Influencer Jeannette Juliet-Pablo: dedicated, focused and socially involved

Interview February 2022

Could you share with us some information about your family life?
I was born in Curaçao in a big traditional family of 14 children, 2 boys, and 12 girls. I am proud to say that I was born and raised in Kabo Berde. This barrio was family-based, one of the few family-based “barrios” on the island. It used to be a plantation and my family from my mother’s side had 6 generations of her family that lived there and I still have some of my siblings that live there. After I came back from Holland after my studies, I maintained a close relationship with Kabo Berde, although I don’t live there anymore. I am married and I have two children and two grandchildren.

“A big family is important to have fun”,  my father used to say. We had enough siblings so that we didn’t necessarily have to play with other children, to have a good time, but the family would also be helpful during the times we had to grief and pick up our lives afterward.

How supportive were your parents in letting you become who you are right now?
Both my parents were very supportive of who I have become right now. My father was a man of strict rules, an advocate of seriousness, and he had a sharp mind. My mother was more lenient and she had a clear vision which was unique in those days. She was a professional nurse and worked in the Pharmacy of SEHOS and also in Sanatorium and she has also inspired all of us as children to work hard so we also can become a professional. With this mindset, we were raised and my mother also combined excellently her work as a professional with raising her family in the first years of her marriage.

My extended family from my mother’s side also played an important role in inspiring us. My mother had two other brothers, one had his own business, as a mechanic she repaired cars and started a cooperative truck and caterpillars. The other uncle Jules Rojer, played an important role together with the late Amado Romer in the development of credit unions in Curaçao.  Both my uncles also lived in Kabo Berde. I loved the “barrio” because of its nature, there was a lot of ‘kunuku’ and ‘mondi’ and loved hiking in it.

Could you share something about your educational background and your experience?
I first became a kindergarten teacher, but stayed as a teacher only for two years. I was a teacher at a school where the children had lots of needs. In those days there were still two types of schools, those for free (free of school fees) and those where the parents had to pay some school fees. Two factors that inspired me to study social work.

My mother was a very socially involved woman, via her pastoral work, we – her children – got also involved at a very early age with this kind of work. We distributed food and clothes and after two years being a teacher, I decided to go to Holland and study social work, as I thought that I could then, have a bigger impact as a community developer.

Secondly, working at a school in Santa Maria where the children had a lot of needs, visiting the homes of children as was required those days, I could see and experience first hand in what kind of environment the children were growing up in “barrios” like Seru Fortuna, Kanga Stenen Koraal, all “bario’s” were the most vulnerable of our society lived.

At the social academy, I specialized in “community development” and it explains why I got involved in community development from the beginning in the first place. But this was always the case.

When I was in the sixth grade at the primary school level, I wanted to become an interior decorating architect. My teacher at that time told my mother that I didn’t talk a lot and it was better to go to the MAVO instead of the HAVO/VWO. This was a big disappointment for me at that time and it also resulted in my change in my study orientation. In Holland, I studied in my first year at Eindhoven and then I went to the social academy of The Hague that just started a special study direction, “community development for ethnic minorities” and after hearing of this on a radio program ‘Tambu’, I immediately switched and finalized my studies at a social academy at Zeist close to Utrecht.

Regarding my work experiences, when I came back to Curaçao after my studies I was referred to by a family member to talk to AGV as they had a job position available. I went to talk and applied and started the next day. Although it was a job not directly related to what I had studied, I started anyway. In those days AGV started a new policy directed towards drug addicts as this problem was becoming a serious problem in those days. The work was interesting as I became a member of the Drugs and Alcohol team, ambulatory social psychiatric team, that worked in the “barrio” and we visited clients in their home situation and also consulted a lot with other disciplines to address the needs of the clients. AGV leadership in those days was innovative with their ideas and very professional. I attended different courses in California for example and I became an International Certified Trainer on prevention, we also had trainers visiting Curaçao. All of this was part of community development, where we combined volunteers and professionals to collaborate and combined efforts to work on mental heath prevention. Until the government decided to privatize AGV. I, together with some others ware against this idea as this type of work can’t be commercialized, this caused a lot of conflicts. In 1995/1996 I left AGV (then PSI) and started working at SEDA dealing with gender issues and women’s rights and then in 1999 I started working at ‘Bureau Vrouwen Zaken’ till 2010. After that, I started working at the Ministry of SOAW till September 2021.

During all these years I kept doing my work as a volunteer in the barrio. During those years I have experienced different new initiatives, like ‘Reda Soshal’, ‘Maneho Nobo’, as we became advocates for the need for a stronger social policy and different NGO’s teamed up and this resulted in AMFO and the NGO-platform later on. One is still a recurrent issue though, it is a lack of continuity and sustainability in all these efforts, which I regret.

