Happy Birthday Kamla Persad Bissessar (born April 22nd 1952) and please see below for her birthday message:
MY PROMISES TO KEEP—REFLECTIONS ON THE YEARS PAST
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”
(Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, by Robert Frost)
Good morning everyone.
This is one of my favorite poems. Its beautiful words remind me of countless miles I’ve travelled so far in this life. Like many others, I often grow a bit nostalgic when I officially grow a year older.
Today, I cast my memory back to the little girl who grew up in Siparia in the 1950s, one of six children of my now deceased, beloved parents, Lilraj and Rita Persad.
Like most citizens, we were part of the working-class population, but the widespread poverty and deprivation of those times were not obvious to my generation then; but as I look back, I recall such poverty well.
We were raised, you see, knowing that we represented our parents’ and grandparents’ ultimate dream of a better future. Education was our passport out of poverty and we made their hopes our life’s mission.
My parents both worked very hard to take care of our family. In early childhood, we lived with my grandparents in Boodoo Trace, Penal. I remember accompanying my grandmother to the market to sell bodi, and walking barefooted for four miles to and from primary school.
I also remember well my paternal grandfather (I spent a lot of my childhood time at his home) was a unionist cane farmer and his home was one where many political gatherings and much political talk took place. Some in my family say I “take” after him. Maybe I do; but I do know I learnt much in those gatherings and from those talks.
In the early 1960s, my parents rented a house on High Street, Siparia, where my mother opened a roti shop.
The town was then a bustling commercial and cultural hub. The union and political bigwigs of the Southland would often gather in my mother’s shop and engage in lengthy, loud discussions on politics and current affairs. Soon, my parents became important fixtures of the Siparia business community.
To the back of our house in Siparia, there was a big yard, just over the tall wall that bordered it was the Siparia Deltones Pan Yard. Every Carnival, they would enter the National Panorama competition and practiced nonstop from October to February. Then, the beautiful strains of the pan melodies would wake me up on mornings and lull me to sleep at nights.
In 1963 I passed Common Entrance for Iere High School and was pleasantly rewarded by the Ministry of Education who gave me a check to buy books because they recorded that I scored in the top 100 students in the exam!!
I was always a sports buff and in Iere I gained I gained the Victrix Lodurum, Award, the school’s top award for a female in sports. I belonged to the track and field team and represented my school in same and also in netball, table tennis and badminton. Of course, I was also in the choir because I insisted but, I really was not a great singer!.
I also met my husband Gregory at Iere High. He was two classes ahead of me, a very popular, handsome guy. He later migrated to England to study, but we stayed in touch via letters. After completing GCE O’Levels, I wanted to go to England to further my studies. My father and his brother were dead set against it, but my mother won that battle on my behalf.
I left Trinidad in the late sixties when I was just sixteen years old to go to London as a student at the Norwood Technical College.
There, as a student, I worked as a waitress and at the Church of England’s Children Society and other jobs to pay my way through school.
I also reunited with Greg. Later, we got married and moved to Jamaica to study at UWI, Mona, and in Jamaica, I first worked as a teacher and then as a UWI lecturer.
After, Greg and I returned to Trinidad but I was off again to study law at Cave Hill, Barbados.
By the time I returned to T&T nearly two decades later, the country was in the throes of one of the worst economic recessions in its history. That was when I decided to give my life to public service. The rest, as they say, is history.
On days like these, I look back and shake my head and smile at that little, naïve, adventurous 16-year-old child who dared to venture alone out into the great, big world. She was armed with only determination and a deep hunger to do more with her life.
The years that followed felt like one long, never ending battle as I fought against all the odds of a man’s world to achieve something meaningful for the people of my country. Truthfully, though, I was never aware that what I was doing back then would one day be considered pioneering and historic in the politics of our country.
Public service became my life’s calling when I saw that my fellow citizens desperately needed a voice to truly represent their needs and hopes of a better life and future for their children. I long ago made a promise that I would never stop until ALL citizens of this great land truly lived in equality, progress and justice.
Indeed, I’m very grateful to my wonderful, supportive family and the hundreds of thousands of people who have supported me through these long years in my political career. In moments when I’ve faltered, you’ve given me the courage, strength, inspiration and faith to keep on going.
I thank the Good Lord for all the blessings throughout my life.
I thank the Good Lord you even as I promise to continue the fight for a better T&T for all our citizens. And no matter how long it takes to fulfill this promise, know that until I do, I will always have ‘miles to go before I sleep’.
May God richly bless you with the love, strength and inspiration that you have given to me over all these years.
Remember always put God in front and walk behind.