There are few people who can lay claim to being an island scholar, soca monarch and a UN award winner to boot. That Akima Paul Lambert has achieved all this and more despite barely being into her third decade speaks volumes about this young Grenadian’s drive.

Born and raised in Grenada, Victoria, St Marks to be precise, in 2001 Akima became only the second woman to be crowned Grenada’s soca monarch. Her winning song, Prostitute, was described at the time as “a lyrical gem that will likely do much to shore up the calypsonian as editorialist, social commentator and tribune of the common people”.

After winning Grenada’s National Island Scholarship, an award given to the student judged to have the achieved the most outstanding academic performance on the island, Akima travelled to England to read Law at Cambridge University and went on to do a Masters in Law at the University of Paris. She’s currently an associate at Cleary Gottlieb, the international legal firm that played a ground-breaking role advising Greece on its high-stakes debt restructuring.

When we meet after work at a bar in the shadow of London’s St Paul’s Cathedral we discuss everything from her plans for the inaugural Grenada diaspora development lecture (taking place on 13 May at the London School of Economics), her passion for pro bono work (in the past she’s travelled Ghana to volunteer for the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative) and  her friendship with legendary Grenada Chocolate Company co-founder whose life and death have been an immense inspiration to Akima.

Our conversation starts where it all began. In 1998, aged just 15-years-old, Akima was elected to the prestigious ranks of the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Global 500 Roll of Honour. The award recognizes and honors environmental achievement. Previous winners include former US President, Jimmy Carter and the late Nigerian activist and environmentalist, Ken Saro-Wira. The entry for her award states: “Her strong point is that she talks and writes, with great conviction, about issues which are close to the hearts and minds of the Caribbean people, young and old alike.” It seems that, more than a decade later, not that much has changed about Akima Paul.

The Q&A

So how did you end up winning a UN award at the age of 15?

I was part of an environmental group long before the days that climate change or sustainability were mainstream. I felt so passionately about the issues that I started writing a weekly article in local newspaper on environmental degradation and how small islands would suffer. One of the organisers nominated me for the UNEP global 500 award.

More importantly the experience really peaked my interest in writing from a early age. I carried on writing and started doing calypso and that was because I love writing. I like performing as well, I like drama and realised that I enjoyed the creative side of it the most. Even now with my current job has a lot to do with the fact that I like to write, to be creative and persuasive with language. I think that’s definitely a common thread.

Another random thing, you did a song with Mott Green, founder of the Grenada Chocolate Company?

Yes, Mott was a very good friend of mine. His death had a tremendous impact on me and made me focus on doing the things I’ve always wanted to do. I’d sat with Mott so many times and gone over certain things that I wanted to do and it just didn’t happen. Seeing him die so weirdly it really had a tremendous impact on me.

But he was a good friend. We were in the chocolate factory together one day and he said ‘let’s do a cocoa song’.  So we just did a little ditty. I really loved what he did with the Chocolate Company I loved the principle of it, I loved the ethos, that it was a co-operative and that it is Grenadian.

[Listen: Smilo Cocoa Powder radio ad (music and lyrics by Akima Paul and Mott Green)]

Whenever  Mott came to London we would always meet to go to the theatre or have a glass of wine. I saw him at my wedding – he made personalised chocolates for me. His death spurred me into action this year: I’m working on the poetry book and I’m getting this event together. I thought, ‘Carpe Diem. You’re not too young, you don’t lack experience you just need to go for it’.

How would you define that thing that propels you from environmental campaigning to doing amazingly well at school?

I’m very passionate and I throw myself into a lot of things because that’s just who I am. I’ve always been an all-rounder. At school I used to run, I used to sing, I used to do well at school – I was pretty good at being a geek but I was a geek who liked sports! That was always encouraged. I went to St Joseph’s Convent and they placed a heavy premium on being multi-faceted. It’s that whole ‘why not’ philosophy’. It made me feel that there was no limit on what I could do or on what I could say I wanted to do. That really was key in my development. I’m not sure there’s a common thread as I’m a bit of a contradiction; I can be an extrovert and then a introvert. I have a professional career now and I also don’t have as much time as I used to but I always have many different projects on the side.

My poetry is something I really enjoy. It’s that same malaise; who will write our stories? There’s no one in Grenada writing poetry from the perspective of a young person. Who is telling our stories? No one is and I think that is such a travesty. Because Grenada’s economic situation means the situation people find themselves in is just about survival, it’s just about money. In a society where arts are not able to flourish will be very sterile. I feel almost like I have an obligation. Even if I chose to be a lawyer, someone needs to do it, to chronicle what life is like for people like those who lived in my parish. I grew up in Victoria. They did a poverty survey when I was growing up and we were classed as the poorest town in the Caribbean!

How do you define the challenges the island is facing?

