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Youth Activist Drives Change in Trinidad

Dawsher Charles Founder of Survival Scholars

Photo/ Courtesy of Dawsher Charles

Hunger for excellence drives ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary feats. Dawsher Charles, a Grenadian native raised in Trinidad, exemplifies such hunger.

The Early Years

Dawsher’s mother left the family to study in Cuba when she was just a baby. Looking for a fresh start, her father decided to move to Trinidad with his daughter when Dawsher was two years old. The family of two settled in Laven­tille because of the low cost of living.

Her father, a serial entrepreneur, owned a number of small businesses. The family business was a mixed bag. Her father owned an ice-pop stand and a food cart. He also sold blood pudding to local supermarkets.

Compared to their neighbors, the family seemed to be doing well financially. As a result, her father was robbed multiple times.

When Dawsher passed the test for secondary school, she and her father relocated to San Juan. The cost of living was much higher in San Juan. “We had to band our belly,” she said. A Trinidadian saying which means “prepare for hard times.” In the new city, Dawsher and her father moved eleven times in three years due to financial challenges.

Dawsher learned early that her father valued education. However, she was also expected to help with the family business to make ends meet. She recalls helping her father after school, sometimes late into the night and early mornings. Her responsibilities with the family business took a toll on Dawsher. She struggled to focus and did poorly in school.

A Strong Finish

In the third form, Dawsher eventually realized that education was her ticket to a better life. “I was hungry for excellence, despite having a challenging life.” With focus and determination, Dawsher passed all her exams, earning distinction as a top economic and business management student in the Caribbean region. Finding her stride, Dawsher continued to excel academically. She initially attended St. George’s College and later University of the West Indies, St. Augustine.

Implementing Change

While attending UWI, Dawsher noticed that many students did not enjoy the educational experience. “They were dealing with the need to please their parents, the need to fit in or be popular in school, all these different things they had to cope with.” Dawsher said she realized that the education system is built to facilitate the survival of the fittest. She also understands that many students endure a lot of challenges along their journey but she believes that no matter what students go through, they can still end as scholars. This motivated Dawsher to create the Survival Scholars initiative in 2017.

Survival Scholars aims to empower youths, ages five to twenty-three years old, to find positive coping outlets. Since launching in 2017, the organization has served over 11,000 students and faculty by offering webinars, training, and outreach to partner organizations. Dawsher shared that she “never imagined that the initiative could go so far”. With a team of three and countless supporters, Dawsher plans to scale the Scholars initiative to serve more participants and offer a broader range of services.

Dawsher is the way of the future. The youth activist was recently selected as a top 20 finalist from more than 1,000 applicants around the world for the 2021 Commonwealth Youth Award. Dawsher embodies the Commonwealth’s mission of helping youth in networking, capacity building, and scaling activities to serve the community. Well deserved.


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