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Culture crash

Sherie Holder Olutayo

Culture crash

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Most people, when they think of meeting a baroness, would automatically assume the person is of royal lineage or has married a baron.
But with Floella Benjamin, both assumptions would be totally wrong.
Floella was actually born and raised in Trinidad, moved to England when she was a little girl, where she lived, went to school, married the love of her life, Keith, raised two children, and 42 years later is still very much in love.
While her life may have some fairy-tale elements, her story is one of hard work and the success that is reaped as a result. Along with being a writer, she is an actress, broadcaster, presenter and an advocate of children’s rights.
Floella, who has authored over 30 books, has even penned one about her life: Coming To England, which is used in schools all over England as part of their curriculum.
“Sea Of Fears is my first attempt at a novel and I was inspired by a young girl I met at the Wave Hotel.
“Her parents lived in England and they decided to come back to Barbados when she was 13, and she didn’t want to come,” Floella said.
“The story is about her life in Britain, how happy she is, and the trauma she faces after relocating back here.”
Floella can relate to the character in some ways because she had to transition when moving to England.
“The story is about being different and when you’re different, people don’t always embrace you,” she said.
Writing the book became an adventure for Floelle and her husband, who worked with the local police and coast guard, to ensure that many of the accounts detailed in Sea Of Tears were accurate.
“The people at Port St Charles and the police and coast guard were so helpful. There is a scene in the book where the main character, Jasmine, steals a boat and tries to go back to England.
“At Port St Charles they took us to the route she would have taken,” Floella said.
Along with being an author, Floella is politically inclined. In fact, she credits her father for inspiring that love of politics.
“My political career started generations ago. My grandfather started trade unions in Antigua because he believed people should be treated fairly,” she said.
“After he moved to Trinidad, my father tried to get a better system for the workers. I am one of six children and all of us are political in some way or another.”
Floella admits that she has always been passionate about the plight of children and has worked tirelessly in England to improve their lives.
“For the last 25 years I campaigned on behalf of children,” said Floella.
“I believe that everything we do in life affects children. I wanted government to think that way and it took me 20 years but I lobbied the last three prime ministers to have a Minister of Children to oversee the interests of children until we eventually got one.”
But her work didn’t stop there.
“I campaigned to have seat belts in buses for children. I campaigned for book publishers to have black, Asian and Chinese children in picture books and reflect the society in which we live,” Floella said.
“The publishers have responded positively and there is a significant change in their approach.
While she has made great strides, there is one accomplishment she is particularly proud of.
“Two years ago I was asked by [England’s Deputy Prime Minister] Nick Clegg if I would consider giving them the honour of being named a baroness,” she said.
“He said ‘we love your work on the behalf of children’.”
For Floella, this honour is the culmination of her life’s work on the behalf of children.
“I’ve always stood up for what I believed all my life,” she said passionately.  
“When you see the challenges and barriers I’ve faced from the time I came to Britain, the more I succeed, [the more] the same people who put the barriers there have to come and ask for forgiveness.”