While most of the concerns of her constituents are local government issues like roads and drains, one of the main goals of Community Development, Culture and the Arts Minister, Nyan Gadsby-Dolly, is to create resilient communities, starting with her constituency of St Ann’s East.
The main thrust of the ministry over the past two months, she said, has been the distribution of hampers and food cards to support people during covid19 lockdown and beyond.
However, with the general elections due this year, Gadsby-Dolly has also been campaigning on walkabouts, which she will do more of when Parliament goes on break at the end of July. Although she is still meeting people, social distancing is strictly adhered to, so she now shares her phone number so people could interact with her and she could deal with their concerns.
“We are using a lot of social media to get our messages out because, of course, we can’t have the usual large meetings or even the cottage meetings. We also have to be careful with going into people’s homes because we don’t want to spread the virus.”
On walkabouts, Gadsby-Dolly and her team have been educating people about the Government's Aided Self-Help Housing Programme and how to access the grant, distribute forms and hampers, and the councillors address local government issues.
She said her constituency was very hilly with a lot of unplanned development.
“Once you have that there are many concerns dealing with people’s living conditions. As I tell constituents, development is not an instant thing, especially when it’s in an area that was not planned.”
In most areas, people build on hills but they do not go through the proper channels for roads and drainage, have no proper run-off for water and sometimes no proper foundation. She said they often started with wooden houses but expanded or upgraded as time progressed. The weight of the house shifts the land so they get cracks in the homes, land slippage, and need retention walls.
“There is no question of not paying attention to these things during the five years in office but there is a lot that needs to be addressed and five years is not enough time to deal with it all.”
And so the self-help grant allows people to improve their own living situation.
The ministry also conducts skills training programmes across the country. They should have started in March but were delayed by covid19 and the minister hopes to resume them in July with sessions scheduled for twice per week instead of once to make up the contact hours.
The ministry would also continue to support male and female mentorship programmes.
“I don’t know if I will be the minister of this particular ministry in the years to come however, once I am the MP, and I intend to be the MP, I will be advocating for those programmes to continue within the constituency because they were very impactful.
“It is very important for our young people because, especially in the North Coast, they can feel a bit isolated and it is important for them to understand that their problems are the problems of girls and boys all over, and for them to get some hope as to what is possible, and some direction as to how they can take steps to advance and empower themselves.”
Gadsby-Dolly has also been discussing community enterprises for areas in the North Coast with several NGOs.
For example, she said the Caribbean Natural Resources Institute (CANARI) works with communities to recognise their resources and maximise and monetise them to the benefit of the community.
“In other areas, CANARI has worked with communities to form co-operatives where the community is invested in the business and they are able to create products.”
She and the community council were in discussions with a chocolate-making group to start community enterprise projects in Maracas Bay. She is also speaking with a food production NGO about commercialising gardening, not only create jobs and income but so that if anything happens and the North Coast Road is cut off, they could feed themselves.
Her goal is to expand these types of projects and develop resilient communities throughout the country starting with the North Coast. In addition, there were also plans for erecting and upgrading many community facilities, including recreation grounds and community centres, as the populations in these areas continue to increase.
The ministry was in discussion with Udecott to build most of the projects and some were already scheduled among them Santa Cruz Old Road, Acono, Rincon, Las Cuevas, Maracas Bay and La Pastora.
Gadsby-Dolly noted that the performance aspect of Best Village had to be postponed to next year because of covid19. However, the programme continued through the ministry’s Grow It Yourself challenge where the growth of food crops by non-registered farmers was judged.
She said the Best Village competition used to have a category, Clean and Beautify, involving community and kitchen gardens. With URP and CPEP people paid to clean and beautify communities, they shifted the category to personal gardens.
“We want to change the mindset in terms of how we get food. Also, for people who engage in gardening it is healthy for your body, for your mind, and it is said when you grow your own food you are also more conscious about what you eat. So on all fronts – nutrition, positive activity, engaging the family since it helps to aid in family life if the family is involved – we feel it could lend to the whole concept of the resilient community.”
More than 150 video entries were submitted and she was seeing a lot of creativity.
From Carifesta to Carnival
Gadsby-Dolly also addressed the issues of Carifesta and Carnival, which she has spoken of over the past two weeks.
She said people have said TT’s Carifesta XIV, which was hosted by this country last year, was the most successful festival ever. She said the 2020 host, Antigua, reached out to many TT practitioners and the ministry has been supporting their effort in any way possible to ensure the festival’s success because its aim is to put the Caribbean and its culture “on the map.”
She reiterated that there was no overspending or money unaccounted for in the $43 million Carifesta budget. The initial budget of $28 million covered some of the preliminary work in 2017 and beyond but the final budget of $43 million was approved by Cabinet on July 4, 2019.
“That $12 million that people said was unaccounted for was actually part of the Carifesta budget and certainly when the auditor general sees the answers to the queries from the ministry, all of that is part of the record and will be easily cleared up.”
She added that, despite accusations of sub par planning, Carifesta planning started in 2016 when TT bid to host the event and it was a well-executed event.
“A festival of this nature is a very complex event. When you come down to the day a lot of things are happening and there are a lot of moving parts so delays of all sorts is not uncommon for that kind of event.”
Regarding Carnival 2020, she said discussions were not premature. She said she is aware that Carnival was a multi-million dollar industry and that it is important to the livelihood of many. However, she said the Government has been managing the pandemic successfully and would not take any action that would put the welfare of people at risk.
She said large gatherings or parties have not yet been allowed, thousands of citizens have to return to TT, which is being done gradually so as not to overwhelm the country’s health system, and then the borders have to open.
“In the same way the Government has been responsible with the covid19 situation we will be responsible in the decision about whether or not we’re having Carnival, and that decision has not been taken yet. But whatever that decision it would be in the best interest of the country and citizens. There is no intention to cancel but there is no intention to implement either.”
Noting that steel bands were organising to restart practice, she said that was a good thing as people have to plan for whatever eventuality.
In addition, she said the ministry was already looking into covid19 protocols for performing spaces. It also planed to implement a cost reduction for rental spaces seeing that promoters would not be able to sell as many tickets due to social distancing restrictions.