We know you to be very active in the ‘Unidat di Bario’ for some years and we have heard from your involvement in different projects of late with the help you are offering to the ‘Voedselbank’. Can you expand a little on this?
As the pandemic started we teamed up with several organizations like ‘Alianza’, the ‘Voedselbank’, Rotary, The Council of Churches combining our efforts by registering and distributing food packages. Thousands of people registered. ‘Unidatdi Barrio’ had 30 registration & distribution points active, consisting of clubhouses, churches, ‘Sentro di Bario’, even in the porch of people in the barrio as long as it was well located in the barrio. We have done that work for months until The Red Cross and Voedselbank started offering people in need, vouchers. Later on, we got involved again where we again used our 30 registration and distribution points with the local and International Red Cross and Organization on Migration (IOM) in Curaçao till May 2021 when the government took over. We changed our role and helped thousands and thousands of locals and migrants, to register online and it proved to me how important digitalization has become in these days.

For how long have you been chairperson of the ‘Unidat di Bario’?
I have been the chairperson of ‘Unidat di Bario’ for 20 years now.

Can you tell us something about what inspired you to take up this responsibility?
First of all, I am a graduate with community development as a specialization; secondly, some representatives of the “barrio” requested me to do it, as they wanted a different approach compared with what the ‘Sentro di bario’ was offering. As we started early on, the number of members from different barrios in Curaçao grew to over 80 and at a certain moment in 1994, we decided to formalize ‘Unidat di Bario’. At this moment in time, we are still having mixed results on how both of us ‘Unidat di Bario’ and ‘Sentro di Bario’ are collaborating to deal with the issues in the barrios.

Have you noticed changes in the barrios, and how would you describe these changes?
There had been little changes in the barrios. There was a policy document that advocated an integrated approach from 2008 -2012, ‘Integrale Wijk Aanpak’. Of all the barrios mentioned, only Scharloo Fleur de Marie was implemented. There were also 12 so-called “high risk” barrios that ‘Reda Soshal’ was focusing on, but sorry to say this ended up with few sustainable results, because of the fragmented approach instead of an integrated approach. At ‘Unidat di Bario’ we believe that if the approach isn’t integrated, because of the high expectations created, it becomes a big disappointment for the inhabitants of the barrio, if it fails. That is why we now require an integrated approach.

What is your BIG WHY or driving motivation to be who you are right now?
Although there were different moments that I wanted to stop, pressured by the government, the barrios themselves and my family not to give up, I would like to keep doing what I am doing in ‘Unidat di Bario’. But I have this drive, call it a passion, within me “to help people”. If a client would call at 6 am, I would handle it to the best of my abilities. But I am spending less time in ‘Unidat di Bario’ these days and in this phase in my life, I would love to explore some new areas to help people.

I have taken notice for example that more youth, from Banda Abou to Banda Ariba, are interested in agriculture and food security. I am advising them on this, from an organizational and community development perspective.

I would like to make people more aware of their strengths and sense of purpose, not by helping people materially. Talking to them triggers people to have some new perspectives and as they discover on their own, solutions that are possible, as all answers lie within. This makes their self-confidence go up. This is the method I apply. Because of the challenges and different vicious circles that they might be stuck in, they might be incapable to come up with solutions. This helps them, instead of referring them to some governmental or other organization, where they offer no quick fixes for their problems, that in the end doesn’t empower them and thus keeps them in a vicious circle. I would like to work with those people that have the most problems in our society.

What are your plans for the coming years and when do you consider that you have been successful in your personal and business/professional life, let us say 5 years from now?
Five years from now, I would like to be more in an advisory and mentoring role. I want also would have like to have written and publish my work experiences, where did things got stuck, from a social-cultural point of view, so that future students and other interested people can get a better understanding of our culture and society and hopefully use it. There are methodologies that I would like to share combined with local influences, that can help our people to become more emancipated.

I have taken notice that more people during this Covid Pandemic took up planting their food and vegetables, and also making their handicrafts. I am considering contacting MEO to enable local neighborhood markets where people from the “barrio” can buy and sell what they produce.

There are other ideas based on Community Based Development, that I would love to work and teach on, so that our communities can become more self-supporting, enabling self-employment opportunities so that more people can become self-sufficient enough to manage their lives.

Furthermore, I would like to be involved with people that are crushed by the wheels of life and the society, like a young client I know, mother of 3 young children, was imprisoned and after she was set free had so many challenges to deal with to get her life back on track. In these kinds of extreme cases, I love giving them a helping hand so that they can get “back on track”.

