He wears many hats, but interestingly, each of those is related to his vested interest in guiding and supporting the development of youths at varying levels! Gregory Sloane-Seale currently heads the Citizen Security Programme, an initiative of the Ministry of National Security, whose objective is to contribute to the reduction of crime and violence in over 90 “high needs” pilot communities throughout Trinidad and Tobago. He is the holder of a BA in Sociology and Psychology from the University of Windsor, Canada and an MSc. in Organizational Management and Leadership from Springfield College, Massachussetts, USA.
Sloane-Seale’s passion first started in 1989 when he worked in a Residential Care Facility in Canada for Juvenile Delinquents. In describing this experience, he explained “these youths were affected by a lack of positive support and networking, as well as lack of opportunities, which resulted in poor choices.”
Sloane-Seale’s return to Trinidad and Tobago in 1994, resulted in volunteer work with “Families in Action.” That experience revealed that Trinidad and Tobago is not as proactive in social services particularly in treating with risk factors that affect youths. Sloane-Seale admitted “there was an absence of peer counselors which is a crucial element in transitioning Trinidad and Tobago into a more progressive society.” Whilst working with Families in Action, he also visited St. Vincent De Paul once weekly to provide support to displaced youths.
Interestingly, in 1995, whilst visiting St. Vincent De Paul’s “Drop-In Centre”, Sloane-Seale learnt of the YMCA’s plan to set up a programme for “Street Children.” He explained “this was an ideal opportunity for me to do what I do best so I applied for the Co-ordinator’s position and successfully managed the programme for eleven (11) years.”
Sloane-Seale’s experience at the YMCA bore some very important lessons which must not go unnoticed. “A common view expressed by participants in this programme is that they mistrusted adults, but despite this view, they possessed a warmth which they were willing to share.” Sloane-Seale admitted that this programme created a safe and supportive mental and social space for these “street children”; something they had never experienced before! He explained “the programme was designed to reinforce the positives, not to be abusive nor contro9lling, and to promote and acknowledge good things within an asset-building framework.”
The greatest strength of this initiative, was its ability to influence others to share in the experience. As Sloane-Seale puts it “there was no need to promote the programme as the impact of the programme was evident amongst its participants who promoted it, by introducing other youths who were in difficult circumstances to join.” He strongly believes that more options should be made available that would allow adults who work with youths to be able to better understand why they behave and react in ways that they do, based on a particular set of circumstances.
Sloane-Seale also believes that the vision for youths has become blurred by bureaucratic challenges.
“There needs to be youth-friendly spaces or centres with the capability to facilitate their development, particularly for those who are disenfranchised; the authoritative approach has now become antiquated, unresponsive to our times, and does not allow for the development of critical thinking and self-regulation”.
Sloane-Seale alluded to the fact that from the age of 5-7 years, adults should be able to engage children in a manner that can promote logical thinking.
The issue of sexual and reproductive health is also critical to youth development. “Lack of public awareness coupled with the absence of a sustainable programme in schools and other designated spaces, prohibits youths from making informed choices” said Sloane-Seale. Throughout his daily interactions with youths, there are two (2) common trends of thoughts – they feel abused and taken for granted??
In going forward, Sloane-Seale continues to advocate for change in the way individuals and institutions including parents, caregivers and authority figures think, in relation to how youths should be treated. He is convinced that before positive changes can be totally visible in youths, adults need to introspect and initiative change within themselves.
Written by: Sandrine Rattan