Fabian Thomas is many things; he is a poet, founder, and artistic director of the artistic collective Tribe Sankofa; an Adjunct Lecturer in the Institute of Caribbean Studies at the University of the West Indies (Mona); and most recently a participant in the United States’ Multiregional International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP).
The three-week Program, entitled ‘NGOs and Civic Activism’, ran from September 5-22, 2017 and with 19 participants from 17 countries. Thomas and his counterpart from Haiti were the only two participants from the Caribbean region. For three weeks the group engaged in
knowledge-exchange visiting non-profit organizations (NGOs), professional associations and public service organizations across multiple US cities.
Though he was a US resident for many years, Thomas saw the US through different lens over the three weeks he was there. As a lover of arts and culture, he was especially appreciative of all the cultural excursions they embarked on. However, the most notable parts of the trip for him were the visits to Human Rights Watch; the AIDs Resource Center of Wisconsin; Benedict Center; The Healing Center; and the NAACP, where he was fortunate to engage with Hilary Shelton, Director to the NAACP’s Washington Bureau and Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Policy. Thomas was also moved and inspired by a presentation made by Majo Joseph, an activist for democracy and fair elections from Mozambique. Josephs had to flee his home country because of his political activism and currently, he resides in Portland, Oregon where he is on a fellowship with the Bus Project. He hopes to return home to continue his work fighting for transparency and democracy after the fellowship has ended.
These visits, among others, provided Thomas with insight and perspective on the work he has been engaged in for the better part of a decade, and reminded him just how progressive local NGO programmes are, “I was reminded of how advanced and sophisticated Jamaica is as far as NGO capacity and knowledge is concerned, especially in comparison to what many of us assume about ‘first world’ countries. Even in this realm ‘wi lickle, but very tallawah!”
According to Thomas, his most significant lesson was rather simple and that was the reaffirmation that we are all alike, he said: “I was consistently struck by the simple, yet poignant humanness of the group, we really at our core are basically the same with some wonderful diversity thrown into the mix.”
It has been just about two weeks since his whirlwind trip has ended, and while he is still settling back into his many roles, Fabian has already started thinking about how he can use his experience to improve the programmes he is a part of as well as develop new programmes aimed at community development. He plans to share relevant information with Jamaican NGOs and Community Based Organizations (CBOs), as well as the University of the West Indies. One area in particular which is of interest to him is the use of performing arts to inform and spark dialogue at community and national levels. In fact, one of IVLP participants from Morocco already has an established programme in place there. They have committed to staying connected and sharing best practices to enrich and advance their initiatives.
Locally, Thomas has partnered with Heineken and Collingwood Learning Solutions Ltd. on the Movement (Jamaica). The Movement is a campaign against underage drinking which began in 2016. The Movement uses edutainment and high-energy facilitation to engage with students and attempts to break the culture of underage drinking. The project features actors from his performing arts collective Tribe Sankofa as well as other local performers. In its first phase, 33 schools were visited and this year the second phase is expected to reach 75 schools.
At present, he is gearing up for Fi Wi Jamaica’s #BigupJamaicaDay, an initiative which seeks to promote the positive aspects of Jamaica and Jamaican people using social media. Thomas serves as the communications consultant for the Fi Wi Jamaica Project, a USAID-funded project out of the University of Technology, Jamaica. He is also in preparation mode, readying his team for Tribe Sankofa’s signature event Word Soul which will be held on December 16. This is in addition to his duties as Adjunct Lecturer in the Institute of Caribbean Studies at the University of the West Indies. While it may seem like a lot to some, Fabian relishes the many opportunities he has been given to work at various levels and is pleased to know his work is creating real positive change.
With this experience under his belt and his newly expanded international network, Fabian is ready to do more for his country, and we are excited to see what is to come!