Post 470.

IF YOU are sensible, you didn’t call up the parents of children, whose SEA results came out last week, to ask about what school they were assigned. Results tell us there was real disappointment in nearly 10,000 households, requiring compassion and sensitivity. 

Many parents and children waited up to midnight to find out what perhaps should have been available from 8 am the next day, for finding out about passing for a third or fourth-choice school at that time can be overwhelming. There is just so much we don’t think about in terms of our emotional lives as we walk children through their academic journey. 

Successful children focused on the achievement of getting their first choice, rather than getting into a good school or doing well in terms of their exam marks. Children who didn’t get into their first choice, but still passed for a great school, would have been disappointed and perhaps ashamed. 

As the ministry is trying to move away from hierarchy and stigma, keep this in mind. A few marks could impact first and second-choice placement, which is also determined by the competition for places in the school. 

I knew two students whose overall marks differed by one per cent. One got into his first choice the other was placed in her second. Imagine the difference in emotions they felt because “first choice” has become such a marker of status instead of how well they did on the exam, or even how settled they could feel about the quality of their school. 

Parents of children with third or fourth-choice placements need a day when a school guidance counsellor or principal can help them to identify the best options for their child. Send him or her to a fourth-choice option, resit the exam or seek lessons? Were the challenges academic, related to undiagnosed learning difficulties or a child’s emotional challenges? 

It is excellent to provide remedial mathematics and English language classes to the thousands of students who scored less than 50 per cent this year.

According to press reports, 27.81 per cent (5,305 pupils), of the 19,079 pupils who wrote the exam, scored 30 per cent or below. The number of those who scored above 50 per cent totalled to 37.06 per cent. Only 0.47 per cent of pupils (89 pupils) scored above 90 per cent. The majority of students are therefore incapable of managing Form 1 next year, whether academically or emotionally (and they are connected), given these results. Beyond remedial classes over the holidays, it simply cannot be school as usual in September. 

We continue to underestimate four key things. The impact of domestic violence on children given that, among Caribbean countries, Trinidad and Tobago recorded one of the highest percentage increases in domestic violence during the pandemic. The impact of unreported child abuse including child sexual abuse which all data would suggest increased as children were kept home for two years (reports to the Children’s Authority tend to be highest in May and October when children return from school vacation). The impact of increased poverty as, in July 2021, UNICEF reported a projected increase in severe poverty for children from two per cent pre-pandemic to 18 per cent as a result of the pandemic. And, undiagnosed learning challenges related to neurodiversity, disability and trauma. 

Added to remedial teaching, could these children be assessed to find out how much of their results are related to a need for more school, taught in the same neurotypical way, or a need for something else that early intervention can better tackle?

Zi was completing SEA practice tests at school and attending lessons twice a week, but her math marks were simply not improving though both her teachers were very good. We pulled out a giant whiteboard and started to teach her in extremely specific, visual ways. Her marks doubled in two months. Regardless of how many practice tests she did or how often her teachers went over the material in the same ways, that would just not have happened. 

If we provide remedial education to students who are being failed by current teaching approaches, we may still be setting them up to think they are not capable in subjects at which they could excel, because we didn’t recognise their learning or emotional issues. 

Covid19 and online learning (and its lack) made a huge difference on children’s marks, but we will be missing children’s other realities if we reduced their results, and our response, to just that.

Post 451.

THE SLOGAN “my body, my choice” was popularised by decades of outcry by global feminist movements. In particular, it described women’s struggle against state and religious denial of their right to safe and legal abortion. 

Watching it get taken up by the religious right, anti-vaxxers and the vaccine-hesitant today, and being printed on t-shirts sold on Charlotte Street, is nothing short of ironic. Where were these marchers when it came to women’s bodies and rights during all these decades? 

Looking at the First Wave movement, led by Umar Abdullah, I can only wonder at the convenience of a partial, patriarchal take-up of the idea of bodily sovereignty and integrity. Such appropriation is happening all over the world, including by those who resist masking, quarantines and vaccines. 

He’s now leading hundreds who seem to get the concept of choice, but will it continue being a right worth defending when it comes to choices experienced by and denied to women? 

“My body, my choice” has named women’s resistance to rape culture, which normalises sexual violence, and blames and silences victims for an act which fundamentally violates their right to consent. It has articulated pushback against an array of examples of women’s subordination. 

