The beginning of the year is a time of reflection. Like the end of the year, it is time to reflect on what has made the past couple of months special. For Rachel O.S. Edmund, Founder and President of GNASM, each new year brings the family to mind. Still, it is not the conventional family unit that the seasoned banker thinks about. Family for Ms. Edmund is a fast-growing group of vulnerable, marginalized people. These are the lone mothers of Trinidad and Tobago. Their plight is the catalyst and inspiration for her efforts in philanthropy. They are the driving force behind the creation of GNASM.
With a career in banking, one might guess that Ms. Edmund would develop a passion for business. Her life is a masterful spectrum of principal, purpose, and fun. She is a Theologian, pastor, and author. She also is a TV show host, entrepreneur, and mother of two beautiful, intelligent girls. She holds a BA in Business Administration from the University of Hertfordshire. She also has a BA degree in Christian Ministry from Ministry Institute International. She is a doctoral student at the North-western Theological Seminary. She is the author of Still Standing In My Truth: Undeniably, Unapologetically Me. The book discusses the experiences that shaped her life. Her TV show Shop Talk is about women’s rights and issues with a special focus on lone mothers. As a philanthropist, her focus is the welfare of lone mothers. Her dream of a welfare organization of mythical proportions morphed into GNASM. The organization is an unexpected and welcome gift to the lone mothers of Trinidad and Tobago.
GNASM is the acronym for the Global Network for the Advancement of Single Mothers. It is a non-governmental, non-partisan organization. Its mandate is to support and empower lone mothers through volunteerism. GNASM has its offices in Chaguanas, Trinidad, and Tobago. The organization operates on the concept of volunteerism. It has volunteers spread out across the twin-island nation. It works with churches, government departments, community outreach organizations, and other NGOs. Its agenda is to address and eradicate the challenges afflicting lone mother households. It strives to create opportunities for lone mothers in their field of choice. It does this by leveraging the talents and resources of members and partners. GNASM also strives to create opportunities for the children of single mothers. These would guarantee their access to services and contribute to their development.
GNASM’s approach involves harnessing existing frameworks. It uses these to change the mundane and ordinary. It aims to coerce opinion to pay more than the usual attention to the lone mother situation. It wants to coerce policy implementation and change society’s view of lone mothers. Its framework embraces activities beyond mere reporting of abuses and resource shortages. It bases its plans on comprehensive, collaborative work with other lobby groups. These are societies whose work concerns lone parenting with an emphasis on lone motherhood. ‘We want to build a strong framework”, says Ms. Edmund. ”We want a framework that all who wish to build a better society can embrace. We want a society where human dignity is upheld”.
The lone mother situation is not new or unique to Trinidad and Tobago. Yet its persistence and exacerbation are of great concern. There seems to be a generational cycle of lone motherhood in the twin-island country. This is a pointer to simmering, underlying societal problems. Also, of note, is the government’s lacklustre regard for lone mothers. Despite much rhetoric, it has done little to improve their situation. Politicians continue to debate rather than manoeuvre, with each regime initiating fresh reforms. With entire systems starting every five years, the lone mothers’ situation remains dire. Hence the need for organizations like GNASM which give hope for a lasting solution. The goal of GNASM is the sustainable transformation of society. This transformation should empower lone mothers to mitigate the effects of poverty. It recognizes the need to transform existing social dynamics. It aims to dismantle structures that encourage discrimination against lone mothers. The organization focuses on elevating the rights of this vulnerable group. It strives to amplify their voices. It hopes to restore, uphold, and reinforces their dignity.
Why single mothers in particular? “Because they are at the end of the spectrum of vulnerable marginalized groups’’, says Ms. Edmund. There seems to be a blind spot in every sector of progress about them. They suffer underrepresentation and disregard. Organizations working in support of women abound globally. Yet, those that address the plight of lone mothers are few, muffled, and scattered along. Often, the plight of lone mothers is part of a bigger agenda. Also, it rarely makes the priority list item. GNASM aims to change all that. It aims to ensure that lone mothers influence decision-making about their welfare.
They must influence the stories told about them. Also, they must have their voices elevated. With the support of volunteers and stakeholders, it aims to empower them. Its emphasis is on underserved lone mothers. They receive the information, and resources needed to take part in societal matters. That is not to say that the work of other women’s organizations is irrelevant or of little moment to GNASM. Quite the contrary. In fact, by its very nature, GNASM encourages interactivity. It borrows from and lends to myriad organizations and disciplines. Its agenda and goals are in sync with the government’s social welfare agenda. Its activities are in tandem with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 1,3,5,10,16 and 17. ” We listen to and learn from them, “Ms. Edmund reiterates. “Then we know where to direct our attention for a more meaningful impact.”
For the lone mother, time is an elusive commodity. Shortage of time compounds the myriad challenges she faces. These include acute loneliness and inadequate self-care. The holidays are particularly daunting. Special occasions tend to amplify what is missing. For Ms. Edmund and her team of volunteers, the last holiday season began as early as November. The team began planning for ways to cushion lone mothers against the holiday blues. It has lined up a series of webinars to address challenges lone mothers face during the holidays. They discuss a wide range of topics about mitigating the holiday blues. These include honouring traditions on a tight budget and keeping loneliness at bay. Together with her team, Ms. Edmund has been working round the clock. They want to ensure that this all but forgotten group of women have holidays as special as anybody else.
