"Your present situation is not your final destination."
This is one of the messages Caricom Youth Ambassador Samantha Rampersad wants young people to keep in mind as they navigate the challenges of life.
Rampersad, 25, took up the position on September 8 and will continue in the role until July 31, 2025. She said all her work will focus on youth and national development.
"I know this might sound very cliche, but helping people and trying to prepare a better world for the generations that come after me gives me a sense of belonging, happiness, and fulfilment.”
She said the world is not a safe place and the crime situation in TT was already bad. She believes if TT does not progress in preserving its culture, society and youth, who are the future leaders, it may end up in a similar situation to the conflict between Palestine and Israel, and that is not the kind of world she wants her nephew or her future children to live in.
“I see myself as being very fortunate and blessed to be born in TT, where we don't have those sorts of imminent attacks to worry about.
“I see the duty falling on me, because if we, as the young people of this generation, don't fix it, nobody else is going to do it. So the onus is on us.”
Rampersad said she has yet to be given guidelines as to her role as youth ambassador, but there were several projects she wanted to pursue and intended to pitch to Caricom.
Her main idea involves the use of seaweed, as most Caribbean islands have it. Its abundance means it could be a cost-effective way to benefit people and the environment. Seaweed could be used to create building blocks, fertilisers and recycling bins.
The idea for the blocks came about because she wanted to build a homework centre for Venezuelan migrants to access a stable and safe space for learning. However, the project was very expensive and there were few resources. She saw the idea of making blocks out of seaweed on social media, and thought it could be a solution to the problem.
She also noticed pollution is a big problem in TT, as there is always litter on beaches and rivers. She believes recycling bins made of seaweed and putting on beaches could help minimise the issue. And seaweed fertiliser could provide a clean and sustainable option for farmers as an alternative to chemicals that make their way into streams and rivers.
She said the project could be one to encourage Caribbean youth integration.
Over the years Rampersad has volunteered with governmental, non-governmental and UN agencies and so understands her purpose and the impact she could have on the world through simple projects.
In September of this year she was part of the UN Population Fund’s (UNFPA) Caribbean Forum on Population and Development in Antigua and Barbuda, where she discussed Caribbean population dynamics such as challenges with sexual health and reproductive rights, and accessing sexual health and reproductive information and services in the Caribbean.
She has been training with the UN Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) as a young peace-builder, and is considering how TT could provide practical support for people who want to leave a life of crime and gangs.
She said TT does not have proper programmes to reach people “on the ground” and give them the opportunity to leave their criminal lives behind: leaving a gang could be a death sentence, but there are no protective measures for young people who wanted to do so. She said on-the-job training or skills programmes are not enough, as if they leave, they would have no money or job to support themselves, and many could not get a job because of their history or home address.
She is also president and founder of United by Diversity, an organisation started in 2016 as a pageant project focusing on the holistic development of young people. She and her “pageant sisters” revitalised it in 2018 and have since run awareness programmes focusing on young people on the topics of agriculture, sexual health and reproductive rights, crime and gender-based violence, the use of social media and other topics youths may not want to ask their parents about.
In addition, she is the director of participation and youth adviser in the UNFPA Youth Advisory Group of TT, vice president of the Trinidad Youth Council, and co-founded the group Youths for Empowerment.
Advocacy in beauty
Rampersad’s advocacy started at 14. She just wanted the experience of being in a beauty pageant, so she entered the Miss Teen Beauty TT Pageant in 2012 and was first runner-up.
“But then I realised if you're doing pageantry, you really have an opportunity and a platform to reach other young girls like yourself, who are actually willing to listen to you.”
During a pre-university business management programme at UWI Roytec, she began speaking up on LGBTQIA+ rights, suicide prevention, and more.
But her official journey into activism began in 2016, when she participated in the Miss Teen Awareness TT Pageant and had to choose a project highlighting a societal issue in her community in Chaguanas.
"The reason I gravitated so much towards it was that, at that point in my life, I was searching for more. I wanted to really advocate, but advocate with a purpose.
“Growing up in an East Indian household and just seeing your neighbours and people in your community condone domestic violence as if it was nothing, just a part of life – it didn't sit well with me.
"And so when I joined this pageant, I was given the opportunity to speak about domestic violence. I researched it more, and that was really the building ground for me to speak on gender-based violence."
She was crowned the winner. She said the process showed her how far she could go with activism, which has had the biggest impact on her life so far.
Rampersad is in her final semester of a double major in political science and management studies at UWI, St Augustine.
She is hoping to do a masters in international relations, but still has to decide on a university. She said she sees herself working in the diplomatic and international relations fields. While monetary compensation is important, it is not the driving factor in what she does.
Rampersad said from a young age her parents taught her no matter how difficult things were, someone always had it worse, so she should always try her best to assist others. She said she grew up seeing her parents helping neighbours, family and friends, not just by giving them money or food, but listening to them or giving advice.
“So my parents had a fundamental part to play in the foundation of me. Just by living through that experience with them and seeing it, I would have learned that behaviour. I could say they provided the fertile ground for me to, like, plant my roots with activism and go ahead and spread my wings if I wanted to share by branches.”
She said her parents sacrificed a lot to provide for her and are very supportive, even though they do not fully understand all she does.
Positive through pain
Rampersad has had some painful and negative experiences in her young life. But instead of giving up on people or the world, she used them to propel her forward.
She recalled shopping with her mother and a friend in a Port of Spain fabric store when a man held her and tried to drag her into the back of a panel van. She also had some scary experiences while taking public transport, and was raped by someone she thought was her friend.
“Even now, every time I go into a taxi or maxi I’m always on fight-or-flight mode. You always have to be on the lookout for perpetrators. You never know who is going to touch you in a wrong way.”
Her experiences led to trust issues with herself and others. Even with loving parents, she kept her rape to herself, out of shame. She was depressed and wanted to give up. She often contemplated suicide, but never succumbed to her negative thoughts, as she wanted her nephew to have an aunt in whom he could confide.
It took two years before she could talk about her rape. She did so while attending the local leg of her first international pageant, Miss Supranational, in 2020. The pageant had a confessional segment in which the girls spoke about their traumas. She was not aware the organisers were going to release the video, which was how her family found out about the rape.
She was additionally traumatised, as people insisted she tell them about the experience, but she eventually dealt with her emotional damage.
On a positive note, after the video was released, women with similar experiences contacted her and she realised her story was helping others. She also realised how prevalent the sexual abuse of women and girls was in TT and the lifelong impact it had on its victims.
She saw how victims lived with guilt and fear and demonised themselves, and realised because they did not speak about their experiences, they were not aware they were not alone.
“All these things that happened to me is what really fuels my passion to do what I do. Now I can relate to a rape victim. I can sit down and I can truly understand your experience and we share each other's feelings.
“Sometimes we see situations happening to us and we ask God why. We question so much, and we blame Him for so much, but you really don’t understand how that one situation can be the foundation or extra push in a direction that God really wants you to go.”
Rampersad said her favourite quote is, "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams," by Eleanor Roosevelt, as it gives her comfort and helps her believe in herself.
She said as she grew up in a middle-class family, her dreams seemed impossible to achieve. While she did not become a princess and no longer wanted to be a lawyer, she has achieved many other dreams, including becoming an activist, being a part of the UN, attending university, travelling abroad and helping other young people.
“Life is not what happens to you but what you make out of it. It is never too late to start. Whatever your situation may be, understand that it is not your final destination. No matter how difficult your current predicament may be, you have the power and ability to live your dreams. Stay committed and disciplined with your goals and aspirations, and in all you do, believe in yourself – because if you don’t, you can’t expect others to believe in you.”