It includes calls for lesbian women’s protection from discrimination (denied to them in Trinidad and Tobago today), First Nations’ women’s freedom from forced sterilisation across the Americas, legal inclusion of African women’s right to consent to marital sex, social recognition of South Asian women’s choice whether to marry and have children, and respect for Arab women’s refusal of the repressive ways that family honour is tied to their dress, respectability and sexuality. 

The fundamental principle is that women should exercise final decision over their bodies, sexual and reproductive health, and life. They should have a satisfying and safe sex life, and power and freedom regarding if, when and how often to reproduce. 

This would mean having the equal power of self-determination as men, without domination, duress or constraint whether by social norms, law, institutions or individuals. Such equality is currently denied in the majority of countries, including in TT. 

It would mean having access to public health support to make such decisions regardless of women’s sexuality, nationality, livelihood, religion, class, age or marital status. It also includes access to safe and nurturing communities, access to affordable housing and food, and access to work opportunities, which all impact women’s sexual and reproductive options and decisions.

This bold statement has also been about a demand to live without the harms that are experienced by so many women and girls in our world today, including rape, lack of access to contraception, forced unions and pregnancies, unwanted births, botched abortions, and maternal death. 

As our old slogan picks up renewed momentum in the contentious politics of the pandemic, I want to remind vaccine marchers of its history and the feminist labour that has gone into giving it familiarity and an ease with which it can be championed, even as its radical gender justice and social justice roots and more emancipatory feminist vision appear to be forgotten, ignored, undervalued or still foreclosed. 

I’m curious about how those now carrying this message on their placards will respond to this reminder. When does choice matter? Whose choices matter? What kinds of choices are matters of human rights and public health? What are your underlying conceptions of community, care and justice? And, what explains when state domination of bodies is considered morally right and when is it not okay?

Of course, it would be brilliant to see civic solidarity emerge from this moment and its leadership. Now that this slogan has reached diverse constituencies and communities, and is being broadly demanded, can there be an opening for a more inclusive conception of what it aims to articulate and achieve? 

Recent history suggests not. In the US, such groups bring together Christian fundamentalists who are anti-immigrant, anti-feminist, highly individualistic and opposed to gender, sexual, reproductive and racial justice. This is who local groups are aligning with ideologically, whether they realise it or not. So, it is possible that we can gain local feminist allies but, alas, unlikely. 

Arundhati Roy asked us to imagine the pandemic as a portal. We can “choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred,” she wrote. “Or we can walk through lightly…ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”

For me, all this is what “my body, my choice” really requires and means.

Post 448.

SCHOOLS, which restarted on Monday, are the big story in parents’ lives this week. 

For children online, it can still be challenging to stay focused, and avoid chatting in a separate zoom or Google chat, or the temptation of video games. Some parents are not able or prepared to provide sufficient oversight. Maybe they are grieving from a covid19 death or depressed from job loss. It was also always a mystery how people were expected to go back to work while their children are home, or expected to both work well and parent well simultaneously.

So we can expect that there are those children with continuing periods of unsupervised internet access who are searching for pornography, answering questions they have about sex, and posting images of themselves inappropriate for adolescents. 

Teenagers are on their devices and phones all the time, whether gaming, messaging, surfing or watching videos. The algorithms are an adolescent dopamine addiction we’ve normalised after all this isolation. We can expect that many lost out on extracurricular activities, including physical exercise, and that’s reinforced screen dependence at a crucial time in social, communication, emotional and brain development. 

Some are still attending school from their beds, rather than a desk, or don’t have a proper quiet space to work, and are probably checking social media throughout classes, particularly when their cameras are not expected to be on. For tens of thousands of others, who are not consistently online or don’t have devices, there’s the well-documented and class-divisive effects on their school marks and future income. Will a nation of adults just accept that they will get left behind?

For those who have returned to school already, or just this week, did the Ministry of Education gather pre-opening data to understand how schools should respond to their surreal range of home realities and needs? 

If we don’t ask these questions and don’t have an education response beyond back-to-academics, to what extent will the return to physical school be a stereotypical example of what and who is lost by business as usual? When it comes to schools, it’s key to think about the profile of the learner whom we picture either having returned to school or about to return in the next months. Is it the one who can best or least cope? What does transitioning such vulnerable students require?

Is this a student with family members killed by the pandemic? Is it one more vulnerable to witnessing or experiencing family conflict or household instability? We know that domestic violence reports rose in 2020 and remained high through 2021. Should students be told that these are expected issues and they can turn to teachers or guidance counsellors? Is initiating these conversations part of pandemic ministry policy? 

