Grace still on fire

In addition to forming and running her own company, she is a member of a number of professional organisations and has been on the Board of Directors of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Global Environment Facility (GEF) Small Grants Programme; the Family Planning Association (FPA); Bishop’s Centenary Anglican Secondary School; and the Hayes Court Restoration Committee of the Anglican Diocese in Port-of -Spain, among others.

Even now, at age 80, she continues to run her very successful a management consultancy company; is a facilitator in the UN Solar Energy Project in Secondary Schools; is a consultant for the Ministry of National Security’s Citizen Security Programme (CSP), and has been involved with communities through the UNDP GEF for the past ten years.

These are just some of the reasons Grace Talma was this year awarded The Chaconia Medal (Gold).

Speaking to Sunday Newsday at her office in Woodbrook, Talma said she was she was happy and humbled by the honour.

She thanked God for the opportunity to serve her country and the UN Association of Trinidad and Tobago which nominated her for the award.

“The medal is not for me alone. Yes it represents long years of meritorious service, however, it really belongs to all the people who helped to support me over the years, including my church, All Saints Anglican Church, and the people who gave me the opportunity to do what I did... I never ever do something because I think I would get something in return. I do it because I believe in it, and because of that I continue to work and serve my country,” said Talma.

The response to her receiving the award has been overwhelming as persons from TT, across the Caribbean and abroad, have massaged her on Facebook, sent her emails and called her to congratulate her or to thank her for helping to mentor them. All this, she believed to be part of the journey she started many years ago.

My civic duty Talma said her sense of civic duty was developed by her parents who were active in their community of Point Fortin. She described them as “strong parents” who allowed and encouraged their children to develop and to take on responsibilities.

Later, during the time she attended Bishop Anstey High School, she belonged to the Junior Coterie of Social Workers of Trinidad and Tobago under Audrey Jeffers, who gave her and other students leadership development training and taught her how to provide services to the community.

“At an early age I developed a kind of awareness because, whether it was in the church, at school, or in the community, we were always allowed the opportunity to get involved. It was a question of: it’s your country, do something for your country,” she said.

This awareness extended across oceans where she attended the University of Western Ontario, Canada, obtaining her BA in Organisational Development.

There she became involved in the International Student’s Club which provided services to students.

“Wherever I went I was always involved in working in groups and communities for service. I have a strong passion for service which has continued throughout my life,” she noted.

When she returned to TT in 1969, Talma noticed that she was the only woman among men in the management development field. She immediately started the National Secretaries Association, now National Association of Administrative Professionals, while working in Government service. She said the secretaries were working in offices but did not see opportunities for leadership and those to make decisions in their jobs.

“I saw that I could help people to develop, build their capacity, help them to use the talents God gave them. It is an important thing when you realise you can see strengths in people, how you can help them to realise those strengths and move on. That is the commitment I have always had,” she said.

Therefore, in the 80s and 90s, Talma focussed on the Women’s Movement and matched it to the work she was doing at the State’s Management Development and Productivity Centre. However, in 1981, she left and opened her own business, Grace Talma Associates and Company Limited, a management consultancy company which provides leadership and human performance management development services to companies.

Around that time she became involved in the FPA. She is a former chairperson, has held several other positions over the years and is currently an advisor. She described her work on women’s reproductive health at the FPA as one of her greatest passions because she is able to work for “the cause,” ensuring that women are able to “make the right choice” for them as it relates to their own sexuality.

“It allowed me to get my international experience. I participated in a number of UN conferences over a number of years in the 1980s when we were working on the women’s movement, the development of women and population issues. It matched my belief in the freedom of choice and women’s opportunities to make their own decisions,” she said.

She added that the skills she developed attending the UN conferences included advocacy, learning how to write policies, lobbying, and negotiation. “I always say to people, don’t only stay in your own corner.

Get out and get experience by working in other areas of your lives. This will help considerably in growing,” she said.

Talma noted the FPA has made a lot of progress over the years as people are more aware of these issues.

However, she said the organisation still has a lot to do as issues such as domestic violence, child abuse, and teenage pregnancy are still on the rise.

Meanwhile, in 1984, Talma worked with businessman Emile Elias on a seminar on rape. As a direct result of this conference, they and a number of other people got together to form the Rape Crisis Society. “It was taboo to talk about rape in those days but that is where the consciousness and awareness started to take place, because of domestic violent and other issues that have only gotten worse today,” she said.

Talma said she focussed on women’s health, the development of women, and women in leadership positions, not only because women had equal talents as men, but she realised “the Caribbean could not develop without the important resource of women” - their strength, determination, and passion.

“I saw myself as a catalyst. That’s how I felt and I shared it with others.

A lot of what I have done over the years, up to today, I’m always willing to do a lot of work with women, not that I don’t help men too,” she said.

On ‘re-firement’ Talma told Sunday Newsday she has slowed down over the past few years but she does not believe in retirement “in terms of sitting in a chair and being bored.” Instead, she believes in what she calls “refirement” where persons re-fire their energy into other things.

Before that time comes, however, Talma chooses what she wants to do with respect to her business and sub contracts some of the work. She also mentors youths, preparing to “pass the baton” when she is ready to “refire.” Besides being involved in the UN Solar Energy Project, the Citizen Security Programme and the UNDP GEF, Talma goes to the gym at 4.30 am five days per week, two days per week she takes half day off work to attend water aerobics, stays active in church, and travels every year.

“I don’t feel that I ever want to go home and sit down. You have to find life and really enjoy it,” she said.


"Grace still on fire"

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