Wednesday, June 19, 2013

VOLUNTEER ESSENTAILS #1: Hope -- A short story...

Once when Gail was very young she got left behind in church. Because she was so small and her brown coat camouflaged with the scores-old bricks on the wall, no one noticed she was alone.

When all the lights went off and the last patter of a lay-man's footsteps was heard, Gail took one of the slender, white prayer candles from the holder and pushed a 20 pence through the donation slot underneath it. She walked up to the altar, dragged one of the altar-boys' chairs, placed it against the wall, and climbed up onto it. Digging her shiny flats into its blue velvet seat cushion she tiptoed to reach a red vase attached to the wall. She touched the tip of her candle to the flickering yellow light inside of the vase. Soon the flicker grew.

Holding her newly-lit candle tight in her hands, Gail bent her knees and snuggled her rear end into the velvet. There she sat for 15 minutes staring at the flame burning relentlessly, watching the blackened wax crawl down the smooth white sides of the candle. She held the candle at an angle so that the flame arced and its tip became sharper.

It looked like a gorgeous butterfly with wings of flames, Gail thought.

Mesmerised and inspired by what she saw, Gail promised herself then and there that she would live her life like a butterfly with wings of fire. Seconds later her mother came rushing in, huffing and panting, and apologising.


Gail decided to walk home from her friend's house instead of taking the bus. It was after 10pm and the cold air tickled the parts of her skin that were naked. But she was never afraid of the night and never lamented the cold, or the weather in general. Her walk was always almost a skip, her arches high because she used her toes so much when she walked. She was thinking about what a wonderful evening she had with her friends, and celebrating the tastes left in her mouth from the smiling potatoes and the infused spices in the salmon. Every separate taste that she could identify, bitter or sweet, was a gift that reminded her of the joys of friendship, of feeding each other with food and with love.

Gail felt a sharp blow to her back. A skinny, small girl had collided with run into her and for a second, looked into Gail's eyes until she caught her feet and continued running. The brief gaze exposed Gail to the substantive emptiness that gaped from the girl's dilated pupils and the dying flame on her broken wings. No one was chasing the girl, but she was running from something and Gail had to find out what that was. So she ran after her.

'Stop running. What's wrong. I can help you,' cried Gail, who was getting further and further away from her home. But the girl's knees clashed and trembled as she threw her feet as far as her stride could take them. Gail's chest and thighs started to burn and her breath shortened to a wheeze. Despite the disturbing sound she made when she fought with the air for oxygen, she pulled her body forward with even more haste, the heat from the fire in her wings her fuel. 

Before crossing the bridge that would take them into the next town, the girl stopped running and turned to face Gail.

'Why are you following me? Leave me alone,' she said.

'Because I know something is wrong and I want to help you.' Gail stepped closer to the girl and put her hand on her shoulder -- when two flames touched they became equally bright, she believed. 'Why are you running and where are you running to?'

'Away. Away, away, away, away,' said the girl.

With every away here eyes changed shape, from constricted fear, to reddened boldness, to short glimmers of a dilated plea for something to run to. Gail looked straight into those eyes like spinning marbles and searched for any clues.

'Whatever it is, I promise you everything will be ok. Don't run, just let me help you. Talk to me.'

Without any resistance from the girl, Gail wrapped her arms around her bony shoulders and pulled her head into her chest, stoking her flame meanwhile. The sound of their synced heartbeats in the silent night was interrupted by the girl's grated voice as she pushed herself away from Gail's hug.

'I have to go back, to get something, but meet me here tomorrow night. I want you to help me, but not tonight. I need one more night.' And just like that Grace completely let go and allowed the girl to run away.


The following night Gail carried her warmest clothes, some dinner and a blanket and waited. The darkness thickened and the number of cars and pedestrians decreased until there were none. She picked a soft patch of earth to sit down on and covered herself with her blanket, holding her eyes open and standing up for a few seconds every time she felt herself falling asleep. The girl never came.