Grenada is a microcosm of the Caribbean in general. The problems Grenada faces are symptomatic across the Caribbean. When we think of poverty we tend to think of the extreme poverty experienced in African countries  but I want people to know that poverty is not necessarily about lack of food it’s a very layered concept. There are people who have food and clothing but they are malnourished intellectually, or socially they’re not playing an active role in their society, they’re marginalised. Those sorts of issues need to be ventilated.

At the same time I don’t want to paint a picture that there are only problems. One of the greatest things about Grenada is that we are tenacious. People can live through most adverse conditions. I always say, ‘I was poor growing up but I never knew it’. It’s all relative and I think that’s what I want to do – to present who we are as a deeply nuanced and highly complex place. It’s not just paradise – Grenada is more than a place where people check into hotels and sip Mojitos. We are people who have stories and they are worthy of being told.

One of the things that I’m trying to work into the narrative of the way these stories are being told is the way in which your identity, either as someone born abroad as a second or third generation Grenadian or as someone born in Grenada but living abroad, how that shapes and influences the way in which you think about the island and how those thoughts are then received. What is your experience?

I lived in Grenada until I was 18-years-old. I went to Cambridge and then I did two years in Paris and then I came back to London. I think a European filter can be helpful but it also can be dangerous. We always tend to think that we know the fix or we know the cure because we apply that European filter to life in Grenada. It’s very tempting to think that we can resolve it all but one of the things that I really am passionate about is realising that it has to be about dialogue. It can’t be about ‘us’ and ‘them’. There is some of the us and them mentality…

And who are you in that conversation?

I’m Grenadian! I’m British as well but I see myself as a homegrown Grenadian. I see myself as a visitor on this [British] soil. I do recognise that I live in the diaspora so I guess that makes me part of ‘them’ in terms of the Grenadians who live in the diaspora but I don’t think anything could take away the fact that I am ‘us’ as well. My direct experience of growing up in Grenada makes a big difference. I know what it feels like to be preached at and to experience someone who thinks they understand all of the issues and knows all of the answers and who tries to impose something that you know to be different.

The solution has to be about dialogue and that’s what I want to focus on; seeing how best we can all use what we’ve learnt here and not waiting until we get home to do it. Because I think that’s a problem, everyone says ‘oh when I get back home I will do this or that’ but what are you doing right now while you’re abroad? That’s a big issue for the diaspora and that’s a big issue for me.

There are more Grenadians living outside Grenada then there are living inside Grenada. How can we harness what we have here to help and support in terms of the objectives they want to realise back home?

Was there ever the option, given your ambitions, for you to have stayed in Grenada?

I had to leave. To a certain extent I owe my ambition to Grenada because I was the island scholar, I got a scholarship to study in London. There wasn’t really the avenue to study law at the level I wanted to in Grenada so to a certain extent, yes, I had to travel abroad. Living in London, Cambridge and Paris while having the opportunity to interact with different people, it wasn’t just learning about law it was an opportunity to learn about life. That was invaluable. I don’t think you could ever get that living at home.

If you really want to challenge yourself it’s probably necessary to leave but I’m not saying that by not leaving you’re not being challenged, you’re just being challenged in a different way. Although I’m part of the brain drain I’m trying to remedy that. I’m part of the malaise so maybe this is an act of contrition because I’m very concerned about Grenada and what can be done to help the island but at the end of the day the people who are considered the talent, we need to figure out a way to assist.

I don’t think everybody has to leave but if everybody stays, Grenada will have a totally different problem which is unemployment, which is already rife. We can’t be going home to look for jobs. We have to create jobs. That’s the million dollar question for the diaspora.

Subscribe

Subscribe now to our newsletter

The "MailChimp Token" field in the Settings → MailChimp is required!

18 comments

  1. what a brilliant young lady hope u can put all your dreams and aspirations into action keep doing your best and i hope u can aspire and build a trend for the young folks of our country our community bless up mrs lambert

  2. Great speech my friend you are truly an inspiration Akima someone yo be emulated the younger Grenadians needs to take a page out of your book. Good role model for our beautiful country. Continue doing your thing and I wish you all the best with your future endeavours! !!!! One love.

  3. She is indeed an all rounded person, not just ambitious but determined and perseverant. Speaking of what you want to do and doing it are two completely different things. I think the fact that she’s not separating her personal development from her country’s is very encouraging and motivation, as one calypsonian said ,” Grenada belong to we”.

    Being from Victoria myself I remember that she was the one that most parents would compare their children to, not mines though..had to make that clear.

    I am always happy when someone from my little country are doing big things needless to say from sunset city and she’s from my generation. So keep up the good works Akima Paul.

