I visited the islands with Colin Jackson, International Inspiration's newest Ambassador, to see first-hand the issues that young people there are up against, the direct impact that International Inspiration is having on their lives, and how the use of sport can inspire young people to do great things and improve their overall quality of life.
Trinidad is the most commercial of all the Caribbean islands, and while the island does have the palm trees and idyllic scenery that people flock to the region for, it also has large urban areas, which are increasingly facing issues common in big cities: drugs and alcohol abuse, crime, gangs and HIV to name a few.
Many isolated schools across the islands suffer with keeping their pupils in school and away from these negative influences. International Inspiration wants to help these young people see that life doesn’t have to lead them down these paths, and that they have alternative options and positive influences too.
On the visit, we saw several different schools that have been involved in International Inspiration, and the different ways they were using sport to motivate and inspire young people. In Toco, they have set up an afterschool club, where 15-17 year olds coach younger children in football, basketball and netball after giving them extra tuition in Maths and English in the classroom.
As well as providing responsibilities to the older children and giving the younger children extra tuition, the scheme means that these people are off the streets and in a safe environment doing something positive.
At Mayaro school, the International Inspiration Young Leaders had organised a huge relay race. Sport is a huge part of the culture here and the schools are incredibly competitive about who is the best sporting school. The relay was a 5 x 1km relay along roads lined with palm trees and small village populations. Colin Jackson started the race and almost got knocked over by the runners from 26 schools who had come from all corners of both islands to take part.
From my vantage point in the car following the leader, it was great to see how passionate all these young people were about taking part. When Toco school won both the boys and girls races, their pride in their achievement and in their area was plain to see. When asked what their secret was they all replied 'fresh fish from Toco', clapping and cheering their famed local produce.
One young person in particular that left a lasting impression on me was a 15-year-old girl called Shereice. We visited her at her home, a large urban estate just outside the capital of Port of Spain. She told us how growing up in her area, you didn’t have any opportunities to do anything good. You got through each day at a time and stayed away from the groups of youths in the stairwells who often carry weapons. She spoke candidly about losing people close to her through violent scuffles right in their car park, but she spoke with a calmness and determination that assured me that her future was going to be different.
Shereice was chosen by her PE teacher to be trained as an International Inspiration Young Leader last year, and since then has had helped many young people in her school and community to take part in sport. She also visited the UK in September to volunteer with other Young Leaders at the UK School Games in Newcastle; her first time outside of Trinidad and Tobago. For me, Shereice was proof that this programme really is touching the lives of young people and left me feeling positive that the London 2012 Games are leaving a positive legacy for young people all over the world.
Colin Jackson reflected on the trip by saying: 'International Inspiration is truly remarkable. I lost count of the number of young people I met who are benefiting from the programme and embracing sport. It is a fantastic way of engaging youngsters and keeping them safe by communicating important messages around HIV and drugs and giving them safe spaces to play sport.'
I couldn't agree more.