Increased rates of grief, anxiety and depression among children are being reported by local psychologists. In the US, schools saw this in crying and disruptive behaviour, increased violence and bullying, and sadness and fear. We are better at paying attention to poverty and hunger, but our education system is poor at social-emotional skill-building, which is why our society is so poor at it as well. US schools also experienced a “river of referrals” for mental health services.

Globally, educators suggest making time to listen to students’ concerns, offering opportunities to reconnect one-to-one with educators. Before opening books and preparing for tests, recognise that some may have difficulty concentrating or returning to routine. That’s normal. Buffing or embarrassment won’t help. Maybe this student was being neglected or sexually abused at home. 

Rather than just lecturing about covid19 protocols, also respond to fears and grief, providing age-appropriate tips for recognising and reducing trauma and anxiety. Reports are that children recover from the isolation better when schools take time to create connection, empathy and community. Finally, provide opportunities for playfulness and fun physical activity, which help students cope with life and stress, enabling them to actually learn. 

Schools are the critical access point to children. The pandemic may have affected their attention, decision-making, how they learn and how they relate to others. It would have been great to see the ministry present a “return to school” social-emotional learning plan, explained with a proper communication strategy, and putting teachers and parents on the same page. Remember, the pandemic is not over and the world feels like a bizarre war zone where anyone could unintentionally kill anyone else in days or weeks. The school transition should recognise children as survivors of an unprecedented disaster who learn best when first guided to emotional well-being.

Post 446.

IT’S SURREAL that a nation of islanders would cut people off from our oceans and seas for so long. It says something about how decision-makers view nature, turning our back to it in the vulgar way that MovieTowne was built, as if our coasts do not matter. 

It’s surreal that people are already drinking on pavements outside bars, whether vaccinated or not. They are travelling together on public transportation, whether vaccinated or not, and working together in offices that haven’t imposed mandatory immunisation policies. They are interacting in markets, malls, stores, churches, schools and brothels. Yet the beaches remain closed.

For many, the ocean is essential to mental, physical and psychological health. For children, it’s a source of great stress relief and energy release, particularly amidst such an isolated and overwhelming experience over almost two years. 

Those with access to private beaches and small coves reachable by boat can still find a way to get into the water, providing opportunity for the wealthy to rejuvenate. For poor people or those who lost income and can’t afford restaurants, beaches are an affordable place to go, carrying their pot of food cooked at home. They are also a place where they can go with their children under 12, sit, rest and have family time. 

I know the covid19 numbers and deaths are high and vaccination rates are low, but the State’s approach to the pandemic has been contradictory and remains so. Remember when the borders were closed and it took contacts, prayers, pleading in the papers or lottery-level hope to get back in? Stuart Young himself had to provide permission, and his decision-making appeared altogether unsystematic, biased and unpredictable for months. 

It’s still not clear why the state of emergency was ended when it was, with numbers so high, conveniently in time for campaigning.

The State’s approach has also been one that completely ignored the burden of care put on families with children now at home doing online school or unable to access school at all, and the increased levels of stress that has caused. It’s not just hunger or violence or child abuse that has increased, it’s sheer psychological burnout for adults and children, and I would argue particularly for women. 

If your household has managed well, perhaps with a large private yard or access to a pool or a nearby open field or the chance to fly out, good for you, but there are children who are quietly falling apart. 

I watched a little boy riding his bicycle around and around an old car parked in his small yard. There was maybe three feet of space for him to manoeuvre as he circled. His yard off the main road was concrete. The main road was concrete. He seemed like those animals in the zoo pacing in a cage. I think of the children living in the concrete jungles of our urban plannings, ending up spending too much time on their phones, and getting too little time outdoors or in green spaces so their chemistry can balance and their behaviour improve.

We’ve put a ton of effort into keeping my 11-year-old psychologically stable at those moments when she seems to feel trapped inside, insisting on walks, bike rides and time outside. It’s the best we can do, but it’s not the same. She grew up exploring beaches all along the North Coast, returning home with her heart full of oxygen and sunlight, impressions of blue sky and green mountains reflected in her eyes. School is now closed and, as with the middle of the year, she’s desperate for the ocean, and all it relieves and heals. 

Across the Caribbean, beaches are open. What do Barbados, Grenada, Jamaica and St Lucia know that we don’t? Their beaches may have opened for tourism, but is their evidence significant enough for us to keep ours closed? 

