Violence, Literacy and Hope in Trinidad – Tobago

Violence, Literacy and Hope in Trinidad – Tobago

I was blessed to be able keynote again in Trinidad – Tobago (affectionately called TT by people who live in or are from Trinidad). I have developed a great admiration for the people of this small Caribbean nation. Before my keynote for the first national school violence conference in TT last year, I had the opportunity to conduct informal school security assessments in the Port of Spain and to meet with officials from the Ministry of Education. These visits gave me a much better idea of the way schools in the small Caribbean nation operate, how the schools achieve one of the world’s highest literacy rates, and the challenges the schools in this nation of 1.3 million people face. That night, I stayed up very late and dramatically changed the presentation I had planned to deliver. The site visits made me realize much of the information I had planned to present would be of little use to school and public safety officials. The CORE Foundation sponsored the conference and received excellent reviews on conference presentations and panel discussions. Before he conference was over, I was asked if I could return to keynote another conference. After the conference, I spent several days watching leatherback sea turtles nest in the Grande Riviere with my family and we had a wonderful experience. My family and I began to fall in love with the people and culture of Trinidad. Like many developing countries, TT has many opportunities to be a better place. However, I experienced a level of kindness, humble pride, and many people with a deep passion to affect positive change in their country’s schools.

The week before last, I received a short notice request to keynote a violence prevention conference that had been planned in response to a series of particularly brutal homicides. I had blocked the week off to work on our new textbook so my calendar was open. The CORE Foundation confirmed the booking that Friday for me to present the following Monday and Tuesday. This conference was not focused on school safety but on violence prevention in any setting. I decided to develop two brand new presentations on Saturday and fly to TT on Sunday. Fortunately, things worked out well and the conference was a success. The CORE Foundation has already asked me to do a live distance learning session to make it easier for people from both Trinidad and the separate island of Tobago to participate.

I not only had the chance to meet many caring and passionate people on this trip, but also had the good fortune to hear some excellent presenters from TT. I had my second chance to hear Dr. Anthony Watkins, a master storyteller and caring advocate for children and youth. I really enjoyed the privilege of listening to a dynamic and potent presentation by Gillian Wall from an organization called the Powerful Ladies of Trinidad – Tobago. Jillian made a passionate appeal to the audience – “Help us Rebuild the Village that used to Raise our Children.” I had the opportunity to spend time with some impressive police and security officers and learned fascinating background which helped me understand why some of the unique law enforcement tactical techniques have been developed. My fondness for TT has grown with each visit. My heart has been touched by so many wonderful people who have pride in the great goodness that exists in a country with some daunting challenges. Most importantly, I was blessed to have the chance to see the burning passion in the eyes of a diverse group of professionals who came from across the islands of Trinidad and Tobago to make their country an even better place.

Eight Victims Stabbed in Canadian School

Knife Stock Photo

Safe Havens International Stock Photo

School Violence in Canada

The attack occurred at Dunbarton High School. Like their U.S. counterparts, Canadian K12 schools have experienced significant problems with violence in recent decades. Canadian schools have experienced a number of shootings, edged weapons attacks and other acts of violence in relation to the nation’s population of approximately 36 million. With a population of 223 million people, acts of violence in U.S. schools, it is difficult to contrast American rates of school violence with countries that do not tally school homicide in the same manner as U.S. schools where school mandatory reporting of school homicide data has been in place since the late 1990’s.

School Violence Abroad

In our work in Canada, we have found that while the nation has lower per capita homicide rates overall than the United States, Canadian schools often face similar concerns relating to school violence, weapons incidents and gang activity. Safe Havens has been receiving an increasing number of requests for assistance from schools in other countries in the past two years.   Typically, our overseas clients have been concerned with school shootings, edged weapons assaults and acts of terrorism. While many Americans perceive mass casualty school attacks to be a problem unique to U.S. schools, our experience has been that school and public safety officials have been concerned about school weapons attacks in every country where we have worked.

School Violence in Trinidad

Trinidad school Violence

News headlines portray an epidemic of school violence in Trinidad. As with American media, alarmist and frightening reporting can make it difficult to determine the real extent of the problem of school violence. Safe Havens has been asked to help develop practical solutions to address school violence in Trinidad.

BUntitled CUntitled DUntitledI have the honor to present at a national conference on school violence in Trinidad this March.  The conference is being held in response to incidents of school violence in the small Caribbean nation.  In newspaper covers and television news stories provided by my client for background on the topic, I noted repeated references to an “epidemic” of school violence and headlines regarding gang activity in schools.  While the news stories detail recent school homicides, the focus of the reporting appears to center on a large number of very serious fights among groups of students as well as increasing gang activity in schools.  A number of these incidents involve groups of students who gang up and beat individual students severely.  There has been at least one similar type of attack on a school teacher.  Viral videos of these types of attacks have become increasingly more graphic, popular and apparently more frequent.

High Homicide Rate affects School Violence

With a per capita murder rate of 28.3 per hundred residents, Trinidad has been experiencing a stout
homicide rate in recent years.   Criminal gangs have often had no difficulty in obtaining semi-automatic
and even fully automatic weapons.  Special police units equipped with heavy body armor and
sub-machine guns patrol high crime areas and have had numerous gunfights with gang members.  It
should not be surprising that school violence would be an issue in schools serving these communities.
For contrast, the U.S. homicide rate typically runs between three and four victims  per hundred
thousand.

Contrast with schools in the U.S.

Most of the topics of interest to attendees parallel issues with school violence in the United States.  I will be addressing areas such as preventing school weapons assaults, effective school resource officer programs, student threat evaluation, techniques to prevent fights in schools, bullying prevention, student supervision practices, and effective emergency preparedness measures for school violence.  I have found past engagements in other countries to be an excellent learning opportunity.  Our analysts have learned valuable lessons working in Canada, Mexico, Honduras, Rwanda, Bolivia, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, France, Switzerland, Vietnam, the U.K. and other countries.  I am sure this experience will be no exception.

Travel, learn and share

I look forward to my visit to Trinidad and will post another blog to share what I learn during the trip.   When I was originally invited to present for the conference, I had to decline due to a previously scheduled trip to Argentina the same week.  I was very disappointed that I would not be able to present because my schedule was in conflict.  The conference organizers were willing to move the conference date so I could present.  I am grateful for their efforts to accommodate my schedule and will do my best to make their efforts worthwhile.  I also look forward to the challenges of trying to come up with success strategies to help make schools in Trinidad safer.  Every time we have the opportunity to work in another region of the world, we learn and gain a new perspective.  I feel truly blessed to have this opportunity to learn and to share a different perspective on school violence.