The passing of Father Gerard Pantin comes at a time of explosive conditions in Laventille/Morvant, with young people falling to bullets on an almost daily basis.
This is precisely the crisis that Fr Pantin would have hoped to avoid when he walked into Laventille on that fateful day in 1970 and decided to make the welfare of its people his personal mission.
Moved by the cries of the Black Power movement, Fr Pantin had gone in search of understanding. What he found was important enough to dedicate his life and his considerable intelligence to resolving. As he would later explain, he found a place where many single mothers and children were fending for themselves without the support of family and community. The scenario fuelled a cascade of social problems including youth delinquency, and teenage pregnancies.
As a priest and educator, he traced the roots of the problem to an absence of family and education. His answer was Servol, Service Volunteered for All, dedicated to the goal of “...fostering spiritual values, co-operation and family responsibility in building society.”
At first Servol was the focus of many community projects. It found its deepest purpose, however, with the introduction of the innovative Life Centre, a multi-purpose institution that included a day-care unit for babies, another for toddlers, a skill-training centre for teenagers between 17 and 19, as well as dental and medical clinics.
Over the years, Servol has become the template for early childhood education and for equipping young people with job and life skills. It has spread its wings throughout Trinidad and Tobago with over 150 centres, and into the wider Caribbean. For the estimated 100,000 young people who have graduated from its programmes, Servol has been the family many did not have.
Throughout it all, Fr Pantin was able to retain the trust of the communities to which he had dedicated his life. His legacy of Servol remains one of the few initiatives in Trinidad and Tobago to have helped the under-class and which, if not under-utilised and even sidelined by successive political administrations, may have helped prevent the society from reaching its present sorry pass. Fr Pantin represented not only the best type of religious leader, but also the better type of Trinidadian.
Two cardinal principles of Fr Pantin’s approach to service were to listen and to ensure that those whom you serve make an investment, however small, in their own development. In this way, he ensured that Servol was designed with relevance to the needs of the communities and that each person who entered its doors had a personal stake in its work. It was a radically different approach from that of politicians who do not take the time to listen and assume that money will cure all ills.
Fr Gerry Pantin transformed the lives of generations of graduates who found their self-worth and independence through Servol’s programmes. He also proved that one person can make a real difference. His good will not be interred with his bones.