine otherwise. Maybe not my full-time home but a place I will continually come back to. I may paint other things but this will always be special.
Lovee: I hope you keep coming back. We are happy to have you (Smile)
Jon: Thank you (Smile)
Lovee: As an Artist, what do you want your legacy to be?
Jon: I’d like my paintings to preserve a time and way of life that may become lost. With development a lot of good things come along but a lot of good things can also be lost so I want to paint the things that although may be simple, are beautiful and worth remembering and preserving. I’d like the paintings to be little time capsules, and hopefully by putting a focus on the everyday things that we take for granted we will consider what we have and be less apt to take these things for granted.
Lovee: Beautiful! I can tell you that you are already creating that legacy with your paintings. I know that your legacy will live on forever with the Saint Lucian people, and will always be a part of us and our culture. You are preserving our history and culture in a way no one has, and it is something that will be appreciated and useful for generations to come. On behalf of the Saint Lucian people who I know is grateful and humbled by your work and all that you do, I say THANK YOU! We hope you continue to make Saint Lucia your home, and you continue to showcase us with such beauty and flare.
Jon: That’s one of the nicest things I’ve ever heard. Thank you so much.
Lovee: You´re welcome. For more information about Jonathan and his work, log on to www.jagartist.com
Feature #2: Saint Lucian Leading Film Director and Music Producer – Davina LeePublished: February 7, 2012
My second feature is Saint Lucian leading Film Director and Music Producer, Davina Lee. Davina has been working in the field for more than ten years, and continues to produce work of the highest standard and quality. She is a very impressive young woman with a vision for the film Industry in Saint Lucia and the Caribbean, and is working tirelessly at achieving her dreams. I admire her commitment to the Creative Arts, and believe that her vision for the growth and advancement of the film sector will be a great asset to Saint Lucia and the Caribbean. She is a great role model for young people with big dreams and aspirations, and i´m confident that with her ambition and determination, that she will continue to soar. It was an honor to speak with her and learn more about her work and current projects.
Lovee: Hello Davina, thank you for taking the time to speak with me.
Davina: (Smiles) my pleasure, I’m happy to…
Lovee: I see that you still have this beautiful, warm, inviting nature…
Davina: Thank you (smiles).
Lovee: I have to first mention that when I approached you to do the interview; I was really impressed by your humble and modest nature. That is very important, because there are so many young people when they attain a certain level of success they allow their egos to run away with them. I was quite pleased with your response.
Davina: Really? (Smiles) Thank you. I was being honest; you really did boost my confidence by asking me to be interviewed, so thank you.
Lovee: You´re welcome. Ok, so about ten years ago, I met you for the first time in Miami, when you came to visit your sister Esther Lee who was auditioning for fashion week along with a mutual friend of ours, and you came to visit her at the hotel. I think you were getting ready to graduate from University at the time and was worried about the next step in your career.
Davina: Well, I think at the time I was more home sick, because I still had some time before I graduated. I think I was really missing home, especially my family.
Lovee: Homesick or not, looks to me like you figured it all out after all…(laughs)
Lovee: I mean, look how far you´ve come…give me a brief insight about you and your journey leading up to where you are now…
Davina: Well, my parents are both writers, but my sister Esther and I always knew that we wanted to work in television, but there were hardly any avenues in Saint Lucia to develop our ideas, but we were not willing to give up without trying, so we started having discussions with various people in the industry, who gave us advise on how to go about achieving our dream. We actually did not know how everything worked, and how much had to be achieved before we would be given the green light for our own show. We needed to write proposals, get advisors, investors and plead with industry people to give us a chance. It took us three years, but finally we got funded and we were able to start shooting our first show called “Vibe Central.”
Lovee: Wow, three years? Talk about persistence!
Davina: (Smiles) definitely, it was not easy, but that experience taught me to never give up. And I’m happy that we didn´t, because it was there that I learned how much I enjoy being behind the camera. While shooting our show, I discovered my passion for film directing, and I started applying to schools abroad. That’s how I found that film school in Miami. I then applied and got accepted. So after completing school in 2004, I decided to move back to Saint Lucia to pursue a career in the arts, specifically directing films.
Lovee: How was your school experience? Would you say that it was useful to your career?
Davina: Absolutely! I learned a lot while in school. It was very hands on. Sometimes we think we know it all, but when we actually start doing it we realize that there is a lot more to learn. I am happy I went. It was very instrumental to my success.
Lovee- I believe that we gain so much more than just a degree when we seek higher education. It speaks volume about one’s commitment, dedication and discipline.
