Shnola Cox is on a drive to raise awareness and address the issue of juvenile delinquency even in the midst of the covid19 pandemic.
The 28-year-old trained criminologist and teacher is doing so through her programme Stance to Alleviate Nationwide Delinquency (Stand) which focuses on youth-led problem-solving of the challenges they face.
“Stand seeks to put the decision-making power into the hands of the youths. For once it’s youth solving their own problems and not being dictated by adults. It offers a platform to speak out and stand up against juvenile delinquency,” she said.
The programme, which targets young people from ages 12-29, is funded by the US Embassy and stems from Cox’s mentorship of seven young charges participating in the US Embassy’s Youth Ambassadors Programme with the Caribbean.
“I had to travel to the US with these kids as their mentor and then assist in mentoring youth from all around the Caribbean region. It was a life-changing experience. Upon returning home, we had to use our training and experience in the US to initiate a social transformation project in our country,” Cox told WMN.
The three-week leadership exchange programme in the US was open to teenagers ages 15-18 and adult mentors. It provides full scholarships for applicants to participate in cultural and educational programmes focused on civic engagement and social entrepreneurship.
Cox, an ambassador for youth development, is the youngest person to have been chosen as a mentor. Her mentees are Shivanand Deonarine – Cowen Hamilton Secondary School, Moruga; Rahsaan Wilkinson and Arielle Findley – Bishop’s High School, Tobago; Alesha Douglas – St Joseph’s Convent, San Fernando; Chikere Marshall – Holy Faith Convent, Penal; Chekieva Phillip – Manzanilla Secondary School, Manzanilla; and Anastacia Sunnelal – North Eastern College, Sangre Grande.
In the first phase of the programme, Cox and her team sought to foster youth teamwork, leadership and activism against juvenile delinquency. Participants were asked to compete in teams of two to five people to produce a video speaking up about the causes, effects and solutions of juvenile delinquency. They were judged on set criteria of content and innovation.
“The idea is that the top three teams will be invited into the US Embassy for a prize-giving ceremony in July on a date to be announced, meet with US officials and the ambassadors, and their work will be displayed,” she explained.
However, in the midst of promoting the initiative, conducting workshops and raising national awareness, there was an urgent interruption. Covid19, which first started in Wuhan, China, began spreading across the world, infecting tens of thousands, killing thousands and adversely affecting millions of people.
So far TT, at the time of writing, has reported 66 confirmed cases and two fatalities, and people have been advised to stay at home unless it is absolutely necessary to go out and to practice social distancing.
Cox and her team adjusted their sail to suit.
“We were only able to have one outreach workshop at Gulf City Mall. School visits were cancelled due to covid19. We have been able to attract a number of persons who are currently practising forms of delinquency and they now have the opportunity to reflect and plan to act differently, while getting the word out to stop others. We have received a number of messages from person concerning the value of our project to them,” she noted.
So they took it to the one place where it is safe for people to gather – social media.
“It is about catching the market and guiding those that need assistance while preparing them to give back, using their suggestions to develop anti-delinquency programmes and possibly to inform public youth policy. We have been running campaigns on social media and had television interviews getting the word out.” All face-to-face recruitment, she said, has been cancelled and will now be done online.
The US Embassy has granted them a two-month extension of the project and the competition ends on May 30.
She said another aspect of the programme is the invitation for reformed delinquents to share their stories. Cox recalled one former inmate reached out to her, wanting to speak off camera.
“She recalled being delinquent from as early as age 13 and in a relationship with an adult. She did not complete her schooling and now at 19 had no academic achievements to her name. She said this was the first time she was speaking about the path her life took. I told her that I currently work with people like herself, who feel there is no hope and they can’t get their subjects. I assured her that there is hope and her eyes lit up.”
Since then the young woman has enrolled in one of the Ministry of Education’s programmes and will begin classes in September. This, she said, is one of the many reasons they refused to allow covid 19 to force them to end their campaign or the competition.
“We are still calling TT youth to take a Stand with us because our nation’s youth has immeasurable talents and knowledge to offer our nation toward sustainable development. Research has shown that delinquency can be prevented if we work towards taking delinquents out of their risk situations early for example through education, life skills training, and effective mentorship,” she added.
Cox said they intend to continue to utilise whatever platforms are available while practising social distancing and adhering to the measures laid out by Government.
Cox, though, isn’t selling a recipe, she isn’t sure will work.
The topic of juvenile delinquency is close to Cox’s heart, as she almost took that path while at primary school. Cox, who teaches social studies, principles of business and English at Chaguanas North Secondary School, recalled her disenchantment and disregard for school and education.
“I went to primary school in my area and it was not the best experience in my life. I started off well in school but from standard four straight to SEA produced failed report cards consecutively each term. I did not like school. When my family urged me to study I often pretended to read.”
Cox said she only attended school because she had no choice, was the class clown most days, but was very respected by her young peers for her fierce attitude.
After SEA she attended Chaguanas Junior Secondary.
“I recall, after my primary school graduation, breaking down in tears on my bed with my elder sister, Feuola. She prayed for me and encouraged me that I had the opportunity for a new start and I could do it. Since then I have never failed another examination.
“My eldest sister Anuola has been a great role model, she was the first to go to university in the family and set the path for me. If she didn’t go, I don’t think I would have climbed that mountain.”
Cox pursued a BSc in sociology at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine, where she was awarded the coveted Fluor Daniel South America Co Ltd scholarship for outstanding academic achievement. She now holds a master’s in criminology and criminal justice.
She now does one-on-one private tutoring through her institution Mission Excel. She prepares students for CSEC and CAPE examinations and for successful living beyond the classroom.
Excelling at academia and holistic human development aside, though, Cox is a die-hard West Indies cricket fan and the proud winner of CPL Fan of the Match two years in a row. She also enjoys drama, praise dancing, and singing.
Her advice to young people: “Discover your purpose, pursue it. Your life is not your own, serve God. Use every good and bad experience as a vehicle to your destiny. Thank God for your challenges and failures, wrapped up in them are promotion, strength, humility and blessings.
“Nothing isn’t wasted, it all adds up in the end. The clothes isn’t clean until it’s tumbled, the gold isn’t pure until it’s burned. Handle everything with grace and life will handle you with grace. Avoid intellectual obesity and ensure to give out, give back to your people, community and country.”
Cox can be reached at [email protected]