Empowerment through entrepreneurship is the aim of the NiNa Young Women’s Leadership Programme. The St Jude’s Home for Girls arm of the programme recently held their Bodacious Girls Gala fundraising event at Castle Killarney, Queen's Park West, Port of Spain.
Programme founder Akosua Dardaine Edwards said the NiNa programme targets girls aged 15-18 and has been carried out in several secondary schools, some of which have incorporated the entrepreneurship component into their curriculum.
“We look at how entrepreneurship can teach different principles like courage, persistence, determination, taking risks, failing forward, and we marry those with the traditional topics like marketing and business planning. At the end of the term, the participants do a business pitch in front of a panel of judges and the top three would get some money, either to start a business or to go to university. At St Jude’s the concept is the same, with the additional component of a seven-day retreat where a different speaker is brought in every day to share their story with the girls. After that, we visit with the girls once a month to do an activity outside of the home. The aim is to have consistency in their lives. We want to be a support and a safe space for them, show them there are different ways to deal with situations, and the outcome of life depends on you.”
Edwards said the programme at St Jude’s is in its fourth year, while the 2020 gala was the second of its kind. She said the word bodacious was coined because the girls are both bold and audacious.
“The gala was done to raise awareness of the fact that when girls turn 18 and age out of the home, there’s a gap there in transitioning into society, and it’s so easy to fall prey to distractions. We wanted to raise funds to assist with our transition programme, which was not our initial focus at the home, and that’s how our Bodacious Girl Gala started. The idea of the gala came from the winner of the 2018 business pitch competition. She wanted to do a Carnival-themed experience all year round, where patrons would be immersed in a Carnival experience…We wanted to treat the girls special in a special place. We wanted them to feel special and to see they didn’t need to do anything to be deserving of being around good people, good food, and positivity.”
Edwards said the funds from the gala will aid in the purchase of a house, which will serve as a halfway house for girls who are transitioning out of the home.
“Last year we were able to raise the awareness but we’re still raising funds for our transition home. We want to have a house. We ended up using the funds to pay rent for some of them, doctor bills in other cases, and school fees for some girls who had restarted school. What we aim to do next year, when we get our house, is to be self-sufficient through our entrepreneurship endeavours, because we want to walk the talk. Our programme is about entrepreneurship and so eventually we want to have a ratio where the grant income is less than our revenue. That is our aim, so the girls will own the business, run it and work in it. They will learn to save and invest, and leave a legacy as well, because St Jude’s will always have girls coming out. So, if we can support as much as possible from our end, then we will be part of the solution.”
This year, the gala took the form of a fashion show. The clothes were provided by fashion designer Newanya, Sandra Carr and UTT fashion designers. MAC Cosmetics donated makeup and YTEPP did hair. The function featured performances by Marva Newton and Kairi Kaiso, Ruth Osman Rose and the Love Warriors, 2018 NiNa Young Leader Business Pitch Winner violinist Danacia Morris, and was hosted by Philo and two of the girls from the home who were trained by Natacha Jones. There was an auction of art by visual artist Brianna McCarthy, as well as Commonwealth Games memorabilia donated by Cleopatra Borel, whose Foundation co-hosted the event.
Edwards said a village had come together to support the girls.
“It shows we have the will in TT to come together and support each other, and it gives me great hope that we can turn where we’re going around. It’s one of the reasons I’m heartened to go on, because people answered the call.”
For more information on the NiNa Young Women’s Leadership Programme, visit http://www.akosuadardaineedwards.com/programmes and find them on Facebook.
PHOTOS COURTESY CAMILLE LOWHAR/NiNa PROGRAMME