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Wearing our icons with pride

Thursday, December 19, 2013
Seon Thompson decided to use his posters of the nation’s icons to do a social experiment on his students, to find out if the younger generation knew who these icons were. PHOTO COURTESY SEON THOMPSON

Seon Thompson thought it was a great idea to pay tribute to our national heroes for the 50th anniversary of independence. His celebration was in the form of minimalist images – least characteristics are seen but the objet d’art is still recognisable. He started with our first Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams, whose trademark hearing aid and glasses made it easy to define. Sprinter Richard Thompson was next on the list.


Inspired to do 50 icons in all, he posted five images a week on Facebook. He went further, producing two posters with 25 images each. The project was self-motivated and self-funded. Fuelled by his desire to share T&T’s heritage with other citizens, he approached the Ministry of Multiculturalism to fund the printing of 5,000 posters.


But with the successful run of his work, Thompson thought it would be a good opportunity to do a social experiment – to find out if the younger generation knew who these icons were.


As an art teacher at Arima North Secondary (formerly Arima Senior Comprehensive) school, Thompson did the test on his students.


“They didn’t recognise them, including the current PM,” he said. “They related the images to foreign icons.”


The image they thought was US actor Will Smith, was actually medal-winning track and field athlete Ato Boldon. The one they pointed out as action star Jackie Chan, was actually chutney star Sundar Popo. 


Eventually, the students learned the lesson but the greater moral of this story is the need to preserve history. In the young people’s defence, Dreamer in Chief of the Growing Leaders Foundation Sallyann Della Casa said they couldn’t be blamed for not knowing because as a country, T&T did not preserve its culture and people. “If we look at losing our way, we look at our past and our ancestors,” she said. “We have not protected our identity.”


Now, Thompson and the Growing Leaders Foundation have teamed up to contribute to the preserving a bit of T&T through the Pollinator project, a subset of the Hive – a social enterprise project that ran earlier this month. And while Thompson thought he was teaching T&T a lesson in history, the 27-year-old teacher realised he was also a student. 


“I had no idea about the Hive until I was approached,” he said.


“Pollinators spread ideas,” explained Della Casa. So, some of the images Thompson created were licensed for a T-shirt project that aims at recognising those who have made a pathway in T&T’s development. Out of Thompson’s 50 Proud collection, artist Carlisle Chang, trade unionist Uriah “Buzz” Butler, Dr Eric Williams and parrandera Daisy Voisin were selected for their respective milestones in T&T’s landscape.


The image of Trinidad’s version of Julia Child - Sylvia Hunt (which makes the series a five-piece tribute) was commissioned by Growing Leaders.


In addition to reawakening that understanding of T&T’s past, the Pollinator T-shirt project also serves as an exercise in social awareness. Instead of paying in cash for the T-shirts, the price is 150 plastic bottles.


“As teachers, we try to leverage…impact the environment in a positive way. It’s reverse recycling,” Della Casa said. “We don’t recognise the value in plastic bottles. Instead of throwing it out to pollute the environment, consider the value of plastic and reusing it. We are accepting all sizes.”


She pointed out subway fare in China can be paid by depositing plastic bottles into a ticket machine. At NYC Fashion Week, event T-shirts were also paid also with bottles.


The other lesson to be learnt by Thompson’s T-shirts is social enterprise. Social enterprises are businesses whose primary purpose is the common good. They use the methods and disciplines of business and the power of the marketplace to advance their social, environmental and human justice agendas.


Taking a page from Tom’s Shoes, a US-based enterprise which gives a pair of shoes to an impoverished child when a pair is bought, a T-shirts from the Pollinator project will go to someone in need when one is bought.


“We have chosen the homeless community, YTC (Youth Training Centre) and St Michael’s School for Boys. We will register everyone who buys the T-shirt and invite them on the gifting day which will be in December to those in need. It is a great way for us to be conscious buyer and know when we buy something we are also ensuring someone else gets one who may never have the money or opportunity to get that product,” she said.


To get your hands on one of Seon Thompson’s “iconic” T-shirts contact him at 766-2995.



About Growing Leaders Foundation


Growing Leaders is a not-for-profit organisation, registered in T&T. GLF addresses the social issue of growing leaders of youth globally through partnership between classrooms and skilled volunteers.


Volunteers, both independent and company employees (through company CSR volunteerism programs), are trained to teach customised lesson plans in the classroom during school hours. 


GLF also partners with NGOs, educators, companies and other social entrepreneurs to enhance their impact by training and giving them the opportunity to license and teach GLF programmes. (


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