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Caribbean Beat Magazine

New winners at Waterloo

Students of Waterloo High School in Trinidad overcome challenges to win the RBTT Young Leaders competition

  • Young Leaders and teachers of Waterloo High School celebrate their victory with Catherine Kumar, Managing Director, RBTT Bank. Photograph courtesy RBTT Financial Group

In the picturesque village of Waterloo, Trinidad, the story goes that a sadhu, the descendant of indentured labourers brought from India in the 19th century to work in the canefields, wanted to build a place of worship for the community. Initially he clashed with the Government, when his first attempt to build a Hindu temple was demolished because it was constructed on state land. So the innovative holy man decided to find an alternative site, choosing to build what became known as the Temple in the Sea. For many years, so the story goes, he diligently transported the building materials on his bike to build first an island and a causeway and then the temple itself. Today, this temple has become a treasured national landmark.

So, true to its name, there were battles and triumphs at Waterloo, Trinidad, but on a smaller scale than Napoleon’s last stand in Europe.

Not far from the Temple in the Sea, set among rolling fields of sugar cane, the Waterloo High School was built over seven years ago. Its students have demonstrated a similar tenacity to that shown by Siewdass Sadhu. Recently, they emerged winners of a well-respected, unique competition funded by one of the largest financial institutions in the region, the RBTT Financial Group.
As winners of the RBTT Young Leaders Programme 2007, a popular regional competition focused on honing the leadership, teamwork and project-management skills of high school students, Waterloo High School received monetary prizes as well as the prestigious challenge trophy. The theme of this year’s programme was “Realising Self Worth…Your Choice…Your Destiny”.

High school students in Trinidad, like many others around the world, face a myriad of challenges, academic, financial and social. And Waterloo was no exception: although the project began with 50 students, a few months later half the class had to withdraw because of other demands.

However, support from the school and the community continued to grow as the remaining 25 young leaders brought innovative and traditional practices into play. Ultimately, they found that in trying to help others with issues of self-esteem, they also benefited.

“In trying to get others to realise that they are valuable, we found the value in ourselves; in trying to get others to believe in themselves, each young leader learnt to believe in himself, herself,” explained the president of the 2007 Waterloo High School Young Leaders, Brillience Sammy.

The judges saw the Waterloo students as true leaders because their project was well constructed, reflected clear marketing and communications skills, effective time and project management, and successful entrepreneurial skills. Their project was relevant to the theme and gained the support not only of the school, but also of the community.

But what was the project? Well, the students began with the words of the theme, which they re-interpreted. “Positive Image Produces Success (PIPS)” was the tagline that evolved from a series of brainstorming sessions.

From there they developed a key message, a mantra of sorts, in a language their peers could understand: “If you believe you can achieve, you will succeed”. The students then began to raise funds by “piggy-backing” on school events, including selling T-shirts at the school’s annual sports day and soliciting sponsorship. Along the way they chronicled the process, underscored by a unique sense of humour.

They motivated the school community at the morning assembly with inspirational talks and words of wisdom by guest speakers, drawn from leaders from the community. At first they thought of inviting international icons to speak, but then they looked closer to home and selected parents, community leaders, and former RBTT Young Leaders.

They also spoke about this message on national radio shows, presenting a “PIPS for the day”. They produced a booklet on etiquette for students, as well as a newsletter.

In May, after receiving their trophy from the President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, George Maxwell Richards, at a gala ceremony, the returning champions were welcomed home in style. While the school steelband played the popular soca song “Light it Up” by Machel Montano, hundreds of students cheered and waved. Another triumph, a lesson in resilience for the young leaders of Waterloo.

RBTT Young Leaders is an award-winning youth programme of the RBTT Financial Group.