Youth Peer Mentorship “Upfull Hustlers” Project to Reduce Gang Violence: A Pilot Study in Mon Repos, Morvant, Trinidad

Commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Trinidad and Tobago in 2018 and completed in 2019, Dr Dylan Kerrigan was the Project Lead for this developmental research endeavour. 

The pilot project emerged from the UNDP as a developmental idea to pilot in a criminogenic community in T&T. A social anthropologist with a sociological background (Dr Dylan Kerrigan) was recruited to help with the project design and then to conduct a baseline mapping exercise of a local community within which the project design could be piloted. Alongside input from the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service, the Citizen Security Programme and the UNDP and the recruitment of local gatekeepers the community of Mon Repos, Morvant was identified as the community for the pilot project.

The central objectives of the pilot were to:

  • Reduce the number of young people aged 15-25 who are attracted to gangs and violence;
  • Engender in young people aged 15-25 a civic-minded purpose and drive;
  • Develop at-risk youth into mentors, role models and peace ambassadors for their peers and the wider community;
  • Enable the initial participants to attract other at-risk youth for recruitment into the project; and
  • Provide a step-by-step guide others might follow, amend and develop for future and potential implementation of Positive Deviance techniques in T&T.

The primary purpose of the baseline mapping of the community was to generate bottom up information and develop critical insights regarding the current status, values and socio-economic realities of the community of Mon Repos, Morvant to assist the implementation team and help to track the pilot’s progress during the project duration.

The different methodologies involved in the baseline mapping exercise were:

  • “Liming” as culturally relevant methodology (Nakhid-Chatoor et al. 2018) (25 field visits over 12 weeks)
  • Informal interviews (50 interviews)
  • Life Stories/Histories (3 interviews)
  • Participant Observation (10 field visits specifically to blocks and hangouts in area. 2 field visits to Church services)
  • Semi-structured interviews (20 hour long interviews with individual youth)
  • Focus Groups (2 focus groups at one at Morvant Police Youth Club and one at Fire Youth Club)
  • Structured Survey instrument (100 households)
  • Community mapping 

After the consultation period and in combination with the information gathered from the baseline and assessments, the second phase of the project – a three-month life skills curriculum of workshops and field trips choices and agendas were tweaked and redesigned.

Feedback on the engagement programme was also provided by the participants after each activity and used to inform the workshops and field trips as this phase of the project went along, in order to promote and engender a positive shift in the attitudes and behaviours of the participants. In general, the workshops and field trips did lead to positive feedback from participants, and improvements in their engagement and behaviour. 

The pilot study provided solid evidence of the importance of a development project that collects empirical evidence – of social problems in an at-risk community and the psychological impacts such social problems create – for devising engagements that can develop the life skills, start the process of transforming behaviours, and enhance capacities of young persons aged 15-25 to become youth mentors and peace ambassadors in their community 

This pilot project was considered a success and was reported on here and here. A short video about the project can be found here.

A second sustainable version of the project that built on the findings from this pilot study was launched in 2020.