The I Am ME program is returning to Trinidad but on a much larger scale than ever before. The brainchild of T&T-born Dr. Marielle Barrow, the fifth edition of the program aims to train 200 at-risk youth, ages 16 to 32, in fashion, leadership and entrepreneurship and assist them in starting businesses.
Barrow said fashion was chosen because it is a practical skill, which can run the gamut from grass-roots to high art. “We felt fashion was a way for young people to understand themselves better and represent themselves in more meaningful ways. We’re thinking about their presentation in what they wear and how they dress says about them and what they want it to say. It helps them in terms of introspection, creating a new vision and shifting their perspective of themselves.”
Barrow also hopes the program will shift the perception of fashion and those who are involved in it. “It’s not just about what you wear or looking cute, and it’s not just for women. There are many aspects to the fashion industry, for example, one of the streams they can specialize in is event management and visual merchandising, and we take this seriously as it is required for an effective industry. We definitely want men interested in the program, and we can’t neglect the fact that a lot of the major fashion designers in the world are men, even though we may be uneducated about it here.”
Barrow said Caribbean InTransit, the non-profit she started in 1996, will provide support in areas like marketing and accounting because those are some of the most difficult areas for small and young businesses to maintain. The organization also plans to seek accreditation through the National Training Agency, so that young people who go through the program gain a qualification. Previous editions of the program have been carried out in T&T, Jamaica and Haiti, working with different communities, including University and high school students and people living with HIV/AIDS.
The two-year program involves three six-month cohorts, where young people from Port of Spain and environs, including Cocorite, Laventille, Morvant, St. James, St. Ann’s and Belmont will be trained in three Modules: Fashion, Leadership and Entrepreneurship. Following the training, the program will partner with different institutions to do incubations and support. “A big part of this is that they get access to loans to build their businesses and that’s major, because so many young people that can’t do that, because it involves writing a business plan, etc., and they don’t have that training, so we really feel the program is preparing them for the reality of a business and what is required to make it work.” Barrow said Caribbean InTransit will help those youth who are not successful in the program to find employment, as not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur.
Barrow said after the initial two years, the aim is to expand the program to different areas of T&T, but currently they are unable to address the entire country. “It is difficult for youth to travel long distances for training and we do not want them to have to deal with undue burden in this regard. We would have to gain access to facilities in different areas in order for us to offer the program in these areas.”
She said Caribbean InTransit is invested in the growth and development of young people so they can change their communities. “We don’t want the youth to be singled out and ostracized, rather than recognized as someone who’s doing something with themselves. We’re therefore proud to have involved the communities, in that any individual who comes into the program has to give us the names of three to five persons, family or community members, who will support them and engage with the program at various junctures.” Barrow said this ensures accountability, educates the community about what the young person is doing, and hopefully will lessen the rate of people dropping out of the program. She said that they are looking for support and funding to do a childcare program, as they realize that some of the young people may have children.
The program has been developed in conjunction with the Inter-American Development Bank and will be partnering with UTT, the Citizen Security Programme (CSP) – Trinidad, the National Integrated Business Incubator System (IBIS) and the Art Therapy Association of Trinidad & Tobago. It is also recruiting qualified instructors, volunteers and partners. “You can become a mentor, a facilitator, you might want to offer a session for the Life Skills component, etc. We also take on volunteers who would assist in recruiting and different aspects of the programming.”
To business people and others who are interested in volunteering in the program, Barrow said this was an opportunity for them to tap into some real talent. “We have a society that emphasizes seniority and we respect our elders and seek advice from them in every way, but we also recognize that you can learn so much from youth. We want it to be an exchange, so this is an opportunity not just for people in the industry but entrepreneurs, business people, etc., to give back to our society, and the change they want to see in our society, that affects their very businesses, it starts here.”
Barrow said she would tell potential applicants that this is an opportunity for them to be respected, not only by others in their community, but by themselves. “This is an opportunity for them to express themselves creatively, and I think there are a lot of creative youth in T&T with not enough outlets for them to really develop themselves in that direction. It’s also an opportunity for honest and fulfilling work.” Young people can fill out the application form online or in person at upcoming roadshows. There will also be video pitch training sessions where they will learn how to structure a video to further inform the organization about who they are.
She said the program is really about changing the mindsets about fashion and the fashion industry and what it involves, and “how people can really use this as a way to change their communities and their ability to earn a living for themselves. We do know that change can be well represented, documented, understood and experienced through fashion.”
For more information, go to http://www.caribbeanintransit.com or find This Is ME on Facebook.