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Call of the Caribbean: Towards AIDS Competence in Trinidad and Tobago

The beginnings:

It was one of the most quickly organized visits. In a week, we had decided the itinerary for travel, got a visa, and I was on my way to Trinidad and Tobago. For from 4 to 7 July 2011, the Constellation will introduce the AIDS Competence Process (ACP) to organisations and communities in Trinidad and Tobago. Michael Mc Garrell, Autry Haynes, and me were the three facilitators for this event.

We had a preparatory meeting on the 3 July 2011, going over the entire four day program and dividing the facilitation roles between the three of us. Michael quickly put up a succinct blog on our Ning site and it was good for me to see the documentation rearing to go. So much so, I commented that anyone else starting a learning event will have half their work already by reading up what and how we did this event. But specially for me it was a real treat to work with two lovely persons, Autry and Michael. Bonus  was I was learning a lot about this part of the world especially Guyana, and loving every moment of it!

Accordingly, when Autry and me were talking on the evening before the event we discovered that the ACP response by the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs Guyana, could be the first of its kind in the world, where the Government is following the Competence process. Therefore, we thought it is imperative that we document the process, of how Guyana has gone about to achieve this unique feature. We decided to write and ask for ideas on how to follow this up.


Opening Ceremony:

Titled, “Towards AIDS Competence in Trinidad and Tobago”, and with the tagline of ‘Shared Responsibility, Country Ownership”, courtesy UNAIDS Trinidad, the workshop started with the opening ceremony. Izola Garcia, UNAIDS Country Coordinator for Trinidad and Tobago, was brief, informal and open.  She requested the audience to discover friends, and find new ways of working together. Next Nitasha Hosein made a fine statement about CLCP. She had been with the team that went to Guyana, so got the   taste of SALT, in which she liked most the Inclusion of PLHIV, in discussion and action HIV at the community level. She also stated that she could see an increase in the use of existing services, VCT, TT Card (a card given to PLHIV, with which they can buy food), as well as in PMTCT . Moreover, she said that CLCP also leads to sharing and learning within the communities, and most importantly, is the appreciation which helps to motivate everyone in the community.

David Soomarie, Coordinator, Community Action Resource, briefly recounted the CLCP process in Guyana, as a new response coming from the ground level.  He appreciated the process.

The Honorable Rodger Samuel , Minister of State, Office of the Prime Minister briefed that he was very exited to hear about the process. He mentioned about how the Guyana program the experiences of which led to designing the Trinidad and Tobago one. His highlighting how the problems of T&T and the situation of dissolving the National AIDS Coordinating Program (NACP) in T&T made Autry to write “Resuscitation of NACP” as an additional session in the agenda of the last day in the program that we had made.  Additionally, he stated two objectives for T&T by two years, namely of eliminating PMTCT and reducing the HIV infection by 50%. Finally, he encouraged everyone to enjoy the workshop, and learn in the process.


The Workshop: Day 1-Morning

Michael warmed up the audience, with the session of introductions. Everyone was asked to introduce themselves by their name and associate themselves to a fruit. Thus, most introductions was punctuated with peals of laughter, brought on by weird and humorous association between the person’s human qualities and his or her chosen fruit.

Next, prodding the floor, Michael got them to respond with a sheet full of suggestions setting the Ground Rules that participants wanted.  A quick walk through the agenda of the four-day workshop completed Michael’s precise facilitation for this morning session. The participants trooped out for Tea.

Back again, Autry took over with the session of “Are we Human?” Everyone  came up with human qualities. The good facilitator that Autry was showed clearly as he guided the participants, and asked them to appreciate why we all were human beings, as well as our humane qualities. Skillfully, Autry flowed on to the next session of ‘Hopes and Concerns’, where we the participants wrote down one prime hope and one pressing concern that we had on heart-shaped papers. (Thanks to Lawan for introducing these lovely hearts, which is the seat of all our hopes!) Very soon, either Autry’s proficiency or the intelligence of the audience, made most people to articulate that Hopes and Concerns are similar. Autry with the audience naturally and willingly moved on to the next session of ‘Revealing Strengths’ from pictures which each group picked up. Here again, the floor took avidly to laughter and merriment when they detected or revealed humour consciously or otherwise, along with a strength!

