From time immemorial, The Children’s Ark has always been representative of refuge and safety from the onslaught of life’s most severe challenges.

Within T&T context––The Children’s Ark or TCA, the non-governmental, non-profit organisation and brainchild of Simone de la Bastide––has come to epitomise the harmonisation and amalgamation of skill, knowledge and technical expertise that are required to realise the most challenging humanitarian initiatives in our small, twin island nation.

As de la Bastide explained recently: “We don’t usually make cash donations. However, we do believe in giving generously in kind.”

Among many successful projects was the six-month venture that addressed child abduction and human trafficking back in 2015.

The accomplishment of that anti-trafficking effort led to the full participation of public sector entities including the Ministry of National Security (Counter-Trafficking Unit and Victim Support Unit), the Police Service, corporate society, and the advertising agencies of the private sector, which targeted over 600 schools, all ports of entry and the general public.

The momentum of this effort continued well into 2016.

Five years later, public sensitisation concerning the abduction and sexual violence against children remains permanently heightened thanks to the audacious efforts of The Children’s Ark and its team.

The anti-trafficking initiative also emboldened this NGO with additional inertia to tackle more challenges that continue to affect a wide spectrum of Trinidad and Tobago’s ‘at risk’, marginalised and challenged children.

Soon thereafter, The Children’s Ark was approached with another challenge.

In April of 2016, after operating for over 50 years from its inception after a polio epidemic in 1952, the Princess Elizabeth Centre, which always focused on assisting children with debilitating physical and mental conditions, reached a stage where it began to suffer unbearable hardship due to extensive flooding.

Fund-raising drives were initiated, but the small governmental subvention and trickling support required an intervention that needed to be both practical and timely.

This was when the Children’s Ark got involved.

Vice president of the Children’s Ark and head of Medcorp Dr Konshiek Achong Low was approached with this dilemma of the Princess Elizabeth Centre.

According to Achong Low, the centre provided between six to 12 life-changing surgeries per week in its prime. However, this magnanimous work was now severely hampered by the looming threat of recurring floods.

Doctors at the centre were able to attest that within the previous five years, from 2011 to 2016, the operating theatre of this facility had been inundated no less than three times.

Achong Low added: “If you lose all of your equipment in an operating theatre, as has been the case for the Princess Elizabeth Centre on many occasions, you are talking about spending a minimum of TT$200,000.”

Through his extensive experience with the design, construction and management of private health institutions, Achong Low advised that from a logistical standpoint: “Why not have the surgical suite and operating theatre on the same level so that you can facilitate the preparation and recovery of the patients more efficiently”.

This most-recent undertaking of the Ark was to oversee the expansion of the Princess Elizabeth Centre for Disabled Children, with a specific focus on the relocation and reconstruction of the operating theatre and surgical wards.

At a cost of over TT$2 million, it remains one of the most extensive infrastructural projects of the Children’s Ark to date.

Gratefully, funds were generously donated to TCA. The entire wing has been located on the second floor of an existing structure, which still had to be gutted and fitted with wards, doctors’ and nurses’ offices, prep areas, gas lines, electrical fittings, and a complete separation of sterile facilities for the carefully planned Operating Theatre.

Both de la Bastide and Achong Low, in their respective capacities as president and vice president of the Children’s Ark, along with the dedicated Board of TCA remain proud and deeply gratified that one of the greatest benefits of this new and modern expansion will be the capacity to also accommodate family members, so that the children will never be separated from their loved ones as they undergo the preparation and recovery from the surgery.

Although The Children’s Ark has not been in the spotlight in recent years, this does not mean that its philanthropic efforts have decelerated.

As a matter of fact, over the past four years the drive and momentum that the organisation started with in 2013 has remained consistently robust and unwavering.

Moreover, one significant outcome of the many efforts of this NGO has been the reinforcement of an unshakeable and impeccable reputation for efficiency, transparency and accountability.

As president Simone de la Bastide affirms: “We no longer seek projects, projects now seek us”.

The scope of such initiatives has now reached an international scale with financial contributions and recognition.

The counter-trafficking initiative led to subsequent activities with CARIFORUM from Caricom, the University of the West Indies’ Law School, Families Across Borders from the United Kingdom and other entities.

Above all, the name of The Children’s Ark, thanks to the vision and tireless efforts of its board members, has now become synonymous with realising the impossible.

Over the past five years this organisation has also overseen the creation of reading rooms in the Port-of-Spain State Prison, where 14 colonial death row cells were demolished by the inmates to make room for the library, in which inmates may also interact with their family members through reading.

Plans are also afoot to create a similar facility for the Women’s Prison in Arouca, in partnership with the T&T Prison Service and Debbie Jacob.

Next year should also see the collaboration with Promise House, the brainchild of Dr Jackie Sabga.

This is a state-of-the-art hospice for children afflicted with cancer, to be situated in the vicinity of Mount St Benedict, which The Children’s Ark helped to facilitate.

Despite the tumultuous challenges of 2020 and the years ahead, the dedication and focus of the Board of the Children’s Ark shows absolutely no sign of slowing down.

The Directors are Simone de la Bastide, Dr Kongshiek Achong Low, former chief justice Michael de la Bastide, Justice Kathy-Ann Waterman, Carolyn Hart, Dr Jean Ramjohn Richards, April Bermudez, Vicki Assevero Mottley, former Senator Danny Montano, Patt Christopher Detje and Dhisha Moorjani.

The work of TCA is not done to enrich its members, but it is performed out of a genuine need to make a difference in the lives of the challenged, marginalised and ‘at risk’ youth and to create a more balanced Trinidad and Tobago.

David Cave is a teacher, Adjunct Lecturer, UWI, freelance writer (features, art, history and criticism)