The Women’s Organisation for the Underprivileged has come of age, after 25 years of intentional inconspicuousness and relative anonymity.
Perhaps the Organisation first gained public attention in 1988, with the launch of “Men Who Cook”, but its roots predate the popular cookout by a decade.
Twenty-five years ago, when the group’s six founding members saw a need for an organisation dedicated to help the underprivileged, they decided, quite simply, to form just such an organisation. Today, although only three of those founding members are still active in the group–former secretary Gail Weekes, former secretary Winnie Archbald and former secretary Vere Achong–the qualities germane to the group’s conceptualisation and conception in 1979 persist–purity of motivation, clarity of vision and swiftness of execution.
So when public relations co-ordinator Ava Dhanoosingh told me, “We’ve blossomed into a butterfly from a caterpillar,” I knew she didn’t just mean that over the last 25 years the size of the group had doubled, or that their fund-raisers now raked in not hundreds but thousands of dollars.
Not that their increased financial stability isn’t a welcome development, but for these ladies, growth has to be evidenced by an increased ability to positively affect the lives of the less fortunate. Not surprising, therefore, that Ava was quick to add, “We have grown now to where we could even have given a whole house to Habitat [for Humanity].”
She was referring to a project recently undertaken by the Organisation to provide a Mayaro home a young couple with children.
Having developed enduring relationships with their patron Barbara Carter, wife of former acting president Iman Carter, and with corporate citizens like the Trinidad Hilton, Angostura Trinidad Ltd, BWIA and National Flour Mills, the Organisation has achieved a commendable level of moral support and financial strength.
“We’ve come a long way. We raise our own funds. Our assistance is mostly financed by money raised in fund-raisers organised by us.”
But don’t bother looking for external signs of their success, because you probably won’t find them.
“We never could afford a physical office, so we just continue to work out of members’ homes,” said Gail Weekes, one of the founding members.
“It’s as if we have blinkers on. We do our own thing, you know? We have ‘positions’ because we are a registered, non-profit organisation and we have to have positions. But we don’t compare ourselves to any other group.”
At present, those executive ‘positions’ in the 18-member Organisation are filled by an close-knit core of eight friends. And in some cases their friendship actually predates their membership of the organisation.
“Because it’s such a small group, it’s generally a friend who comes in when there’s a vacancy,” explained president Vicky Aguiton, suggesting that perhaps it is the shared life of this small community of women that makes their charitable activities all the more special.
Over the last two and a half decades, they’ve worked with the differently able children of Eshe’s Private School, with HIV/Aids patients at the Cyril Ross Home, and with “individuals who appear to have fallen through the cracks and cannot access help from other sources.”
“As the cases come to us, we assess them,” said Ava, “Most of the cases are brought in by members of the group, although we get the odd letter.”
The ‘odd letter’, by the way, should be addressed to the Organisation and mailed to 39A Belmont Valley Road, Belmont.
The collaborators in the Organisation’s activities have been nationwide–Habitat for Humanity in Mayaro, La Divina Pastora R.C. Church in Siparia, Phillip’s Home in Couva, Home of the Holy Nazarene in Curepe and Home for the Aged in Belmont, to name just a few. And although the women especially love to make financial contributions to the education of selected candidates, their projects are not limited to cash donations and are characterised by an absence of discrimination, not just in the geographical sense.
“We identify persons who are in need, and make an executive decision to help them,” said Ava, becoming more excited as she told me about the Organisation’s Education Fund, established in 1999.
“We always concentrated and had a focus on education, even before we had a name for [the Fund]. What has changed is defining who is underprivileged.
“People who are in crisis situations, people who may be in need of heart surgery, people who have nowhere else to turn to, these people are in need of help,” Ava explained, underscoring that the vision of the group has now expanded to include people who may not fit the traditional definition of ‘underprivileged’, but who they deem to be worthy of support.
To herald their maturation, the ladies will host “Mariposa”, a gala Tea Party and Fashion Show on September 26th, 2004 at the Hilton Trinidad Ballroom. Showgoers will enjoy the fashion of popular designers Meiling, Heather Jones, Claudia Pegus, Zad and Eastmond, Radical Designs, Simply Garnet, Lori de Jesus and will be treated to performances by Wendell Constantine, Wendy Sheppard, Pedro Lezama and Elan Parle.
Derived from the Spanish for “butterfly”, the title chosen for the afternoon of elegance points to the importance of this occasion, which not only celebrates the group’s 25th anniversary but also promises to become a milestone in their evolutionary process.
“Mariposa” is carded to begin at 3: 30 p.m. Tickets are priced at $150 and are available from any of the current members. For further information, members of the public may call 623-3264.