Teocah Dove, Social Innovation

As a child, the environment that you grow in, constructs your thinking ability and exposure ripens it. The more intense it is, the more sensitive you become, and consequently, the more you respond to various callings. When Teocah was just 16, she started volunteering for an NGO that supported people who were either infected or affected by HIV/AIDS, followed by another organization that specifically supported mothers infected with HIV. That brings me to ask you – Are you familiar with ambitions like, “One day, I will become this, or, that…One day, I will bring this change, or, do that…”? You know that one day, surprisingly, never comes, because, it’s right there in front of you. When you see an urgency, don’t reserve it for future, act on it that very moment.

Here’s the story…

Meet the amazingly brave and determined Teocah Arieal Ainka Dove, who has devoted more than 12 years of her life to serving humanity, and happily call it – ‘my calling’. I am incredibly honored to interview Teocah for our Girls to Watch series.

Teocah Dove quote

You have devoted more than 10 years of your life to volunteerism and societal programs, you have worked with organizations throughout the Caribbean region, in The United Kingdom, and The United States. How did this experience help you during your formative years?

At no point in life, did my parents seek to persuade me to become a lawyer or a doctor or an engineer. My parents invested in me and allowed me to experience various interests until I found my calling. I remember my grandmother telling me, “You pursue whatever you want to and I will fund you”, and while volunteering in my teens she would give me sometimes half of her monthly pension to go and fulfil outreach activities or travel to conferences or trainings abroad. My family allowed me to discover myself through my journey in life.

At 16, I started volunteering and it was through volunteerism during those early years, that I got an opportunity to see life through a perspective than my naïve self didn’t know existed. I understood life not only from my place of privilege i.e. coming from a supportive family, but I saw the lives of many young people who were not as fortunate as I am and had to maneuver various social challenges just to survive or eat daily.

Through the years, I’ve worked with several organizations and seeing firsthand the level of pain, poverty and social exclusion reframed my thinking and approach to humanity. You see, youth at risk, women and men at risk, elderly at risk, means society at risk. Unless our most vulnerable and at-risk populations advance, our society will never advance and we will never achieve true development. Hence, I’ve made it my life’s mission to serve in the sphere of youth and social development.

What are some of the key changes you wish to bring to the Caribbean region and why?

While there are several areas that I am passionate about, now, I’m focused on the spheres of Child and Youth Development, particularly, Juvenile Justice and Youth Mainstreaming. For far too long our systems in the region have been focused on incarcerating child offenders in the name of “providing justice for victims and upholding public safety”. However, this method has failed us, as we continue to witness high recidivism rates among juvenile offenders, an increase in the types of crimes they commit and a decrease in the ages at which they commence a life of crime.

Within the last three years, I’ve been relentlessly pursuing two actions: Evidence-based social interventions to trace the history of delinquency in child offenders, seeking to understand what past social challenges led to their present situation and working with them to address and overcome same through interventions and positive youth development practices; and using this and other findings to advocate for the state and respective agencies and institutions to commit to the rehabilitating child offenders through restorative justice principles and to support their re-integration into society following incarceration.

My second mission is ensuring that all governments across the region situate youth at the core of the national development agenda and adopt youth mainstreaming approaches across all ministries, divisions and agencies. Young people account for 60% of the Caribbean’s population and are the most disproportionately affected, yet, beyond the usual youth tokenism, very little is being done to secure us a safe and sustainable future. It is imperative that our leaders make the concerns, challenges and experiences of young people an integral dimension of the of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes in all political, economic and societal spheres so that youth can benefit equally and holistically.

Over the past decade, Trinidad &Tobago has made significant strides in making gender equality the core of its socioeconomic policy. What is your opinion about it, considering that, there still lies a significant gap world-wide that needs to be filled before we reach 100% gender parity?

Locally, as you have noted, my country has made great strides in the sphere of gender equality, but that did not come easy. It came through lobbying, advocacy, activism and protest. It came through the hard work and struggle of women like Verna St. Rose Greaves, Hazel Brown Dr. Rhoda Reddock and the many other women, feminist movements and NGO’s who’ve worked assiduously throughout the years on public awareness campaigns, legislation, research and creating and sustaining safe spaces and shelters. In many cases, these champions sacrificed the needs of their respective families, to see after those in need and to fight for a better country.

While we still have a long way to go, especially as it relates to gender based violence and the protection of children, today we experience and enjoy the yields of all those who have labored before us. In the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2016, T&T ranks 44 of 144 countries worldwide, achieving favorable rankings in the top 50 in educational attainment, economic participation and opportunity and political empowerment. Moreover, within sub-index scores we rank number-one for the ratio of girls who are enrolled in education(96%) and women engaged in professional and technical work.

