Ryu Dan Empowerment Foundation

CSO Spotlight: Ryu Dan Empowerment Foundation

Name of Organisation

Ryu Dan Empowerment Foundation (RDEF)

How can people find you? (website, social media links etc)

o Telephone : 1-868-382-9853 /1-868-772-1417
o WhatsApp : 1-868-382-9853
o Email : ryudandojo@gmail.com
o Facebook : ryu dan empowerment foundation; RDEF Changing Communities
o Instagram : Ryu_Dan_Dojo; RDEF_Changing_Communities
o TikTok : RDEF ChangingCommunities

How was your organisation formed?

Ryu Dan Empowerment Foundation formerly known as Ryu Dan Dojo is a multicultural, community-based non-governmental organization incorporated as a Non-Profit Organization under the Companies Act (1995) in 2013. It started as a martial arts school in 2012 to fill a void left by the passing of Martial Arts Instructor Shihan Carlyle Thorne in the community of Enterprise. Today RDEF is much more than that to the community and its beneficiaries. It has morphed into a Foundation; on a trajectory to enhance the lives of nationals as well as the large population of Venezuelan migrants, utilizing our hybrid and innovative Sports +(Plus) Model.

What area(s) of interest does your organisation have? What does your organisation do for your stakeholders? What problems do you aim to solve for them?

Ryu Dan Empowerment Foundation is dedicated to supporting the social educational and physical development of all and is guided by its Seven Pillars of Community Development. RDEF’s “holistic development” approach provides valuable life skills and personal development to its community. Its programmes focus not only on youth development through martial arts but also use the sport as a vehicle for change to address many challenges faced by the Trinidad and Tobago community. Personal development and behavioural mitigation programming are provided through martial arts training and netball, educational (particularly language learning) opportunities, job readiness training, social support networks, and youth leadership opportunities. Its primary undertakings are sports, education, youth development, family and community development, support for vulnerable migrants in host communities, parenting education, vocational/life skills training, boosting entrepreneurship, and social and economic development initiatives. RDEF employs a “holistic development” model of programs that focus not only on youth development through martial arts but also use the sport as a springboard to address many challenges faced by the Trinidad and Tobago community.

Ryu Dan has collaborated, dialogued, and partnered with State Agencies; Civil Society Organizations; Community-Based Non-Government Organizations; Private Sector, and other national, regional, and international agencies over the years to support local communities in an organized fashion with existing initiatives so that beneficiaries can identify with the developmental issues to further strengthen the process at the grassroots level. A collaborative team approach is generally adopted as RDEF works together to strategize, coordinate, and implement programming. As a result of their efforts, they are identified as a primary source of social action in the community through the empowerment of youths, individuals, families and groups.

Ryu Dan Empowerment Foundation’s theory of change encompasses the organization’s short-term and long-term programming, both of which work toward the empowerment of vulnerable communities in Trinidad and Tobago.

What was your most challenging experience/ project? How did you get through it? What made you stick with it to the end?

One of the most challenging experiences faced by RDEF is the crime situation in the community of Enterprise where children and parents were afraid to ‘cross borders’; parents did not feel safe allowing their children to ‘cross borders’ to access the programs offered, even though they were coming into a safe space. That challenge was approached in two ways 1) We went to the schools and delivered the programs to the students 2) RDEF crossed borders and took the programs to different areas in the community; to the beneficiaries where they were and where they felt safe. A lot of networking with other stakeholders took place to find an alternative to crime and violence.
We stuck with it because there was a great need for change in our community and RDEF is part of the solution so we could not give up. We stayed focused and found creative and innovative ways to overcome the challenges and deliver our programs.

What is the coolest thing you’ve achieved/ project you’ve been a part of or executed? What benefits did it deliver? What change did it cause, create, or enable?

Being selected as a Sub-Awardee in April 2019 by Democracy International (DI) under the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to implement the Community Resilience Initiative (CRI) Trinidad and Tobago in two (2) communities; Chaguanas and Mayaro, was one of the coolest things we RDEF has achieved. The objective of the CRI project was to increase opportunities for highly vulnerable migrant and local populations and to deter the recruitment of children and youth into crime and violence or other exploitative or extremist activities. This project was completed in November 2020.

