The Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force promotes youth programs to help young men and women at risk of falling prey to crime, drugs, and radicalization change their lives.
The Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force (TTDF) leads two youth programs as part of broader national effort to provide opportunity for underprivileged youths. The Military-Led Academic Training Programme (MiLAT), and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), focus on driving misguided and underprivileged youths away from crime.
“In Trinidad and Tobago, the criminal landscape is fed by misguided youths often times with pent up, unexpanded energy that hasn’t been positively channeled. It’s critically important to provide avenues for the positive expression of the youth’s energy, as it’s much easier to prevent somebody from becoming a criminal than to change a criminal’s mind,” Retired TTDF Rear Admiral Hayden Pritchard, former chief of Defence Staff, told Diálogo. “It’s important to find healthy outlets for young people, especially because of the competing interests of gangs, criminal networks, terrorist networks, and so on.”
MiLAT and CCC represent the government of Trinidad and Tobago’s efforts to expose young men and women to vocational and educational opportunities and behavioral changes they may not otherwise have. “The youth programs are like a second chance to help the youths make something of themselves before they get involved in criminal activities,” said Trinidad and Tobago Reserve Major Cheryl Richardson, director of MiLAT and CCC. “It also helps them after they have been involved in criminal activity to get them back on their feet, to redirect their mind, fix their attitudes and behaviors. The students receive positive mentorship and reinforcement, academic instruction, certified training, career guidance, benefit from positive peer motivation, friendship, and brotherhood.”
Created in 2007, MiLAT is designed to provide academic alternatives for young men between 16 and 20 at risk of gang affiliation, drug trafficking, other criminal activities, and potential radicalization by external actors. MiLAT admits approximately 100 young men per year.
Kevin Narine, a 19-year-old MiLAT student, attributes the program to turning his life of street criminality into a success story through discipline, academics, and brotherhood. “I was a juvenile delinquent. [I was in] plenty of trouble in school,” said Narine, who is six months shy of completing the two-year residential program. “MiLAT is life changing. I was at risk; it changed my life in a big way.”
The students undergo a three-month induction training to adjust to military discipline and the academy’s routine. Then they enroll in a combination of core subjects, such as Mathematics, English, Language Arts, and Life Skills, and optional subjects, including Information Technology, Social Studies, Human and Social Biology, Music, and Physical Education, among others.
As part of the certification program, MiLAT students participate in activities to learn about the environment, first aid, survival training, community service, and others. They prepare for the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate and the Caribbean Certificate of Secondary Level of Competence, equivalent to a high-school degree.
“I understand the effectiveness of the youth programs,” said TTDF Coast Guard Leading Writer Alexander Gershwin, a MiLAT instructor who was an at-risk teen before enrolling at CCC. “I offer [students] my own story. I give them my testimony, and it gives them hope. I become more relatable, and they come to me for advice, mentorship, and counseling.”
Civilian Conversation Corps
CCC is a 1993 initiative designed to provide skills for young men and women between the ages of 16 and 25, with low levels of education and little or no work experience who are susceptible to engaging in criminal activity. Trinidad and Tobago’s Ministry of Defense borrowed the CCC concept from a U.S. public relief program for unemployed, unmarried men during the Great Depression.
Matthew Taylor, a 21-year-old Trinidadian high-school dropout, dreams of becoming a graphic designer. When he heard about CCC, he jumped at the opportunity to change his life for the better. “Many youths have nothing to do and they have no motivation. CCC is a good program for the youth,” Taylor told Diálogo. “We can learn and do something good with our lives,” he added. Taylor is five months into CCC’s six-month Computer Literacy course.
CCC counts seven educational centers in Trinidad and one in Tobago, and offers students more than 30 six-month courses, such as Building Maintenance, Child Care, Computer Literacy, Electrical Installation, Hairdressing, and Plumbing. The skills prepare them to join the work force through private partnerships with national organizations, to include the National Energy Skill Center and the Trinidad and Tobago Hospitality Institute. Since its creation, more than 35,000 students completed the program, earning a certification in their chosen field.
After graduation, CCC hires its top students as part of their leader and mentorship program. “CCC provided me with a stable environment to assist me in deciding what goals I wanted to set for my life and how to go about achieving them,” said TTDF Corporal Adanna Hume-Borrell, a member of the TTDF Public Affairs Division, who specialized in photography at CCC and was later employed as a CCC assistant team commander. She joined TTDF in 2004.