Early 2021, India was hit by the second wave of COVID-19 pandemic. Many precious lives were lost leaving behind bereaved families. In response to this situation, Independent Ministries of Seventh-day Adventists in India formed a support network to provide medical, social, emotional, and spiritual care to persons suffering from COVID-19 and families who lost their loved ones to COVID-19. Dr. Austin Navis, medical doctor, and director of Abundant Lifestyle (Kolkata, India) spearheaded the initiative. Also, being the secretary of the Adventist Medical Evangelism Network (AMEN) India, Dr. Austin brought together medical professionals, Bible workers and lay volunteers in the field. The international ministries with centres in India like the Amazing Facts, Adventist World Radio 360, Hope Channel, LIGHT, AMEN, Restoration Health, Wisdom Tooth Technologies, 24/7 United Prayer, also came out to support this initiative. The support network was named as “Adventist COVID Care” ministry. Dr. Austin and another prominent member of the AMEN, India ministry, Dr. Samuel George Hansdak (Head, Medicine IV Unit, Christian Medical College and Hospital, India) held a series of meetings with the volunteers and laid down the guidelines and structure for ACC.
This ministry needed a team to provide social and emotional care to the affected persons requesting for help. Dr. Austin was in touch with Dr. Susan Chand, Director of Research and Innovation at USC through another project they were working on. He requested Dr. Chand’s assistance in forming a team for Social and Emotional Support. Dr. Chand, in collaboration with Dr. Edward Clarke, Dean of the School of Social Sciences identified faculty members to be part of this team. The members of the team are Dr. Glenda Hinkson, Dr. Kenneth Niles, Dr. Chanchal Gayen and Dr. Clarke. Dr. Chand led out as the coordinator for the group and a liaison between ACC and USC.
ACC was launched on the virtual platform by the Director for Health Ministries of the Southern Asia Division, Dr. Edison Samraj on June 10, 2021. Dr. Clarke, Dr. Niles and Dr. Chand attended the launch.
Between May 19 to June 30, 2021, USC’s Social and Emotional Support team through ACC conducted five training sessions for the medical professions, Bible Workers, and lay volunteers from the Seventh-day Adventist communities in India on the zoom platform. Each training sessions had over 40 participants including the interns in the Counseling Psychology programmes at USC.
Velvet Benicourt enrolled as a student at the University of the Southern Caribbean, School of Business and Entrepreneurship (SOBE) in September 2018 with an aim to complete her economics degree under four years. She almost did it!
Along with regular semesters, Velvet also enrolled in summer classes in order to accelerate her progress. She was diligent and maintained a minimum, cumulative GPA of 3.70 throughout her studies. Brilliant and determined would characterise her efforts as she pursued her studies, taking pride in her performance. Her lecturers identified her intellectual abilities and encouraged her to take part in various co-curricular activities.
Twice she represented USC as a researcher and member of the SOBE debate team, and on one occasion led the Team to victory! Velvet was a ‘working student’ who had to face the challenge of balancing work-life demands on a daily basis. She admitted experiencing some health challenges in 2020 and was cautioned by several of her lecturers to slow down her pace of studies in order to manage her overall wellness.
She was poised to graduate with honours and wanted to achieve such a milestone by July 2021. Alas, as her health challenges proved complicated she had to pause attending classes in May 2021.
We extend our deepest condolences to her family. She will be missed for her dedication and determination and will always be remembered for her pursuit of excellence.
Remembering Velvet – Tributes from SOBE Students & Faculty
Velvet Benicourt impressed me to be a gentle, hardworking, determined and intelligent soul. While I never had the privilege of having her in any of my classes, I had several brief interactions with her, mainly during challenging times in her life. I was concerned at times that she was pushing herself at school too much but she assured me that she loved school and that assignments comforted her and took her mind off of other things. The only time I had a physical interaction with her was last year when we were desperately in need of a third person for the COTE debate. I asked her if she was capable and willing and she graciously accepted even though we asked her at the very last moment. She stepped right in and was of great support to her team members. We don’t always understand why death takes someone so early with such ambition and a bright future. However, we trust that God knows what is best for her and I am grateful for the brief moment on earth I got to spend with Velvet Benicourt.