Nothing illustrates society’s propensity towards lone mothers more than media bias. Often, the media depicts lone mothers as a hopeless, dependent lot. This preposterous presumption serves to entrench discrimination and exclusion. Often, it relegates the achievements of lone mothers who have beaten the odds. GNASM is writing a different narrative from the rude, cantankerous rumblings of society. Its programs celebrate the successes of lone mothers. Through its team of writers, it corrects societal and media biases. It tells a story to inspire those who struggle to feel empowered. It provokes those still struggling to delve deep with vigour and conviction. It compels them to draw strength from within that would catapult them to greater heights. It inspires them towards the realization of dreams once deemed impossible. GNASM also has special day features to recognize the incredible work lone mothers do.
There is an intricate alliance between lone motherhood and patriarchy. Society has for centuries granted unfair liberties to men as opposed to women. Consider the assumption that men are by nature adventurous hunters and polygamous. Compounding this is the belief that the traditional family is an unsustainable anachronism. There is also the assumption that women are comfortable with lone motherhood. GNASM aims to change all these misconceptions. It runs an active blog, Single Mother Speak. Its team of writers covers socio-legal matters, including family, women, and law. They draw inspiration from real-life stories of lone mothers. The blog is a voice for the voiceless. It counters the negative narrative about lone mothers as presented by society. It also brings to light the horrific tales of lone mothers who suffer in silence.
Lone motherhood adopts a complex, multi-faceted cyclic pattern in Trinidad and Tobago. GNASM focuses its efforts on curtailing this vicious cycle through sustainable transformative solutions. Its core belief is that the solutions must be implementable by the victims. Its holistic approach addresses the root causes of injustices that propagate lone motherhood. Its programs address the physical, psychological, and interpersonal aspects of lone motherhood. These programs help foster resilience and independence among lone mothers.
The organization works to mold an enlightened society. It envisions people conscious of family values, individual rights, and responsibilities. This would nurture strong families that raise well-grounded children into responsible adulthood. It envisions a world in which the family is a place of support and nurturing. It also wants to empower lone mothers to take part in key decision-making processes.
GNASM advocates for the formulation of robust policies in support of lone mothers. Lone mothers must have representation in activities that encourage sustained economic stability. It also seeks to influence employers to create flexible work plans for them. The plans must accord single mothers time with their families. Its volunteer writers recount real lone mother stories to counter unconscious bias. They provoke employers to develop empathetic and inclusive cultures in workplaces and communities. GNASM also offers free childcare services through its volunteers. This allows lone mothers peace of mind at work. It also has a kitty to which volunteers, well-wishers, and stakeholders contribute. The kitty helps bulwark lone mother households against the effects of poverty.
The Covid19 Pandemic exacerbated the challenges faced by lone parents. GNASM is at the forefront in the fight to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on lone mother households. It sought to provide laptops for the children of lone mothers in Trinidad and Tobago. The aim was to guarantee access to e-classrooms and improve their classroom attendance. The laptops would also ensure their access to education and available education resources. GNASM seeks to address the absence of inclusive budgeting and planning by the government. It challenges restrictive funding and the resultant systemic inequalities in welfare programs. It calls out the government to foster marginalized families against unprecedented disasters. Additionally, GNASM has a help and support line that lone mothers can access at any time. This helpline serves to break the silence on whatever issue they would be grappling with.
Lone motherhood is a humbling, shattering, disorienting, and traumatic experience. There is a search for answers, healing, and a new normal. GNASM’s agenda includes hosting lone mother conferences, self-care, and parental support initiatives. The goal is to educate lone mothers to know their rights and become their own oracles. The programs offer counselling on parenting, abuse, depression, post-marriage DV. Lone mothers learn ways to deal with loneliness and alienation. They receive diet advice. They also learn about the curtailing cycle of lone motherhood among their prodigies. The programs are also a platform for lone mothers to air their challenges and concerns. They serve to establish stability and security in lone mother households.
There is also the bonus of inclusion. All lone mothers who are members of GNASM can take part in the volunteer programs. They can become the catalysts for change in their backyards. GNASM encourages volunteerism by passionate men and women. These are people who would be change-makers in their communities. Many of the organization’s volunteers are lone mothers. GNASM strives to empower these women to realize their potential as change-makers. They learn to influence opinion and rewrite societal laws. The organization is their platform for networking, learning, and sharing experiences. The volunteers organize activities in matters affecting single mothers within their communities. They give special focus to empowerment through access to information and economic development. They organize activities for charity projects that support and strengthen single mother households. They also educate lone mothers about their rights, responsibilities, responsive parenting, and wellbeing.
GNASM works in solidarity with the growing agitation for women’s interests. It is taking a stand to protect. uphold and amplify the voices of lone mothers. Global organizations laid the groundwork upon which GNASM is launching her programs. The results of their work as seen the world over is an affirmation that change is possible. GNASM joins these courageous, steadfast movements, learning even as it forges along. Organizations within and outside Trinidad and Tobago have signed on as its partners. It also seeks support from private businesses and well-wishers. Its successes attest to the fact that change, though slow, is achievable.
Beyond the welfare of lone mothers in Trinidad and Tobago, GNASM aims to make a global impact. There are plans to create and expand offices on all seven continents. There are also plans to put in place bigger local training and counselling programs. This would be in collaboration with governmental ministries and human rights groups. There are also efforts to standardize data collections on lone mother families. By collaborating with other groups. These are lofty goals. Yet they only scratch the surface of what GNASM needs to address.
Ms. Edmund speaks with an infectious spirit of optimism, resilience, and love of family. She believes GNASM will grow to address the needs of lone mothers on a global scale. She envisions the organization straddling the seven continents like a colosseum. No doubt GNASM is a formidable unstoppable force. It is transforming lives and driving the national agenda in Trinidad and Tobago. It will continue to influence policies and reimage the face of the lone mother the world over.