By discovering nature, you discover yourself- Maxime Lagace
Meet 25 year old Shenece Francis, an eco-entrepreneur truly connected and driven by her love for nature.
Born and raised in the deep, lucious valley of Lower Santa Cruz, Shenece was always engulfed by nature. Growing up, she had a deep passion for being outside, spending time in her home garden from the moment she learnt to walk. Shenece recalls admiring the different flowers that would grow in her yard but falling head over heels in love with what is commonly known as the buttercup flower. Drawn to its simplicity and bright yellow colour,to date it is still her favourite flower and she loves watching them bloom.
Her inherent connection to nature was a direct result of her environment as she recalls living a remote life, deep in the mountains of Santa Cruz away from all the hustle and bustle of the nearby urbanised cities. Here she would thoroughly enjoy the La Canoa River, play outdoors in a clean and pristine environment and not have to worry about any form of pollution. She sadly recalls during her childhood leaving her home town and entering the cities of San Juan or Port-of-Spain to be greeted by large volumes of litter on the streets. This would greatly infuriate her as she could not understand why people wouldn’t keep the environment clean. To Shenece, this phenomenon was so foreign and no matter how hard she tried she could not comprehend the unsanitary nature of some humans.
Shenece was formally introduced to environmental topics in Primary School when she started learning about Geography and Science. Heavily intrigued by these topics every afternoon she would spend hours doing extra research at home, reading different science books and encyclopedias to gain as much extra knowledge as she could.This wasn’t Shenece’s only passion, she also had a knack for drawing and crafting, a talent she assumes she got from her grandfather who was an architect. Growing up she never had access to luxury items, so she developed this ”if I can’t buy it then I can make it attitude”. This was facilitated by her mother who taught her the art of sewing and repurposing old items to create whatever toy or item that she wanted. Unknown to her at the time, she was practising the waste management technique of reducing, reusing and recycling which was something that seemed natural and instinctive to her family.
She merged her two loves and during her Secondary School years at Holy Name Convent Port-of-Spain she made art pieces with recycled materials which led to her placing 8th in the Caribbean’s Top 10 CAPE Unit 1 for Art and Design in 2013.
After her Form 6 graduation she dove headfirst into University life eager to obtain her BSc from the University of the West Indies (UWI). Things for Shenece however, were not what she thought it be.
“I believe I wasn’t ready for university when I enrolled. I had the mindset of a form 6 school girl thinking that my experience would be like Holy Name Convent but I was in for a rude awakening. My time management skills were challenged, I prioritsed relationships with friends and school took a back seat resulting in me not succeeding in my first year. So, I made the decision to take a step back, find myself, mature and leave the University. At that moment I was not my best self but I wanted to succeed so I took the necessary measures to ensure I am able to make the best of my University experience when I return.” says Shenece.
After leaving UWI, Shenece worked at the Magistrates Court in Port-of-Spain and spent the time working on herself. Her passions however did not die as she still found the time during the July/ August Vacation to teach Arts and Crafts at a church camp where the children learned how to make different crafts reusing old items. They made wall art using toilet paper rolls, magazines and bottle caps, bangles from plastic bottles, tote bags from worn out clothing, coasters from bottle caps and organisers from tube rolls to name a few.
Her days at the Magistrates Court came to an end in 2016 and Shenece believed she was finally ready to tackle University . Determined to succeed, she developed a different approach, had a new mindset and was able to fully focus on her work and connect with a group of like minded individuals that helped her focus on her goals. At UWI she was working towards her BSc in Geography and Tropical Landscaping- what Shenece describes as the perfect blend of her two passions. Not wanting to burden herself, she spent four years at UWI focusing on each major two years at a time as she saw university as a choice rather than an obligation. This allowed her to take her time, work at her own pace and complete the course when she desired with an outcome that she would be satisfied with.
