When Janae Campbell walked away with the Miss Tobago Heritage Personality title on September 11 at Shaw Park Cultural Complex, she added pageant winner to an already impressive list of achievements.
At 19, the pint-sized Tobago Youth Council (TYC) president has worn many hats.
She is a former president of the Youth in Action, the national representative on the Commonwealth Youth Council and was named third best debater at the Tobago Day debate in 2019.
In 2014, Campbell placed sixth on the island in the Secondary Entrance Assessment examination and is the current youth assemblyman for the Roxborough/Delaford electoral district in the Tobago Youth Assembly. She is also a member of the vibrant Roxborough Police Youth Club.
Her participation in the Miss Tobago Heritage competition, she said, was long in coming.
“For the past decade, I have watched beauty pageants in awe hoping that one day I would get the courage to cross the stage,” Campbell told WMN.
“Specifically, the Miss Tobago Heritage Personality competition fascinated me because of its cultural backbone coupled with the fact that it doesn't promote superficiality as emphasis is not placed on physical attractiveness solely but also one's intelligence and talents.”
Having been actively involved in youth and community work for much of her adolescence, Campbell said she was encouraged to participate in the competition.
“People saw the queendom in me and so I grasped at the opportunity,” she joked.
For Campbell, beauty/talent pageants are not just about glitz and glamour but contribute to the development of women in a myriad of ways.
For example, she said participants learn discipline because they are expected to divide their time and efforts into practising for the different aspects of the competition.
“Admittedly, it can be very demanding so this, in turn, instils a sense of self-preservation into our young women.”
Secondly, she said pageants work as avenues for self-discovery as the preparation for the show often allows contestants to realise new things about themselves.
“For example, this pageant has taught me that there is, indeed, a more decorous side of Janae that isn't usually displayed. I realised I had the potential to be dainty but in practice my disposition is usually fierce. I also discovered that I'm fond of the performing arts.”
Campbell said pageants also offer unmatched opportunities for young women to develop themselves holistically by virtue of the rigorous training sessions leading up to the show.
Saying the contestants were taught valuable lessons that could be utilised in all walks of life, Campbell said some of their workshops dealt with anxiety management, internet etiquette, public speaking, financial management and dressing for success.
She said the lessons learnt from their floor training sessions, including appropriate posture when sitting, standing and walking will be embedded in her memory.
But the most obvious benefit, Campbell believes, is the fact that Tobago’s young women were exposed to the island’s rich culture.
“We left the pageant having acquired knowledge on our history so that we can all relay this information. This, in turn, keeps the culture alive.”
Campbell was elected TYC president on September 18, 2020, replacing Latoya Roberts-Thomas, who had held the position since 2017. She was recommended for the position by Roxborough Police Youth Club manager Collis Hazel.
She said she was not even aware that Hazel had held her in such high esteem.
“I am a very humble young lady and while I understand that I can advocate, I just did not think that he saw such leadership qualities in me to head the Tobago Youth Council considering the fact that I was just 18 at the time.”
The practising Seventh-Day Adventist said although she was apprehensive going into the election, she prayed about the move and resolved to “put my best foot forward and allow whatever is to happen to take place and hope for the best.”
Campbell said while she knew the council existed, she was not sufficiently aware of the breadth of its work. The former president’s report on the day of the election, she said, was an eye-opener.
“They did lobby for many things during their tenure. But this was not information that was necessarily published.”
Campbell, who was born in the United Kingdom, said she does not take her role lightly.
“I see my role as being someone of influence. I stand as the representative voice for youth on the island of Tobago and as a national of this twin-island nation. I also represent the voice of our youth on a national level. My aim is really to ensure that the views and concerns of our youth are adequately articulated in such a way that would stimulate positive action. I see myself as an agent for change.”
She believes her precocious nature as a child growing up in Roxborough helped prepare her for leadership roles.
“Throughout my primary and secondary school journey, I would lead on projects because I like to see things get done and in an efficient manner. I'm naturally pragmatic.”
But Campbell recalled her outspokenness did not always sit well with adults, including family members, who sometimes regarded her as rude.
“I have always been a valiant, liberal-minded child. But to me, I wasn’t insolent, I was greatly understood.”
Despite strong opposition from some teachers and family members, the former Bishop’s High School student said she remained true to her character.
“I am still the same opinionated and articulate young girl and this has fostered my development as a public speaker as I have always trained myself to speak my truth.”
On assuming office as TYC president, Campbell hit the ground running.
Addressing the needs of the destitute and other vulnerable groups in the society was high on her agenda.
