Mayaro councillor wants young people to step up and serve

Councillor Renelle Kissoon wants to help people to set up small businesses and create homework centres in the communities of Cocal/Mafeking.  - ANGELO_MARCELLE
Councillor Renelle Kissoon wants to help people to set up small businesses and create homework centres in the communities of Cocal/Mafeking. - ANGELO_MARCELLE

Growing up, Renelle Kissoon naturally saw ways to improve people's lives in Mayaro through her mother's steadfast community activism.

This early foundation propelled her to speak up for others and eventually influenced her decision to serve as a local government councillor.

At 23, she is now one of the country's youngest councillors serving the scenic seaside electoral district of Cocal/Mafeking in the Mayaro/Rio Claro Regional Corporation.

Speaking to Sunday Newsday, Kissoon, who holds a BSc in criminology and criminal justice from the University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine campus, shared her unlikely journey into politics and her expectations.

Her passion for helping others grew as she joined volunteer groups from primary to secondary school but back then, politics was never on her mind.

In her second year at UWI, her family and friends encouraged her to contest the position of Faculty of Social Sciences representative in the 2016 UWI guild of students elections.

She was successful and served in the position for one year.

"Being on guild was really necessary for me to envision myself in a position of leadership.

"UWI is a microcosm of the larger TT society."

On the guild, she helped with outreach programmes, issues of security, women's health and mental health. It also helped her in sharpening her communication skills to relate with people from different backgrounds and those in positions of authority.

When she was being encouraged to step up as a potential candidate for the December 2019 local government elections under the United National Congress (UNC) banner, she relied on her experience UWI guild, which gave her assurance she was capable.

"I think I got all this passion and drive to help people from my mother.

"My mom has been heavily involved in politics and I remember her campaigning with the UNC from a very young age.

"At least one of her six children had to get involved in politics, and I guess that was me."

Another motivation factor for contesting the election was the lack of youth representation in Mayaro's decision-making process.

"Youth representation was really something that I wanted to witness.

"I don't think youths did not want to participate, but they probably didn't feel welcome or know how to get involved."

Now, she wants other young people to follow in her footsteps.

"There should now be a whole fleet of young people ready to be young leaders in the Mayaro community."

She thanked chairman of the Mayaro/Rio Claro regional corporation Raymond Cozier, her campaign manager, for believing in her, although many people doubted her ability to perform.

"As a young candidate, I had a lot of support, but there were those saying I was too small.

"They really didn't care so much about my age but my size.

Renelle Kissoon, councillor for Cocal/Mafeking, wants to inspire more young people to serve. - ANGELO_MARCELLE

"Some elderly people saw it as an issue and told me straight out that they can't vote for me because I was too small."

The criticisms did not daunt Kissoon as she persisted in her campaign. Her determination to meet every potential voter in the sprawling electoral district caught the attention of many and she used that as an example of why giving up was never an option.

"Anyone I met, regardless of party, would say I had to win because of how I walked the community every single day.

"I tried my best to meet the people and let them get to know who I really was.

"At the end of the day, I did not want to be just a face but for people to know me."

Now that she is a councillor, she is determined to improve the lives of Cocal/Mafeking residents.

While people may be head-strong in their views, something she was quickly learning as councillor, she has learned to respect differing views, which helps reach a middle ground to get the job done.

Saying that limited resources may affect her ability to get work done, Kissoon is willing to open new avenues for the people in the community. She plans to work alongside Mayaro MP Rushton Paray to increase tourism in the district, which can serve as an extra source of income.

Her list of priorities includes helping small business people have greater access to proper vending booths and assisting farmers to get improved road access to farmlands.

"We have a lot of corporate entities and external resources (in the Mayaro district) we can tap into to see how best we can improve conditions.

"At the end of the day, people depend on you to resolve real issues.

"I have big dreams for my electoral district. However, I can make that a reality I will try to do it."

In her upcoming term, she wants young people to be a central part of her operations and intend to help them become more comfortable in the leadership process by giving them opportunities to assist.

She also does not want young people to become discouraged by the perceived two-party system in national politics. Instead, she encourages them to focus on service and understand that the power to make change was within their abilities.

"At the end of the day, you will be in a position to serve people regardless of the party.

"Party politics can be a challenge to some but it is important to know a lot of other challenges would come up along the way.

"If you dwell on the challenges, you would not reach very far."

Kissoon said the challenges she faced during her campaign could have easily been discouraged her. She also thanked the leadership of her political party for their support.

She is now working with UNC Youth Arm chairman Kaveesh Siewdial to develop homework centres in communities across the country. She will spearhead the homework centre in the Mayaro constituency.

Asked if she had any future political aspirations, she said the door was wide open for anything to happen.

"Five years ago, if you asked me where I'd see myself, I would not have said I would be a local government representative. It wasn't in the books.

"Politics is not something I chased after, so at this point, I can't say what the future holds.

"At the same time, I care about my community and if I see a need to represent my area further, I would."

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