Remarks by Ambassador Candace Bond
Humanitarian Breakfast Series
Hilton Trinidad, Port of Spain
July 13, 2023
Distinguished Ambassadors and Excellencies, honored guests, ladies and gentlemen, friends, good morning.
Welcome to the seventh installment of the Humanitarian Breakfast Series. I am honored to co-host this event with my colleagues Jewel Ali from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Miriam Aertker with The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the Education Working Group (EWG).
I’d like to begin my remarks by expressing my gratitude. Thank you all for being here and thank you for your tireless efforts to address the humanitarian challenges of the troubled world in which we live. Thanks also To you wonderful students who came here all the way from Naparima College. we look forward to hearing your voices in these discussions today.
Throughout my life, I have sought to apply my abilities to devise solutions that lift people up, strengthen communities, and inspire sustainable change, including in the field of education of all children, the topic of today’s conversation.
My interest in education was inspired by my mother, Anita Lyons Bond, an educator, who served as President of the St. Louis Board of Education—the first black woman to do so. She just turned 93 this month. She was also the first black woman to graduate from St. Louis University where she graduated Magna Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa, and where she received an honorary doctorate just a few years ago.
She made our family proud and inspired generations of students, parents, and teachers to use education as way to uplift individuals, families, and the city of St. Louis where I am from.
In my prior life, i served as an official for the Los Angeles County Office of Education, the largest educational governance agency in the United States. I worked to improve our public education system for over two million families and children to help provide the education they booth needed and deserved.
The Los Angeles Unified School District faces similar challenges to those right here, in Trinidad and Tobago.
In the Los Angeles school district, 59 percent of students are economically disadvantaged, and 28 percent are English language learners representing 31 different nationalities. The families in the Los Angeles school district include refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants.
UNHCR reports that there are currently 108.4 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, more than at any time since World War II. They have been displaced as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations, political and economic turmoil, or events seriously disturbing public order.
Forty-one percent of these displaced persons are children. Today, we will be focusing on these 41 percent who are among the most vulnerable but who also present the greatest promise for the future.
Like the United States, Trinidad and Tobago is affected by a migration crisis felt throughout the Western Hemisphere, particularly from Neighboring Venezuela, whose economic and political turmoil has generated one of the largest external migration outflows n the world, displacing more than 6 million people and affecting every country represented in this room.
Like many governments around the world, the Biden Harris administration continues to expand legal pathways for refugees and vulnerable migrants coming from all corners of the glove. in 2022 alone, the United States accepted more than 1.6 million asylum seekers as part of an international movement to offer protection to some of the most vulnerable members of the planet: the forcibly displaced.
UNHCR has registered 28,000 refugees and asylum seekers right here, in Trinidad and Tobago.
To frame this crisis, I would like to quote a beloved friend, former President Barack Obama who offered the following words: “This crisis is a test of our common humanity . […] We cannot avert our eyes or turn our backs. To slam the door in the face of these families would […] be to ignore a teaching at the heart of so many faiths that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us; that we welcome the stranger in our midst… I believe history will judge us harshly if we do not rise to this moment.” End quote.
Yet, I believe that from every crisis comes opportunities. And to rise to the challenges of this moment in Trinidad and Tobago, we need practical, strategic, and realistic, and humane solutions. We know how challenging this is, but we know that countries need to reap the social, economic, and security benefits that can come from safe, orderly, and controlled migration, and education is one of the best investments we can make to tap this potential.
As a gateway between Venezuela and the Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago cannot escape challenges posed by the ongoing economic and political crisis in Venezuela. We see it, we feel it, and we all need to cooperatively address the risks posed by firearms, narcotics, and human trafficking, and help Trinidad and Tobago develop a coherent migration and refugee policy. We stand with you.
Without education, migrant and refugee children who grow up here are likely to be disenfranchised and some may be targeted for gang recruitment by transnational criminal networks. Making opportunities for education available to these children is the most effective deterrent against this security threat.
Refugees and migrants often arrive in host countries with a wealth of untapped potential. I have met women who have degrees in chemical engineering who are now sewing, men who are doctors in their home countries who now cut grass. Integration is tough, but education equips children everywhere with the tools necessary to continue to fill gaps in international labor markets allowing refugees and migrants to be contributors to a more equitable and prosperous economy, rather than dependents on social welfare or charity.
Moreover, many of the benefits derived from the phased approach we are discussing will result in a more inclusive and cohesive education system, providing a path for non-English speaking Warao and Carib children to become more integrated into the fabric of Trinidad and Tobago society. For the many disadvantaged children who dropped out of school during the pandemic and never returned, this roadmap can also be used as a bridge for them to return to school.
I began my remarks today by paying homage to my dear mother, but I would be remiss if I did not also acknowledge the contributions of my late father, Dr. Leslie Bond, who taught me that each and every individual has value, no matter their culture or station in life. He would always tell us, “Be able to walk with kings, but always, always maintain a common touch.”
As descendants of slaves, my parents struggled to overcome many of the lingering effects of racism through Jim crow, segregation, and institutional discrimination which sadly still exists in our country today. I come from a family that has been instrumental in the civil rights movement that transformed America and their example of activism for social, racial, and economic justice is something that continues to inspire me. But I can tell you my family emphasized the importance of education as a way up, and out; and as a way of making a difference in the lives of who can take advantage of it. Many of you have similar heritages and stories. I’m always deeply impressed and moved with the beautiful mosaic of Trinbagonian history, culture, and society (and party-ness, I just have to add that!)
As we listen to the presentation and discussion today, I encourage you to approach it with an open mind, to listen, discuss, and share.
I’d like to conclude by offering sincere thanks the education working group. Yes, I am a champion! I continue to remain so deeply impressed with the thought, care, heart, and work that they have put into making education of this key demographic possible without diverting resources or displacing Trinbagonian children. I know firsthand how difficult this undertaking is having encountered these challenges in Los Angeles. So as I stand amazed by your commitment and knowledge, I commit to working alongside you so that we may we seize this opportunity together with wisdom, and foresight, and may TT live up to its promise, of being nation where: “every creed and race find an equal place.”