– Esther Cedeno
‘International Economics’ would not be the same without Velvet. Always smiling, always willing, always volunteering. What an indomitable spirit, and an ‘A’-Class student in all her Economics Courses! We all would surely miss Velvet, her keen mind displayed in her debating team in 2020. What a treasure! In fact, we can’t really believe that she is gone. It seems surreal. As her Economics Professor and her Debating Coach in 2020, I would particularly miss her brilliance and her infectious enthusiasm that generated confidence among her class members. Velvet was certainly destined for greatness, but God in His wisdom saw it fit to take her to rest, even at such a young age. So, we look forward even more to that ‘great getting up morning’ when Velvet with all the saints of God shall be gathered home. I guess that’s when we’ll understand it … by and by. So, sleep on my dear student, for it won’t be long. We will see you ‘in the morning’. I join with all my colleagues and administrators in offering a special prayer of comfort for Ms. Benicourt (Velvet’s mother), and indeed for all her other family members. Remember that, ‘weeping may endure for a night, but joy will certainly come in the morning’. Psalm 30:5
– Dr. Stephen Pilgrim
I met Velvet when she took an online marketing class with me. Her name really stood out as I never came across such. Her forum responses were always very thought out and she always asked questions to stimulate discussions. After that class she came into my office early in January 2020 and as she indicated who she was, I quickly replied…oh you are Velvet. She replied yes with a smile and we continued our discussions. On two other occasions, I was called in, to deal with some school matters for her and our communication increased thereafter”. I remember it all as if it were just yesterday. My prayer is that at this time, her mother may find the comfort that she needs to weather this storm.
– Stacey Simmons Roberts
What is wrong with this girl? Those were my honest thoughts after my first conversation with Velvet. Coming to class late and looking disinterested wasn’t enough. She had come to my office an hour or so before class to inform me that she was tired and not in the mood to wait around for my class. She said something along the lines of me being boring and she couldn’t handle that today. I tried to stay polite, wished her the best and allowed her to leave. Needless to say, I was shocked and somewhat angry at her audacity. Our interactions remained tense throughout the rest of the semester.
She would often look at me with disgust and I was certain she hated me (I had no idea why). I honestly wished for the end of the semester when I would no longer have to deal with her. As it turned out, Velvet was an economics major and as such we would go on to share many classes together. Sometime later she informed me that she was not enjoying economics and was thinking about changing her major. Yes! I thought to myself but I obviously couldn’t express that to her. Instead, I told her that she should probably give it some more time and not make a rush decision. To my amazement and slight disappointment, she decided to take my advice. In the next academic year, I ended up having Velvet in every one of my classes. I would literally see her every single working day. Velvet was by no means a bad student. In fact, she did very well in all of my classes, usually topping the class. However, for whatever reason, she didn’t seem to enjoy my classes and therefore appeared unmotivated. Who could blame her I thought to myself, I don’t like listening to myself either.
UWI’s Conference on the Economy (COTE) was approaching and as usual they invited USC to participate in their debate competition. As an excellent student I invited Velvet to be a part of USC’s team. She was very reluctant but eventually gave in under the condition that she would only function as the researcher and therefore won’t have to speak at the debate. I agreed. Over the next couple of days, myself and the team spent a lot of time going over talking points and building a coherent argument. To my surprise, at one of those sessions Velvet confessed that she was beginning to really enjoy economics. That year we won the debate competition. There was a significant change in Velvet’s disposition. This change was somewhat apparent even before the debate. She seemed to enjoy the smaller classes as given the low enrolment of economics majors, we typically had around 5 students in each higher level economics class. Given the size of the class, we would often spend time talking as a class about current issues facing the country, region etc. At one of these relaxed sessions, Velvet told me that I was her favourite teacher. I was flabbergasted, befuddled even. I wondered at what stage I moved from being a horrible teacher to a fairly decent one. She quipped that I was always a good explainer just somewhat monotone and boring.
Velvet went on to obtain A’s in every single course she did with me, nine in total. She had an inquisitive and brilliant mind. She was quiet and difficult to read if you didn’t know her well but once she was comfortable, she was talkative, kind-hearted, jovial and even boisterous. It wasn’t uncommon to enter the classroom and see Velvet and her partner in crime Blossom, laughing uncontrollably at something they were watching on their phones.
