Keon Watson and Zhara Khan are two of the proudest young people in Barbados today.
Pleased, heartened and humbled are some of the words they have used to describe how it felt to take the title of Most Outstanding Parish Ambassadors at the Spirit of the Nation Show to the green rolling hills of St Andrew, for the first time.
“It gives me a sweet feeling to know that I was able to represent my parish and do something big,” a reflective 19-year-old Watson said, as he humbly expressed the satisfying feeling of creating history for the parish he has called home his entire life.
“I am just extremely happy that we were the first ambassadors from St Andrew to actually win. So I am really happy that in the 22 years that this programme has been going on, that we could still win. I believe that with this win, more young people from the parish would be more willing to come into the programme because, yes, we do have a chance to win,” Khan, an Economics and Accounting student at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus proudly added.
The lights were shining on the big stage at the Wildey Gymnasium, cameras were flashing and the crowd was cheering loudly at that special moment, on the night of November 18, when it was announced that the St Andrew couple who performed outstandingly throughout the competition, had earned Best Formal Wear and placed second in the Presentation of the Parish Project, to earn a total of 2,191.5 points and win the title ahead of St Lucy which was not far behind with 2,168 points, followed by St John in third with 2,068 points.
“We really worked hard to prepare for this,” Watson said.
Prior to entering the competition, he and Khan had a basic idea about hurricane preparedness and what it involved.
However, they both admitted that evolved into them earning a wealth of knowledge as they sought to educate others in the parish about the important issue, through their parish project on disaster preparedness, with a special focus on getting ready for a hurricane.
Operation Preparation: Disasters Don’t Plan, We Can, was the message they carried to the young and old.
“So we really got out there spreading the message about hurricane preparedness, and we really spread the message that a hurricane can strike at any time….We saw what happened in Haiti, we saw what happened in Dominica, just recently it was Trinidad. So we saw all of these things happening and we don’t want it to be our sweet Barbados. But guess what? It can happen here. So we wanted to inform everybody and sensitize them, educate them, so that they would see that hurricanes aren’t a joke and that they would be able to take it more serious and prepare,” Watson explained.
Khan added that she found residents were interested in what she and her partner had to share. She said not only did they listen to them, but some people also gave tips on how the Parish Ambassadors could improve their package, while others shared stories about past hurricanes and weather systems that affected the island.
“They were really receptive. We gave out a family disaster plan checklist so that you can see what you need and the steps you need to take. Some actually read it in front of us and said they have this and they have that, but then they saw something that they needed to get. So to see how much people received the message, and that we actually helped some individuals and reminded them of stuff that they needed and how to get prepared, was really good,” Khan said.
Watson decided to become a Parish Ambassador because he wanted to carry on a family tradition. Three of his siblings were Parish Ambassadors, while his sister Kimberly was the attendant for him and Khan this year.
Watson, who is the youngest of his siblings, said he was not at all surprised when his mother brought up the topic about him entering the competition.
“I must say that I am quite glad that my mother encouraged me to join. I really didn’t want to join the programme at first, because it was something that I really wasn’t interested in. But, to sit here now and look back at my experiences as a Parish Ambassador, it has really caused me to develop as a role model for the children in my community. I think it was a great year. Despite the trying times, the highs always outweigh the lows,” the former A DaCosta Edwards Primary and Coleridge and Parry School student said.
Khan, meantime, admitted that she did not sign up with the mindset that she was in it to win it, but because she heard it was a developmental programme.
“In the beginning of the programme, I wasn’t the sort of person willing to go on stage in front of even ten people. But the night of the show, I went on stage in front of countless individuals and I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I would have been. I actually performed to the best of my ability. So the whole programme has actually broken me out of my shell and got me to be a more interactive person. People that know us, they could see that we really developed, and we have become better individuals,” said Khan, as she praised the programme for bringing out her best qualities.
Watson is currently studying Political Science and English Literature at the Barbados Community College (BCC). He ended up doing those subjects because the Business Studies department had no more room for students when he applied. He has decided to stick with political science because he is loving it.
But the Youth President at the Cane Garden Wesleyan Holiness Church, said he has been dreaming about becoming a journalist for quite some time now.
“First and foremost, I like writing. It is something that I have done since I was a boy at church. I would write poems for church and write short stories and keep them in a journal. At school, people would be asking you what you wanted to do, and I would never be able to answer, and that was always disheartening to me. But one day, I was on YouTube watching a video called Drama Alert. I said this is something that I would actually like to do. I could see myself following stories and keeping up to date with what is going on in my country. So that is my dream, and I am going after it,” he declared.
When Khan’s head is not buried in her books, she is exercising her body, be it engaging in martial arts or learning to swim. The 22-year-old also attended A Dacosta Edwards and then she moved on to the Alleyne School, and from there attended the Barbados Community College.
“I didn’t have the typical childhood dream of being a doctor or a lawyer. I always wanted to be a financial analyst. I remember I was a little girl and I was watching a random career show and financial analyst stuck out to me because I like to analyze stuff. But then recently I saw something about actuarial science, so I think that is the area I am headed now,” Khan informed.
The island’s most outstanding ambassadors now have national duties to perform over the period of the next year.
But they have both indicated they intend to continue the work they started in St Andrew, explaining that they want to get deeper into the affairs of the northern parish that seem to be forgotten at times.
Watson said he believes St Andrew has a strong community spirit that has the potential to burn even brighter.
“While the limelight is on us for the moment, I would like people to support St Andrew. Support St Andrew businesses, even if they are supporting an event or a fundraiser. I want people to see that St Andrew is still a parish. For far too long, St Andrew has been under-looked and underrated. I really want St Andrew to be back on the map again, per se. I want St Andrew to be the first parish to come out of somebody’s mouth when they start talking. So, I really want to assist more with the St Andrew Parish Committee. I will probably go back to be the public relations officer,” he said.
“We have been thanking our sponsors on our social media. We want people to know that you don’t have to go out of your parish all the time to do business. Even though the businesses might not be as well-known as places from St Michael, you can still support your own people. St Andrew has got talent but the talents are overlooked because other areas are more popular,” Khan added.
The two praised the Community Independence Celebrations Secretariat for producing the outstanding programme annually. They also expressed gratitude to all those from St Andrew who assisted them in the climb to reach the golden prize of not only a win, but pride.