What are the challenges that you are dealing with? And how are you dealing with these different challenges you confront?
In social work, some interventions work. If a person wants to be helped, this person can be helped. The social infrastructure consisting of government and NGO’s should be such that, if a person has a need, it can easily know where to attend. We are now confronted with big changes in our social security and pension systems at the moment. But on top of that in this “Digitalized Information ERA”, we are losing momentum to keep track of the ongoing development in the world, as digitalization creates additional challenges for most women, retired persons and elderly, people living in isolation in the “barrios” where they are not having regular social contacts with one another. This is a universal challenge btw, as doing things with other people in those phases of their lives requires new responsibilities and poses new challenges. I have grandchildren now, and we need to work to create a better world for our future generations. We need to work on intergenerational, inclusive programs, where the knowledge and wisdom of the older generations can be combined with the vitality and energy of the younger generations. A social knowledge center is important for the future planning of any country. I am not seeing a  lot of those kinds of programs as yet, I recently saw efforts being done in Zapateeer, to implement this concept. There are more models we can develop and implement. These are challenges we can address.  

Do you use your inner voice to evaluate when dilemmas show up? How does that work for you?
One of the foundations of the Poulo Frese method in social work in terms of social development and emancipation is self-reflection. I do it a lot and I believe that it should be done more often also on the community level and as professionals, as this would make us less reactive. This works for me.

How are you trying also to keep up with your knowledge and skills levels?
I was working in the civil service, fortunately at a time when I could participate in a lot of training, courses, and international conferences focused on especially “gender issues”. This felt good and I learned a lot that I could apply locally. I now follow online seminars and I have subscriptions to different magazines on community building and social work. All of this keeps me up to date on what is happening in the Netherlands, Canada, the USA and other parts of the world, and it makes it possible to compare notes where we are in Curaçao compared with elsewhere in the world in regard to community-based approaches. Canada is a very advanced country, for that matter.

What are your strengths?
I am very capable to transform a plan into reality. So in the whole plan cycle, I can plan, implement, evaluate, and after correction, continues.

Do you have hobbies or interests that you are also passionate about?
I love hiking in nature, because of Covid I rediscovered the cultivation of local fruits and vegetables, I love to read, I love taking pictures and at times I can get in a mood to collect stamps to name one example.

If you as Jeanette would meet a stranger on the bus let’s say in New York or Bogota Columbia) and they would ask you to introduce yourself, what would you answer?
I love telling people where I come from and telling them that I am from Curaçao and that in Curaçao our diversity is one of our strengths.

How would you describe Jeanette in one word or one sentence?
Dedicated and focused on what I do.

Who are the persons that have inspired you the most in your career?
My mother was one of my big inspirations.  

What is a trait that is still a work in progress?
My ability to redress and correct something that I didn’t do well. I am perfect at allowing others to have second changes for clients, this is something that we have to do regularly, but I don’t allow myself this second chance. I am working on this now.

What was a defining moment in your life?
My firstborn was a defining moment, as I was young and wanted to make a career. I am grateful for the support I got from my family and as soon as my two children could come along, I took them with me where this was possible.

Where do you want to be 10 years from now with your life?
I would hope to have helped create some solid foundations of social work, that would we remain timeless despite the changes that would inevitably come.

What would you want your Loved Ones, family, friends, and others to say about you, let’s say 20 years from now?
That they would say that I have impacted them, it could have been something small, like some words that I had spoken to them or anything else that made a lasting impact on them.

What makes you stay optimistic about the future of Curaçao as we are in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, recession, and in the middle of growing environmental challenges because of the global warming consequences?
that are very active and of all ages, thus intergenerational. These people are trying to bring about impactful positive changes on the island, irrespective of what is going on. That makes me stay optimistic, although I do believe that we could make more use of the diversity of our island, it is a strength and that we should capitalize on in a more sustained way.

One of the 250 Influencers of Curaçao

Jeanette Juliet-Pablo is a passionate, dedicated, driven, knowledgeable, wise, engaged community developer and “empowerer” of people in need. She has over the past 20 years been working consistently, as chairperson of the ‘Unidat di Bario’, on community development of different “barrios” of Curaçao. Over the last couple of year’s Jeannette, together with other NGO leaders, has often expressed the need to tweak the social policies of the government, with the best interest of the targeted group in mind. Over the year’s, she has also shown to be able to collaborate with the government and other organizations, as was shown during the Covid Pandemic through the ‘Unidat di Bario’ networks, a helping hand was given to register and distribute food packages for those in need. Her social nature, her willingness to share her extensive experience and “tacit” knowledge with the next generations, her ability to collaborate over all these years, and her ambition to continue to, at the one hand support those in need at the individual level and at the other hand trying to create solid foundations of social work, that would we remain timeless despite the changes that would inevitably come in the coming years, makes her stand out. Jeanette believes that in social work, if a person wants to be helped, some interventions work. She loves helping extreme cases, based on helping them become “aware” of their strengths, to get their life back on track. All this, and especially her collaborative mindset and her deep social nature, makes her stand out. That is why we deeply love and respect Jeanette and we consider her one of the 250 influencers of the islands representing the NGO sector focusing on “Community Development”. Look at the list of the Influencers we have interviewed or reported on, up to now.

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