At the age of 16, Candice Lela-Rolingson worked as a production assistant on a film called A Measure of Hope produced by Kirk Perreira. The film focused on the people who had volunteered for the HIV/Aids vaccine trials that were being conducted in T&T at the time and as part of her duties, the young Lela-Rolingson had to do research at the Medical Research Foundation where the trials were conducted.
Meeting all those people who volunteered for the programme, their hopes for a cure and a chance at a second lease on life driving them to participate bravely in the then controversial trials, tugged at Lela-Rolingson's teenage heart."My advocacy started there. My heart went out and I wanted to sensitise and educate and break the stigmatisation these people faced," she said.
Tomorrow, Lela-Rolingson, 28, will do just that when she premieres her documentary, Pregnant and Positive in commemoration of World Aids Day. The event will be held at the National Academy for Performing Arts (Napa).A twenty-five minute docu-drama, the short film is aimed at assisting in the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) of HIV/Aids in T&T and raise awareness on the treatment process for HIV positive expectant mothers.
The film stars lead actress Jeanine Lee Kim, Duane Dario Dixen, Naomi Abiola, Pauline Mark, Lylah Persad and HIV/Aids activist Lorna Henry.
Apart from the executive producers, the Embassy of the United States of America and Presidents Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR), Positive and Pregnant was a family affair. Lela-Rolingson's brother in law Nyron wrote the screenplay and her sister Stacey directed it.
Lela got the idea to do a documentary after years of determination to do something to assist in the raising awareness of people living with HIV/Aids. Her contributions were initially simple; participating in walks and rallies but when she got pregnant in 2007 and had to go through the mandatory HIV/Aids testing, she saw an opportunity to really make an impact.
"I wondered what was in place for pregnant women and I asked my gynaecologist a lot of questions. I think she was concerned about my interest in the topic. I started to Google and all the info came up. I read about the Caribbean and Trinidad and what was happening here."
In 2008, Lela-Rolingson had her second child. By then her dossier of information had grown and she realised she could turn all of it into a documentary.
At that time, her sister had just graduated from the University of the West Indies with a degree in theatre arts and had completed a documentary on rapso music. Lela-Rolingson enlisted her into the project. A friend advised her to get funding and almost like a portent, she saw a US Embassy ad offering funding for anyone doing outreach projects.
"Every three to six months we were getting updates from them but nothing promising. After a while, I got weary and decided to look for alternate funding. Last year around this time they finally called and said we were up for an interview." One of the requirements for funding was ownership of a non-profit organisation and fortunately for Lela-Rolingson, she had just established the Lela-Walker Foundation to motivate and uplift women. The foundation was named after her mother, Jennifer Claire Walker Lela, who died from a heart attack in 2003.
Lela-Rolingson received a US$10,000 grant from the US Embassy and on quick order, resigned from her job as a Members Relations Officer at Eastern Credit Union to focus on the making of Positive and Pregnant.
The docu-drama will premiere at Napa and the following day will be screened at Nalis. Lela-Rolingson hopes to show the film in various communities as part of her outreach programme.
In addition to promoting the film, Lela-Rolingson is working on a personal development programme for International Women's Day next March.Poised and elegant, Lela-Rolingson is also into the external upliftment of women through her other business, Fashionista Image Management, which she started in 2006, long before the word fashionista became fashionable. A professional image consultant, makeup artist and event manager, she works with brides and corporate clients looking to amp up their image.