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Rashmi makes human connections

Sunday, March 22, 2015
Rashmi Mathur, the creator of popular Facebook group People of Trinidad and Tobago.

“Here every creed and race finds an equal place.”

This prolific line in our national anthem seems so idealistic given this racially charged week, but for Rashmi Mathur it is the very essence of her “People of Trinidad and Tobago” Facebook group.

People of T&T which was inspired by the widely popular photoblogs—Humans of New York by New York photographer Brandon Stanton, profiles everyday citizens sharing their thoughts and stories. At present People of T&T has 17,884 likes and profiled just over 70 people of various races and ages since it first started in May 2014.

Mathur, an optometrist of Cascade, said some of those featured on the Facebook page liken it to a form of cleansing, and those who read it draw inspiration from the stories.

“Everybody has a story to tell,” Mathur said smiling as she sat down with the Sunday Guardian for an interview last week at her Point Lisas office. 

She said one of the concerns she had when she started the photoblogs was if people would say ‘we are a small country and to put everything out there...’

However she said once she started she found that “people actually want to share their story. They want witness to their story, to what they went through. 

“They want to say this happened to me but I overcame it. This happened to me and I do not want the same to happen to someone else. So there was a giving in what they were saying and it was so apparent from early on,” Mathur said.

She said starting the photoblog was a way for her to combine her passion for photography and her love for T&T.

Mathur, whose elder sister is Sunday Guardian columnist Ira Mathur, was born in India and came to Tobago along with her family at the age of nine. 

“My father was building the Claude Noel Highway in Tobago at the time. So we went to school there. I went to Scarborough RC and then Bishop’s High School. I went away to study and after that, my family came back to T&T. I lived in Tobago from the age of nine to 16,” she said.

Mathur said having lived in Tobago during her formative years and then Trinidad later on, she developed a special affection for both islands.

“I have developed such a love of T&T. A real, real love of it. I came from India and I studied aboard. What Trinidad has is so unique, so special, so beautiful and me having the outsider’s view somewhat, I appreciate it so much. Seeing African people, Chinese people, Indian people, French Creole, all these races and they just live together and they accept each other. Everyone does everything and it is just so great. No one ever thinks well that is not my religion so I not doing anything, or I do not understand that so that is not going to be part of my life,” she said.

Mathur said it was this comradery and oneness among the people of T&T that she wanted to capture and wanted to show to citizens and to the world.

She explained that in 2013 she briefly lost sight in one of her eyes in when she developed a tear in her retina which was repaired by laser treatment. It was after the scare that Mathur, a mother of two, decided to use the gift of her regained vision and her camera lens to show Trinbagonians the beauty of the people that surround them everyday. 

She said when she first came across Humans of New York she was blown away by the “incredible human connection between people” that Stanton found and showed through his photoblogs. 

“At that time I did not think that it (photoblogs) was something I could every remotely do at the time. I really am not tech savvy, I barely know how to upload my own pictures,” she said laughing heartily. 

However, she said it was on her niece’s urgings that she decided start taking her amateur photography serious. 

“I wanted to do something meaningful. I did not just want to take pretty pictures,” she said.

What started as a mission to showcase the people of T&T quickly became a journey of self-discovery for Mathur as she admitted that the more human connections she made the more evolved her way of thinking became. 

She said one of her first photoblogs was a man she met around the Queens’ Park Savannah who was hugging and kissing his newborn baby and she approached him for his story. She said he told her all he wanted was for his baby to grow up to be a good person.

“I thought (to myself), you know we are all the same, we may look different but we all want the same things. It (the interviews) started with simple questions like Who do you love? What makes you sad?...most said ‘losing someone.’ So you see, we feel sorrow at the same things, we feel happiness at the same things. We want the same things in the future for ourselves, and we want security, we want love. We want hope, we want joy. It is all the same for us,” she said.

She said her husband, Neil Fairfield, and her children Anousha, 16, and Arun, 20, help and support her in her effort to make the group People of Trinidad and Tobago better.

Mathur said she was not expecting to get so many likes on her page.

“I have 100 friends, I thought I would get 20 likes from my friends and family,” she quipped.

At this point, Mathur said she was uncertain how far People of Trinidad and Tobago would go, but she hopes the message of unity touches citizens and inspires them to keep the love flowing.

“When I look at the comments everyone is supporting one and other. I think we should always keep an open mind, there is more that unite us than separates us. Keep making those human connections, they make us human,” Mathur said.


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