“The true wealth of the country lies in its people, and it is reassuring in today’s materialistic society to learn that acts of human compassion are taking place around us…SERVOL’s example may yet be the turning point of our nation.” ~
Trinidad Express Newspaper, January 1981
SERVOL is named Individual of the Year 1980
SERVOL was born out of the challenges of the country’s Black Power Revolution of 1970 in which a number of persons and groups sought to challenge racial inequality and force social, economic and political change. Several interest groups, which included people from the Laventille area, began a series of demonstrations in an effort to improve the social conditions of the poor. These marches, subsequently known as the “Black Power” demonstrations spawned a nationwide revolution.
In the aftermath of this explosive period Fr. Gerard Pantin, a Roman Catholic Priest and teacher at St. Mary’s College and Mr. Wesley Hall, a cricketer who was on a coaching assignment with the West Indian Tobacco Company, went into the Laventille area to find out how they could assist the people with the various problems they faced. They made contact with a number of street corner groups, held “rap sessions” with them and eventually gained their trust. As a result, on 8th September 1970, SERVOL (Service Volunteered for All), a voluntary organisation was born.
After a period of about three (3) months, Mr. Wesley Hall returned to his native island of Barbados and Fr. Gerard Pantin made a formal request to the Commander of the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force to have some volunteers assigned to work with him in a developmental programme in Laventille. This request was approved and twelve soldiers and coast guardsmen were assigned to work with SERVOL. Without knowledge of the theory and practice of community development, they adopted the philosophy of asking each group “How can we help you?” More than 40 years later this signature SERVOL question continues to be asked of anyone who needs our assistance.
SERVOL’s aim was not simply to work for the poor and the disenfranchised, but to get the poor and disenfranchised to work for themselves in order to progress and to be able to live with dignity. As such, great care was taken not to set up elaborate projects which were largely subsidised by outside financiers as while these initiatives often appear impressive, in reality they have little to do with true development. Instead, Fr. Pantin focused on small projects and community involvement in the early stages of SERVOL’s development.
SERVOL soon became convinced that all its efforts at community development and nation building should be focused on two age groups: 0–5 year old children and 13–23 year old adolescents.
The rationale behind this choice was both philosophical and pragmatic as everyone agreed that the early years of a child’s life and the period at which the adolescent leaves school and prepares to take his/her place in the world are absolutely critical.
SERVOL has maintained a commitment to these age groups through its establishment of Early Childhood Care and Education centres and training (ECCE), Junior Life Programmes, Adolescent Development Programmes (ADP), Skills Training and schools for children with special needs and has also introduced a Parent Outreach Programme (POP) in support of parents who desire parental skills training.
TAKING THE SERVOL MODEL TO THE WORLD
By the 1980s, SERVOL’s developmental model became a sought-after commodity worldwide with Fr. Pantin being asked to share his insights as far afield as Australia, Kenya and Israel. The organisation also received requests to branch out to the other Caribbean islands. In response, a decision was made to train people from these islands with a view towards inspiring regional development.
The initial training led to the establishment of training centres staffed entirely by SERVOL’s Caribbean Life Centre graduates in Grenada, St. Lucia, Antigua and Guyana. To date, SERVOL has trained over 800 persons to teach the Junior Life and Adolescent Development Programmes locally, regionally and internationally. Locally we have trained Prison’s Officers, Soldiers, Seminarians, Secondary School Teachers, Housewives and Community Activists.
Regionally, in addition to the countries mentioned above, SERVOL has also trained people from Dominica, Haiti, Jamaica and the Bahamas and internationally, people have come to our training programme from as far as Ireland, Vietnam, South Africa, India, and Nigeria.