By Vanessa Thomas-Myers
Embassy Port of Spain faced a chilling reality in 2018: approximately 130 nationals of Trinidad and Tobago had embraced violent radicalization and left the country to engage in terrorist activities with ISIS, the highest per capita source of foreign terrorist fighters in the Western Hemisphere. In response, the embassy created SafeCommuniTT Sports Trinidad and Tobago to counter anti-social behavior with positive alternatives to radicalization.
In 2020, post partnered with the Can-Bou-Play Foundation, an organization of former and current Trinidad and Tobago national soccer players, to engage 40 participants—25 boys and 15 girls, ages 8 to 12—in a four-month after-school program under the SafeCommuniTT initiative. The participants came from underserved communities within the Diego Martin region, northwest of the capital of Port of Spain, which had supplied a significant number of foreign fighters. Can-Bou-Play focused on building soccer, frisbee, and cricket skills, mental wellness, and providing homework assistance for the students. In addition, the coaches offered parenting skills classes for parents.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Mission quickly adapted the program to a virtual environment. The embassy provided the students with tablets and wireless data packages to enable online schooling. For physical activity, live-stream modern dance and yoga instruction replaced team sports. Participants reported that yoga helped reduce anxiety, and dance kept them in touch with their friends.
Embassy Port of Spain’s ability to react to the pandemic ensured the students’ continued participation.
“The impact on the community and participants is transformative and incredibly positive in creating hope for a different future despite current circumstances,” said Can-Bou-Play Foundation Co-Founder Yohance Marshall.
There is still a tremendous amount of work needed to reach vulnerable youths in the community. Post is committed to continuing the SafeCommuniTT initiative while also extending it to the Venezuelan refugee community.
Vanessa Thomas-Myers is the administrative and sports coordinator in the public affairs section at Embassy Port of Spain.