You’ll find answers to all of these questions and many more by reading comments from Faculty of Social Sciences interns on this blog. Students posted all around the world will share their experience, challenges and success stories with readers. Please visit this blog regularly to find out about their adventures!
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Max, International Development and Globalization, Mines Action Canada, Trinidad and Tobago Women's Institute for Alternative Development, Disarmament Program, Support Officer
When most Canadians think of the Caribbean, they might picture the white sandy beaches home to all-inclusive resorts that are flooded by cruise ship-loads of tourists. Trinidad is admittedly not this. On the surface, Trinidad is heavily industrial, and at times might feel overwhelming from the staggering tropical heat, the incessant traffic and seemingly non-stop noise. Only a few weeks into my stay however, I began to get an immense appreciation for the passion and pride of the people, the natural beauty, and the fascinating cultural landscape of this twin island republic.
I chose Trinidad and Tobago, because of how little most people (including myself) know/knew about it. Many would be surprised to find out about the significant cultural and ethnic diversity here as a direct result of the country’s complicated colonial past. Trinidad and Tobago was colonized at one point by nearly every major colonial power. As a result, a wide array of different religions, ethnicities, and cultural traditions are represented here. Trinidad and Tobago’s carnival, one of the island’s most acclaimed celebrations, is a perfect example of this blend of cultures and traditions.
When I first got here, people were very eager to tell me how visibly other cultures are represented here, and how commonplace it is for people to celebrate each other’s religious holidays/traditions, and even pray at each other’s places of worship; something which I found very interesting given how little some people interact with people of different cultures back in Canada.
Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival is easily one of the island’s biggest events of the whole year. When I first arrived, everyone told me that I picked
the best time of year to visit. Carnival season starts right after Christmas, and it’s said that during the year, you’re either celebrating it, or reminiscing about how good the previous year’s festivities were. I recently participated in J’ouvert, Carnival’s opening celebrations that begin around 4 A.M. which involves parading through the streets covering yourself in mud and paint until the sun comes up. This was truly an experience I will never forget, and it was incredible to witness the energy and excitement as the streets come alive during this time.
Trinidad and Tobago is seen both as developed and developing at the same time. The country has the third highest GDP per capita in North America, thanks to a well-developed oil and natural gas industry. However, in recent years due to the decline in oil prices, and a host of other factors, the economy has seen relatively little growth. As with many countries, this inequality of income can be drastic and very visible. There are many neighbourhoods here that host large mansions and driveways full of Porsches, BMWs and Mercedes, while only a few blocks over, there are single-room wooden shacks with tin roofs.
This duality of development can lead to logistical challenges as well. I recently had a meeting with the High Commission of Canada where they told me that due to T&T not being on the list of ODA countries, they are unable to provide funding directly for local initiatives, even in areas that may not be getting adequate funding from the local government. This is especially challenging in parts of the country that are more susceptible to natural disasters and severe flooding.
I am here as an intern with the Women’s Institute for Alternative Development (WINAD), working as a Disarmament Program Support Officer. Although WINAD is a relatively small NGO, their impact is comparatively large. When I am out in public with my supervisor, I am always surprised with how many people recognize her and commend her for the work that she is doing.
Already at the halfway point, I am excited to continue seeing different parts of the island, and learn more about the unique cultural experiences Trinidad and Tobago has to offer. When I first arrived, it felt like I was taking a big step into the unknown. It’s true that there are always challenges when you enter a new environment; however, I am grateful to have been welcomed graciously into Trini life by a caring and thoughtful group of people.