Davina: Definitely, I learned so much, it was a wonderful learning experience.
Lovee: I took a look at your website, (davinaleefilms.com) and read through your portfolio. You have not only directed and produced music videos, but have also done two television shows. When you started your career in television, what was your vision for the film industry in Saint Lucia and the Caribbean?
Davina: Well, I started doing television shows but I was always interested in directing and producing films/movies. I knew that i wanted to help develop the film industry in Saint Lucia and the Caribbean in general, which was almost nonexistent at the time. I wanted to find a way to help showcase more of who we are as a people, our culture, our history, etc.
Lovee: Now that you are working in the field, is your vision coming to pass?
Davina: It is challenging, but there are many people who want to see it establish and are working hard towards that. I mean the Indians have Bollywood, Americans have Hollywood, so I believe that we can unite in the Caribbean and form our own “wood.” (laughs)
Lovee: Why not? We have so much material to work with. We have so many interesting stories and have such a multifaceted people, with a rich history and culture. We definitely have of our own stories to tell, and it´s so important that we maintain and keep our uniqueness, traditions, and culture alive. As a child, I never heard about Derek Walcott until he won the Nobel peace prize, I think it´s so important that young people know about the great men and women among them and those before them.
Davina: Yes and there is definitely a lot of work coming from the Caribbean now. Jamaica always had it on a small scale, but now the rest of the Caribbean is catching on, it´s only a matter of time before we have our own. I’ve already worked on a few documentaries. A few years ago, I did a documentary for save the children on child prostitution, and it was very interesting. There are so many parents in Saint Lucia who are pimping out their children, and engaging them in so many unlawful activities for financial gain.
Lovee: Oh my, in Saint Lucia?
Davina: Oh yes, you would be surprise.
Lovee: I´m not so surprised by this, I know that there is quite a lot that goes on in our society that is not talked about publicly, but I’m surprised that you got people to speak with you about it. How did you get people to participate in such a documentary?
Davina: Well, it was not easy. For those who spoke on camera, we had to hide their faces. Most people spoke off camera.
Lovee: Was it ever aired?
Davina: Yes, it aired for some-time back home.
Lovee: It´s good that at least it was aired, and people got to see some of those harsh realities.
Davina: Yes, because you never know how that can go sometimes. We also did a documentary on the history of the Peace Corp in the Eastern Caribbean which was also very interesting.
Lovee: You are presently working on a film; tell me a little more about it.
Davina: Yes, I am directing and producing a film that my father actually wrote called, “The Coming of Org.”
Lovee: “The Coming of Org,” hmmm…interesting title. Is it fictional?
Davina: Somewhat, he was a Rasta back in the day. So it´s a three part film, only forty five minutes, which talks about coming face to face with who you are, and learning to accept or like the person staring back at you.
Lovee: Sounds like something I will enjoy.
Davina: I´m sure you will. I´m shooting, directing, producing, and working with some really good actors, Jason Siffltet, Natalie LaPorte and Mcdonald Dickson among others. I started working on this movie in 2009. I got an award from United Nations Industrial Development Organization to develop this movie. They wanted to boost the film Industry in the Caribbean, and chose five directors from the Caribbean, and I got chosen. We met and had a retreat to make our project film ready. We also went to the Toronto film festival to network some more. I was still missing funding to complete it, and thankfully the previous Government provided us with the funding to help complete the film.
Lovee: Congratulations! That´s fantastic! When will it be featured?
Davina: I want to submit it to the Carnes Film Festival in March, so I’m hoping before then.
Lovee: You have evolved into a leader in television production in Saint Lucia and the Caribbean, what keeps you motivated and inspired?
Davina: That´s a tough question, it´s so easy to lose motivation, but I am passionate about what I do, and I believe that it´s making a difference in people´s live, and that keeps me inspired.
Lovee: I can remember seeing one of the first videos that you directed and being totally blown away. I felt like I was looking at a video on MTV or BET, in terms of originality, production quality and artistic direction. I could tell then that you would go far in your field. Who is your role model in the field?
Davina: There are quite a few people work that I admire in the field. I really like the work of Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles. He directed the movie “City of Gods,” The Constant Gardner” and others. I love his work. I like the Mexican and Brazilian film workers. They showcase their own environment, they make it real, and don´t try to go Hollywood. They stay true to their culture. For e.g., my film will be about 50 to 75 % in creole. The music is in creole, in fact, we have the music of Charles Cadet in there, and he is also making a cameo in the movie. Shane Ross is doing an original song for the movie. I´m also using music from Martinque, so it has a wonderful creole theme to it which I love.
