PM’s wife, US ambassador praise Zebapique mas project

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

From left, Karen Tom Yew general manager for Republic Bank and children’s mas band leader Rosalind Gabriel help construct a costume at the Zebapique Productions mas camp in Petit Valley on Staurday. – Faith Ayoung

Zebapique Productions Junior Carnival mas band patron Sharon Clark-Rowley said programmes like it were important in building communities through culture.

The mas band serves children from the communities of Nelson Street, Duncan Street, Beetham Gardens, John John, and Laventille, among others. This year’s theme is The Story of Paradise.

Speaking during a meet and greet at the band’s mas camp on Jurawan Terrace, Petit Valley, on Saturday, she said it was a pleasure to join the parent, children and the Zebapique Productions team once again.

“People speak so often of the hotspots, they categorise Laventille as one of the hotspots. But there is so much growth, there are so many good people, not just the people who are here, who are encouraged to be here, who are brought here because of the difficulties experienced within the East Port of Spain and environs. When you see these children, loving school children and I’m seeing faces in here I’ve seen for many years in the past, you realise what Laventille is all about.

“I want to thank the parents, guardians, and children who come here every year religiously, and the parents who teach them about our culture, they teach them how to build the Carnival costumes. We cannot allow costume building to become a thing of the past. It’s not all bikinis and beads.”

Clark-Rowley congratulated them on their 2023 Band of the Year win and said the hat trick would be next year.

US Ambassador Candace Bond said this was also her second year attending the mas camp.

“This is so important, this work that is being done here in the community of Laventille and throughout the country. I’m happy to meet all you children, we’re going to work side by side on these costumes today. I’m so proud of you for being here, and you know how important it is for you to be here and be part of this community service for your own community. Building your community is important, don’t forget that.”

Band leader Andrew Alleng said the children and parents were not high risk, but high performance. He said he could not have carried out his plan for the mas band without partnering with the police Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF), Republic Bank, and Magic Mist Group.

IATF Hearts and Minds Unit Inspector Terrence Burris said the partnership with Zebapique Productions was part of the unit’s fight against crime.

“When we began the IATF in 2003, we would have done hardcore policing and it was hard to see young kids like these, six, seven, and in a few years time we were going after them. It couldn’t continue like that. So we decided to do something to take these young people away from a life of crime, closing the doors and windows to criminal activity, from being recruited by gang members.”

He said the unit slowly began seeing a reduction in crime through the activities it put on, assisted by other stakeholders.

“These children are our future, and the future is, not an early death.”

Community ambassador Anika Olivierie said working with the band was a happy experience for the children in her community, most of whom could not afford to play mas otherwise.

“They look forward to it every year. As a community ambassador, I gather at least 30 children from the community and help make the costumes as well.”

Alleng said the children who play in the band range ages five-17.

“We try to let the 17-year-old young lady play children’s Carnival. Let them know they’re still children. If you look at our costumes, we don’t have any skin exposed, because we give them dignity of being young ladies. What you look at what is being portrayed now as Carnival, you can’t take a child in town now Carnival Monday and Tuesday, you would be embarrassed to see what they’re exposed to.”

He said there were no borders between areas in the band, as the aim was to have each parent and child leave the band with a new friend in a different area.

“We want them to come here and realise the person you’re seeing as an enemy is not an enemy, they’re a friend. Partnering with the Hearts and Minds Unit has helped them build a relationship with the communities so there can be a certain amount of control of crime. We may not be able to save all, but nobody here is going to kill anybody. If we save some, we will have contributed.

“The name of the band is The Story of Paradise because we see TT as paradise still. We have issues, but where in the world doesn’t? We tend to concentrate on the negatives, Zebapique concentrates on the positives.”