  4. As the first Grenadian to get a scholarship to East Germany after the Revo in 1980 I congratulate you on your axhievements thus far Akima
    THE SKY IS THE LIMIT.
    I have tried to offer my much needed skills as a Geologist to the nation, our beautiful and dear Grenada but have met alot of stumbling blocks along the way.I’ve attempted to spearhead the development of Geothermal Energy in the Mt.St.Catherine area,your place of birth but acceptance of my efforts has been dampened after two and a half years of sweating.All due more or less to lack of pluralism by some of the folks who maybe dont share that vision.Nevertheless, as President Kennedy once said,”Not what country can do for you but what you can do for the country”.Keep up your positive spirit and one day Grenadians in total will truly live up to our motto,”Ever conscious we ,aspire, build and advance as one people,one Family”.We have more common similarities than the few artificial differences.Akima go for it and build on your all round strengths.I’m just around the corner in Germany so maybe we may stumblei into each other when I’m passing through London.Stay blessed

      1. Hi Guys,

        I found your link again and I’m once more thrilled to read about so many brilliant Grenadian youths in the diaspora. At this time of the year, the month of October, this period always brings a bit of melancholy and tears to most of us from the generation that are old enough to remember the era that culminated with the demise of the popular 1979- 83 Revo. But getting on to this website also bring joy to see the ‘flowers of the Revo blossoming’. You guys at http://www.grenada 40.com are the FLOWERS Of the REVO. That’s how Maurice Bishop reverred to you brilliant youths and children born in this period of time in Grenada’s history. He is definitely proud of you . My daughter, Jane Nurse is 25 years old and also such a flower. You can follow her contribution to Grenada and to Climate Change issues at the following sites:- documentary film on Grenada, ” Keeping Paradise”- https://vimeo.com/67096902. And at the UNFCCC COP17 in Qatar you can listen to the world’s youth on Climate Change issues. http://www.earthinbrackets.org./2012/11/29/yes-were-angry/ or http://www.earthinbrackets.org/2012/11/29/jane-speaks-to-christina-figueres-mary- robinson-and-dessima-williams/. Jane is now running a green development project at the University of Swansea in Wales.

        Forward Ever Backward Never

        Dr.Raymond Nurse

        You may contact me at:- galoeg@hotmail.com or skype -rastagalo; Jane _- ivy.nurse123@rogers.com

        1. Dr Nurse,

          Thank you so much for your kind words! It’s so great to get feedback that lets us know that people are getting some value from this project and it’s a real honour to have your support. Your daughter sounds like a real talent – we posted her documentary on our Facebook page and we’ll also be in touch with her directly to see if we can feature her on the site. Thanks again and hope you’ll stay with us on this journey!

          Gratefully,
          Grenada 40

  5. I have to say that I am very humbled by this outpouring of support and affection. I am equally inspired by all my Grenadian friends and compatriots and I hope that I can live up to your expectations and not let you down. Thank you Zoe for putting this project together. I am not sure that I am at all deserving but it is nice to feel that I could be some day. Dr Nurse, I am very interested to hear about your experience. As part of the Grenada 40 legacy, we are trying to pull together a database/website of Grenadian professionals in the Diaspora called “The Eighth Parish” where Grenadian groups (and government, if they want it) can harness skills from outside to home. Please email if you would like to hear more about it. I can be found on akimapaul@hotmail.com

    1. I think of you often though I have not been able to keep track of you. This excellent profile gives me great pleasure because it is founded on the truth of your incarnated spirit. A wonderful update.

      1. Thanks for taking the time to comment Ron! Glad you enjoyed reading about Akima’s inspiring work. Do let us know if there are any other young people you would like to nominate.

  6. I am very emotional right now. I remembered first hearing you at a Schools’ Debating Competition, I believe you were just a little girl with a very powerful voice and the message that was emanating from that voice was far more powerful. I remembered talking with your uncle about it and he said with so much pride i have ever seen a uncle has for any niece “THAT IS MY NIECE!!! You don’t see the half of it. And that was said with attitude. Having the opportunity to know you from your teenage years and seeing you grow into this beautiful gem is an honour for me. You have and will continue to make us proud.

    I know that there are very few chosen ones and my dear you are one of the best gift the Almighty has blessed our little country with. Your mission starts now…embrace it my dearest and don’t ask HOW. It will be done. Your only questions should be Where? When?

    Anyway just need to say that a country needs a very good sound industrial relations system in order to be viable economically. This is what our country is lack tremendously.

    My dear continue to shine and let the sky be your limit at all times.

  7. although you on your personal mission in life you still take lot of time to remember us we will remember you and the history you made on this little island call grenada your footstep can still be seen on daimond street in victoria mrs lambert continue that gteat you doing and we all love you.

  8. Congratulations Ms Akima Paul Lambert on your accomplishments. Grenadians are proud to see one of our own achieve such heights professionally, intellectually, and also maintain the love for home base. I’m sure we’ll hear more from and of you in future.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*
*