Jamaican-born Delores Robinson grew up in a home affected by domestic violence. As a young woman she worked in an organisation that dealt with gender-based violence – but she later found herself in a similar situation.
Now she works to help victims and survivors of domestic violence to separate themselves from their abusive situations and stand on their own feet.
Robinson, 60, has a passion for issues affecting women and children which led to her founding Grassroots Organisations Operating Together in Sisterhood in TT (Groots TT).
Her list of “hats” is also extensive, as she is also co-vice chair of the Committee of NGOs for the Commission on the Status of Women in Latin American and the Caribbean (CoNGO CSW LAC)); co-chair of the Ministry of Health’s Psychosocial Services technical working group; founder of the Caribbean Sisters in Unity Core Group for CSW; a member of the Ministry of Labour’s Cabinet-appointed Child Labour Committee; past assistant governor for the Rotary Club’s St Augustine District, past president and current board member of the Rotary Club of St Augustine West; council member of Women Working for Social Progress; and a board member of the Huairou Commission Governing Council.
Her first real job was with the Sistren Theatre Collective in Jamaica, an all-female community theatre group and NGO.
“They dealt with issues affecting women and children, and it was my first, eye-opening experience when it comes to the issues of feminism.”
She had met several Trinis through Sistren Theatre Collective, including Newsday columnist and prison reform activist Debbie Jacob and Prof Rhoda Reddock, and stayed in touch, so when her pen pal of nine years invited her to TT to stay, she accepted. She moved to Trinidad in 1986, married that pen pal, and started a family.
“I stayed in an abusive relationship for six or seven years before I got out because of my son. One day I realised, God forbid, what if it becomes fatal? There may not be a me for the son that I’m trying to protect. I decided to take my child and leave.”
She said she was working at the time and had some savings, but 95 per cent of the women she helps do not have the resources to leave and support themselves and their children.
“That is why I decided I’m going to help in whatever way I can, because I have been there, and even understand why some women go back.”
Robinson told WMN the first time she was physically abused, she reached out for help, but her neighbours dismissed it as a “husband-and-wife thing.” She was ready to return to Jamaica, but she was very pregnant, and her doctor would not give her a medical certificate to travel. So, she stayed.
In 1988, when her first son was ten months old, she took him and went to a shelter. There she met Diana Mahabir-Wyatt, who was in the process of setting up the Coalition Against Domestic Violence, where she eventually worked part-time.
Over the years she went to shelters or moved out, but for various reasons she returned, or her husband found her, and she tried again to make the relationship work. In 1996, she even returned to Jamaica with her son, but her husband called her family and they encouraged her to return to TT.
That same year she realised he was cheating on her, even though he was unemployed, and she was paying all the bills.
Her anger was epic. She took her child, and her dog, and never looked back.
At the time she was working in a diplomatic mission, but in 2002, after 12 years, she left to return to work full-time in the women’s movement at various organisations.
In 2013, she went to a CSW conference in New York as the co-vice chair of CoNGO CSW LAC and met Jan Peterson, the founder of Groots International. Peterson gave participants a mandate to form three organisations in the region in five years.
“I was with an NGO called Aspire for seven years, which closed down due to financial constraints. But we were working on issues of HIV/Aids, and domestic and gender-based violence. Knowing there was a need for the continuation of that kind of service, I decided to start an NGO.”
That NGO was Groots TT, which she registered in June 2016.
She said HIV/Aids was also a core area of focus for Groots International’s Huairou Commission, so she built on that foundation.
“Groots’ core areas are now HIV/Aids and domestic and gender-based violence. I included mental health issues, because there is a correlation with gender-based violence, as the survivors suffer stress, depression and anxiety. Then I also added disaster preparedness and response, and reproductive health and rights.”
Groots provides face-to-face and online counselling and runs a drop-in centre as well as transition and emergency housing for vulnerable populations, including victims of domestic violence, people with mental health issues, people living with HIV, and the LGBTQIA+ community. It also provides food hampers and sensitisation around domestic violence through workshops.
Up to the end of 2019 it also provided HIV testing, but its certification expired and, with the onset of covid19, renewing the certification was put on hold. But it still provides support for those who want to be tested as well as for HIV-positive people.
In addition, Robinson said, “Our mandate is to work in rural areas, but we don’t get a chance to do it as often as we would like because of financial reasons which is Groots’ main challenge.”
The organisation does not get a subvention from the government so for years it was funded out of the pockets of Robinson and some of its board members. But from September 2018-October 2019, it got funding from foreign entities and since then it has been operating using the organisation’s savings. It is has been assisted by the UN Spotlight Initiative under the Tunapuna/Piarco Regional Corporation.
Two fundraising activities were planned for 2020 but had to be cancelled because of covid19. Groots is now trying to raise $3 million through FundMeTnT to buy a building as the organisation was asked to vacate its current space in Tunapuna.
In addition to cancelling fundraisers, several CSW events were postponed because of covid19. So, Robinson decided to use the time to educate herself on the virus and met with socially displaced people to take them care packages and sensitise them about the pandemic.
The mother of two also started reaching out to people living with HIV and discovered many do not have food or medication because of job losses and other financial constraints of covid19.
In March she started cooking and delivering 14 meals a day, six days a week to families infected with and affected by HIV from Port of Spain to D’Abadie. But that number increased to 47 as Groots expanded its Hot Meals on Wheels project to the socially displaced from Curepe to Tunapuna.
“For the first ten weeks I did it out of my pocket, but it was getting to be too much, so I started asking other people to contribute. Then I started sending out proposals and received a grant for US$5,000 from the Huairou Commission.”
But now, after nine months, over 6,000 meals, 135 food hampers, and 32 care packages, funds have dwindled, and meals are only prepared three days a week.
Robinson said Groots had similar plans to engage with the socially displaced before covid19, but the pandemic fast-tracked some of those plans.
Groots also works in partnership with the police Gender-Based Violence Unit, as well as the Ministry of Health’s psychosocial services technical working group to deal with mental health during covid19.
Robinson said some headway has been made regarding gender-based violence since she started working in the field. People are reporting domestic violence and cases are being documented, TT now has a Domestic Violence Act, and there is a Gender-Based Violence Unit.
In the late 1980s, she knew of only two shelters for women who were victims of domestic and gender-based violence; now there are over a dozen.
However, she said she would like to see grants for survivors of gender-based violence included in the national budget, possibly rental assistance for up to six months.
She also hopes NGOs would work on opening shelters that accommodate teenage boys along with their mothers. She noted that the government recently opened one such facility, but more were needed, because not being able to leave with their sons was one reason many women stay in abusive relationships.
Robinson is proud of her work with Groots and has every intention of continuing to contribute to further improvements in the organisation’s core areas.
Anyone wishing to contribute can do so by visiting the FundMeTnT website or visit GROOTS Trinidad & Tobago on Facebook or www.grootstt.com. Groots TT can be found under the community category of the FundMeTnT page.