The sun came up, though hidden by an unbroken layer of clouds. Gail stayed there all day looking left and then right like she was watching a never-ending tennis match, anticipating the arrival of the girl. She remembered the girl's olive skin and round cheeks, and the faint semblance of a smile that though negligible, held the beauty of a year's worth of sunshine. She couldn't wait to hold her in her arms again, squeeze the back of her tense neck, kiss her forehead and settle her flame. Gail stayed there for three straight days waiting, standing up, while people passed, greeting them and asking them if they had seen a girl of that description. But no one had. Fewer and fewer people responded as Gail's body odour grew pungent and saturated the air around her. Many crossed the road to avoid going too close to her, or looking at her in her soiled face that was starting to break out. Some threw coins at her and when she followed behind them to give back the coins, to tell them that she didn't need money, that she was just waiting for a sweet little girl, they hastened their steps and closed their ears.

Late into the third night Gail was flexing her feet that stuck out from under the blanket and was identifying all of the parts of her body that ached. She stretched and rubbed them one by one, caring for the tissues, limited in their stamina, always ready to give up before the thought even crossed her mind. Her stomach rumbled so often it sounded like it was humming a long, sad song. Her temples tapped out the slow beat of her heart like they were reminding her of her thirst, hunger, and impending surrender.

For a second Gail let her mind roam and it came back with a heap of negative propositions. The girl will never come. What if she were dead? What if she lied to Gail? Not everyone can be helped. Not everyone can be saved. Some people will always be hopeless. And for the first time Gail's wings of fire flickered so violently they almost outed.

'What brings you to live on the street? You're a new one aren't you? You look like your wounds are very fresh. Let me tell you, I've been homeless for eight years now, so if you have any questions shoot them my way,' a man said to Gail as he put down his cardboard box next to where she was sitting.

'I have a home. I'm here because I'm waiting on a sweet little girl who needs me and if I sleep or go home she might come and I won't be here to take her into my arms. She said she wants me to help her. But maybe she didn't. Maybe she prefers to be hopeless. Perhaps I should head home and accept the fact that not everyone wants to be a butterfly with wings of fire.' Gail felt uncomfortable when she dropped her chin and shoulders, it took effort to do so as she had no muscle memory of this action of surrender.

The man raised his arm and the layers of cloth fell to reveal his thick fingers with blackened nails. He rested his heavy hand on her shoulder, and said, 'Would you know how to hope if you never saw what it looked like? Not everyone sees or recognises it, so they have no way of imagining it. But if you did all you could to reveal it to her, she will come back.'

Gail's wings of fire blazed again, the tips reaching up towards the top of the tree. She stood up, stretched her arms out and closed her eyes. When she opened them again the girl was standing right in front of her, a smile an inch wider than the one Gail saw that first night. She helped Gail pick up and fold her blanket then put her hand into Gail's, ready to be taken wherever, to be helped in whichever way.

The man didn't say anything, he just nodded and smiled and watched as they walked away, one with large, fiery wings, and the other with bright orange wings growing steadily with every step forward.   

Written by Bianca Alice Walker

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Giving Beyond The Holidays . . . Giving with a Purpose!