Lovee: That really makes me happy to hear. It´s so important to embrace our uniqueness and the part of our culture that helps define us as a people. It tells such a powerful story which people from other cultures also appreciate and enjoy learning about, so it´s important that we embrace it and is proud of it.
Davina: Definitely, that was so important to me for this film.
Lovee: Do you think that Saint Lucia and the Caribbean can have a successful and thriving film Industry like that of first world countries?
Davina: I honestly believe so. We have not one, but two Noble Laureates, a Saint Lucia movie at the Oscars is not that farfetched, it is very possible.
Lovee: Yes-I! You first have to see it and believe it to achieve it, so the sky is definitely the limit! I believe that too! (Smiles)
Davina: Definitely, we have so many talented actors, in fact, I never realized how many talented actors we have until we had a casting call, and at the auditions we were surprised at how much talent there was.
Lovee: I´m sure. I love Natalie LaPorte, I think she is very talented.
Davina: Yes, she is really good.
Lovee: I know that in the Caribbean, Creative Arts is not something that is given priority and it´s very difficult to get funding, sponsorship or find avenues to showcase one´s talent, what are some of the struggles for you in that aspect, and how have you been able to overcome it.
Davina: Well, there is a lot of interest and there are many people who are interested in the field, but there just isn´t enough revenue to develop it as we would like. That can be frustrating at times, but I always seem to find ways to get my project out there, it´s hard work but you have to be determined.
Lovee: You are in a field dominated by men. Has it been challenging for you breaking the glass ceiling?
Davina: (Laughs) actually, it´s not as difficult, because I use it to my advantage. One might feel like they have to prove themselves, but then my work speaks for itself. I have a good relationship with the men in my field. I respect them and they respect me. They are generally very supportive.
Lovee: And you just seem like a really cool, down to earth person who can get along with anyone, so I’m not the least bit surprise (Smiles).
Davina: (Smiles) Thank you.
Lovee: You´ve directed and produced music videos for artists locally and regionally. Everything looks great on camera, but what are some of the challenges you face behind the scenes?
Davina: (Laughs) Some-times I have to work with some big egos, but I don´t let it bother me too much.
Lovee: (Smiles) Oh boy, the divas and divos (laughs).
Lovee: Who was one of your favorite artists to work with?
Davina: I like young Mecca, he is a local rapper. My first video was for Shayne Ross, we have a good friendship/ relationship. One of the artists I really love is Nelson Serieux (Cherry L) who now lives in New York. He is really good, and works hard at marketing his work and showcasing his talent.
Lovee: In terms of musical talent, who are your favorite young artists from Saint Lucia?
Davina: The three I mentioned above.
Lovee: How are people responding to their music?
Davina: I think people are responding very well. Funding is always a problem, so they are not able to market themselves as they would like, but their music is well received by the locals. I think local artist Claudia Edward markets herself very well. I just finished two videos for her that’s coming out soon.
Lovee: She really does, I look forward to seeing them. In terms of music, what do you think is missing in Saint Lucia to take our talents and music on a more regional and international level?
Davina: I think artists and musicians needs to educate themselves on the business side of the Industry. It should not be a hobby or just for fun. They need to learn how to market themselves by capitalizing on the social media networks, twitter and Facebook. They can even sell their music on iTunes, so there are many ways to go out there and market one self and be heard.
Lovee: Definitely! I believe that artists and musicians also have a responsibility to put out quality music that can appeal to an audience worldwide. Most artists make music only with the Saint Lucian market in mind, yet they expect to appeal to an audience regionally and internationally. While we must appreciate our own, sometimes we have to challenge ourselves and raise the standards to attract greater. Mediocrity seldom attracts excellence.
Davina: Exactly! That is my problem with some. Some of them feel like they´ve arrived after one hit song or minimal success, I always encourage them to challenge themselves and push the envelope.
Lovee: You are from a family of talented and gifted people in the creative arts. Your father is well known, respected poet and writer, Robert Lee, your mom Jacinta Lee has been actively involved in all areas of the arts in Saint Lucia, your sister Esther Lee is a former model turned stylist, and you two have even formed you´ll own production company together. You have mentioned being passionate about the creative arts industry, how would you like to see that Industry change or develop in Saint Lucia?
