Karena Gopaulchand takes time to get to know MP Khadijah Ameen as a person.
Q. What brings you your biggest joy?
Definitely my son is my biggest joy. Spending time with my family and being outdoors, enjoying the simple things in nature like cooking in the bush, making saltfish and dumpling on the fireside, hiking or just relaxing by the beach or a river.
I love cooking and working in my kitchen garden that my mother is extremely proud of. As the mother of a teenage boy, I have grown to love my slow cooker. Baking bread has become a necessity. I have incorporated my family life with my work life so whatever events I participate in, my son would be with me and through that, he has experienced Ram-Leela, Phagwah and Christmas plays at church, even attending to flood relief.
We sacrifice so much to serve our country but if we serve our country well and we do not serve our family what are we as human beings? Family is so important to me and this is why my personal integrity is so important and the reason I’ve never been involved in anything where my integrity can be called into question to bring disrepute to my family.
We sacrifice so much to serve our country but if we serve our country well and we do not serve our family what are we as human beings?
Q. If you had to describe yourself to someone you were meeting for the first time, how would you do so in a few lines?
I am an ordinary person with strong beliefs, but I also have strong respect for other people’s beliefs, I believe in democracy, I believe in individual human rights, I believe in the greater good. I always try to stay connected to my roots because whatever position you are serving in, whether elected or appointed, these things are a temporary opportunity to serve and to serve well.
I am Khadijah. I sometimes say there are two types of fires, a candle and fireworks. One would give you all the noise and grab the attention but at the end of the fireworks display, the candle still remains quietly providing light. For me, it is not about showmanship, I try to remain true to myself, being consistent and not compromising my beliefs or character and integrity.
I am Khadijah. The Candle and the Fireworks.
Q. What would you say is the one thing that you are proudest of in your life, and why?
I think because of my upbringing, what I do is out of Duty and Dedication to my Cause. It is not about feeling proud, it is about doing what is necessary and what is good. If I have to narrow in on one thing, it would be taking the sacrifices of the previous generations of my family forward. My grandfather could not read and write yet he ensured that his children went to primary and secondary school.
My grandmother only went to primary school, my father did not go to university but I went to university and I also did my Masters, so to me, we walk on the shoulder of our ancestors, we walk on the shoulders of those who built before us, and I feel proud that I have taken my generation of my family that step forward to make our ancestors proud for the tremendous sacrifices they made on both my mother’s and father’s side.
“I became the youngest person in the history of Trinidad and Tobago to head a municipality, I was 28 years old at the time.”
Q. Name one key incident in your life in which you learned your most important life-long lesson. Does being a Muslim woman today provide a unique perspective? What would you like people to learn from this perspective?
While people may look at you and see your physical appearance, those things were never limitations to me and if they existed in other people’s minds, it certainly didn’t stop me from doing what I felt I needed to do.
I’ve never felt limited or privileged by the things that society uses to discriminate, we discriminate based on gender, on ethnicity, on religion, perhaps that was the thinking of my father because he was also a black power activist. His activism was certainly reflected in his parenting and I never felt that there were limitations in what I could do or should do. He was more interested in us learning the principles of Islam than on the traditions. He made sure we were taught Arabic and the Quran and I’m very grateful for his teachings.
“We walk on the shoulders of our ancestors, we walk on the shoulders of those who built before us.”
Q. You spoke a lot of your father and the lessons you learnt from him, what lessons did you learn from your mother?
My parents were from a mixed marriage, my father is of East Indian descent, and my mother is of African mixed descent and for them making that decision to get married in that time when there was a lot more open racism says a lot about them as individuals.
My mother instilled in us a love of reading. We read encyclopedias like they were novels. She was not one to butter up her words, she will tell you what you did wrong so that you will correct it and do better.
Later on, when I had my son, she played a critical role in helping me take care of him when I was away from home for late night meetings. I could rest assured that my son was in good hands so she was a tremendous part of my strength then and even today. The sacrifices she made even for herself, forgoing clothes, shoes, make up, even nutrition, but she loved us so much to that point where she herself did not matter.
“Limitations in others minds certainly didn’t stop me from doing what I felt I needed to do.”
Q. What would you point to as the main turning point in your life, your Aha moment?
My involvement in politics is not really about an AHA moment but more of a natural progression, I have always been an outspoken person, I have always been firm in my beliefs, I’ve always been an advocate, even as a child there were many times even in primary school I would get into trouble because I was defiant.
My father encouraged this not to be disrespectful but to question things. But I also would have gotten awards in school for academic accomplishments and to represent the school in things like the Maths Olympiad and so it has really been more of a natural progression.
I moved from giving free lessons to children in my community while still in school to getting involved in the Village Council, writing letters when there were issues to be raised and trying to get donations to keep events going. I became involved in the UNC while I was waiting for A Level results and I became involved as a youth activist.
At 21 years old, when the opportunity arose with the change in boundaries and the creation of the Valsayn South/ Carapo seat, I wrote a letter to the party and I was very surprised that they asked me to come in to file nomination papers. I was shocked and surprised when I was announced as the candidate despite two very strong contenders.
“I feel very privileged to represent some of these people who have known me as a child, it felt like a coming home.”
I went into it in the face of a threat of a no vote campaign where the people who were supporting the other nominees decided they would not support me which meant that I had create my own networks. In 2010 when we finally had election I almost didn’t have to campaign because everybody in my area knew me because I was always very present and involved within my electoral district and had built good relationships with people.
When I became chairman of the corporation the knowledge and experience I had as a councillor was very valuable and I became the youngest person in the history of Trinidad and Tobago to head a municipality, I was 28 years old at the time. This would have started from my boldness as a child and my father’s upbringing in encouraging us to speak out and that you are a person first and not defined by the colour of your skin, your religious beliefs, your gender, these things were secondary but your character, your beliefs, your integrity, those things were of utmost importance.
Q. I saw on your social media that you have been using the hashtag #ameenbusiness. I really like that because I think it sends a clear message of what you are about. How did you come up with it?
Actually, it was a young constituent who sent it to me as a suggestion and my team just ran with it during my campaign, I felt that it described perfectly what I have been about. I have always been a very serious person and I think it fits in perfectly in terms of what I am and when I am talking about representation, I mean business!
Q. During the recent campaigning for the General Election 2020, what were your strongest moments and your most challenging?
My strongest moment was not in 2020, my strongest moment was in 2015 when I screened to become a candidate and I was not selected. It took tremendous strength to work past my disappointment and continue to publicly support the party because I felt the party was bigger than me and my commitment to my cause was bigger than me getting a seat.
Being selected for St. Augustine was a coming home because I was born and raised in Curepe, I was the councillor for St. Augustine South for over 10 years and those people became my extended family. I feel very privileged to represent some of these people who have known me as a child.
“Get involved for your cause.”
Q. If you had to send a message to young people today, what would that message be?
I encourage young people to get involved in politics not for the sake of politics or that you feel it looks glamorous, I tell people get involved for your cause, know what you believe in and in that way, you could survive the rigors of the politics because it is lot of hard work and you sacrifice a lot being in public office.
– Karena Bachan