The fifth Phenomenal Caribbean Women Symposium is gearing up for the event on January 25 at the Cabrits and looking forward to welcoming overseas speakers and participants for the first time. The only event of its kind in the Caribbean, the Symposium seeks to celebrate Caribbean women.
With its theme of “What you conceive you can achieve because God has the power to deliver what he promises”, organiser and founder Dr Valda Henry, chief executive officer of VF Inc, promises an occasion where participants can “feel love and acceptance whoever they are”.
Of the four speakers, two are from Dominica and two are from neighbouring islands. Vincentian Ms Rene Mercedes Baptiste is a lawyer, politician and communicator with a fascinating story to tell of her life and work. She was also named one of the 10 most powerful Caribbean women by She magazine in 2010. Ms Rose Willock, the “voice of Montserrat” has had a exceptionally distinguished career as a broadcaster guiding Montserrat through two crises, first the devastation wrought by Hurricane Hugo and then the long dark days of the island’s volcano crisis since 1995.
The other two speakers, Mrs Neva Edwards and Mrs Olivia Douglas, bring their own achievements and distinction – broadly in education and healthy respectively – to the occasion.
Each speaker will, says the organisers, bring their experiences of hope, joy, faith, love and triumph over adversity, pain and challenges. “I don’t tell our speakers what they should say. They come with their stories,” says Henry. As in previous years, they will, she knows, “connect and inspire”.
The broad purpose of the symposium, says Henry, is to show how women can triumph through the telling of their stories and to “reaffirm the role of women as healers of the nation”. Henry also seeks to establish a network of support and opportunities for women. This will include an especially produced magazine available to the participants, which contains a personal action plan to work towards achieving personal goals.
The Symposium has grown dramatically since its first year, in 2007, when, as Henry says, “I could count the participants on one hand”. Now she expects the numbers to exceed last year’s when some 200 women attended. The average age is in the late 30s and 40s, says Henry, but we have had teenagers and our oldest participant was 95.
As well as enjoying the speakers who feed the mind, participants – for the third time at the “fantastic location of the Cabrits” – can enjoy snacks and a lunch as well as transport during the day-long symposium. For the first time, there will also be information booths on beauty, health and careers.
“We know it makes an impact”, says Henry – which is why she continues to do it. The event is supported in part by the Bureau of Women and also by the advertisements in the symposium’s magazine. A book – containing the stories of all the women speakers – is in the pipeline.
Here are some brief biographies of the four speakers:
Rene Baptiste of St Vincent is known on her island as “Mama Culture” and “Miss B”. She has a multiplicity of achievements in different spheres: as a lawyer (gaining her law degree at UWI’s Cave Hill campus in Barbados under the West Indian scholarship awards scheme she set up her law practice in 1986) and also as a politician. She fought and won two elections, becoming Minister of Tourism and more recently Minister of Urban Development, Culture, Labour and Cultural Matters. She was also a familiar figure on St Vincent as the first female voice and face of STV TV, where she spent 15 years as prime news anchor and producer. Other wide-ranging interests embrace serving with the Red Cross, as president of the Girl Guides Association of St Vincent and commissioner for the restoration of St George’s Cathedral in Kingstown.
Olivia Douglas was born in Jamaica in 1941 but has spent much of her life in Dominica in the health service spending many years as a nurse and then nurse educator both at the Princess Margaret Hospital, Roseau, and the Portsmouth Hospital. She is the widow of Mike Douglas, former leader of the Dominica Labour Party, and the mother of Ian Douglas, the current Minister of Tourism. She has been the director of the non-profit organization, CALLS (Centre where Adolescents Learn to Love and Serve), since 2002, which works to help disadvantaged young people in Portsmouth, and has also been a JP since 1997.
Neva Edwards was born in 1931. When the Dominica National Council of Women nominated her for the Caricom Award for Women in 1999, they described her as “a gem of the nature island”. She has dedicated her life to education, in particularly, to pre-school education. At the Social Centre, she was managing director of four NGO programmes, in particular the National Early Childhood Programme. Having retired in 1992, she then spent two years – elected unopposed – as speaker of the Dominica House of Assembly (1993-95). She has made a significant mark as a champion of women and the family. She has also served as an accredited lay preacher amongst other leading positions in the Methodist church.
Rose Willock has been the broadcasting voice of Montserrat for many years. Her contribution to broadcasting won her the Queen’s First Award for exceptional contribution to public service broadcasting, which she received from the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association in 1998. She describes her most challenging roles as related to emergency broadcasting: giving hope to the people of Dominica in the aftermath of hurricane David in 1979 while she served as Deputy Program Manager at Radio Antilles, reviving Radio Montserrat to its role as a premier professional National Public Service broadcast system following hurricane Hugo (1989) and ten years later keeping the Radio Station up and running throughout the entire volcanic crisis. Now, as a freelance media expert, Rose continues to try to “make a difference in the lives of people, giving them a voice to tell their stories and bringing the issues to them”.