After the next session on Ways of Thinking (WoT) and Ways of Working (WoW) which Autry linked up with how Trinidad was going to form the National AIDS Coordinating Program (NACP), challenging everyone present to think up how they as civil society could form the NACP and contribute to it. He also reminded how to dovetail these with the twin objectives that the Honorable Minister Rodger Samuel had reiterated a couple of hours ago in the opening ceremony.

Discussions around Lunch: Food for thought

Izola reinforced these thoughts, by reiterating that the time was ripe as there was a new Government in Trinidad, the dissolution of the NACP, the study tour to Guyana to see the response from the ground like those of MSM, Drug Users, and SW. Izola apologized for not being able to accommodate all those who are already working on the ground and involved in NACP. However, she continued,  that as those working for the ground, we as a community must be ready to state clearly to the government how we will be able to come and work together to cover all the gaps in the country’s response to HIV.  

I joined Izola and Rosalyn at their Lunch table, and listened in to their infectious enthusiasm as they discussed the all pervading skepticism to the competence process, the dire need for networking and communication, the issue to get all NGOs and stakeholders working together, communicating between themselves what they will do together, and approach the government with their own plan.

After lunch Michael engaged everyone to look inward and outward, turning their vision again and again to get the participants individual dreams, collated into the group they belonged to. Very soon, the proof of Michael’s efforts and that of the groups’ vision were seen in the colourful dreams that the five groups had come up with. When Michael got the floor to list some of the commonalities between the dreams the five groups, they came up with a list that included, common respect for all human beings, family, humanity. Emphasizing the need to be unrealistic when dreaming one of the groups had its theme for the dream as, “The limit to your reach is your capacity to dream.” Before long, Michael got all of the participants to collate the five dreams into a single community dream.  Consequently, it was evident that all the participants were unshakably agreed upon the vision of having in the community a ‘one stop-shop. The vibrant enthusiasm of the group took them in what I termed as fast-forward mode of how to get to the dream while they were still actually visualizing it. Autry helping Michael concluded the session by requesting the participants to describe the whole community dream in one vision statement. Responding Natasha Maillard collated a draft Vision Statement as:

A national Initiative that focuses on Trinidad and Tobago citizens from the HIV Community with an effective communication strategy that facilitates social and health services supporting adequate  referral systems geared to enhancing each individual and their affected families to continue living an independent  positive life.”

I introduced the After Action Review, and everyone contributed one point from the Day, where they either saw some strength revealed, something they learnt, some feedback they could lend, and what they would do differently. It was heartening to note that the many in the group gave the feedback that there was the need to guard themselves from digressing while dreaming on how to achieve the dream, when the task before was what was our dream.  With these thoughts day one of our maiden workshop in Trinidad came to an end.


It is Human to Err: Day 2: Reflections on Day 1:

I forgot Autry’s suggestion to use the technique of associating the ‘weather inside’ to the reflections of the previous day, and so the first two participants did the customary sharing before it struck me. So, to explain I stated the ‘weather inside’ of me as sunny, blue skies, green earth, because there were many strengths that I could see in the group. For, Denzil sang well yesterday. Everyone clapped gustily whenever, Cyrus, Andy, Benedict or David made a good point, the day before. There was good camaraderie. Thus, immediately on using the ‘weather inside’ modality the difference could be seen in the increased animation of the participants as well as heard in their laughter.  As I do every time I slip up, I immediately reminded everyone that we are all human, and it is but human to err. Consequently, I continued, that today what I remember having learnt well is what I failed in initially. 

The Self Assessment Framework:

We proceeded on by introducing the different competence levels in the Self Assessment Framework (SAF) by using JLL’s simple example of brushing the teeth. Once all the participants were thorough with all the levels of the SAF, then I encouraged every participant to do a self assessment on the practice of Physical Exercise, as well as explaining to all others why they chose to slot themselves in a specific level.

Next, Michael took over and introduced the different practices of the AIDS Competence SAF, and by lunch the group had written down their own components of what would constitute level five for all the practices in AIDS Competence SAF.

