“Considering that planet earth provides us with everything that we need to survive, I think that EVERY person should have detailed knowledge about it. This will allow for us to live in harmony with our planet, and not actively work against it, and thereby, against our survival.”
Meet 22 yr old Jamala Alexander, a young,passionate environmentalist dedicated to building her legacy by developing the region’s most known and respected green business consultancy firm and environmental blog.
Jamala’s drive to environmentalism stemmed from the blockbuster film “The Day after Tomorrow”– a film that depicts a series of catastrophic climatic events . Completely mortified by the film and never wanting to experience such a massively traumatic climatic event in her lifetime, she knew she had to make a difference. Although the movie was scientifically inaccurate, it did highlight key climatic changes which can lead to our demise, for example, the development of super-storms and the potential of being pushed into a new ice age. Jamala truly believes that this film played a pivotal role in terms of piquing her interest in the field of Geography and Environmental Management, an interest that was then further increased by her passionate and enthusiastic secondary school teachers at St Joseph’s Convent, San Fernando.
During her Form 6 years, she attended the Global Young Leaders Conference in Europe, a program which gave youth the opportunity to learn and develop leadership skills while exploring the beautiful nations of Austria, Czech Republic and Germany. It was her first time leaving the Caribbean region and she recalls being extremely excited to visit Europe because it was always a travel goal of hers for as long as she could remember .
When asked about her experience Jamala stated,
“ To be honest, the most scary part for me was the airports, because…well….they’re massive and I’m sure I would have gotten lost if it wasn’t for my friends. But once I got settled in and the program started, it honestly didn’t take very long for me to adjust. Through the program I was given the chance to meet and interact with persons from countries across the globe, and I was in awe of how welcome and appreciated they made me feel. My favourite city was Prague in Czech Republic as I was in awe of it’s beautiful architecture, the food and the people. It’s definitely a city I’d love to visit again and I cannot wait to attend more conferences or youth programs in the future related to the environment.”
Upon completion of her secondary education Jamala pursued her undergraduate degree in Geography at the University of the West Indies St Augustine. She felt completely at home doing this program and was naturally excelling however, she was burdened with a few hardships as in her first year her grandmother, who she lived with passed away and she fell victim to bullying. That did not keep Jamala down, she pushed through and was able to build close relationships with people and build fruitful connections with staff members that mentored her throughout her university experience.
Jamala’s time at UWI led to her winning a scholarship from the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF-SPC) , being elected President of the Geography Club President, and being awarded the prizes for “Best graduating Geography Student 2018/2019”, and “Best Final Year Geography Project 2018/2019”.
According to Jamala, “All my blessings were absolutely amazing! I don’t come from a well-off family….I have just been able to manifest some amazing opportunities into my life. My mother, grandmother and aunts were working extremely hard to support me in my studies and in achieving my academic goals, as none of them had the opportunity to have a tertiary education.”
Her final year project was entitled “The Meaning of Place in Campus Planning: Assessing Student Recognition and the Value of Heritage Sites at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus”. It looked at the historical transition of the land from the St. Augustine Estate to the University of the West Indies and the impacts of said transition. This included the gradual reduction of green space and the demolition/renovation of older buildings. It also focused on the historical infrastructure, memorials and monuments which still exist, aiming to highlight how these areas are perceived by the students, and thus to serve as a guide for future planning policies, with environmental preservation, conservation and the promotion of local/regional heritage at the forefront. She hopes to revisit and improve this study one day.
Her first job that was directly related to her field was with the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF-SPC) as an intern at the Department of Emergency Management in Barbados. CCRIF-SPC is the world’s first multi-country risk pool providing parametric insurance as relief support for Caribbean and Central American governments, in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster. Jamala describes the internship itself as a wonderful experience which gave her the opportunity to learn about many aspects within the field of disaster management and contribute to national planning projects.
One of her most memorable moments at that time was preparing for Tropical Storm Dorian. According to Jamala: “ It was rather scary for me since I was in a foreign country, without my family, and it was my first time properly experiencing a tropical storm. I think I was a lot more concerned than the average resident as I was working with the DEM, which is essentially the main hub of activity re: disaster preparation and management….so basically, I was privy to real-time decision-making and meteorological forecasting for the storm…which can be very scary, knowing that weather systems can shift very rapidly.”
Fortunately Dorian was a tropical storm when it hit Barbados which she is extremely grateful for, as it later turned into an extremely powerful category 5 hurricane causing mass devastation across the Bahamas.
Upon completion of this internship Jamala graduated and was set on building her business. She closed her personal blog “ Jams Journey” and decided to build a more professional, authentic brand which could expand with her as her goals developed. Thus, Yugen Trinidad and Tobago was born – a parent (conglomerate) brand meant to give her the space needed to pursue her business and blogging dreams.