'Ah cud get a toy for meh neice? She 2, she small,' begged a lady with shiny, brown weave behind blue steel glasses.
It was Christmas Day and I was handing out donated presents to people who couldn't afford the calibre of Christmas most of us have. They left the valleys and jagged pathways around their houses to collect a free pastel, spoon of pelau and a gift.
The gifts we were giving out were so limited we were unable to give to anyone without the child present. And this lady didn't bring her niece.
'I can't give you a gift, but I can give you this book. It's for older children but you can read it to your niece,' I told her, looking over the top of her glasses to her foggy irises.
Though I felt bad at first that her niece would go without, I concluded that the book was an even better gift than a plastic dolly. Because the lady would have to spend time with the niece, to read to her. That way she would be nuturing her mind, and her trust that there are grown ups that care about her. The little girl will look up to her aunt and follow the movements of her mouth, learning words she might use in a few years in an essay that will earn her a great grade. She will sit among her peers and tell them stories about Sundays by Tantie reading and listening, and they may look at her confused--because her friends were always left unattended, with a plastic dolly.
It's not always like this. Some economically poor families have amazingly strong foundations, caring parents and produce model citizens. But statistics tell us that that is the minority, the exception.
As we move forward into 2012 VCTT would like to invite everyone to reflect on 'how do I give back?' Do you simply donate $5 online without knowing how it is used, or hand a vagrant a plate of food without ensuring he eats it, or send a hamper to a family without visiting them to see if they may need more than just cans of food?
Let us reach out our hands with a purpose. Let us not waste the opportunities to revolutionise society from the bottom up by focusing our volunteer efforts where they need be.
This mentality is engrained in VCTT volunteers and is part of its mission. Become part of the culture of volunteerism, and give with a purpose. Happy 2012!

Thursday, August 11, 2011



You drive into the entrance where the buildings separate into a wide road. Clothes are hanging on lines draped across balconies. Everything; refrigerators, bicycles, children’s toys, and old furniture are stuffed into the balcony corners and in some instances do not leave any room for people.  An extended family of Chinese folk gather around a small portable stove and share noodles out to the kids who sit quietly, whispering in Chinese. A group of teenagers walks by your car with phones blasting hip hop and dancehall tunes, and if they are wearing jeans, they drag on the ground as they walk. If they are wearing sweats, the hoods of their sweaters are over their heads. One teen seems to lead the pack. They are all pointing and plotting, playing some sort of hide and seek game, or catch.

You keep driving, past the Audi with the smashed windshield, the black plastic bag taped to it blowing in the wind. The wind picks up the dirt, it swells and prances across the front of your car. You squeeze into the last spot available, and try to ignore the stares from the overweight woman, sitting outside her ground floor flat with a cigarette in her mouth and a bottle of whiskey.

It is flat number 34, on the second floor, the numbering makes no sense. You ring the bell and three people answer it, one in the foreground, and two in the background. They shout at you to tell them your name, like they never expected you, like they forgot. After a few minutes the biggest voice buzzes you in. On opening the door the flies from the garbage bin jump at you and threaten to get lost in your nose or ear holes. You push them out of the way with your waving hands.

You are greeted by a dark lady, with wide hips and a round nose. She looks at you up and down behind the door that she doesn’t fully open, and then shoves a skinny boy in front of her.

‘Here yuh go, good luck with this one, he is good for nothing,’ she says, slamming the door behind him.

‘Where we going,’ asks the boy, whose cap is low on his forehead, blocking out his eyes. You take him to your car, he bangs the door shut and slumps down in the passenger seat. His sweater raises up to reveal his green-striped shorts underneath his sweat pants. He fiddles with the radio, but finds nothing he likes, so turns on the music on his phone and puts in his earphones. You reconsider taking him to a movie. You were going to see an action film, but he probably watches those everyday as he sits about waiting for the afternoon when he could sit about outside, with the other sit-abouts.

You instead take him back to your flat, brushing aside the niggling worry about your safety. You try to ask him about school, but he grunts and says, ‘I don’t do school man, education is anarchy’. You ask him what he likes to do and he says, ‘Whateva fam, fun tings’. He doesn’t look at you when he answers, but his head is buried in his blackberry, which constantly flashes red at the top right corner.

That was your first day of being a mentor, you had to pry at him to let him open up to you, but he wasn’t interested and asked to leave early. The second time he told you about his friends thinking he was weak for letting you take him around like a child. The third time he didn’t turn up. But you keep trying, coming up with things to do together so that you can connect. You take him to a museum and talk him through the history of England, but he drags his feet and says, ‘Them man had nuffin’ and come Africa take everyfin’ and make black people work for dem. This nation built on the backs of blacks fam, believe it’.