The data suggests that transmissions primarily occur indoors, that physical spacing between groups at the beach, having limits on the number of people who can gather in groups, maintaining masks when not swimming, prohibiting fetes and closing beaches earlier are approaches that find a balance. Jamaica put in a curfew: Monday-Saturday: 6 am- 4 pm and Sundays: 6 am-2 pm. 

We opened bars, of all things, because of jobs, lobbying and a widespread culture of drinking to the point of near-alcoholism.

Can we open the beaches, before school starts back, on the best model of our Caribbean neighbours, for the mental health of children?

Post 441.

ZI TURNED 11 on Monday so I’m entering the pleasures and perils of pre-teen life, and the parenting moments it brings. 

The magic of childhood still lingers, with its uncontrived excitement, effervescent emotions, bubbling energy and honest words from a still blossoming heart. A child in a room of adults still transforms it somehow into an opportunity for being kinder, and sharing in laughter and wonder. 

An 11-year-old appears so grown-up in one instance and then so playful in the next, baby qualities bouncing about, tumbling with growth spurts and hormone changes and features that seem to mature by the day. The pandemic brought that home in a way that long workdays would have eclipsed. It took me a year to make lemonade (or lime juice), as they say, for I realised how much of her growing up I was missing and how much more of me she needed. I learned a lot about mental health and how our brains differently develop and cope, and how easy it is to miss signs of what’s going on with our children’s cognitive, social-emotional and expressive lives amidst the manic rush between home, school, homework, dinner and bedtime on repeat every day. 

When the pandemic began, she was just nine, and a completely different child. We rightly focus on children who need schools to reopen to resume their education, improve their nutrition, provide access to a trusted adult, and create valuable peer socialisation. Zi flourished at home, freed from the stress of traffic, with time to sleep later on a morning and chance to be herself without pressures of bullying. It was a privileged opportunity to feel calmer and safer by us being so consistently together.

I got to know her anew, over lunchtimes and afternoon walks and middle-of-the-day hugs, recognising challenges she’s navigating which I hadn’t noticed and making new decisions about mothering for which I wouldn’t have ever given time. I changed my priorities and responsibilities, increasing my attention to care and cutting back on much else. It made me grow. 

There’s an older adolescence that has also appeared, and interest in an adult world that she and her friends are yet unprepared for. We spend a lot of effort censoring regular pop music for its language and hypersexuality, and these days a regular YouTube playlist is a minefield of problematic socialisation. We are constantly checking for the clean version of songs.

Videos that show up either feature women (or Lil Nas X) writhing nearly naked or, alternatively, depressed and angst-ridden white American music stars. There’s a lot of conversation to have with teens about sex and sexuality, what’s age appropriate, stereotyped and commodified, real and empowering, and what messages are being sold to children. 

Sexuality brings both power and pleasure as well as risk and danger, and girls are most vulnerable to harmful consequences of early sexualisation as teens. They also enter a stage when they become more conscious of their bodies, weight, hair and skin colour, and how their appearance relates to acceptance by peers. 

They are seeing cyclical ads convince women they need to have long eyelashes, and I’ve watched as Zi’s emerging sense of femininity is shaped by the creation of insecurities and the expectation of self-improvement through consumption. 

As the recent Facebook study also confirmed, social media adds to girls’ challenges with self-esteem and anxiety. When you talk to girls, you realise how much they don’t like about themselves or how unsure they are about growing breasts and the onset of menstruation, developing a sense of responsibility and perhaps a sense of shame about both, and how adolescence is both very much like yet so different from our own decades ago. 

We try to use words that emphasise being fit and strong, not thin, and the mental health necessity of time outside, rather than on a device.

Not yet in secondary school, we also started preparing Zi, less for SEA than for pubescent crushes, having friends and cousins of diverse sexualities, and recognising that friends may begin experimenting with identities that cross and redefine old boundaries of “he,” “she” and “they.” From here, it’s like teaching life skills as much as critical thinking ones, a strong sense of self as well as an open, non-prejudiced mind. 

It’s been a year of learning about the world through her eyes. 

Welcome to 11, Zi. May you show us how much still must be changed as we show you how to love who you are inside.

Post 440.

WEARY CITIZENS are weathering a seemingly biblical combination of flood, locusts and plague. All, including the pandemic, are linked to climate change in some way. 

COP26, happening now in Glasgow, Scotland, might feel far away, but it connects directly to these realities at home.

This is the United Nations’ annual climate change conference and COP stands for Conference of Parties, which refers to the signatories of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, a 1994 treaty which includes TT among its 197 parties. 