Globally, I’d say the greatest impediment to development is gender inequality. Statistics will show you, that where women enjoy equal rights and opportunities, societal issues decline and economic growth increases. Thus, I strongly believe that ensuring the advancement of equal rights for both men and women will result in more stable and sustainable societies and economies.

You are a proud recipient of ‘Chevening Scholarship’ award, and you are also a Queen’s Young Leaders Awardee. I am sure the journey so far has been overwhelming, but also, very demanding. Would you like to share with us some of the challenges that you faced?

To be honest, I can’t honestly say I’ve faced many challenges in my journey thus far. I would however say that I’ve been able to achieve much to date through support, persistence, faith, strategic planning, relentless pursuit and most importantly, Vision Boarding.

Vision Boarding is something that I always encourage young people to do. I think it’s incredibly important that your dreams are visual and present so that they can be easily achieved, if your dreams remain within your mind, then you procrastinate on it. If your dreams are present before you and you can visualize them, and only then, will you be able to achieve them.

For instance, back in 2007, I had just finished my A ‘levels and I was researching tertiary education opportunities and came across the Chevening Scholarship. Reading further, I realized that the scholarship solely covered postgraduate study at the Master’s level, so, I bookmarked the page and I remember telling myself – ‘One day I will be a Chevening Scholar’.

After completing my first degree in Journalism and PR and my second in Media and Communications, I decided that I wanted to pursue my masters in International Relations and I remembered my “Chevening goal” on my vision board. The investment of family and mentors, the grace of God and tenacity bared fruit and in 2013 I received a scholarship to pursue an M.Sc. in Gender and International Relations at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom.

During my year abroad, for the first time, having to navigate life by myself I became “uncomfortable” and it was through that experience that I discovered my true strength. I learnt a valuable life lesson that year, that it is only when you come out of your comfort zone, do you realize your untapped potential within. My Chevening journey defined my sense of agency and my sense of self as a woman.

We would love to know more about Teocah Dove Legacy Foundation….

I think I need to drop that ‘Legacy’ word, it sounds too much!

Something I learnt during the Leading Change course of the Queen’s Young Leader Programme was ‘branding the work you do’ and I guess that’s where the word ‘legacy’ came about in the name, but 2 years on when I say it, it feels a bit cocky, as such I’m working on removing “legacy”.

The Teocah Dove Foundation (TDF) is dedicated to improving the quality of life of economically and socially vulnerable people through social entrepreneurship, evidenced-based social intervention, vocational training, employment, scholarships and financial assistance.

The foundation’s model includes 3 entities:

  1. The Teocah Dove Foundation
  2. Hacoet Catering Services (HCS)
  3. Hacoet Farms (HF) (in development stage)

HCS (in operation since 2008) is twofold, we are a catering company and a culinary arts training institute. Annually, we provide training to socially and economically vulnerable women through a state sponsored programme, following training and certification, we then either provide employment within Hacoet Catering, refer to companies seeking staff or support them in their quest to open their own businesses.

Hacoet Farms (which is scheduled to open in the last quarter of 2018) will follow the same model, and provide training, certification and employment to youth in the sphere of agriculture and aquaponics.

At present, 20% of profits from HCS goes towards the foundation to fund micro-projects and provide financial aid to persons in need. The same will be for HF once in operation.

The model does three main things:

  1. Provides training and certification
  2. Provides employment
  3. Provides funding to the foundation

In the last two years, through our profits, coupled with funding from partners and donors, we fundraised $290,000, which was disbursed on: 6 Poverty-assistance grants; 2 Medical Assistance Grants and 1 Scholarship; trained 26 women in Culinary Arts, hiring 5 on a part-time basis, sourced jobs for 4 and supported 2 in launching small businesses; and mentored 16 young people/professionals, just to name a few.

A message for our readers…

I wish to bring you to a reality like no other, one that very few think of, or even reflect on, the reality of your Being. The single element of life that makes us all the same, that no matter your race, ethnicity, religion, social or economic status, level of education, geographical location, or the various classifications that are used to set us apart, no matter what, we all share a common reality.

We know of the great Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa and many others. For many of us, they did not reside in our region or even on the same continent. They existed in a time where there was no Facebook and twitter or internet to share and like. How do we know of them? Because of their work, the lives they impacted and the communities and countries they transformed.

They left a legacy, that lives on even though they are gone.…

We are here for a reason, and a season, no matter how great we believe we are, all the classifications we judge and separate each other by, one thing is certain, our time on earth is limited, we have no control over when we came to this earth, and we have absolutely no control over when we leave this earth…… the only aspect we have control over, is our time here – so I want you to ask yourselves – what are you doing in service to humanity, WHAT WILL BE YOUR LEGACY….

Written by Manvi Pant

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