Across the country, gangs are waging bloody turf wars against each other but in San Fernando, there is one man who single-handedly keeps rival gangs at bay using his natural talent as a woodworker.
Junior Bisnath, known as the constructive termite, devotes his time to teaching children the art of stilt walking. Some of them are the children of rival gang members who come from depressed areas like Pleasantville, Mon Repos, Embaccadere, Marabella and La Romaine but when they come to Bisnath's home, they learn discipline, peace, and respect.
In an interview with Guardian Media, Bisnath said he has trained more than 3,000 children free of charge over the past 25 years. Many who have mastered the art of stilt walking have found work in the United States. The children look up to Bisnath as a father figure with whom they share their experiences of neglect and trauma.
Every afternoon, Bisnath could be seen teaching the children to walk on stilts in the undulating hills of San Fernando. Some are so poor that Bisnath even provides meals, clothing and guidance to them.
In an interview at his modest home, Bisnath said it was his way of giving back to the community.
"I was born in San Fernando and I grew up on Broadway. My parents had 14 children and I was the last son. I failed Common Entrance twice and never attended secondary school but I always loved woodwork. My teacher told me this was a sacred job because Christ was a woodworker," Bisnath said. Despite his failure, Bisnath persevered and joined a woodwork class at the Industrial Arts Centre in San Fernando. His teachers Joan Yuille Williams and Clive Mohammed encouraged him to be the best in his field.
"When I was 15, I left primary school and started to do work with Mr Barrow. We never ran out of work and I used more hand tools but I wanted to learn how to use woodworking machines. I was introduced then to Cosmic Woodwork Factory. Mr Rodrerick Williams was the boss and I learnt to build all kinds of furniture. I stayed with that job for 43 years," Bisnath said.
He said in 1988 during the last Borough Day celebrations he and his two friends McFoster Joseph and Charles Farrow decided to do an exhibit of the woodwork and came up with the name Constructive Termites.
Bisnath was always mindful about the development of his city and having grown up in Carlton Lane, he mixed with the depressed and underprivileged.
"Back then my neighbour Hollis Clifton who is now a media cameraman decided to form the Carlton Lane Community group and we wrote to the Ministry of Culture asking for some funds to do stilt walking with the Kilimanjaro School of the Arts. We did a one-day workshop with Glen De Souza and because of my skill in woodworking it was easy for me to build stilts," Bisnath recalled.
Supplying the American circus with professional stiltwalkers
Today, he continues to share his knowledge freely with the youths of Cocoyea, La Romaine, Pleasantville, and Embaccadere.
Bisnath said he targets children from depressed areas because he knows they have the potential to excel.
"Even if you're not bright in school, stilt walking instils self-confidence and discipline. It makes you feel on top of the world. It builds self-esteem, patriotism and nationalism, qualities of a good citizen," Bisnath added. Asked what were his biggest achievements, Bisnath said it was very gratifying to see his students excel. He said since 2007, his school has been supplying the American circus with professional stilt walkers.
"America looks for the best and I pride myself that my students can be the best in the world. Apart from this, my students get international exposure. We went to Germany with the Soca Warriors in 2006 and in 2014 we went to Zimbabwe to train moko jumbies.
"I have also been to England and Panama to train moko jumbies. I trained the youngest baby in the world Ojah Bisnath to walk in four-inch stilts when he was 11 months old. I also trained Milton Mona, 76, the oldest person to walk in stilts at Skinner Park," he added with a proud smile.
So what does Bisnath plan for the future?
Having retired on September 4, 2017, Bisnath is now devoting all of his time to youth development.
He is currently in the process of building over his school as well as a museum filled with artefacts he has collected over the past 40 years.
Bisnath is adamant that he builds his legacy using his own funds.
"I want to do this on my own. I have lots of artefacts that I have collected and I hope to document the culture and arts of T&T through the eyes of a San Fernandian," Bisnath added.