By Adanna James
Ayrid Chandler photos
Meet Karen de Montbrun, Vena Jules and Debbie Garcia. They are all Catholic women who understand the responsibilities of leadership in their respective fields. Both Karen and Debbie come from the corporate sector. Karen was the General Manager of the Bermudez Company and the first female president of the TTMA (Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers’ Association). Debbie is the Service Delivery Manager at BP Trinidad & Tobago. Dr Vena Jules comes out of the education sector where she worked as a senior lecturer at the University of the West Indies and is credited with developing UWI’s current Bachelor’s degree in Education programme.
These three personalities are unique. Dr Vena’s poise and elegance exude in everything from her hair to her speech. Karen displays a flash and dazzle, while Debbie’s vivacious and fun-loving character rolls out of her in her joyous laughter.
Despite their differences however, in many ways they struck the same chord.
Without a doubt, they have all achieved significant success and continue to hold major responsibilities. Dr Jules is presently responsible for the programmes being offered by CREDI (Catholic Religious Education Development Institute) through their Bachelor’s of Education degree. She is developing a curriculum that serves the purpose of the institution; i.e., fine-tuning the quality of the programmes aimed at developing a cadre of knowledgeable and committed education personnel to serve in our Catholic schools. Vena believes students learn through modelling and as such the courses offered propose a different ideology to what UTT or UWI would offer to their teachers in training.
Karen, as TTMA President, worked on developing strategic direction for specific areas that affected local managers, e.g. the difficulty of doing business. Of major concern during her tenure was getting passed the public procurement bill, which aims at clamping down on local businessmen being excluded from local services. Having retired formally from the corporate world she now manages the Pastoral Centre located at the St Finbar’s Parish. It is here that she spends most of her time, sometimes working up till 11.00 p.m. at night inclusive of Saturdays.
Debbie is most known as the wife of Winston Garcia. But it would be remiss to discuss her in this light. She is in charge of two teams at the energy mogul BPTT, where her main purview is getting the performance of IT services at or above expected levels. Her involvement in church extends to the People of Praise Community with her husband and its founder, Winston Garcia. She also heads a parenting ministry in association with the Family Life Commission and is involved in her parish of Santa Rosa. During Lent two years ago, she started a pilot project of an alternative liturgy for children, where they are set aside during the readings and have the readings broken down for them in a fun and interactive manner.
I’m nothing without you
Of utmost importance to them all is family. They all boast of their strong Catholic background.
Karen, the eldest of five children, is sister of Holy Ghost priest, Fr Peter de la Bastide. She vividly remembers praying with her family around the bed at night. Karen still prays the rosary frequently, a habit developed out of her childhood. Another habit she cultivated from her family was that of giving to the less fortunate.
Vena describes her family as strong Grenadian Catholics. Many of her past relatives donated land and property to the Catholic Church. Growing up, she realised how serious her father was about the faith. “I was supposed to go to Bishop’s…but my father stepped in. I went to St Joseph’s Convent instead…My father couldn’t see me going to an Anglican school.”
Debbie also describes her family as being involved in church. In fact it is this upbringing that saw her becoming heavily involved in the youth group of the Santa Rosa parish and then later on doing the Life in the Spirit Seminar, which she describes as a turning point for her.
Through their own families they have found their strength. For Debbie, family was a choice she had to make. Debbie has four children the youngest of which is just one year old. She recalls how the demands of her job were in conflict with that of her husband. “Things were competing for my time.” For the first time in the interview the vivacious and bold Debbie speaks softly as she recalls, “He (Winston) really must have suffered.” “Winston and my mum really took care of my first child.”
By her third child, things had got to an all time low as she worked 12-hour days and weekends. Debbie realised it was time for a change; an awareness discovered after reading the book, The Purpose Driven Life. “I realised I couldn’t have both. I had become comfortable, the money was nice…but it was not everything.” So when the offer came for a job with less money, to work at a lower grade with every Friday off, “I took the deep dive, I went for (quality) time…and I have no regrets.”
Vena Jules looks at her family as a blessing, “Somewhere in my genetic line someone must have been good.” Vena also has four children and has been married for 49 years. She too speaks about working and raising her family. She married at 18 and went to Canada on a scholarship. “There was a courage in me and I encouraged others…it never crossed my mind that I couldn’t…nothing stops you…. You can work and study!” However, she admits that it was the loving support of her husband that helped her to get by. “My husband was an encouraging person.”
For Karen, who has three children, it is the recent death of her husband four years ago that has caused her to experience God in a way she never has. “I don’t know how people who don’t have God in their life do it.’ Glassy eyed she continues, “I believe my husband’s death was for the good of the entire family. It is strange… without such an intervention (sigh) I would not have grown so close to God…Now I can call it a walk with God….It’s not been easy. I still get upset, I cry out loud and then I am sorted out.”
Passion with a capital ‘P’
What is clear is the intense passion these women have for the lives they lead. For Vena teaching is a vocation. “It was my mission…I’m passionate. I didn’t need pay.” For Vena her passion comes from her sense of having received a God-given mandate: “Feed my lambs, feed my sheep.”
She remembers, “I was about to make a presentation [on early childhood care] to Ministers of the Caribbean, including [then Minister of Education, now Prime Minister] Kamla Persad Bissessar.” She remembers reading the Daily Word the night before. The reading for the day was based on the message “Feed my lambs, feed my sheep.” This brought her back to a similar experience she had years before when those exact words came to her. Vena uses teaching to help carry out that mandate.
Karen seems to find herself in helping others. “I wish to give back. Once you work with a team spirit, people are willing to help you.”
Debbie’s mantra is “Laugh, love, live”. “Laughter is not superficial; it is the fruit of joy. I can still laugh even when the chips are down…it is a call to love people.”
“So who is this Caribbean woman? What power does she have? Where do I find her? What does she look like?….You meet her in the eyes of women weeping for their children and looking for shelter and food for their families and then you meet her again laughing and dancing as she points your spirit to a new time, and a new space…” – Sr Diane Jagdeo, OP