Activists of many kinds, from indigenous communities to vulnerable nations, use the conference as a chance to push governments beyond talk to action through marches, protests and building of massive citizen demand.

Climate-justice activists are continuing to call for reduced fossil dependence and carbon-dioxide emissions, conservation of forests and oceans, protection of biodiversity, and transformation of our global economy from one that relies on growth through excessive and environmentally harmful production and consumption. 

Farmers, fisherfolk, those in the tourist industry, those living in flood-prone areas, the poor and hungry, women, students and youth of another generation in our region are facing an “existential threat.” This is the one issue around which billions of us could rally because we depend on an Earth in balance for our very lives.

Governments, such as our own, which is why PM Rowley is there, are more concerned about money. Barbados’s PM Mia Mottley declared the Earth in a state of “code red,” warning of the decimation of islands such as Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, and low-lying Barbados if global temperatures and, therefore, sea levels (from melting glaciers) continue to rise. She called their impact on the region a “dreaded death sentence.”

The money, described as climate finance, is to come from the richer nations responsible for the bulk of the greenhouse-gas emissions heating the planet and should help poorer nations to cut their own emissions and adapt to the losses from catastrophes predicted from global warming. 

Those bigger, wealthy countries have failed to contribute what they promised – US$100 billion a year from 2009-2020. They have also mainly promised to cut to zero net carbon emissions between 2050 and 2070; too little, too late. 

TT’s promise is to reduce our greenhouse-gas emissions in three sectors by 15 per cent, and by 30 per cent in the transportation sector, by 2030. This is unambitious, at odds with activist hopes and the planet’s needs, but not much worse than those from governments elsewhere. 

Our own PM’s speech highlighted establishment of a solar renewable-energy project to provide 30 per cent of our power needs by 2030. Barbados plans to have 100 per cent of its energy consumption come from renewable sources by the same date. Barbados also plans to stop the sale of petrol and diesel by 2030, replacing them with electric power, biofuels and better mass transport. That’s ambitious. 

We are slowly phasing to electric vehicles and there is a policy for transitioning the workforce to a low-carbon economy, and investments in green hydrogen to provide feedstock for the petrochemical sector. There is also a state committee to increase oil revenue as well as explore carbon capture and sequestration of industry-generated carbon dioxide. 

Carbon sequestration is considered valuable because there is too much in our atmosphere, but there’s significant debate about this strategy. Some activists argue that it’s a technique for continuing to burn fossil fuels, not reduce overall use. As a polluter-based economy, it’s the State’s technical solution for the fix we are in. 

Following his speech, the PM is meeting with Shell and BP in London on development of the Manatee gas field, highlighting the irony of our fossil-fuel dependence, dire failure to imagine alternatives to a near-obsolete economic model, and committed drop into the CO2 bucket. 

Anyone interested in survival should be prepared to support what climate-justice activists continue to do. Question government plans. Demand transparency and participation. Present alternatives. Refuse to be fooled by policies on paper. Draw attention to endemic poor implementation. Protest. 

Challenge a leader who lambasts those refusing an aluminium smelter or seeking to preserve a coastline in Tobago or Toco. Those are exactly the moments that count on the ground, showing how little the government sees these as popular struggles to protect coastlines, air and water for our future generations. 

COP 26 reminds that there is one message for us. Before it’s too late, defend the planet at all costs, whether politicians like it or not.

Post 437.

I WAS hoping that the Minister of Finance would finally begin to speak about gender-responsive budgeting (GRB) and acknowledge the need for gender-responsive recovery. 

Particularly in the context of the pandemic, political will in TT needs to catch up with a world increasingly applying a gender-sensitive approach. This means assessing the differential implications for women and men of any planned action to ensure that women and men benefit equally and inequalities are not perpetuated.

There are two main benefits of GRB. First, in making budgetary decisions, the minister relies on and shares sex-disaggregated data, recognising that women and men participate in the waged and care economies very differently. 

As I have described in relation to the last three budgets, without this, fiscal decision-making ignores the responsibility of economic development to improve gender equality and ignores the costs of gender inequality to overall wealth creation and distribution. It’s like targeting the growth of specific trees while dismissing knowledge about the overall ecosystem of the forest.

We should hear a budget speech, and further details in the budget debate, that clearly outline basic numbers. For example, the unemployment rate for women and men; the rates at which women and men participate in different economic sectors such as agriculture, energy, construction, service and retail, car importation, and tech and digital services; their rates of participation in the informal economy; and the ratio of women to men as first-time homeowners as well as owners of small and medium businesses. 

