Centres of Excellence Programme Assists Hospital and Rehab Centre for Children With Special Needs

Digicel Trinidad and Tobago Foundation donates to The Children’s Ark to assist with renovations to the Princess Elizabeth Home

The Digicel Trinidad and Tobago Foundation has always prioritised those with special needs in its mission to create a more equitable and inclusive world for all. It works to empower this group through a variety of different ways, perhaps most importantly by providing them with accessible safe spaces in order to receive the care they need.

In 2019, the Digicel Trinidad and Tobago Foundation joined forces with other local organisations to sponsor the renovation of the Princess Elizabeth Home, a children’s rehab facility and hospital in Port of Spain. The project was led by The Children’s Ark, a non-profit with a mission to provide shelter, safety and necessary care to vulnerable or disadvantaged youth, including those with special needs. The project was greenlit by The Children’s Ark after the idea to construct a new orthopaedic ward was proposed by Princess Elizabeth Home’s CEO. Ms. Simone de la Bastide, president of The Children’s Ark, said the Princess Elizabeth Home was regularly seeing so many young patients that many of them were awaiting important surgery or physical rehab care for months at a time. Ms. Simone empathised with their frustration and knew they needed to find a solution.

Decades of History and Resilience

The Princess Elizabeth Home originally opened in 1953 with a generous grant from Queen Elizabeth, who was a royal princess at the time. Her goal was to provide relief to children who had contracted poliomyelitis, a disease caused by the polio virus that can impact the spinal cord and render patients paralyzed. This disease was at its height around the world from the 1940s to the 1950s. In Trinidad, there were four outbreaks of polio in 1941, 1942, 1954 and 1972.

At first, the centre began as a recuperating home for youth with physical disabilities. Over the years, it has transformed beyond Queen Elizabeth’s original vision and now offers surgical treatment, rehabilitation, therapy and oral care options. It also specialises in hand surgery. In recent years, the centre has expanded with a new preschool and grammar school that serves children from disadvantaged communities or low-income families.

Over the years, natural disasters have greatly hindered the centre’s progress. Medical tools, instruments and supplies have been destroyed in increasingly severe weather and scheduled procedures have been postponed or delayed. Since Princess Elizabeth Home’s inception, several of the strongest storms to hit Trinidad and Tobago have occurred, including Tropical Storm Alma (1974), Tropical Storm Bret (1993), Hurricane Ivan (2004) and Hurricane Felix (2007).

Despite these setbacks, the Princess Elizabeth Home has continued to bounce back, and finally, with the help of its community, is poised to take the next step towards better serving its patients.

The New Surgical Ward, Operating Theatre & Clinic

Fast-forward to launch day on the 27th of April 2022, and The Children’s Ark, the Digicel Trinidad and Tobago Foundation and many others have ensured that the Princess Elizabeth Home will continue to evolve to meet the needs of its patients. A number of benefactors came together to fund the TT$1 million overhaul of parts of the interior and exterior to create a 12,000 square foot addition to the centre. Thanks to the Centres of Excellence programme, the Digicel Trinidad and Tobago Foundation was able to put forward TT$250,000. The Scotiabank TT Foundation, RBCTT, Uhrenholt, Medcorp, Nutrien, Brian MacFarlane, the House of Jaipur and the Royal College of Nairobi also donated money to the cause.The new expansion features a state-of-the-art surgical ward, operating theatre and clinic. Throughout the build, Digicel Trinidad and Tobago Foundation faculty and staff talked openly about what the project meant to the Caribbean. At the Foundation’s virtual annual general meeting in 2020, Penny Gomez, Digicel Trinidad and Tobago Foundation’s CEO, discussed how the Princess Elizabeth Home is not only one of a kind in Trinidad and Tobago but within the entire region, as it caters specifically to persons with disabilities.

Leadership at the grand opening event also echoed these remarks, stating that the new and improved centre provides a new wave of hope for those in nearby towns. With the expansion of the Princess Elizabeth Home, an additional 1,200 children and teens with disabilities can be treated each year and better inpatient care can be delivered.

For the Digicel Trinidad and Tobago Foundation, improving opportunities for those with special needs remains part of its core mission and a priority for 2023 and beyond. The Foundation’s list of completed projects is always expanding, and thousands of people continue to prosper through grant programmes like EPIC and Centres of Excellence.