For fostering spiritual values, co-operation and family responsibility in building society.
Following riots in Trinidad’s Port of Spain, which nearly precipitated a military coup, SERVOL (Service Volunteered for All) was set up in 1970 by Father Gerard Pantin, then a 41-year-old Trinidadian Catholic priest.
In its first six years, SERVOL helped many communities to set up economic, educational and cultural projects. Over the next five years, while more of such projects blossomed, SERVOL developed the important new concept of the Life Centre.
The Life Centre departments include a day-care unit for babies, one for toddlers, a skill-training centre for over 200 young men and women between the ages of 17 and 19, and dental and medical clinics. The Life Centre programme engaged adolescents in a unique mix of courses comprising personal development and awareness, education and training, acquisition of parenting skills and on-the-job experience. A remarkable interaction between these departments led to the discovery ‘that this Centre was taking on the role of a parent substitute’.
With its community-based pre-schools and its Life Centre programmes in place, SERVOL initially decided to concentrate on these two age groups, 0-5-year-olds and 16-19-year-olds. From 1982 to '86, there was an expansion into the Caribbean of the SERVOL approach. After that, SERVOL trained teachers and set up early childhood and adolescent programmes in close co-operation with 15 governments across the Caribbean. In 1990, SERVOL's teacher-training courses were given accreditation by the University of Oxford.
The Trinidad government went into partnership with SERVOL in 1986, and within seven years, 5,000 children aged 3-5 were being taught in 149 pre-schools, while 45 Life Centres were training 3,750 adolescents. SERVOL's staff numbered over 100, and more than 3,000 local people were involved in the management of 'their' centres in their communities. Including parents, some 50,000 people are involved with SERVOL at any one time.
In 2007, another long-standing colleague, Martin Pacheco, became Executive Director, and Sister Ruth Montrichard joined the board as their Chairperson.
An important element of the SERVOL approach is that 'nothing in life is free, there is a price to be paid for everything'.
One key to SERVOL's success is, without doubt, its development approach based on a "philosophy of ignorance": not assuming but asking people what their needs are and what type of help they want; attentive listening to their answers; a resolute avoidance of cultural arrogance, deriving from differences in background or education; and, only then, respectful intervention in a spirit of mutual benefit.
After SERVOL received the Right Livelihood Award, their work continued to expand. They introduced a program to include another age group into their activities. Junior Life Centres invite young students (ages 13-16), who did not pass the national Secondary Education school exams, to reactivate their motivation to learn and to train their literacy and numeracy skills. In addition, the activities for young adults were expanded during the 1990s with several Advanced Skills Training Programmes and Training facilities (to train for jobs in the petroleum and natural gas industries). In 2008, for the first time, the programmes for young adults were being introduced into the formal Secondary school system in Trinidad and Tobago, and later on the island of St. Lucia.
Father Pantin retired as SERVOL's Director in 1992 to become its Chairman. The current Executive Director is Allison Haynes Basalo. Father Gerard Pantin passed away on June 23, 2014.