It was important to hear whether women’s employment was harder hit by the pandemic, in what sectors, and how this shaped economic stimulus decisions.

This enables us to track the dollar value of incentives, tax breaks and funds allocated in terms of its results for both women and men. 

This is the second thing about GRB – it encourages a results-based approach. 

Currently, we can’t say how the minister’s fiscal plans aim to affect women’s entrepreneurship or participation in the economy. 

Next year, we won’t have a target or benchmark to appraise this year’s announcements. How will we know who benefited from the emphasis on these key sectors? How will we know who was left behind?

The digital divide remains gendered in terms of ownership of digital assets such as computers, and in terms of access and use. Globally, this has been key to women’s inability to equally propel and benefit from the digital revolution, and to access digital services. 

Women in our economy are more likely to have microbusinesses that depend on their own labour, rather than employees. They have less access to credit to expand, often lacking sufficient assets for collateral. 

Women still predominate in insecure, informal and low-waged five Cs: cleaning, catering, clerical, cashiering and childcare. 

I would have welcomed incentives for childcare-centred (and predominantly women-owned) businesses, given that daycares and preschools, unlike even bars and casinos, have remained completely closed since March 2020, decimating women’s livelihoods and savings while increasing the pressures on women’s unpaid care. 

Accessible childcare services are directly linked to women’s employment, and public investment in quality care services can create more jobs than investment in construction, precisely because it frees so many women who are self-employed, seeking jobs or creating wealth to do so without unequally gendered constraints. 

This stuff isn’t rocket science and is being undertaken globally. Australia’s annual Gender Budget Statement explains how the budget is contributing to gender goals. Other countries publishing such statements include Bangladesh, Canada, India, Japan, Morocco, Rwanda, South Korea, and Spain.

In the PM’s Recovery Report, women are merely treated as a welfare category, not as a group involved in wealth generation under gendered constraints. A “woman’s perspective” on the budget is considered to centre on consumption and issues of food prices and VAT, subsidies for utilities, exemptions and rebates for the poorest of households, and direct social protection. 

However, women are not an economically vulnerable group because they are less capable, but because of unequal responsibility for families, sex segregation in the economy, gendered fiscal policy (think of the infusion of funds for big construction projects in every budget), and persistent gender norms. 

Fiscal policy either addresses these inequities or assumes them to be an unproblematic status quo. 

The 2020 UNDP Gender Social Norms Index demonstrated that 50 per cent of men worldwide think that, in times of scarcity and crisis, employment should be prioritised for men. 

Disappointingly, without sex-disaggregated numbers or targets underscoring his budget, for yet another year it appears the Finance Minister feels the same.

Post 433.

The pandemic has made mental health concerns go mainstream. That’s powerful news for activists who have been labouring for decades to destigmatise challenges with anxiety and depression.

Whether because we are a heightened health risk to each other or job loss or isolation or additional care responsibility or generalised increase in stress, a lot of people are simply not functioning as they might have been before, often with only a vague sense of why.

The new academic year started this week on campus and I’ve had to revise my expectations, noting how many more students seemed unable to cope, complete or excel last year, some simply because they had to move back home with their parents, others because whatever they were managing to survive before is now too much.

Scientists even talk about our children and the bleak future they face, for the first time in generations, because of the climate catastrophe we continue to cause. It feels like we are in wartime, but have to act normal. Can we blame those who can’t?

In our house, we have turned to exercise like a miracle cure, taking walks or bike rides as much as we can.

It was really hard when outdoor exercise was prohibited. My ten-year-old falls apart when stuck indoors without sufficient physical activity. Her behaviour, mood and co-operativeness change, and I’ve come to realise how much children mired at home, on their devices, and without an outlet for their emotional energy are quietly crumbling even if neither they nor their parents realise.

What’s interesting is how we are all supposed to return to school, and a set subject timetable, as if extra attention to emotional wellness isn’t as necessary as the content students must cover. Our approach to schooling simply hasn’t caught up yet with a curriculum that includes mental wellness.

It barely nods to how children learn through play or multiple learning styles or the harm of high-stake exams or the reality of neuro-diverse capacities, often understood as autism spectrum disorders, but actually just the different ways that brains naturally work. When children return to school, will the Ministry of Education and TTUTA understand the times we are in and acknowledge that children’s and adolescents’ emotional context isn’t as it was in 2019?

Again, sports has provided the teaching examples we have drawn on over the pandemic. Here, tennis superstar Naomi Osaka has changed the game.

