Shortly after independence Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams embarked on a "Meet the People Tour" throughout the villages in Trinidad. At the end of the tour he described the exercise as "an unforgettable experience that brought me in contact with the ordinary people".
As the nation's first Prime Minister he said, "all that was needed was to give the energy and enthusiasm I found in the villages the opportunities for self expression and a home in which to nurture the arts, craft and other cultural expressions of our people."
Arising out of the tour he announced a programme called "The Prime Minister's Best Village Trophy Competition PMBVTC". The aim of the programme was to accelerate building of community centres throughout the country, and using these centres to promote the latent talent in the villages.
Although he had travelled extensively during election campaigns, he admitted that he had not visited some areas in Trinidad and Tobago, especially in the rural areas. Williams said, "One of the valuable results of the tours was that I was able to know the country better than I did before."
The report on his visit quoted him as saying, "It was not my first visit to L' Anse Fourmi or to Palatuvier. I already knew quite well La Fillette or Brasso Seco, which has always been one of my favourite spots of natural beauty of the countryside. But the tour allowed me to pay my first visit to Aripo a village 'way behind God's back'. All that I could say to the people of Trinidad is that living 'behind God's back' is beautiful."
During the tour, Williams met with village council members, women's groups, youth groups, sporting and cultural clubs, and agricultural credit societies. Everywhere he went there were school children on hand to perform and entertain him. The meetings with villagers were held in school buildings because of the absence of community centres. Williams said the most outstanding problem was the provision of community centres at which the committee members could meet to carry on their activities at different levels. "Against this background the government will select
the areas in which community centres are needed. The centres will be standardised, and their size depending on the population they serve," he said.
Williams said another aspect of the tour was the need to organise Village Programmes aimed at promoting self respect and camaraderie. To get such a programme underway he appointed a committee under the chairmanship of Honourable A A Thompson a minister attached to Community Development.
The first segment of the programme was the construction of community centres throughout the country. With financial assistance from Texaco Trinidad Limited and Tate and Lyle, the construction of communities throughout the country began.
Williams was not satisfied with building community centres alone. He wanted every school to have a library. As part of the vision for the development of the citizens. Williams said while on tour he saw the need to develop libraries in every school. With assistance from Rockefeller from the United States school libraries were established. Thus was born the Better Village programme under the direction of Joyce Wong Sang, his sister-in-law, and cultural activist Norville Fullerton.
Wong Sang in a recent interview said, "when the programme started we had no prior knowledge of what form it should take. We started from scratch, we made some mistakes, but by and large it achieved the purpose set out by the Prime Minister."
She explained that "the vision of the PMBVTC was to champion the integrated village concept in and among communities throughout Trinidad and Tobago. It was also to partner with other communities to identify and satisfy their needs through the provision of gender sensitive, quality programmes and services."
Wong Sang said, "the objective of the programme was to empower communities, by providing them with opportunities that will enhance the surroundings in which they live. It was also designed to promote national pride, and to encourage folk art and the upliftment of art in general, as well as identifying historical and environmental sites throughout Trinidad and Tobago."
After serving as Director of the Programme for 25 years she retired. In 1992 she was awarded the Chaconia Medal Gold. for her services in the area of cultural development.
Of the PMBVTC Wong Sang said, "Cash prizes were offered in different categories of the competition and the cultural competitions went through different stages from preliminary to semi final and to the final presentation"
The competition started in January each year. Its aim was to build preserve and protect folk traditions and facilitate the growth of natural culture in categories of traditional carnival, handicraft, food and folk fair, environmental sanitation and selection of a queen at a show called la reine rive. Prizes were awarded in each category with the overall winner receiving a $200,000 prize
La Reine Rive, a popular cultural presentation, is now the longest running queen competition in Trinidad and Tobago. It is open to females between the ages 16-25 years. Many contestants from the La Reine Rive queen competition went on to enter other queen competitions.
As Trinidad celebrates its golden Jubilee of Independence, the PMBVTC will play a major role in the celebrations scheduled for August 2012. The theme for this year's festival is "one family, one nation, preserving our heritage, and celebrating our 50th anniversary of Independence".