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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The First Female PM - Angela Raeburn's Dream



When she was a child Angela Raeburn dreamed of being Trinidad and Tobago's first woman prime minister. Time, marriage and motherhood muscled that dream aside. Now, at age 42, Raeburn is again envisioning being this country's head of government, thanks to an opportunity given to her by the NGO Rotary International.

Raeburn, a Trinidad-born, Brooklyn-raised mother of three young boys, is pursuing a master's degree in peace and conflict resolution at the University of Bradford in England. She's one of 60 scholars from around the world taking part in the Rotary Peace and Conflict Studies Programme, which gives scholarships to mid - to upper level professionals for study in participating universities in different parts of the globe.

The programme, which began in 2002, is intended to help promote "a culture of peace and tolerance" in the world. But Raeburn is proof it's performing a secondary function: giving individuals a second chance. Raeburn is the first Trinidadian to participate and only the third Caribbean national. She's eager to talk of her experience and encourage other citizens of the region to take up the opportunity.

"I was afraid," says Raeburn, on the phone from her home in California, describing how she felt after she made the decision at 38 to continue the education she began over two decades ago with a bachelor's degree in political science from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. "I was feeling the fear of competing against younger people than me, with more high-powered education than me."

A Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship - given with the proviso that participants in some way educate their host and home countries about each other - helped Raeburn pursue a master's in conflict and sustainable peace at The Catholic University in Belgium. She took her three sons with her.

She's due to graduate from Bradford in December. Her Tobago-born husband cared for the kids this time around.

Now that she's conquered what she feared she's ready for new challenges, one of which is returning to Trinidad and entering the political fray.

"It's like when you're standing on the bottom of the mountain you're looking at it thinking, I can't go up this mountain," says Raeburn, "but then when you get to the top of the mountain you're thinking come on I could do it."

Despite spending most of her life in the States, Raeburn says two short periods spent in Trinidad were very formative. The first was in childhood. She went to primary school here - Mucurapo Girls, where she says she had teachers "who wanted me to succeed". She spent a single year at Holy Name Convent, enough time to have engrained in her a love of French. She continued studying the language at high school in Brooklyn, making it part of her degree at Lincoln. She spent a year as an exchange student in France. Her French proficiency helped her study in Belgium and a second language was a requirement for the peace and conflict scholarship.

In 1992, after 20 years away, she came back to Trinidad for Carnival and stayed for a year and a half to reacquaint herself with the place of her birth. Looking for something to fill her time, she enrolled in UWI St Augustine for its post graduate diploma in international relations. She discovered she had a keen interest in international affairs, particularly in how small countries like Trinidad and Tobago maintain their sovereignty. "I started to pay attention in a way I never paid attention to it before," she says.

At UWI Raeburn met and fell in love with Tobagonian Alan Raeburn, an agriculture student. They moved back to the States because Raeburn felt there were more employment opportunities for her there. Alan enrolled in vet school and the couple had three kids.

Supporting the family while Alan focused on his studies meant Raeburn had to put on the back burner her ambition to continue in the international relations field.

After Alan qualified in 2001 Raeburn made it clear it was her turn. He was supportive. "Alan knew that I had given up a lot," Raeburn says.

As part of her degree Raeburn is taking up an internship at Caricom's Directorate of Foreign and Community Relations in Guyana, the place where her dad was born and still lives and where Raeburn spent a brief period during childhood. It was Raeburn's choice of location. She's happy to be going back and is looking forward to her final semester at university.

Her age, it turned out, was as asset.

"Now I find school to be completely easy and fun because I'm doing what I like and I see it in a more global way. (When I was younger) it was I have no choice. Now I totally have a choice and the scholarship provided me with the opportunity to actually realise what I wanted to do."

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Link Posted by jebratt :: Tuesday, April 18, 2006 :: 0 comments

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