One day you agree to take him to a pub to watch a football game together. He curses at the screen when his team loses. You don’t know what to do anymore because it seems you aren’t getting anywhere with him. He is aggressive, distant, and disinterested. But one day, while you are searching your brain for something to tell him, he says something out of the ordinary.

‘Mate, I proper appreciates you spending time wif me, yeah. I don’t show it nah, but I see you try hard wif me,’ he says as he opens his arms to give you a hug, with a pat on the back, ‘nobody see me givin’ hugs, so I mean this, yeah.’ That is a turning point, after which he smiles more, and opens up more. He even tells you about his dysfunctional family and the 20 children that his father has with six different women and that his father breeds and leaves, that his mother is on benefits and so are his teenage sisters, two of which also have babies.

Then one day, you are both at your apartment and you are teaching him how to cook curry chicken. He seems fidgety, and constantly leaves the room to answer the phone. You sneak up close to the door to hear his conversation. His uses slang that you can’t really comprehend but you pick up pieces of conversation.

‘Bruv don’t do it. I tell you man, not worth it…No I ain’t turn a pussy, I tell you gone get jail time fam, that ain’t cool…Yea Bryon, Jagger and dem goin’ hard wif dis but it will end sour bruv, I know it..Come on fam, don’t get involved…’

He comes back into the kitchen and tells you to turn on the news. There are riots in London, in areas just 10 minutes away from yours. Scores of teenagers with bandanas covering their faces and hoods over their heads are throwing things at the police, and torching cars, and blowing up dustbins, and cursing at the people around. It is happening all over London, in some areas that are usually quiet, and kept clean. Everyone is panicking because they don’t know what will happen next, and if there is something bigger behind it. Large portions of buildings are on fire, probably the biggest fires you have ever seen. The reporters and interviewees are calling it ‘sheer criminality’ of majority young black males who are bored and reckless. You look at him sitting on your couch, biting his nails, and shaking his head. He sees you watching him.

‘I know what you tink, yeah, my friends in that, yeah they are, I told them don’t get involved, but they say the police don’t respect them. I would be there now yeah, if this was two months ago. But when them man talk this way, I just shake my head.’

He doesn’t have on a sweater, but a neatly ironed striped polo. He sits upright on the couch, and you notice he speaks better. Since you first met him, he’s showed kindness, and a willingness to learn and change. He is full of passion and talent, but doesn’t know where to direct it. You showed him avenues, and he is now exploring them. Some days he calls you to hang out even though it isn’t your day for mentoring. A few days ago he went to the job center and found a job in a supermarket. It is only the start, but he would be free to continue, because he didn’t take part in the riots, because you were there for him, to change his life just a little. To open his eyes to the kindness that is available to him, so that he does not have to lash out at society. He is now one less young person lost to the grapples of the societal gutter. You thought you were simply offering your time, but instead you offered him a new life. 

At VCTT, we believe that if you volunteer today, you WILL change tomorrow. When you see things like the London riots, the first thing you should think is not ‘how can we get rid of these scums of society’ but ‘what can I do to HELP misled youth, so that they can voice their struggles in a non-violent way?’ Start now, change your perspective, lend a hand, change a life. 

*Please note: All images are taking off the internet, they are not originals of the blogger

Sunday, July 10, 2011


VCTT would like to welcome to its blog scene bloggers Brendon J. O'Brien and Bianca Alice Walker.

With his blog, Volunteering 101, Brendon brings to the blog a clear understanding of what volunteerism is and how VCTT will nurture a deep and pervasive culture of volunteerism in Trinidad and Tobago and across the Caribbean. He will follow the trends in the volunteer sector in Trinidad as well as globally and bring light to the cobwebbed corners of our nations and others where people are in need of a hand they could reach. 

