Inspector Ian Charles speaks with from, left, Library Technician Casandra Henry, Jasmin Simmons Director, Public Library Division WPC Paula Herbert and Njemile Montes, Library technician at the Beetham Gardens Community Library.

While many people, unfortunately, associate crime, poverty, unemployment and other negative stereotypes with East Port-of-Spain, ten youths graduated with degrees from the University of the West Indies, St Augustine Campus this year and made their communities proud.

Two of the graduates are from Beetham Gardens: Isaiah Phillip—BSc Banking and Finance and Kareem Marcelle—Bachelor of Laws (LLB).

Another member of the community is a track athlete and road runner Samantha Shukla who has a Major in Psychology and a minor in Sport Management with a 3.81 GPA (Grade Point Average) at the undergraduate level at Wichita State University, Kansas, USA.

She is currently pursuing her Master in Education degree in the Sport Management programme at Wichita State University in Kansas and she is on her way to graduate in May 2021.

Pilar McShine and Kerron Browne were also part of the Success & Excellence Athletic Club led by Phillip Marcelle and they also grew up in Beetham Gardens. McShine lives in the US and Browne still lives in Beetham Gardens.

Esther Pope is studying at the UWI School of Medicine.

Wayne Jordan, a Medal of Merit Gold national awardee is the founder and principal of Each One Teach One and the All in One Child Development Centre in Beetham Gardens.

These are just some of the people who live or work in Beetham Gardens—their professions run from doctors, lawyers, teachers, police officers, clergy, civil servants, entrepreneurs, athletes, craftsmen, artistes and regular citizens.

The Beetham Gardens Community Library in conjunction with the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) said their collaborative strategies and programmes have been benefiting the Beetham community with the non-traditional learning and social interaction which occur at the facility.

Speaking at the library located at the IATF compound, Beetham Gardens, Library Assistant Njemile Montes said, “The Beetham Gardens Community Library is the second co-located library established by NALIS on February 22, 2019. The three co-located libraries are positioned in community centres. Since its inception, we’ve done many programmes and partnerships with the IATF officers, our immediate stakeholders as well as the Victim and Witness Support Unit.”

One of the major programmes focused on the challenges young male adults faced within the community throughout EPOS in January 2020.

“We also invited three schools; SERVOL Life Centre, Russell Latapy Secondary School, and Success Laventille Secondary School involving 75 males and a followup virtual programme was scheduled,” Montes said.

“There were a series of community walks, one was focused on Phase One and Two in Beetham Gardens where we interacted with many residents and listened to their concerns and what they wanted in their community from literacy, computer, sewing, art, hair, nails, cooking and art classes.”

Presently, there are no classes or programmes geared specifically for single mothers, however she said due to technology and the COVID-19 pandemic more courses and literature were converging online digitally and more readily available to residents.

Montes said pre-COVID-19 the library hosted a July-August 2019 children’s camp themed ‘Be a Buddy, not a bully’ with activities such as storytelling, games, and craft and the Beetham Police Youth Club exposed children to music, art, drama, speaking/oration, values education, and culinary skills.

She said there were many registration drives with the surrounding schools and there were storytelling sessions where they invited local authors to talk to the children. On Universal Children’s Day, in November 2019, the library held a concert for students of the Russell Latapy Secondary School, which had among the guest performers local Grammy Award nominee Stephen John.

Montes said the library added to the interventions that the community needed with capacity building and empowering residents to pass on the skills they learned with their resources and programmes.

NALIS—Library space has positive impact on the community

NALIS Director of Public Libraries Division Jasmin Simmons said the library adapted to COVID-19 by transferring its programmes online, its Heritage Library and Educational Library Services Division (ELSD) are on Facebook.

She said the Library provided e-books for borrowing and research databases via Ebsco Information Services, authors’ book talks, general information and educational services are all online.

Simmons said Facebook provided an online forum for spoken word competitions, ‘My COVID-19 Experience”, environmental topics, and character day where they asked people to dress as their favourite character whether local or foreign like anime.

She said the library was also ramping up online resources like Flipster and offering free digital access to popular magazines such as Entrepreneur, PC World, Beanz, Brainspace, Track & Field, Bicycling, Creative Beading, Woodcraft, Better Homes and Garden, Boy’s Life, Girl’s World, Vogue, Essence, O-The Oprah Magazine, Men’s Health, Diabetic Living and ID: Ideas & Discovery.

Simmons said the library also recently hosted a series of webinars with the Ministry of Education involving teachers and principals.

She said the literacy rate in the community was in the developing stage, that many children needed help in remedial reading while some also had special needs such as dyslexia, autism and ADHD.

Simmons said the library space had a positive impact on the community. Children do their research and homework there since it is a safe space as some home may be crowded. The library was a breath of fresh air and relaxing.

She said the library also catered to the elderly, differently-abled, wheelchair accessible, and the blind.

Simmons said the library worked with the T&T Blind Welfare Association (TTBWA) so that blind students can access school texts.

IATF bridging the disconnet between the police and community

Insp Ian Charles, from the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) said the unit was formed in 2004 and its initial purpose was to deal with the high incidents of criminal activity in EPOS and environs.

He said there were many patrols and intelligence-driven exercises which were fruitful up to a point, but there was always a disconnect between the communities and the T&T Police Service.

Charles said through the brainchild of former Insp Gordon Walcott the Hearts and Minds Foundation was formed initially with four officers and has since expanded to include more officers.

He said the unit had the blessing of former deputy commissioner Gilbert Reyes, former CoP Stephen Williams and former senior supt Carlton Alleyne.

Charles said the unit interacted with schools and various communities such as St Barbs, Soogrim Trace, Laventile, Morvant, Sea Lots and Beetham.

He said joint programmes were frequent between the unit, different NGOs and government organisations such as East Port-of-Spain Development Company, the Office of Law Enforcement Policy, Victim and Witness Support Unit, and Citizen Security Programme (CSP).

Charles said it was during one interaction with the CSP and the Hearts and Minds Foundation, a member of the unit EWPC Paula Herbert and Mtima Solwazi, then CSP member, came up with the idea of asking NALIS to have a library in Beetham Gardens in mid-2018.

He said one of his favourite programmes involved five schools in the area—Morvant Laventille, Malick, Russell Latapy, Success Laventille and South East Port-0f-Spain Secondary with 45 male students who received lectures on life skills.

Charles said it was a collaboration with Hearts and Minds, Victim and Witness Support Unit, NALIS and The T&T Prison Service, where a death row inmate gave his life story to the youths pleading with them not to follow his path or they will meet a similar fate on the gallows.