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Mystar kicks off children’s foundation
Many close to the young Wayne Mystar—born Wayne Mitchell—thought he would become a professional cricketer or footballer because of his passion for the two sports while attending secondary school. But something else was closer to his heart, as Mystar who was a cadet from 1981-87, had the desire to serve in the protective services. That desire became a reality at the age of 18 when he applied to both the T&T Police Service (TTPS) and the T&T Defence Force (TTDF) and got recruited by the former. He later got a call from the army, but decided to stay with the police.
“It did not matter if it was the army, coast guard or the police service. I just wanted to serve my country. Maybe it was the training I got as a cadet. But all I know is that I have never regretted becoming a police officer,” he told the T&T Guardian. “And I still got to play football with the police club,” he said with a smile.
Now after 25 years of service, he has attained the rank of Inspector and he also wears the hats of TTPS public information officer and co-ordinator of its national anti-bullying campaign.
When the former Belmont Boys Secondary alumnus visited the T&T Guardian, it was not to speak about police business. Rather, he came to highlight his new personal venture, the Wayne Mystar Foundation, which is about ensuring the safety and protection of T&T’s children. Mystar was casually dressed and much more relaxed than the serious man who usually fronts Police press briefings.
However, his seriousness about protecting the nation’s children was evident, once he began to explain what his foundation was about and why it was formed. “In my line of work I can say that I have seen it all when it comes to crime. But when it comes to crimes against children—especially if you are a parent—it’s always a much harder pill to swallow. Simply because children are innocent and defenceless. And we know, had there been some way, had there been some intervention, we could have saved a child.” He said the vision of the foundation is to create a safe childhood for all the nation’s children. Its mission is to expose and generate general awareness of all crimes that affect children both locally and internationally and to provide meaningful solutions to address them.
Mystar explained that the five-month-old, self-funded foundation will provide educational programmes to young people in the form of workshops, awareness campaigns, training camps etc. These programmes, which will be facilitated by those in the field of child protection, will target children as young as one to older teenagers of 18. Currently some additional funding for programmes, will come from some of corporate T&T, including the Massy Group, Blue Waters and Corporate Dynamics Group of Companies.
These campaigns and workshops, Mystar noted, will also provide solutions in the form of safety tips and best practices that can help young people to make choices that are consistent with the laws of T&T. “Victims would be redirected to the appropriate agencies such as the police, social workers, counsellors, mediators and safe houses that will assist in their families’ rehabilitation and bring perpetrators to justice.” Asked what facilities the foundation expected to use to conduct these workshops, and training camps, Mystar said it was seeking the assistance of schools and community centres. The Chaguanas resident said as a police officer, he is surrounded by the youths in his community all the time. “They automatically look up to you when you hold a position like this in society. Their parents come to you for advice,” he said.
He said as adults we must present choices to the young ones, especially those who did not have a good start. “The responsibility lies with all of us, because that same child you neglect, might be the one to turn around and rob you or that same child you reached out to could be the child who becomes notable in society because somebody gave him a chance...offered him a positive escape,” Mystar reckoned. He added: “We have young boys at primary school level being recruited into gangs and that is because they are easily being influenced by what they continuously see and what is being offered to them. Most of them are also searching for love and father figures and the gang members who themselves when you hear their story are similar victims of the same circumstances, prey on these younger ones. It is just a vicious cycle and somebody has to break it. If they do not have anybody in their neighbourhood or family to break that cycle then that is where organisations like mine step in,” said Mystar. “We know that every situation cannot be an ideal one. There are good parents who genuinely cannot be there for their children because they may have to work two and three jobs just to stay afloat, what then? We must be there to fill that gap and we intend to through the foundation’s mentorship programme,” he added.
He said his organisation was just one and although it is prepared to go all the way, there must also be an “all hands on deck” approach from the nation if there was to be any quick significant change. Which is why the foundation has partnered with various government ministries including the Ministry of the People and Social Development, the Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development and the Ministry of National Security, to work with it. It will also collaborate with Childline, the Victims and Witness Support Unit, Anti-Bullying Association of T&T, the Counter Trafficking Unit, Parent Teacher Association (PTA), the T&T Cadet Force and other similar NGOs in championing its cause. “I also intend to extend the invitation to my police colleagues to support the foundation, police officers with special skills in the legal fraternity, community police officers and any other police officers with special skills. And since the foundation launched in May, we have had a number of people in the field of child protection pledging their support such as doctors, lawyers, social workers, pastors, teachers etc.
What makes the Wayne Mystar Foundation different from other similar NGOs? And what are his plans to mitigate the challenges they face? “We are going to take an evaluation and measurement approach so you could measure if your programme achieved its goal or not. The Mystar Foundation is going to use what we call evidence-based solutions to monitor and receive feedback on whether a programme worked or not, what went wrong and how it can be improved.” He said the foundation intends to meet regularly with the stakeholders who deal with statistics and measurements as the organisation seeks to move forward.
In the foundation’s yearly plan, one phase is for the evaluation of programmes through national consultations with the public. This, he said, will give an account of the foundation’s stewardship for each year. “That is what we are going to bring that is new to the table, evidence-based solutions based on consistent evaluations and measurements, so that we would know what course of action to take when dealing with issues that affect children. “I understand that the public may feel that many programmes or institutions have failed them, but this is no ‘willy nilly’ organisation, that’s here today and gone tomorrow. I do not get involved in anything if my heart is not in it or if I know it’s a dead end. We are here to work for these young people and we will make it work.”
Positive Peer Pressure
One of the Mystar Foundation’s strategies is to use young people to empower their peers. As it is, three young people sit on the board of directors, including Mystar’s daughter, 20-year-old Tishanna Mitchell. “Many times, the people advising our children are their peers, and often the advice is anything but useful, because they themselves are in need of direction. So what we have decided to do is encourage positive peer pressure by letting the youth take the lead in finding ways to reach their own generation. “I am looking at the fact that we are living in the age of technology and we want to get new ideas. We as adults have experience but new ideas are always forthcoming and who better to get new ideas from on how to reach young people, than from they themselves; our young ones?” the 44-year-old said.
One of the foundation’s programmes, titled The 4G generation, places emphasis on the use of social media. It will also be used to tackle cyber bullying. Homework assistance will also be offered via this medium. Other initiatives include a children’s safety caravan where the foundation will visit rural communities to raise awareness with the help of schools, beginning in January next year.
The Mystar Foundation has also planned a reality television series called Xposure. Mystar hopes the programme will empower people, communities and society at large. The 13-part series will begins this month and end in December.
He said having the youth mentor their peers can also create positive role models, something that T&T needs more of. “We have many young unsung heroes right here in this country, but who’s talking about them? Who is highlighting them and what they do? It’s always so refreshing when you could take up the paper and read about a young constructive person who is not necessarily popular, but whose story speaks to overcoming adversities and remaining positive. “Our young people keep looking at the international stars as mentors and leaders. We have our own right here too, the Brian Laras and the Dwight Yorkes, but we need to start producing them in masses. We will be seeking out these young people and bringing them on board, because it is our young people who will reach our young people,” he said.
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