Yugen Trinidad and Tobago was founded in September 2019 with the mission “to promote sustainability and environmental awareness through online journalism and the creation of sustainable services for Caribbean millennials and business-owners”. This mission is echoed through its name, ‘Yugen’ – a Japanese term which may be defined as “a profound awareness of the universe that triggers a deep emotional response” – and its core values: Sustainability, Transparency, Accountability, Knowledge Sharing and Community Building.
Yugen’s mission is currently achieved through its two subsidiaries. The first is Yugen Stories, an online forum and environmental blog, which produces stories on environmental businesses, NGOs and movements in the Caribbean. Thus far, the blog has been very successful, featuring more than twelve individuals who are making contributions to sustainability and getting over 180 views on its most popular blog post. Its second subsidiary is Yugen Solutions, a green business consultancy which provides sustainable solutions for individuals and business owners, including a customised business auditing and consultancy service and personalised coaching sessions.Yugen Solutions also hosts an online registry for sustainable businesses which recognises and incentivises sustainable Caribbean businesses, while also increasing transparency for consumers.
While Yugen Trinidad and Tobago is still relatively new, the organization has been able to build not only its reputation, but also numerous connections and partnerships which have led to fruitful opportunities. This includes Jamala being featured for International Women’s Day 2020 by Carnicycle as one of “10 Caribbean Women Making an Eco-Impact”. Next came the development of a partnership with the Central Pathfinders Environmental Foundation, a partnership which has led to Jamala being invited to a Communication and Advocacy Training by the Cropper Foundation. She was also invited to serve as a judge for the Foundation’s blog competition held in April 2020. In March 2020, Jamala also collaborated with New Fire World for their “Waste Watch Wednesdays” initiative which took the form of a live discussion which focused on how businesses could go green while adjusting to COVID-19. The discussion was streamed on Facebook and Instagram, getting a viewership of over 500 people.
In the future, Yugen Trinidad and Tobago looks forward to rebranding as “Yugen Caribbean” by expanding the operational scope to the entire region and continuing work connected to increasing environmental awareness, community building and fostering deeper partnerships with other local and regional brands.
“I am excited to see how it blossoms over time.” says Jamala.
While building her business Jamala also works as a part time course demonstrator at the Department of Geography in UWI ST Augustine and as a freelance agri-journalist with Tech4Agri, a social enterprise that supports agri-entrepreneurs via media, journalism and communications services. This opportunity proved to be truly rewarding for Jamala as it led to her first international article centred on STEM education, which was featured on the IMPAKTER magazine/platform. Thus far her most memorable experience with Tech 4 Agri was learning about the International Federation of Agricultural Journalism and meeting Steve Werblow, IFAJ Secretary and agricultural journalist. Before learning about the group, she didn’t realise how recognised agricultural journalism is globally and was also able to learn that there is a lot of viable work out there related to storytelling and bridging the fields of agriculture and communications.
According to Jamala- “ being a member of Tech4Agri is a great way for me to gain experience in both communications and consultancy. It also gives me the chance to learn more about the local and regional agricultural sector and the challenges which are faced by persons in this field. I think that, for the Caribbean building a strong and sustainable agricultural sector is extremely important, especially when looking at the need for food security in times of crisis.”
As a budding entrepreneur one of her main challenges thus far has been her age, as some people often think she is too young to give proper advice. However, she continuously strives to learn and grow into an industry expert.
Apart from building Yugen TT, Jamala sees herself contributing to academic research and continuing work connected to environmental management and planning, place/community attachment and community/stakeholder engagement. She currently has no specific publishing goals, but would like her work to be easily accessible
Jamala is also passionate about photography because she loves the idea of capturing a moment or memory and being able to keep it forever. She believes that in life we have a plethora of beautiful, everyday moments which we tend to forget and through photography, we can capture those moments and look back on them as a reminder of all the beauty we have been able to experience….and during dark moments, her photographs help her feel better.
Moving forward her biggest message to young people in Trinidad and Tobago is –
“Keep pushing! A lot of persons shy away from the environmental field because it is not currently a prevalent, well-paying industry. However, soon, many businesses will face a revelation, and the implementation of sustainable practices will become key skills which business owners will require to evolve and grow.”
Follow Jamala on
- Instagram: @jamala_themba @yugen.stories @yugen.solutions,
- Facebook: Yugen T&T
- Website : www.yugentt.wixsite.com
Photos of Jamala by @dariosdigitals and k.dotphotography on instagram
Follow @tech4agri and @uwistageographyclub for more on their work!
“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.”Mahatma Gandhi