The highest paid in the world by 22, Osaka’s struggle with mental health, motivation and emotions has been heavily publicized, with her describing feeling vulnerable, anxious and depressed for the past three years.

When formidable athletes are using these words, it makes us acknowledge that these are not feelings only associated with failure, but even the most successful among us. And, beyond being successful is feeling well and being healthy.

The brilliant gold Olympic medallist, Simone Biles, whose skill has surpassed even the rules of gymnastics, similarly pulled out of events to focus on her mental health and physical safety.

In support, dozens of others – swimmers, weight lifters, sprinters, basketball players and other gymnasts – are speaking out about depression, ADHD, being bipolar, insomnia, contemplating suicide and seeking therapy. In this, another generation and the young women who are its best examples of athletic determination and sacrifice are leading the way.

These brave women are the models for my ten-year-old who I hope can help create a more compassionate world for herself and others. She should know that the journey to emotional wellness and mental health is not one you walk in secret, alone or ashamed.

Can you imagine if that was the message we gave to adolescents with the same emphasis that we put on exams?

Audiences haven’t entirely caught up with these changes, and Osaka and others have faced significant social media bullying for not performing as expected or, better put, for meeting others’ expectations.

Their replacements are heralded before they even leave the mat, pool or the court. That’s an important lesson too. Public accolades are fleeting and unforgiving, and they don’t set the gold standard for balance, good health, emotional connection and self-care.

I’m also thinking about my young UWI students. They must learn to work through difficulties, complete goals, do well and look after themselves.

And also ask for help. Perhaps, this is a shift that the pandemic is encouraging us all to finally make.

Post 432.

I UNDERSTAND parents’ vaccine hesitance. Part of me would also opt for mandatory vaccinations for schoolchildren so that tens of thousands who have been without consistent schooling for a year and a half can continue to learn. 

All the data on the digital divide suggests that many of those children will face huge challenges catching up and even experience future income loss. We need to think of children’s collective best interest. 

Vaccination isn’t simply a matter of individual choice, for higher viral loads of covid19 are carried by those unvaccinated, recirculating the virus and giving it greater chance to mutate, making health risks a continuing reason for school closures and exclusion of the poorest of children from education. 

That said, I can appreciate parents’ concern and I think it’s important for us to do so. Many parents feel that the vaccines have not been sufficiently tested for side effects or that their child may be the one who reacts badly. Relatively few children have been seriously affected and the majority of infected people survive covid19, seemingly without effect and sometimes even without symptoms. 

There’s also such a huge amount of misinformation better marketed than science, sceptical parents are caught between contradictory approaches to protecting their little ones. They are not sure which is worse; the virus or the vaccine. There’s a powerful mix of love and fear at play.

The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) recently released a regional study on Covid19 Vaccine Acceptance. The data was collected online between February and June and 2,302 people participated, including 384 from Trinidad and Tobago. Two-thirds of respondents were women, two-thirds were from urban areas, the majority were between 30 and 60 years old, and the majority had a secondary school education or higher. 

Only 38 per cent of parents surveyed said they would vaccinate their children, with 30 per cent of them responding “no” or “maybe.” Half of the sample had concerns about the vaccine or believed that they did not know enough or whether the vaccine was developed too quickly. The majority of those who were vaccine hesitant were most concerned about side effects. 

Nearly 60 per cent felt extremely knowledgeable about how to protect themselves from the virus. By contrast, just over ten per cent felt they understood the development of the vaccine, possibly how vaccines work overall and perhaps even the differences among the current vaccine brands. 

Knowing this, it is clear that ordering mandatory vaccination of children or even threatening and bullying parents is not the way to address their real fears. What is needed is much better communication which acknowledges that parents’ concerns about side effects are both rational and emotional. This means an improved approach which combines science with humanity. Not just what is said, but the sense of empathy, trust and connection that is built into how it is conveyed. 

The best example of this is Mia Mottley’s August 24 speech where the Barbados PM declared her Cabinet’s position against mandatory vaccines. More importantly, she emphasised that while her responsibility was to keep Barbadians safe, it was also to keep them united. 

“Covid must not be allowed to divide us as a people, as a nation” were her words as she committed to communicating in ways which understood her people, rather than set them apart as hard-headed or blameworthy fools. 

“More often than not, Bajans operate on the basis first of respect, you got to see me, you got to hear me, you got to talk to me. And to that extent, that is what we feel that we need to do as a nation…we have to do better by our people…before we start talking about legal opinion and the legislative framework. 