Davina: One of the first things is establishing Arts program in schools. From Infant schools right through the Community College. I believe that there should be a division of Performing Arts at the Community College also. The Government also needs to to put concessions for people in the Industry bringing stuff into the country. We also need more grants, so we can have more production and activities from Saint Lucia. We have talent; we just need avenues to showcase our talents, and the necessary resources.
Lovee: One of the reasons I decided to showcase and highlight talented young people like yourself from Saint Lucia, is because I don´t believe that much of it is being done. A lot of us constantly focus on all the negatives in reference to the youth, but I believe that there are a lot of ordinary Saint Lucians doing extraordinary things, and it´s so important for young people to have role models and people they can aspire to be like, so they can believe in their dreams and believe that it can be achieved. And I know that perhaps your story could inspire a young girl or boy with dreams and aspirations to do what you do.
Davina: Thank you, it´s something that is needed.
Lovee: Who is your role-model on a personal and professional level?
Davina: On a personal level, my mother. She is such a positive force in my life and raised us believing that anything is possible. She always encourages me, and is always there for me. Professionally, I really admire our Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott.
Lovee: I know that you are involved in multiple projects, recently I know you was at a conference in Denmark, what was that experience like for you?
Davina: Yes, it was world music expo, featuring world music. There was a Caribbean pavilion made up of artists and Industry people. My main reason for going was to network with people form the French and Dutch speaking Caribbean. I did a lot of networking with the French- Haitians, Guadeloupe, and Martinique etc. There were quite a few musicians’ producers and label owners within the region. I actually have a meeting with a guy from Martinique in reference to that next week, so it was a good avenue to network with people from all areas that was all in one place.
Lovee: Who would you like to collaborate or work with from Saint Lucia or the Caribbean?
Davina: Rihanna! (Laughs) That would be great. I love her and her music.
Lovee: Yes! She is really making Barbados and the Caribbean proud. I have no doubt that she will be calling you soon enough.(Smiles).
Davina: (Laughs) I hope so.
Lovee: I know that it´s a challenge to keep up and keep going when often there can be so many obstacles and people who will question and criticize your abilities. How do you maintain a level head and keep your morale up?
Davina: I just try to keep focus on what I’m doing. I know what I want and what I want to achieve, so it´s not easy to get distracted. I maintain a good relationship with my family, who I am very close to. I also pray a lot, and just keep surrounding myself with positive people.
Lovee: Prayer is so important, and it works. What advice would you give to young people pursuing a career in Fine Arts?
Davina: Focus on what you want to achieve. Believe in yourself, even though it takes ten years it will happen eventually. One of my inspirations is Jerry Seinfeld. He said that after they did the first episode of their show, it stayed on the shelf for five years before it was picked up, and now it´s one of, if not the number one played sitcom in the US.
Lovee: One of my favorite shows (Smiles). Ok, so what do you enjoy doing outside of work?
Davina: (Laughs) sleep! I don´t get enough of it, and I wish I could travel to all the places you’ve been. I love to travel, if I could, I would travel every three weeks. I love everything about it.
Lovee: Well, you have done your fair share of traveling also with your show, and I know that you will be doing even more of it in the future as you continue to soar.
Davina: (Smiles) Let´s hope so.
Lovee: (Smiles) You´ll see, people will be sending you their private jet to come shoot for them. Just remember the little people like me (Laughs).
Lovee: Davina, it was a pleasure getting to know you better. I know that you will continue to soar in the film and music industry, and you will continue to make Saint Lucia proud. I wish you continued success and hopefully, who knows, maybe we can work on a documentary one day together, I have quite a few ideas. Thank you for speaking with me.
Davina: My pleasure, and if I can be of any help with your book, please don´t hesitate to ask.
Lovee: Thank you (smiles).
For more information about Davina Lee, log on to her website: www.davinaleefilms.com
Feature #1: West Indies Cricket Team bowling all-rounder – Garey MathurinPublished: February 6, 2012
My first feature is West Indies Cricket Team bowling all-rounder Garey Mathurin. Garey recently became an honorary member of the West Indies Cricket Team and he agreed to sit and share his story with me about his journey as a cricketer, and on achieving his childhood dream. I believe that he is a great example for young men and women who are pursuing their dreams to remain focus and to never give up. He is the epitome of what hard work, discipline and determination can do.
Lovee: Hi Garey, thank you for being my first feature!
Garey: (Smiles shyly) My pleasure…
Lovee: And thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with me. I know there are many young people out there who will be inspired by your story and leadership.
Garey: (Smiles) You´re welcome, we are all here to inspire each other, and I’m happy to do that for others.
Lovee: And you are an inspiration to many. Ok, so tell me a little more about yourself?
