Jul 24, 2016 News
“I had the opportunity to migrate permanently but I chose to remain here, because I believe that I can make a meaningful contribution to change lives…I also am of the firm belief that everyone should give back to their country in some form, and being in scouting is my way of giving back.”
By Suraj Narine
As parents, we try to give the best to our children – its Parenting 101. We want to always be there for them, so sometimes we follow them around just because the thought of them getting a scratch is enough to drive us into panic-mode.
So we go to their school parties, wedge ourselves into those little chairs and we take part in their concerts and shows.
Zaida Joaquin did all of this, but little did she know that following her kids around like a Band-Aid would result in her being the first person from Guyana to be a member of the Interamerican Scout Committee; the first Guyanese to be elected to the World Scout Bureau; Member of the Global Support Assessment Team; the Chairperson for the Caribbean Scout Executive team; the Deputy Chief Commissioner of the Scout Association of Guyana; the President of the Queen’s College Board of Governors; and a former Member/Secretary/Chairperson of the St. Margaret’s Primary School Scout Group and currently its Leader. She is also the Camp Chief of the Caribbean’s upcoming 14th ‘Cuboree’.
She was born on April 28, 1961, and grew up in First Street, Alexander Village. She came from humble beginnings. Her father, Ahmad Ally, was a Clerk with Guyana Gajraj while her mother, Shirley Ally, worked as a seamstress. She grew up with four brothers and two sisters.
Joaquin attended Charlestown Secondary School and subsequently did her ‘A’ Levels at St. Joseph High, where she attended for two years.
She recalls life being good during that period, but her world changed when her father passed away when she was just 15. Her mother became her rock, and her mother’s rock became the sewing machine, which in turn, became their sole source of income and their backbone.
“Dad passed away when I was young, so we could not afford certain things but looking back as an adult, my father provided a lot of guidance and structure which moulded me to be better person. I’m sad that he isn’t here to see how his children progressed. My four brothers are in the US, my eldest brother is a Vice President with Chase Bank. My last brother is an executive with Morgan Stanley.”
“My mom sewed day and night to maintain her seven children; she always made sure everything for school was provided. This also helped me to be a better parent. There was also food in the pot even though we were poor and when my brothers’ friends came over, they would eat, and maybe that’s why I’m still sharing with others.
“Growing up with none of the modern technology made us a very close-knit family, because my mother always made sure that whenever our chores were completed, we all would find the time to play a game of monopoly, cards, dominoes, and all the other board games. This was our way of bonding.”
Just one week after graduating from St. Joseph High, she got a job as a Clerk at the American Life Insurance Company (ALICO), now called the North American Life Insurance Company (NALICO). She then married her high school sweetheart, Gregory Joaquin, in September 1983.
They have two children: Reeza and Alyea. Reeza is a mechanic by profession and Alyea, a doctor.
Joaquin went to the University of Guyana in 1991 where she studied Management. She would later leave ALICO as a Human Resources Administration Manager and applied to the Hand-in-Hand Trust Company where she currently works.
THE BAND-AID EFFECT
Joaquin recalls that she would always follow her children around and when they started at St. Margaret’s Primary School, she wanted to be a part of their school journey.
She became a Member of the Parent/Teacher Association (PTA) and as the years went by, she became the Secretary/Chairperson. When her son signalled his intention that he wanted to be a Scout, Joaquin followed.
She joined St. Margaret’s Primary’s Scout Group as a regular leader and subsequently became Group Scout Leader. While her son moved throughout the ranks, so did Joaquin. She became the district commissioner, then the training commissioner, the Deputy Chief Commissioner for Administration then finally, the Chief Commissioner – a position she held for 10 years. She stepped down last month, but is now serving as the Deputy Chief.
Her son, Reeza, would graduate from Primary School copping 11th place in the country and her daughter, Alyea, some years later coming in third in the country. Her kids later enrolled into Queen’s College (QC) and what did Joaquin do? Yes, she followed.
She became Secretary, then President, of the Queen’s College PTA. She is now the Vice-Chairperson on the QC Board of Governors. Joaquin has no intentions of leaving QC anytime soon because according to her, she wants to give back to the school which she believes, played an integral role in her children’s development.
INVOLVEMENT IN SCOUTING
Scouting means a lot to Joaquin. Even as this interview was being conducted, she was advertising a brooch with the World Scout Emblem on her shoulder and her office was slightly Scout-themed.
But how much does scouting actually mean to her?
“People see Scouting as a bunch of kids running around, camping and tying knots, but it is more than that. To me, it is about the journey and the lessons that are learnt. These children that join scouting are not just joining the 2,000 others in Guyana, but the 45 million other scouts around the world.
“Many of them have personal troubles and challenges, and we try to answer their call whenever they need us. Some would even confide in us; they prefer to talk to us as Scout Leaders because we are their role models and because they know that they can trust us, and we have never given them any reason not to.
Most of my time is spent on Scouting. You say you want to meet for two hours every week, but it lasts for hours.”
She went on to say that even though she held the position of Chief Commissioner for a decade, she never gave up her position as a member of the scout group at St. Margaret’s because, according to her, she wanted to remain on the grounds to interact and develop the young ones.