The council led a hamper distribution initiative for needy families who were impacted by the public health measures to contain the spread of covid19. It also launched a food drive in various villages as a means of giving back to the less fortunate.
On International Youth Day, August 12, the council also distributed free seedlings in Scarborough to encourage people to get involved in agriculture.
Campbell observed, “I look at many impoverished societies and I feel like they are always disadvantaged in every situation and as a youth leader and somebody aspiring to be the change you want to see, you have to start with the weakest in the link because you are as strong as your weakest link.”
She said while poverty will always be a part of the societies, focus must be placed on initiatives that can be implemented to foster better relationships and create greater opportunities for those in impoverished circumstances to get help.
“I want to invoke a spirit of empathy, consideration and care in the members of my executive and the youth, generally, because many of us are spoilt. We are in our own bubble and although things may not be perfect, many of us still have clothes, shelter and basic necessities.”
Early in her tenure, Campbell organised training workshops to ensure that members were equipped with the necessary tools to lead.
“We just need to be clear in our mandate and we must have an action-driven team because, usually, when work is voluntary, people tend to become complacent.”
She was also keen on finding ways to acquire laptops and tablets for students who could not afford the devices to access the online curriculum, particularly those living in far-flung communities.
After the gruesome murder of Arima court clerk Andrea Bharatt in February, the council hosted a self-defence class for women and more recently, donated cases of bottled water to St Vincent and the Grenadines in the aftermath of the eruption of the La Soufriere volcano in April.
But like most organisations, Campbell said the council has not been insulated from the effects the pandemic.
“The council is trying it's best to stay afloat amidst this pandemic. We have been coping with the little resources that we have. It's been a challenge co-ordinating activities for youth virtually but we are trying the best that we can.”
She said even before the pandemic, the council was constrained financially.
“Long ago, the TYC received subventions. But today, we do not have the same privilege and so it is very difficult to run this council on volunteerism solely. Most times for these projects, we have to tap into our own pockets for these initiatives to be actualised.”
Campbell said while an action plan is in place for large projects, many of them cannot come to fruition with the council’s limited financial resources.
In light of the public health restrictions on gatherings, Campbell said the pandemic has also hindered the organisation’s ability to mobilise young people in a meaningful way.
She added many of the offerings in the action plan have been postponed due to this present climate making it extremely difficult to reach the young people.
Despite its challenges, Campbell said she is proud of the council’s work.
“Every project undertaken, has been a success and to us they all are accomplishments. The more we do, even amidst our financial and logistical constraints, prove our strength and commitment.”
Saying the council is lobbying for the reintroduction of its subvention, Campbell said emphasis is also being placed on generating income through fundraising ventures. The council is also hoping to bolster its presence nationally by airing its views on topics of national concern.
Through her involvement in the council and other groups, Campbell said she has developed a greater sense of purpose.
“I am thrilled by the thought of me making a difference in the Tobago space. Spreading positivity through my words, actions and deeds makes me feel empowered to continue striving for excellence. These organisations have simply put my life and purpose on this earth into perspective. I believe my higher calling is to be a catalyst for justice and change.”
Campbell, who will start medical school at UWI Mona campus, Jamaica, in the not-too-distant future, is hoping to become plastic surgeon.
She believes the biggest issue confronting young people on the island is employment opportunities.
“Many of the youths complain of a shrinked job market. They also convey concerns about being forsaken because they allegedly do not have the experience. But how do they get the experience if they have never been given the chance?”
Campbell added, “The sad reality is that Tobago is an island with limited opportunities. The job scope here reflects just a smidgen of what is offered abroad. To me the problem therein lies with the lack of job opportunities perpetuated by the shortage of lucrative industries. There is need for diversification.”
As TYC head, Campbell joins a long list of past presidents who ventured into politics. These include former chief secretaries Hochoy Charles and Kelvin Charles, Tobago West MP Shamfa Cudjoe, Progressive Democratic Patriots political leader Farley Augustine, former education secretary Huey Cadette.
So, has she considered following suit?
“For me, politics is something I once considered but after witnessing the condemnable behaviours that surround party politics, I have been discouraged. I will never say never but until my impetus is shifted, it's a no for me.”
Nevertheless, Campbell is pleased that the stage is set for Tobagonians to return to the polls after the passage of the Elections and Boundaries Commission Order in the Parliament last week.
The order proposes 15 seats in the upcoming THA election to break the unprecedented six-six deadlock between the PNM and PDP after the January 25 election.
“This election was long overdue as for far too long we have been left with an unconstituted assembly. I look forward to going back to the polls.”