Garey: Well, as you already know, my name is Gary Mathurin, age 28 from the rural community of Mon Repos, Micoud in Saint Lucia. I am a bowling all-rounder with the West Indies Cricket team since September 23, 2011. Prior to making the West Indies team, I played with the Saint Lucia under 15 cricket team. I first made the under 15 team at age eleven. I also made the Windward Island under 15 team from the age of 12-15, and then moved to the Windward Island under nineteen team also, and then on to the Saint Lucia National senior cricket team at age fifteen, which I am Captain of presently.
Lovee: Wow, you´ve been busy…
Lovee:I know you´ve only recently joined the West Indies Cricket Team, but have you set any records, or broken any?
Garey: Surprisingly yes, I have the record for best International T20 bowling figures in the world which is four overs, three wickets for nine runs, and that was on my debut for the WICT, which I also got the man of the match for that performance.
Lovee: (High five) That´s pretty impressive…
Garey: (Smiles Shyly) Thank you.
Lovee: Growing up, did you always know that you wanted to be a cricketer?
Garey: Yes, I always knew that I wanted to play cricket. As a child I did everything in reference to cricket. I always had a ball in my hand. I would play with my older brothers and friends in the community all the time. Although they hardly allowed me to play because they said I was too small, so I was a fielder most of the times until I made the under fifteen team at age of eleven and then they started taking me seriously. (laughs)
Lovee: (laughs) I bet they did! Where did you train for cricket?
Garey: My hometown of Mon Repos is very hands on for cricket, so there were avenues where I could go to play and practice. I would train on the Mon Repos playing field and at the Mindoo Phillip Park in Castries.
Lovee: Mindoo Phillip Park? That´s a long way from home…
Garey: (Smiles) I know, it was difficult to get to the Mindoo Phillip Park for practice because of financial difficulties. But, I always managed to find my way so I could practice. Sometimes I didn´t know how I would find my way back home. Usually my mom would give me bus fare for one way and I would usually find my way back by some Good Samaritan or with the aid of my coach Bryan Calixte, who have not only been a coach, but a good friend and father figure to me.
Lovee: This just goes to show how passionate and determined you were about the sport.
Garey: I was, sometimes I went against my mother´s wishes because you know, like all mother´s, she was worried about the journey, especially since the Mindoo Phillip Park is in one of the roughest neighborhoods on the island, but nothing got in my way. I wanted to play cricket and I made it happen.
Lovee: I bet she was. Were you surprised when you made the West Indies Team?
Garey: hmmm (laughs) under the circumstances in which I got picked it was a bit surprising…
Lovee: Really? Tell me about that…
Garey: You see, at the time I was playing professionally for a club in Canada, and then I got a call to come down to play because one of the guys on the West Indies Team at the time wasn´t fit enough to play, so I took the next plane out and head to the Caribbean so I could depart for England to play.
Lovee: (Smiling) you know what they say, preparation plus luck equals opportunity! How did you feel?
Garey: I was really lucky and prepared! It was a really great feeling. It is one of the highest honors to play for the West Indies Cricket Team so I was ecstatic, and I was especially excited about showing my talents, because it is something that I worked extremely hard for all my life.
Lovee: I can imagine. Did you ever think that your dream would one day be a reality?
Garey: Honestly, sometimes I doubted that it would ever come true, because there were so many obstacles, but when the obstacles came, I just kept focused and kept working hard, kept training and kept my morale up.
Lovee: Focus and discipline is so important. What was your family and community reaction to your selection?
Garey: My community was very proud, and I could see their enthusiasm and excitement. Everyone turned out for the homecoming for me, and I know my family was extremely proud. It was a really wonderful feeling to be so appreciated.
Lovee: It´s such a great feeling when you are embraced and accepted by your own isn´t it?
Garey: Oh yes!
Lovee: What are some of the obstacles that you had to overcome while trying to achieve your dream?
Garey: What some people might not know is that making the West Indies team is a very difficult process, especially coming from the smaller Islands. I was on the Windward Island reserves for six years, so I had to wait for my turn to showcase my talent for the West Indies selectors, and even after waiting so long you are not sure if you will be selected. It´s all about perseverance and having patience to acquire what you need to in life. I also had a lot of people telling me that I should give up and get a nine to five job, so there was a lot of pressure, but it was something i was passionate about, so I pursued it anyway. I don’t allow other people to tell me what I can and cannot do.
Lovee: Good for you! You have to believe in yourself, because so many people are easily influenced by what other people think or say and lose focus and track on their goals.
