Ancilla Ashley Kirby, 31, is passionate about philanthropy, charity, politics and the empowerment of young women.
That passion was born when she worked in the Social Development Ministry from 2012 to 2017. There she interfaced with the public, working to get people grants, doing community outreach projects, and providing assistance to those in need. And it made her realise helping others was something she wanted to do with her life.
Her passion and hard work has led to her being shortlisted for two awards for the 26th Annual National Youth Awards hosted by the Ministry of Youth Development and National Service on October 2: Youth Activism/Service and the Communication and Media awards.
Kirby said it was a shock when she learned she was nominated and shortlisted because there are so many “outstanding young people” in TT.
“I don’t really have much resources to work with but there is a saying that you don’t have to do great things, but you can do small things in a great way.”
She said it is an amazing honour to be nominated and speculates that her work had a great impact on those who nominated her.
“I grew up in a very humble environment in an at-risk community, in Success Village, Laventille. As a young woman I would have encountered a lot of horrid circumstances that would have made me say I need to be the change that I want to see.
“Going to school there were murders, sometimes in front of your home or on the corner, young men just turning to a life of crime and dying. You talk to them and hope for the best but it doesn’t always work out. These things break my heart.”
She said some people assume all people from Laventille are illiterate, have no potential or drive and that upsets her.
“Yes, we have crime and things that occur could be off-putting, but we have good people from here and there are a lot of positives in Laventille that should be highlighted. This is something that I work towards. Honest to God, I don’t want to see our community having to go through this unnecessary stigmatisation. I just want Laventille to be a better place.”
Kirby has always been interested in studying history, law, politics, and anything she could learn to better herself and serve others, even screening to be a local government candidate in 2019.
“I follow a mantra: In order in find yourself, you must lose yourself in the service of others. That’s my philosophy and that’s how I intend to live my life.”
Kirby went through a lot of difficult times and is not prepared to see others go through the same things she did. She understands it is not only the government’s responsibility but NGOs, community-based organisations, corporate participation, and individuals also need to get involved.
She plans to work on environmental sustainability, creating jobs for today and the future, and public education which would allow people to express themselves clearly and effectively.
“People have to be educated in whichever way they feel comfortable with, communicated to in a way they don’t feel like they are being looked down upon, and in way they could feel love and appreciation.”
She said education could mean academics or trade skills, as long as people can achieve what they want and make a difference.
To achieve her goals, she intends to get into politics and eventually be a part of the United Nations.
Since philanthropy and charity work were things she wanted to do, Kirby searched for the resources and like-minded people to do it.
She has been a member of the Heliconia Foundation for Young Professionals since 2016 and was the deputy vice president for policy between 2018 and 2020. There, she engages in many activities such as organising symposiums, food and health drives, legal clinics and more.
As secretary for the Success Central Community Council, she is involved in community projects, beautifying the community, and assisting at homework centres. She is also part of the Youth Mobilisation Foundation.
Up to age 25 she was a part of the Laventille West People’s National Movement Youth League as a field officer, was once involved with the Laventille Servol Centre, and has worked with various councillors for Laventille.
In 2018, with the help of the Heliconia Foundation, she gathered her resources and donated Secondary Entrance Assessment packages to 12 children. Later that year she was nominated for a National Youth Award in Youth Activism.
“I didn’t really understand it would have made such a huge impact because I see people in the news who give 300 tablets or laptops, but the love and how they poured out their feelings meant a lot.”
In addition, over the years she has written many commentaries which she sends to local newspapers.
“I write a lot about empowering women, celebrating women, all tiers of development, championing causes for Bills to be passed so that we could be safe and so on.”
A few of her writings have been shared extensively over Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram.
Kirby graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history with a minor in social development policy and planning from the University of the West Indies (UWI) in 2014 and has been accepted to pursue law at the UWI, Cave Hill campus, Barbados.
“Law is a level I would like to understand because of a lot of things get lost in the system that we all take for granted. It will also strengthen my activism.
“When I got accepted to UWI in 2009, that was the route I was going to take but I couldn’t go to Barbados. I come from a single-parent home and my mother is not a well person so I needed to stick around with my mom for a while.”
Through distance learning, she also began a master’s degree in human and social services with a concentration in social policy planning and analysis with Walden University, Minnesota.
“I started in 2016 but I didn’t have the finances to finish fund that so I took a leave of absence, but I did a good bit of courses. I’m still there but I can’t complete it as yet.”
Before that, while attending St George's College, Barataria, Kirby got a scholarship to UWI Sixth Form School of Continuing Studies, now called UWI Open Campus, where she did five A-Level subjects and received an award for most outstanding student.
She also did numerous certificate programmes including integrated planning for climate change and biodiversity, advanced social psychology, knowledge management in government organisation, computer literacy, sustainable development, project stakeholder management, human resource management, critical thinking for self-development and much more.
She also hopes to do her doctorate in history.
Why all these studies? Because she has experienced discrimination and people’s prejudices, Kirby wants to be able to impart knowledge to future generations and give those in similar circumstances something to fall back on.
“The key to doing what I’m doing is the passion. I don’t get tired of doing it. I just look for other ways. You know how many times people tell me no? No, you can’t get into this. No, this job is not for you. But I have to push through because I know nothing would be handed to me. And in the process, I’m learning so much more.
“This is one of the things that has stirred up my activism. I’m really tired of the discrimination as a black person, being looked down on because I may not have the resources to do certain things, because of my home, because I live in Laventille, because I’m a woman. That’s why I try to push and say we could all do this if we work together.”
She said unity brings strength which is why she is so happy to have found like-minded people who understand where she comes from, her struggle and what she wants to do.
Prior to that she felt alone, unsafe, and did not feel like she had a space. Since then she has gained the strength to create her own space, to not compromise who she is for any reason, and hopes that, at the end of the day, even if she is not liked, she would have accomplished what she set out to do and be respected.