“Those things are not us…first thing next week is for me to go to understand those who may still be ambivalent…whether we support vaccines or we don’t support vaccines must not be allowed to divide us…to that extent we now have to work together as a people.

“Persons who are not wanting vaccines because they little ambivalent, we going to come and talk to you, persons who may have concerns or medical questions, we going to try to find the answers for you, persons who are adamant they don’t want it, we respect you…we invariably never have a 100 per cent of one thing or another, but we have learned how to live together and how to carry each other.” 

This is the leadership and approach we urgently need. I’m certain every concerned parent would agree.

Post 431.

IT’S WELL recognised that Trinidadians/Tobagonians are natural innovators. Diversification is what we do. We play it, sing it, bottle it, photograph it, lyrics it, design it, craft it, mix it, name it, plant it and sell it every day, everywhere, across the country and internationally. 

In that context, it’s bizarre that the PM would have blamed citizens for the Government’s failure to sufficiently diversify the economy, a failure that has defined much of the PNM’s decades of rule. 

I’m not being anti-PNM, I’m describing a reality where agriculture has been systematically undervalued, where “downstream” is as much as diversification is imagined to be, and where the environment, including our marine ecosystems, and their value mean nearly nothing. 

The PM’s attack shows deep disconnect between those holding power and those surviving, even in a pandemic, in the most creative ways. It shows vast misdiagnosis of why we are in the economic collapse we find ourselves, which predated the pandemic. It shows sheer irresponsibility, for clearly we are not all in this together when there are only others to blame. It shows a dangerous and deliberate willingness to misrepresent the truth, which is exactly why citizens are as sceptical as they are, and so easy to throw back words full of disrespect. 

Finally, it shows how quickly deep authoritarianism reveals itself, for the only message could be that it is wrong and foolish to question a government, and should you suffer for it, that’s on you. 

First, the Alcoa and Alutrint smelters. If anyone remembers 2009, Calder Hart was in (and out of) control. Riot police in military gear would show up at any citizen gathering. PM Manning had lost touch, particularly with another generation. As Williams did in 1970. As is happening now. 

Widespread citizen challenge to the smelters was a powerful example of ordinary people demanding a government speak with them in a way they deserve.

The High Court ruled that the decision of the Environmental Management Authority to grant a Certificate of Environmental Clearance was illegal. Other aspects of the project – such as the port – had not been included in the application. No one could present a cost-benefit analysis. 

It was unclear what would happen with the solid waste and waste water generated or the implications for the aquifer on which the Alcoa smelter would be built. Remember, we are a country that is abysmal about waste disposal and hazardous leaks that contaminate the environment. 

There was a debate about health concerns, and Alcoa itself had a history of environmental violations. It was also part of a US war machine with close ties to the Republican Party. Pentagon contracts for combat vehicles and missiles were fuelling its search for aluminium and its outsourcing to countries with poor environmental standards.

Add to that secrecy about the selling price for the natural gas that would be required to produce electricity to run Alcoa’s smelting process. Economists at the time talked endlessly about the smelters as another example of the offshore economy; in other words, yet more dependence on heavy industrialisation and non-renewable fossil fuels. 

What was the plan for sustainable onshore economic activity including livestock (buffalypso) rearing, honey production, IT services, light manufacturing, ship repair, pan building and so much more?

These were legitimate questions to ask and it’s to the credit of the nation that answers were demanded, and high-handed buff-up rejected. 

The truth is that insufficient transparency and accountability, and ignoring of citizens’ real concerns, destroyed support for those smelters, and that’s on the party that rules us today. 

It wasn’t so different with Sandals, a more recent example for those of a younger generation who don’t remember 2009. Stuart Young described bad publicity by a “handful of people.” 

More untruth. A claim had to be filed to challenge the secrecy involved. Sandals Resort had squabbled with Antigua and Barbuda over agreements for 25-year tax holidays. Here, questions about economic feasibility and tax concessions were insufficiently answered, particularly as the costs would have been borne by taxpayers. There were environmental concerns regarding the Buccoo Reef Marine Park.

As an aside, all-inclusive resorts are renowned for contributing less to economies than they gain, for bringing dead-end, low-wage jobs, and for intensifying sex tourism. 

We have never been against diversification. We are against poor governance and questionable decisions. That’s a strength that a national leader should champion, not impugn. It’s one we should defend without apology. 

Instead of gaslighting, the PM needed to set an example of taking responsibility.