Velvet would go out of her way to help her classmates. She would visit my office just to talk. We became good friends. She confessed that she really didn’t want to be in school but that she had promised her grandmother to get her degree and intended to keep her promise. That’s who she was, a person of her word. I knew she had health challenges but never realized how serious they were. We were blessed to have her at USC. She was a blessing to the lecturers and students in the economics program. I’m sure she was also a blessing to her family and co-workers. She deserved a long, happy and prosperous life. Though she’s gone, I look forward to her getting what she deserves at the end of time. Death is not the end. May this hope comfort her close friends and family members and motivate us to live honestly, and unselfishly as she did.
– Lyndrison Lincoln
Today, March 8, is International Women’s Day (IWD). The administration, faculty and staff of the University of the Southern Caribbean wholeheartedly embrace this opportunity to celebrate the being and contributions of our women-folk to our families, workplaces, schools, churches, villages, nations, and the innumerable other physical and relational spaces where humans practice community.
The accepted origins of the celebration of IWD goes back to 1909 when at the suggestion of the Ukrainian-American labour-activist, writer and suffragette Theresa Serber Malkiel the Socialist Party of America – yes socialist and yes United States of America – observed what they called a “National Woman’s Day on the last day of the month of February that year, a Sunday. New York City was the epicenter of that antecedent observance. It was an election year, and as pervasive and bi-partisan as ‘progressivism’ had become to mainstream American politics, women’s rights, worker’s rights and that of minorities remained subordinate to affluent white patriarchy, leaving many in the US undone, disappointed and disenfranchised.
The historically busy Atlantic Ocean would transplant the idea to the European continent and on March 19, 1911 International Women’s Day – so named – was observed for the first time by more than a million people in several European countries. Like in the USA – where there continued for quite some time to be the celebration of National Women’s Day on the last Sunday in February – in Europe, too, the focus of the observances centered around protests against the political disenfranchisement of adult women, gender discrimination in the workplace and the inequality of opportunities to prosper.
Unsurprisingly, with the triumph of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917, IWD was accorded the status of a public holiday in that country. This pattern would accompany the national adoption of socialist-communist ideology in various other countries in Eurasia as the Soviets expanded their sphere of influence.
In the late 1960s and into the 1970s and 1980s with the rise of what is sometimes referred to as the second wave of feminism, when equal pay, the push back against violence against women, maternity benefits, sexual and reproductive rights and other such contemporary rights-issues for women and girls were being intellectually developed into their existing form, IWD was wrested from the social communist world and globalized. It was during this period that it was belatedly adopted by the United Nations in 1975.
For us in the Caribbean, grappling as we still are with emancipation and postcoloniality, living with our hard-wired histories that include conquest, enslavement, indentureship and the ruthless exploitations of our land and our labour by foreign capital interests, our appreciation of IWD must not be permitted to come from the artificial place of an adopted narrative of a comparatively recent exposure to abuses and troubles. It seems that our people, our women are, and will be, because they never surrendered and habitually and courageously “#choose to challenge”.
Under the auspices of USC’s Charter Week 2021 which commemorates fifteen years of University Status, the Department of Research and Innovation presents its 15th Annual Research Day. For the first time, USC’s Research Day will be hosted virtually under the theme: Education in Transition: Moving Beyond a Pandemic Response.
Given the COVID-19 pandemic, the educational landscape has dramatically transitioned from the traditional face to face teaching and learning experiences to remote mode on a digital platform.
Presentations will focus on the challenges, opportunities, innovative approaches in the diverse disciplines of study – health and medical care, management strategies, promoting student-centric culture, entrepreneurship, unemployment issues, online education and counselling, teacher-student attitudes and beliefs, home-schooling, national security issues and food consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On March 10 & 11, 2021 presenters from Africa, Asia, the USA, South America and the Caribbean will participate in auspicious event inaugurated by The Honourable Minister Dr. Nyan Gadsy-Dolly, Minister of Education, Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
USC’s 15th Annual Research Day will conclude with a lively Round Table Discussion facilitated by Sen. Paul Richards, Independent Senator in the Parliament, Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. Panelists from various Adventist Universities will focus on theme: Moving Beyond a Pandemic Response. Panelists will highlight their success stories and effective strategies undertaken during the pandemic.
As a pre-cursor, USC’s 5th Annual Public Lecture Series will see a feature presentation by Dr. Leslie N. Pollard, President of the Oakwood University. Dr. Pollard’s presentation will also reflect on the theme: Education in Transition: Moving Beyond a Pandemic Response.
For more information and to view a full schedule of activity: https://usc.edu.tt/researchday/