Shenece was excelling at the UWI and nearing the completion of her degree she became pregnant with her son. For some this may be a challenge but she saw it as an opportunity which was not going to prevent her from achieving her goals. Driven by her desire for success, Shenece went to school pregnant and after giving birth to her son, she spent 6 weeks away from school and then returned, giving presentations with her son in her arms and attending classes with him right by her side. He gave her the strength and motivation to keep pushing and in 2019 Shenece graduated with Upper Second Class Honours with her BSc in Geography and Tropical Landscaping.
One of her goals at university was to be on the Dean’s List and win academic awards however, this was not meant to be for her.
“Nothing in life comes easy and free. University for me was more than a piece of paper; it was a journey of self discovery, with memorable moments and several learning opportunities that I am extremely grateful for. Did I wish I understood the GPA system better? Of Course, but my progression speaks for itself, I started with a GPA that was under 2.0 and ended with a 3.08 GPA and Upper Second Class Honours.I would always maintain a positive outlook on life, so even though I did not get any awards I completed my degree a stronger more powerful educated young lady.” says Shenece
After completing her Tropical Landscaping degree, Shenece now officially calls herself the plant lady and sees it as a combination of both art and geography in one. Like many who have completed their BSc, Shenece found herself unable to obtain a job in her field where she could combine her skills however, she kept that positive attitude and continued pushing through. As more doors closed she decided to take matters into her own hands and in January 2020 she started Shendesignz to showcase her art.
She taught herself how to use softwares such as SketchUp and Adobe Creative Suite to create designs for landscaping, interior designs and graphic designs. Her work with Shendesignz does not stop there, she also offers consultations on how to create livable indoor and outdoor spaces from recycled materials. With this she hopes that her clients can see the benefits of reusing items and incorporate a more sustainable lifestyle through these practises.
Shenece has extended her portfolio and now makes tote bags for commercial sale. She initially had the idea to construct these bags out of the desire of wanting to sell her organic produce at farmers markets without using plastic bags. She took to the sewing machine and started using old denim such as jeans to make her bags which meant that people were able to attend the market and purchase her produce without worrying about the environmental consequence of single use plastic bags. Evolving from denim, she then started using old t-shirts to cut and make yarn which would be used to make the tote bags.
Due to COVID-19, she then switched to making cotton masks because there was a strong need for it and people started requesting it from her. At first, she used recycled and upcycled materials to make her masks, but with the volume of orders she received she soon ran out of fabric and had to purchase. Her goal is to be able to collect unwanted materials like curtains or extra fabric from sheets from people so that she can sustain her businesses and continue repurposing old items without having to purchase new fabric.
As of June 2020 Shenece decided to revamp an old business of hers called Evergreen Hills, formerly Evergreen Organics which was founded by herself and her twin nephews. In August 2018 they started selling at NAMDEVCO Farmers’ Market, but the venture was short-lived. Now they are determined to make it a fruitful business with a name which reflects their home , the mountains of the Northern Range in Santa Cruz where they make and sell natural pesticides, organic produce and organic compost. Following the Syntrophic Agroforestry system, their aim is to grow food naturally, working with nature instead of against it. This principle made it easy for them to grow food without removing any trees from the land, maintaining the diversity of vegetation and keeping it free of chemical pesticides and insecticides.
Evergreen Hills is still very new but their hope is to spread the message of syntrophic agroforestry and sustainable living to their communities and sell their naturally produced surplus at farmers markets across Trinidad and Tobago.
As Shenece continues to develop her business ventures, she hopes to leave a lasting positive impact on the earth as sadly she has noticed a significant change in her environment with more instances of pollution and environmental degradation. Moving forward she hopes to address these issues by hosting clean up activities and other ventures to address the plethora of environmental problems her community is facing.
To the young people of Trinidad and Tobago this is what Shenece has to say to you-
“ If you don’t protect and treasure what you have you are going to lose it! Our actions have consequences and everything is a cycle with a lasting impact. We all need to take action because our small acts today can lead to greater change tomorrow. We don’t have a 2nd or 3rd earth and I am not interested in living on the moon so if you’re like me and like learning and working with nature then find your niche, master it and use it to help/educate others so we all be the change this world needs!”
To learn more about Shenece you can follow @Shendesingz and @Evergreen Hills on Instagram.