As a result of the Community Resilience Initiative (CRI) Program RDEF was able to help build a more resilient Trinidad and Tobago by strengthening community service delivery and increasing positive social interaction and trust among Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuelan communities by providing safe spaces for Venezuelan Migrants and host communities to interact and access much need information, social services and physical and educational programming. This initiative revealed that there was a real need for this type of support within the communities. Moreover, among persons indigenous to the communities, there is a core of people who are craving for the type of psycho-social support offered and the willingness to grow and develop resiliency in the face of all adversities.

As a result of the work implemented under the CRI project, RDEF submitted a project proposal to the Inter-American Foundation (IAF) to continue the work that was done between 2019 –2020 and was successful in receiving funding.
Building on the CRI program, RDEF applied a more focused and cohesive approach to address the growing social and economic needs by expanding opportunities to acquire personal and social assets as they implemented the Working Together to Promote Community Change Project: 2021-2023. RDEF capitalized on its diverse experiences, skills and knowledge of the targeted communities, to strengthen resilience by improving the quality of life of Venezuelan migrants and T&T nationals and promoting their social and economic integration through training and entrepreneurial training. Participants took advantage of the opportunities and participated well in program activities offered by RDEF under the project. This initiative revealed that there was a real need for this type of support within the community. Moreover, among persons indigenous to the communities, there is a core of people who are craving for the type of psycho-social support offered and the willingness to grow and develop resiliency in the face of all adversities.

A large part of the community seemed to have adjusted well to the presence and participation of migrants who have shared spaces in activities arranged by RDEF under the USAID/DI as well as IAF-supported projects. There is evident growth in acceptance, tolerance and friendship.

Do you have anything else you’d like to add? What should people know about your organisation? Do you have any tips or advice you’d like to share?

Project/Program implementers must make a conscious effort to recognize and understand the population their program will serve, and develop appropriate strategies accordingly RDEF’s project strategy involves more than changes to physical infrastructure but focuses more so on the importance of social infrastructures: the people, places and institutions that foster cohesion and support. RDEF’s innovation resonates with its diversity. You cannot rely on yourself only, or one leader in the community, or one interest group. The innovation comes when community stakeholders and like-minded partners can come together across boundaries of geography, institution, nationality, deep-rooted perspectives, and social alliances, and are collectively challenged enough to connect and think creatively about shared problems because one power line will only make our community more vulnerable.

Our innovative practices and methodology of strengthening and promoting local ownership by involving, engaging, empowering, and building the capacity of beneficiaries from the very beginning produce value across all our interventions

In a perfect world where you have all the resources necessary, what would your dream project be and what would want it to achieve?

In a perfect world where we have all the resources necessary to our disposal RDEF’s dream project will be the “Ultimate Safe Space” – our completed Community Resilience Centre in Enterprise Chaguanas, well equipped and outfitted to accommodate all of our initiatives; a space where the people of the community… where the (T&T nationals and Venezuelan migrants) from the community and beyond can access much-needed information and/or provision and access to services; A safe space for the family unit to reduce the vulnerability and risky behaviour of children and youth…where young people can fulfil several fundamental needs – such as the need for affiliation, friendship, belonging to a positive group, and the need to feel competent, useful, respected, and significant—while also providing space for community cohesion. Moreover, the establishment of a women-led enterprise originating from our entrepreneurial programming

Are there any upcoming events, good news, or announcements you’d like to share with readers?

The Inter-American Foundation (IAF) has agreed to support a Grant Amendment of RDEF’s Working Together to Promote Community Change project for another 18 months, commencing in September 2023 to promote personal development for children, youth and adults through learning activities in the fields of literacy, sports, family and social life, and entrepreneurship. This intervention will continue to improve the quality of life of Venezuelan migrants in Trinidad and Tobago and T&T nationals and promote their social and economic integration through training and technical assistance in entrepreneurship.

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