Simone Claxton is on a drive to positively change the lives of women and girls locally, regionally and internationally.
How does she plan to get this done? Through the Sapphire Miriam Foundation. She is its president and founder.
The foundation is named after her daughter, Sapphire Miriam, 11, and “aims to promote educational, entrepreneurial, empowerment training programmes/projects to young men and women as well as single parents over a period of time to ensure their personal growth and development.”
In an interview, Claxton said the foundation was started about nine and a half years ago when she herself was also a single parent.
Besides her daughter being her biggest inspiration, Claxton was also inspired and driven to start the foundation when she saw how difficult life was for two other single mothers.
She became a single parent when her daughter was just a year old and, at the time, Claxton was unemployed. However, she began working at the Social Welfare division in south Trinidad shortly after, and one day saw a young mother with a baby who was constantly crying.
“I peeped into one of the officer’s booths and saw that there was a young mother – she had a newborn baby on her shoulder, and also there was a toddler walking around, about a year and a half, the same as mine...
"Then I saw another child and I thought, twins? I said, ‘No. This can’t be.’”
Claxton realised that life for that mother could not have been easy and she became emotional just thinking about it. This drove her to begin looking for organisations that assisted single mothers – but she found none.
She then started helping people informally.
Another day she saw a woman with a child in front of a San Fernando bank asking for help. The child was also the same age as Claxton’s daughter.
“Her child picked up a cookie from the pavement and ate it, and I said, ‘Wait, nah, this could be my child doing this.’
“You just can’t close your eyes to what is going on with people around you. And that is why I started to help and eventually form the organisation.”
The NGO was registered in March 2012.
Through the Sapphire Miriam Foundation, Claxton supports single mothers and youth, namely girls. She said in supporting the mothers, the children are given a better chance.
“As a single mother you get so tied up. There is so much for you to do – everything’s on you – that the children sort of get left out in the mix. So you really want to give them a fair chance and a good foundation.”
Claxton said although she too was a single mother, she had her degrees and education which gave her a path out. Claxton has a bachelors in international tourism management and a masters in international hospitality and tourism management.
Some are not that fortunate. And so she wants her foundation to assist mothers who might not have had the same educational background or opportunities.
For a while she funded the foundation out of her own pocket but in 2016 she sought funding from various government and corporate organisations. In 2017 and 2018 she began getting the necessary funding needed to develop the programmes. Since then she has worked with a number of organisations, the Ministry of Community Development and the Massy Foundation among them.
But Claxton always dreamt of developing her own girls' empowerment programme.
“I have that passion for young women to be able to equip them so that they would not have to go through certain things.
“You as a woman know what you have to go through, so you want to kind of save them some of the hurts and pains from ending up in certain situations.”
In 2019, she did research on various empowerment models. She then developed The Dream Big: Girls’ Empowerment Programme. It's all about giving girls the inspiration to dream big, she said. It teaches them that nothing is impossible. The programme wants young girls to know there are choices and options.
When it started in 2019, a small session with about 16 girls was held in the La Brea area. The programme could not be held last year because of the covid19 pandemic. When Claxton decided to physically host it this year, rising cases of covid19 forced her to cancel.
Requests from regional partners like Beverly Le Blanc of the Circle of Friends in Dominica led Claxton to move the programme online.
Girls from Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica, St Lucia, Guyana, Suriname, Turks and Caicos, Grenada, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Haiti are part of this year’s virtual programme. They range from 13-19.
Over the years, Claxton has also built partnerships with companies and organisations such as JMMB, the Unit Trust Corporation (UTC) and AMCO.
Through her regional partnerships with organisations and people like Marlyn Grumble of the Empire Plus Network in Guyana; Rubia Berghout of the Sita Foundation in Suriname, Shergaun Roserie of Obtronics in St Lucia and James Declerus of Krik Krak Computer Project in Haiti, Claxton has been able to provide a wealth of information to the programme’s participants.
There are two phases to the programme. The first phase, launched on May 8, consisted of eight consecutive sessions, the last session held on June 26.
Its second phase starts in July and will see sessions run once a month until December. Then comes the participants' mentorship phase, when the foundation will have experts talk to the girls about topics such as entrepreneurship.
Claxton said the foundation is able to host its virtual sessions through Microsoft Teams and the Seebaran family was able to assist the foundation with doing so.
The foundation also hopes to introduce a soap-making programme but funding is needed for the materials.
“We just want to get that support so we can continue to empower these girls, locally, regionally and going internationally,” Claxton said.
For more info check out the foundation’s YouTube channel or visit its social media pages on Facebook and Instagram.