Garey: Man, if I had to listen to people, I would have given up a long time ago.
Lovee: I´m so happy you listened to your own voice. Cricket is for the Caribbean what soccer is to England and what basketball is to the US. Is it a lot of pressure for you considering the West Indies has not has a winning streak for some time?
Garey: Actually, when we play is not something that I think about, I just try to represent the Caribbean and Saint Lucia the best way I can so people can see that I’m giving it my all, and representing us well.
Lovee: That´s a great attitude! How do you handle the pressure?
Garey: I think it´s something that comes with the territory and as a professional, it´s something that I will have to go through, so I just do my job to the best of my ability and remain focused.
Lovee: Focus is so important, if we are not careful where we place our focus, it is so easy to distracted and off track. Now, there is a lot of criticism and backlash that comes with the game of cricket, and we both know that our people can be a bit harsh with their criticisms. How do you and your team members keep you´ll morale up and deal with it?
Garey: I have benefited a lot playing with Darren Sammy, who is presently the Captain of the West Indies team and a friend, and since he has been through it before, it has helped me with dealing with that aspect of it and with keeping the morale of our team up.
Lovee: As a sportsman, you are required to have a great amount of discipline and focus, I know that there can be a lot of distractions out there, how do you remain focus?
Garey: As a child, I have always been disciplined and remained a consummate professional, so it´s something instilled within me from a tender age, so it´s not so difficult for me to keep focus and my professionalism intact.
Lovee: There are something’s that cannot be achieved overnight and that´s one of them…What would you say is the biggest distraction for you in the game of cricket?
Garey: Nothing takes away from my focus or distracts me from cricket. Cricket is my main focus.
Lovee: I know that Darren Sammy has been getting some tough criticisms lately on his performance as Captain of the West Indies Cricket Team, do you think that the criticisms are fair?
Garey: I don´t pay attention to the criticisms from others when it comes to Darren. I just know that he is one of the most focused and competitive cricketers out there, and gives 110% all the time. He has the West Indies Cricket at heart, so I think we just need to rally around him and keep having faith in his abilities, because it is not an easy task being a Captain. Also, he is still very young, so it´s a great accomplishment at his age and a lot to undertake.
Lovee: You are both from the same area, of the same age, and played together as kids, and have managed to achieve great success in the sport, how would you describe him as a Captain?
Garey: I think he is one of the best Captains that I have played with. As a captain he makes his players feel comfortable and let them express themselves, but overall in terms of his leadership qualities he is a great leader. He is focused, calm, respectful, and extremely discipline.
Lovee: I know that in Saint Lucia, there aren´t many avenues for sportsmen or young people interested in sports. What would you like to see improve in the sporting sector in St. Lucia, especially for the young people?
Garey: Firstly, I don’t think overall that we play enough sports in Saint Lucia to help train and develop our athletes to compete on a regional and international stage; there is very little competition, even locally. And although there are avenues, we need more facilities and trained professionals. We don’t compete enough on the local level to prepare our players to compete. Perhaps it has to deal with sponsorship and financing. It is something that our current Government needs to look into.
Lovee: We now have a new Minister for youth and sports. What advice would you give to him as he begins his new post?
Garey: To pay more attention to the youth and making his presence known when he can by supporting them.
Lovee: Are you involved in any volunteer and nonprofit organizations?
Garey: Yes, I work with the Ministry of Youth and Sports to do coaching around various schools around the island, and I also do motivational speeches.
Lovee: That´s great! It´s so important to give back…What advice would you give to the young people who are pursuing a career in sports in Saint Lucia and the Caribbean?
Garey: Just to stay true to what you want to accomplish and don’t let anyone tell you that you cannot do it. Remain focused, discipline and practice, practice, practice! It really makes perfect. Hard work always pays off. And don’t give up!
Lovee: Cheers to that!…(smiles)
Garey: Cheers! (laughs)
Lovee: So Garey, it´s a New Year! What is/are your resolution/s for 2012?
Garey: What it is every year-To continue doing my best and challenging myself.
Lovee: I like that! (Smiles)What is your hobby and favorite thing to do outside of cricket?
Garey: Travelling, I enjoy seeing new places and being with my family and the people I love.
Lovee: Travelling, yeah! (laughs) I see we have one thing in common! (laughs)
Lovee: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. Continue to lead by example and being an inspiration to others, and continue to make Saint Lucia proud. I wish you all the best this year and in the years to come.
Garey: Thank you, I wish the same for you.