The Qora River of Life:

The afternoon began with the Michael dividing the participants into four groups who plotted on the SAF, where they fared in terms of the ten different practices in the SAF. The enthusiastic participants of the four groups named the groups by themselves as:

1)      Living for Change – X factors

2)      Informers

3)      The League of Extraordinary Savers

4)      Team Unity

 As expected and well accepted there was a good amount of deliberations, discussions, agreements to disagree, and finally consensus on deciding a particular level. Lastly, the respective group representatives marked out their groups’ level  using different colored markers. It gave us a joy to see that the collective outline of all the groups markings formed a  swathe of a river running across the framework chart. Autry asked the participants what the name of the river in Trinidad was called, and on being told, named this river as, “The Qora River of Life.”

During the ensuing discussions, on the specific practice of identifying vulnerability David was brilliant in enlightening the group, the difference between risk and vulnerability. On measuring change, we need to have a National HIV Prevention Policy, against which we can measure the change, was another such suggestion from the floor. Autry asked each group to share how the experience of the Self Assessment was. Consequently, the comments from the four different groups on the process of filling in the SAF was:

  •  “It definitely had a lot of SALT in it. One of us stimulatory. We were all very appreciative. We started arguing but ended up agreeing on the levels. “
  • “Everybody participated and excellent jobs done by Natasha and others.”
  • “Very dynamic and institutional experience. We started of putting ourselves low, then weighed ourselves between use and experience”
  • “Found it a little difficult especially on the community definition. However, in some areas we had some pointed views, some back and forth, but at the end there was some votes and thereby consensus. “

David and Denis next helped the participants plan in detail the next day’s couple of SALT visits to the Community. I followed this with the After Action Review of the day. Striking in the second day’s AAR was that participants acknowledged the need for listening to others during discussion, respect for others opinion and views and therefore the mechanism of coming to a consensus quickly. Many participants acknowledged the importance of the various tools in the competence process which they had learnt as well as which occasion to use it in. Thus the participants went back for the day to prepare for the next day’s SALT visit.

Download the Full Report: Call of the Caribbean

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Comment by Dr. E. Mohamed Rafique on July 10, 2011 at 6:49am

Dear Usa,

Part II which will contain day three and morning of the last day is the SALT visit and its AAR. I am yet to write it. :-(

And I think I will be able to do it tomorrow. My head is groggy after two consecutive nights of flying :-( So, please wait till tomorrow.


Comment by Usa Duongsaa on July 9, 2011 at 9:11am

Thank you for the extended part of the blog, Rafigue.  As enjoyable as the first half :-)  


I can't find continuation in Part II with details of day 3 and morning of the last day though.  Only find Part III with the last part of the last day only.   Where should I look to find the missing part?

Comment by Dr. E. Mohamed Rafique on July 6, 2011 at 12:29am

Dear All,

I have updated the blog till the end of second day, which is today!.

Looking forward to all your edits, and suggestions,

Comment by Dr. E. Mohamed Rafique on July 5, 2011 at 8:51pm

Thank you Usa, and Rituu,

We feel encouraged by your appreciation. Accordingly, we have updated the blog to end of Day1. Hope to keep the tempo of updating, and not allow it to become stale.

Comment by Rituu B. Nanda on July 5, 2011 at 7:46pm

I felt very connected with this event, sitting miles away almost other side of the globe.

This was for several reasons- a blog was posted on planning by the facilitation team prior to the event which piqued my interest. This was followed by live streaming from Port of Spain where I saw the teams engaged in dream building, the same fervour and excitement which I witness here in India. Thirdly, first day's report was uploaded within hours of the event. Last but not the least the event was inaugurated by a minister of the country. The process already has a buy in from the government. Cheers!

Comment by Usa Duongsaa on July 5, 2011 at 5:11pm

Very much enjoyed this quick and detailed reporting and photo, Rafique and Michael.  Your team certainly set off on a great start.  I'm sure everyone, the facilitators and participants alike, are having a wonderful time.   T&T's continued journey towards CLCP seems clear and focused;  I'm excited for everyone.  Now I look forward to reading part 2  and see more photos tomorrow :-)  


My warm regards to you, Michael and Autry!

Comment by Dr. E. Mohamed Rafique on July 5, 2011 at 10:30am

Thank you Michael for the picture of the opening ceremony showing the Honorable Minister on the farthest left, and Izola on the farthest right of the room.  Meanwhile, I have updated the blog by adding a section titled, "The Workshop: Day 1-Morning".

Looking forward to all your edits,


Comment by Michael Mc Garrell on July 5, 2011 at 5:06am

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