“The Chief Commissioner position is more of a management position; to manage the scouting in Guyana. But I wanted to remain in contact with the young people, because that has kept me in the Association for so long and many others too.
“The payment for a Scout Leader is the joy it brings when you look at children and how much they have grown and how they have developed into remarkable individuals… that is our payment; our joy.”
She recalled that before she became the Chief Commissioner, not much was being done in the area of Scouting. She recalls also that there were no proper facilities, which really took a toll on the Association in not only getting members, but presented a struggle to stay in operation.
“My hardworking and dedicated team and I were able to bring scouting to what it is today. We have a nice new building, we have a nice ground. Scouting is back on track,” she asserted.
In 2002, Joaquin attended the Scouts’ World Conference in Greece – half a century after the first Guyanese participated. She has since then, attended most of the International Conferences throughout the world.
In 2013, she became the first person from Guyana to be a member of the Interamerican Scout Committee. She has been a member of the Global Support Assessment Team for the last two years and the Chairperson for the Caribbean Scout Executive team for the last four years. These are positions that no other Guyanese has held.
SCOUTING IN GUYANA VS. THE REST OF THE WORLD
In terms of training for scout leaders, she admitted that training was not done prior to her joining the Association.
“We were only doing the basics in scouting: hiking, camping, parades etc. But scouting is more than that. You have to train the person to be a good scout leader. We weren’t doing that, but a group of us went to Trinidad and got the necessary training, and coming out of this, myself and six others are now able to train the others.
“We teach children to not look at colour, class or creed. We mould them into individuals that always look at the brighter side of life and at the same time, we teach them life skills such as cooking, swimming, fishing and discipline.”
“At present, I am the only 4-bead holder in scouting in the Association.”
In terms of scouting in general, Guyana has been listed as number one in the Caribbean, according to Joaquin. She is also happy that Guyana has moved “from nowhere to somewhere”.
She takes joy in knowing that the President, David Granger, is a patron of the Scout Association.
“We were all excited. We reached out to him because in all the other countries that is how scouting is structured. The Head of State would normally be the Chief Scout of the Association, because most countries see scouting playing a pivotal role in moulding young people and in some countries, Scouting is compulsory for young people.
There are only four countries in the world that do not engage in Scouting while there are 214 countries where scouting exists. It is the only youth organisation to hold this record and this year Guyana will be celebrating 90 years of scouting whilst the rest of the World celebrate 100 years.”
She added that the Scout Association for the first time in its history, is preparing to host the Caribbean Cuboree – the 14th of its kind. Between 800 and 1000 Scouts from 13 Caribbean countries (Anguilla, Antigua, Aruba, Barbados, Curacao, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Maarten, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago) and one Eastern-European nation – Poland – will be participating.
She will be playing the role of Camp Chief.
The Cuboree will kick off with a Contingent Leaders’ Meeting today, followed by an Inter-faith Service. The Opening Ceremony will be hosted at the D’urban Park Arena at 15:00hrs where President Granger will be attending to offer remarks.
The following days will entail: excursions and shopping; a Country/Culture Day; Torchlight Parade and Campfire and a Day of Sports, among other events.
INVOLVEMENT OF PARENTS IN YOUTH DEVELOPMENT
“We want parents to come out and see what we do, so that they can have a better understanding of how important scouting is to a child’s development”.
“Parents’ support is necessary because if parents don’t support their children and be a friend to their children they wouldn’t confide in you; they would go to other persons. Parents should engage in certain conversations with their children. Parents need to be behind their children if they want them to succeed, “
Joaquin strongly believes that a child’s development has a lot to do also with the attention being paid by their parents. That is why she thinks her kids excelled, because she and her husband were always encouraging them to do more and to do better. This urge to be better and to reach beyond the stars, she said, came from her mother.
She was asked to provide one instance where scouting had played an important role in a child’s development.
“I always refer to this one instance where this little girl, she was about seven years when she joined scouting…her mother brought her. She was very shy, she never spoke to anyone, she never mixed and even when you would said good morning to her she would break down in tears. I am so proud of that child now. We have moulded her and today, she is still in Scouting – a Leader and she is a member of the Scout Association Steel Band. This once shy girl is now a Leader and she’s is only 14 years old.”
She said that there are other examples that are too numerous to mention, while adding that most of the children joining the scout association need guidance – a mother/father figure in their lives – while some use scouting as a means of taking a break from their “little” busy lives.
Scouting plays an integral part in a child’s upbringing, Joaquin said, as it teaches children that they are not alone and whilst there are many obstacles in life, sometimes it requires one to be guided along these paths. Joaquin said this is what she has been doing for the past two and a half decades, and will continue to do so. She is motivated by the success of her own children and said that she wishes the same for the kids that she comes in contact with every day.
“I had the opportunity to migrate permanently but I chose to remain here, because I believe that I can make a meaningful contribution to change lives. I have had many persons thank me because of the advice I have given to them, and believe me, it feels good to know that you’re a part of something bigger.
“I also, am of the firm belief that everyone should give back to their country in some form, and being in scouting is my way of giving back.”
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