In her blog, When I Was A Volunteer, Bianca takes us into the world of a volunteer, where stereotypes are but thick, opaque veils covering reality. She talks of her experience as a volunteer, and a witness to the need of others, and the joy that it brings to be able to help. 

Follow our blog, but more importantly become an advocate for the cause of making volunteerism the second language of Trinidad and Tobago. Post your questions, thoughts, and even your own experiences as a volunteer. We welcome also any bloggers that would like to write for us. VCTT is a community that is growing, encompassing all those who are proponents of giving freely and selflessly. The newest member of VCTT is you, and we couldn't be more pleased. 


by Brendon O'Brien

In December of 2007, Chairperson of the Network of NGOs for the Advancement of Women in Trinidad & Tobago, Hazel Brown, made a call for a national volunteer center to regularize the volunteer sector here (yes, it's a sector), both for those who need the help and those who want to help. And in February of 2011, a group of eager young people, volunteers themselves, answered the call by deciding to make that center themselves. Which brings you here, to the blog of the Volunteer Center of Trinidad & Tobago.

So, just in case you're wondering who we (VCTT) are: we're a group of socially conscious young adults that think that we can change our nation, and maybe even the world, one cause and one volunteer (that actually refers to you) at a time. We come from all different backgrounds and sectors of the society, and all care about a large group of causes, but we all have one thing in common – we think that concerned and compassionate people can use their talents to make their world better. So we're giving anyone else who believes that a chance to be a part of it!

It's pretty easy actually. We'll provide you with the information of all the people who want your help and can use your talents, and you get to choose where you want to lend your hand.

But we also think that you deserve to know a little more about what volunteerism is, in theory and practice. This blog,Volunteerism 101 is sort of the theory component, which means that if you stay tuned you'll get to hear a little more about what it means to be a volunteer, and what are some of the great things that people are doing to help others in Trinidad & Tobago, and everywhere in the world. You'll learn a little more about how volunteerism helps fix the bigger picture about your society, and how people have benefited from the time they gave freely, and you'll even hear some of the testimonies of other volunteers here in Trinidad & Tobago.

We here at the Volunteer Center want you to learn the benefits of helping others, and be a part of the culture of compassion that we want to build in Trinidad & Tobago, and figure out for yourself what part you want to play in it all. So this is an invitation to you to stick around and learn what it's all about, on Volunteerism 101.


by Bianca Alice Walker

'So do you have any family in Houston?' I asked him.Cedric didn't answer. He didn't even elevate his eyes to look in my direction. He continued to stare at the grass though he showed no fascination with it. His right leg flopped over his left like a thick, rotten branch. Nothing happened to the blade of grass he fixed his eyes on, and neither was there movement by him or me for at least 20 seconds.

'He doesn't have family, they died in a car accident,' my friend whispered to me, her eyes confirming the grave unsuitability and potential impact of my opening question. For a moment I stared at the same blade of grass because my heart sank as low as his, but I was determined to make him smile.

Cedric is one of many homeless people that led a normal, successful life, until a traumatic turn of events shattered his world, and their minds-irreversibly.Cedric was a Chemistry professor with a beautiful wife and children. One day he got into his car with his entire family, unaware that later that day he would be the only one to get out of the car, alive. He was driving.That day he lost his family, his sanity and would soon lose his job. 

Cedric is now homeless and visits the park below the highway every Sunday, where he sits with his legs crossed, staring at the grass, eating the food that a few volunteers so kindly made for him.What can be more startling, more heart wrenching, more mind boggling, more devastating, and more touching than this story? 

If I hadn't had the opportunity to volunteer to serve food to the homeless, I would continue to live my life in scorn of the dirty man lying on the pavement, chatting an incomprehensible chatter to himself.

In America there were a bevy of opportunities to volunteer, and tons of organisations that helped you through every step.In Trinidad, there's VCTT. Don't stay ignorant to the trials of others and don't keep your hands to yourself. Stretch them out to others. Become a volunteer or member of VCTT.