Monday, January 22, 2018

Struggles, hopes and efforts in John John

Athaliah Samuel: Much more than just a pretty face


QUEEN: Athaliah Samuel with her crown as Miss Trinidad and Tobago in 2012.

Mark Fraser

Two years ago she represented Trinidad and Tobago at the Miss World pageant in China, and though it is what she is most known for, Athaliah Samuel is much more than just a pretty face. In this installment of “From Laventille With Love” the Laventille-born beauty talks about her struggles, her hopes and her efforts at making her hometown a better place. Coming from John John, Samuel is no stranger to the effects of crime.

“Crime has personally affected me,” she said. “I have lost friends and even my family through crime in Laventille.”The 26-year-old knows all too well the stigma surrounding the area, having fallen victim to it herself. “One time I was asked if I get hired, would I bring anyone to rob the place,” she recalls. Even as Miss T&T, Samuel was heavily criticised by persons who felt that because of her background and dark skin colour, she was not an appropriate choice.

The stigma has also affected her career as a model as she says she loses out on jobs and sponsorship because of her birthplace, even though she says she is one of the best locally. Despite this, Samuel maintains a fiery passion for her community, saying it is only a few bad apples that are spoiling the bunch. “Not everyone living in Laventille are warmongers,” she said. “The gang members are not thinking of what they are doing and how they affect others.

You cannot fight for turf when you don’t own the land. You cannot fight for revenge when you are killing your brothers, sisters, cousins, parents and anyone else, when you too have done wrong. It will be a neverending war and that’s not good for our children or the community.” In an effort to fight the negative issues facing her community, Samuel, under the Athaliah and Friends Foundation, developed the “Bringing Back Laventille Project” aimed at fostering improvement within the community.

“The Bringing Back Laventille Project is something that’s very close to my heart,” Samuel said. Nothing is being maintained (in the community) and no activities are being done. Bringing Back Laventille extends to fixing the schools and bringing old activities such as netball, football and track and field back into our schools; even have a community team to represent us.

That’s what my aim is right now. I believe if I grab the youths from now their mentalities will be different.” Samuel takes particular interest in improving the St Phillips Government Primary School, her alma mater. The school is in dire need of repair, she says. “There are giant holes in the roof, bird droppings, and the bathrooms are run down. Re-painting the school is just one of the things I want to get done but all the other factors need to be addressed as well.”

Samuel says her Foundation is currently trying to gather school supplies to distribute to children in the area before the start of the new school term in September. But help is slow in coming. “My intentions are pure but we suffer a lot for being from Laventille,” she said. “Developing Laventille is a big project but it is possible. As much interest that is being focused on other communities and their development, we do not get half of that. We are trying our best with what we have, but support is minimal or nothing.”

The Foundation has also assisted in tutoring persons in the area, and Athaliah has herself used her knowledge and experience in the beauty and fashion industries train models. She dreams of also establishing a dance school and modeling academy in Laventille but says she can only dream so much. “The only progress made is passing on the ideas, which people are showing interest in. I guess with time and some more effort I may get help. Beneficially, the community would regain some sense of dignity.”

In October Samuel will once again have the opportunity to represent the country and her community as she participates in the Miss Intercontinental pageant in Jordan. “I am anxious and excited because I am once again getting to prove myself,” she said.

Though she says she has no sponsors for the pageant and few persons are willing to help financially, she remains confident and determined. She says she has the support of the Laventille people who always support her in all her efforts.

“The people of Laventille remain supportive throughout my career.”

Samuel advises youths in her community to not let anyone’s negative views keep them from achieving their dreams and to always be prepared to grasp positive opportunities when they come around.