NiNa Young Women's Programme changes focus after teens attacked

File photo: Mentors, from left, Chinara Remy, Okema Blake, Journee Mc Meo John, Meshach Homer and Sasha John addresses the girls in the NiNa leadership programme. Photo by Sureash Cholai -
File photo: Mentors, from left, Chinara Remy, Okema Blake, Journee Mc Meo John, Meshach Homer and Sasha John addresses the girls in the NiNa leadership programme. Photo by Sureash Cholai -

The NiNa Young Women's Leadership Programme experienced the trauma that comes with violence against women in the first week of April.

Two of its members were physically attacked by men they knew.

The programme was designed to contribute positively to the lives of girls, especially from inner cities and those living in state-run homes for children who experienced violence or neglect by their guardians. It focuses on creating an entrepreneurial culture and mindset in young women across the Caribbean.

Organisers and members alike were thrown into a tailspin after a teen from the programme went missing.

Founder of the programme Akosua Dardaine Edwards, who established the organisation in 2012, said the 19-year-old was kidnapped. To the relief of those who helped in the search, she was found alive, but the experience was traumatic for her and everyone who knows her. Her attacker was caught, and she is now pressing charges. To protect her, not many details of the incident can be revealed.

Meanwhile, it has sent Edwards and director/operations manager Patricia Toby back to the drawing board. This was the organisation's first direct brush with an event of this kind. Finding the victim in two days was no easy feat – it took collaboration between the teen's family, the police and the bonds they established through the programme.

"Her mother called the police and we all kept in touch with the police. They worked hard."

Edwards said the organisation has since arranged therapy sessions for the victim and other members.

"It has been a wake-up call for us to see how we can be even more in tune with the reality. It's not just in the newspaper or social media – it feels even more real."

This event, she said, brought to the foreground, the meaning of the organisation.

"It is hard not to feel like there is something we could have done to prevent something like this. But this unfortunate event has given us an opportunity to expand how we do what we do for these young women."

Asked what additions may be made to the programme as a result, Edwards said, "We are developing an app. It would give the participants resources for health and wellness, physical protection and a way through which they can easily communicate how they feel, their progress in various areas of their lives."

She also intends to put more emphasis on learning more about the background of each participant and their families.

Previously, she said, "I wanted to help create a safe space for them. So when teens join the programme, I do not ask for details on their living circumstance. Some would eventually share their experiences, while other would not."

She also intends to seek additional help in the operation and management of the programme, currently managed by Edwards and Toby. The two get some assistance from presenters, therapists such as Sonji Harris Guppy and past participants such as Chinara Remy and Meshach Homer, who help the teens manoeuvre through their "growing pains."

Past participants of the programme also interact with current participants as mentors.

"I also want to give more focus to tightening the communication circle among participants in the programme. Participants in homes such as St Jude's Home for Girls do not have access to mobile phones, so they aren't in our WhatsApp group. But we will explore ways of making communication easier and more constant."

Akousa Dardaine Edwards, founder of NiNa Young Women’s Leadership Programme. Photo by Sureash Cholai -

Asked if she has seen an increase in the number of men speaking to other men to share the message of stopping violence against women, Edwards said from her experience, younger men are less likely to call other men out. In contrast, older men seem to be more empathetic.

"We are now thinking about how we can support men as well."

The programme includes features such as the Choices programme.

"It focuses on the theme of choices while one is in transition from a children's home such as St Jude's or transitioning from a challenging situation at the family home."

The transitioning programme was created in 2017 to help girls move into adulthood as independent women. Each month participants attend presentations and are involved in discussions about choices and money – saving, investing, instant versus immediate gratitification. This is added to regular consultations and activities with psychologists.

"We also had a week-long segment on choices and sex where we discussed consent, learning about the body, learning about sexual relationships, same-sex relationships, rape and other themes surrounding sex, sexuality and the connection to society and religion.

"We also have choices on love and careers."

Edwards said the organisers expose the young participants to knowledge from some of the best minds in fields such as psychology, finance and wellness.

"We want them to know they deserve the best."

The programme has taken the participants to some of the most beautiful places in TT including Mille Fleurs, one of the magnificent seven around the Queen's Park Savannah, and exploring Chaguaramas.

"That series was in collaboration with the Spotlight initiative."

Spotlight is a global partnership between the European Union and the UN to help eliminate violence against women and girls through funding and collaborating on programmes.

"We also got a grant from UN Women,and that had a powerful impact."

Edwards said they also offer yoga and Qigong (pronounced chee gong) as forms of therapy and stress management. Both combine meditation, breathing techniques and movement to promote improved mental, spiritual and physical well-being.

She said these activities contribute to the creation and maintenance of bonds among participants and she looks forward to the growth of the organisation and widening its impact on the development of women.


"NiNa Young Women’s Programme changes focus after teens attacked"

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