1. Tell us about yourself.
My name is Onyka Barrett and I currently reside in Kingston Jamaica. I was born in Georgetown, Guyana and partially raised in Trinidad & Tobago. Over the years, I’ve also had the wonderful opportunity to either work or spend time in some of the other Caribbean territories – Dominica, Barbados, Haiti, Grenada, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, to name a few. I consider myself the quintessential Caribbean woman, loving and living all things Caribbean, fiercely concerned about the future wellbeing and development of our diverse region.
It was a natural progression to actualise my career in regional development in the Caribbean space. Every time I look back I can clearly identify three triggers for that decision. The first is my Guyanese maternal grandmother who was a people person and constantly pre-occupied with sharing her time, home, resources and generous spirit with countless people around her. The second was my trip to the Rainbow Warrior ship, a member of the Greenpeace fleet, and being made aware of the ongoing battle for the long term health of our beautiful earth. The third was learning the story of Chico Mendes, a rubber tapper and activist who fought and eventually lost his life defending the rights of the indigenous peoples of the Amazonian rainforest as well as the vast rainforest itself. His story resonated with me for many different reasons, perhaps most of all, for my recognition of the geographic proximity of this struggle to my own native land of Guyana.
In terms of my schooling I enjoyed time at the Queen’s College, Guyana, Bishop Anstey High School, Trinidad & Tobago and eventually completed my Bachelor’s Degree (Upper Second Class Honours) in Human Resource Management with Anglia Ruskin University in 2006. Following graduation I practiced in the field of HR for several years, at one point having responsibility for training and development at a regional organisation and just over 450 staff. This was a tremendous period of growth for me, but my schooling at Anglia Ruskin stood me in good stead for this task. When not working, I spent every available moment volunteering at various NGO’s around human rights issues.
Eventually however, I was brave enough to switch full-time to what I loved most – human rights and human development work. This work eventually brought me to Jamaica where I currently operate out of the Jamaica National Building Society Foundation and my daily life is consumed with such issues as youth unemployment, secure livelihoods, community regeneration, climate change, advocacy and policy development, to name a few.
2. What is your fondest memory at Anglia Ruskin University?
While completing my studies, I met some amazing fellow students, who eventually became good friends. They were an important source of support, whether it was sharing notes, heated discussions or just hanging out on a Saturday afternoon. Thinking of our times together always brings a smile to my face.
3. What advice would you give to current students as they're preparing to graduate?
I remember the curriculum at Anglia Ruskin being very responsive to current world events. Information and syllabus was constantly updated to ensure students were actively reflecting on what was happening at the time and to ensure a practical component accompanied academic discussions. I found this extremely valuable in keeping myself globally aware. I would encourage any graduating student to harness that advantage and think outside of the box when looking at possible career choices. While completing my degree I thought my path would lead to a nice corporate job, but as it turns out I found immense fulfilment in taking those skills to the world of social development and applying it to solutions to tackle poverty and inequality.
4. What do you know now that you wish you had known whilst you were studying?
Sometimes, the best laid plans are those that leave space for new thoughts, ideas and directions. And often times we find our zone of happiness in the unintended. If I had known this while studying perhaps I would have been a little less worried about what would happen next and doing things exactly the way I’d planned. Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with planning and it is a necessary ingredient for success in the long run. However, the career I have now is not quite the one I envisioned in the beginning, and I had to make space for so many new ideas and wrong (or rather right) turns that I eventually realised fit me much better. When I look back now, I see how far I strayed from the plan, but how the new plan is much more aligned with my values and who I am as a person.
5. How did your time at Anglia help you?
I completed my studies at Anglia Ruskin on a part time basis while working full-time. My two greatest lessons from that experience were learning to manage my time and be flexible so that I could perform as best as possible at both. These have turned out to be a fantastic life lessons as I’ve been able to challenge myself to constantly explore new opportunities and push myself to new limits. Having this type of mind-set has allowed me to experience many of my life dreams.
6. What did you love about your chosen course?
I chose to complete the Bachelor’s Degree in Human Resource Management. One of the things I appreciated the most was the continuous emphasis on incorporating a global perspective to the practice. This helped me feel much more confident about the applicability of the qualification to an international context.
7. What would you tell someone thinking of studying at Anglia?
I would say first figure out your greatest needs and wants as a student, then investigate whether Anglia Ruskin could meet those for you. Having the best experience as a student is in great part dependent on one’s own understanding of what one seeks to get out of the academic experience. It was a great match for me because Anglia was a bit ahead of the curve in offering HR Management in Trinidad at a time when not many institutions were doing so. This coincided with my personal interest in the subject and wanting to expand my knowledge base.
8. In one word how would you describe Anglia?
9. Who was the biggest influence on your career?
That’s a tough question because many have given me such great advice over the years. When I think of my eventual shift to working in social/international development however, the person that was instrumental in helping that shift to happen is Gregory Sloane-Seale – development guru and advocate for youth & children issues. I first met Gregory in early 2006 and served in his NGO – Trinidad & Tobago Coalition on the Rights of the Child (TTCRC). He really allowed me space to explore my interest in the field and always had a piece of advice ready for me. In those days I know I literally bombarded him with my questions and requests for meetings, but he was always graceful and accommodating about it. Years later, when I eventually went off to Fordham University (Centre for International Humanitarian Cooperation) to complete my International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance, Gregory and his mom were two of the first people to support that to happen. I have never, and will never, forget all of his support and advice.
10. What accomplishment are you most proud of?
This is an interesting question, because the accomplishment that makes me most proud is the one that I did not plan for. It seems that over the years, I’ve become an advocate for two specific things – volunteerism for development and Caribbean unification. From my early teen years, I have been volunteering and this has given me access to my own voice, new people, new experiences and a pathway to generating positive change in my own way. Right alongside that I’ve become an advocate for all things Caribbean and have remained a fierce supporter of the CARICOM regional integration project and the Caribbean way of life. I believe we are brilliant and have so much to offer the world and each other. I want to ensure that our culture, traditions is preserved for the enjoyment of many future generations.
These two passions have allowed me to work across the Caribbean region as well as contribute to knowledge sharing in parts of Latin America, Ghana and Kenya. I’ve been able to work/interact with various Ministries of Government and civil society organisations in these territories.
What about this makes me proud? Well the fact that if you ask anyone who knows me, they just might be able to easily identify my passion for the region and voluntary work. That makes me proud because outside of degrees and certificates etc., I am clear on what I stand for and who I am. This I consider to be an accomplishment.
11. What advice would you give your younger self?
Forget the crowd and what they think is cool. Spend time figuring out what makes you tick and go after that without reservation. Right alongside that, I would say take your vacations and enjoy your downtime. Your body and mind needs it to thrive and keep you performing at your best. I finally figured these things out in my early 30’s and have been able to enjoy some of my most refreshing and fulfilling moments as a result.
12. What drives you?
I believe that everyone is created with their own unique purpose. Mine, I believe, is to reach and teach and do my part to make spaces and people I interact with, better. There is nothing like understanding your purpose. It keeps me going beyond my limitations of tiredness and always searching for an opportunity to connect and make a difference.
13. What’s next?
I’m currently looking at completing PhD studies centred around – social development in the Caribbean of course! However I would say, that with or without this, my attention continues to be applied to helping solve the myriad of social development ills in the Caribbean space and continuing to champion the regional integration movement.
I do have plans for my downtime too! My three top personal projects at the moment is completing a motivational book, starting my blog on community tourism and doing much more experiments with gourmet Caribbean recipes with my family.