A man of great musical talents, Taj Weekes is also a man of great character. His work bringing aid to children in the Caribbean is one of the many ways that he gives back to the world. As an internationally renowned performer Taj takes the stage as a brilliant musician and also as a voice for the people. His lyrics tell stories of pressing world issues past and present and hit at the core of our human condition, urging you to listen not only to the incredible musicality but also to the messages he has so thoughtfully sewn within. His band Taj Weekes and Adowa have traveled the world, and are been met with adoring audiences and vibrant reviews. This great success hasn’t swayed Taj from focusing on his roots, but instead it has grounded him in his work for the people of the Caribbean and strengthened his dream for a better world.
In 2007 Taj founded They Often Cry Outreach (TOCO) which is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit based out of the US that aims to “to help the youth of the Caribbean through sports, health, and enrichment programs. TOCO’s projects range from after school soccer programs, a diabetes awareness campaign, poverty initiatives and music & arts programs”. TOCO was inspired by Taj’s experiences growing up in St. Lucia and he began this work helping Caribbean communities before officially founding TOCO.
“TOCO Soccer originated with the efforts of Taj Weekes, who would collect and distribute soccer balls, equipment and gear from friends and family to bring to his homeland, St. Lucia. For years, Mr. Weekes would go to underserved communities on his own and give balls to those in need.” In 2007 Taj was honorably named a Goodwill Ambassador to the Caribbean by the International Consortium of Caribbean Professionals (ICCP) and by a division of the United Nations. He also received a humanitarian award from the St. Lucian government in 2012.
On a TOCO mission trip “…Mr. Weekes discovered that there was a diabetes crisis in St. Lucia, which has the highest rate of diabetes per capita in the world. TOCO was asked to partner with the St. Lucia Diabetes and Hypertension Association hence, prompting the creation of TOCO Health. In November 2009, TOCO delivered 2700 glucometers to encourage St. Lucians to test themselves for diabetes and educate them on the importance of healthy living.” This is a great example of how Taj recognizes needs and works to address them.
TOCO is also bringing awareness for domestic violence to the Caribbean with its implementation of The Clothesline Project (CLP). TOCO took a US born idea across the waters to the islands and give voice to those victims previously unheard. “The Clothesline Project (CLP) is a program started on Cape Cod, MA, in 1990 to address the issue of violence against women. It is a vehicle for women affected by violence to express their emotions by decorating a shirt. They then hang the shirt on a clothesline to be viewed by others as testimony to the problem of violence against women. TOCO’s goal is to raise awareness of domestic violence in the Caribbean, specifically how domestic violence affects children physically, emotionally and psychologically. In March 2010, TOCO introduced The Clothesline Project to St. Lucia by inviting victims of domestic violence and their children to tell their stories on t-shirts that were displayed on a clothesline in a major square in downtown Castries – St. Lucia’s capital.”
The holistic approach of TOCO is one of great partnerships. It is about joining forces of good to do great deeds. Whether it is giving a child shoes for her feet, a soccer ball to play with, or a glucometer to check their health the goal is to help those in need to find good health and happiness. As their website explain “In the end, the true goal is to improve health, instill confidence and self-esteem, and encourage self-discipline – character traits that Caribbean youth can take with them off the soccer field, outside the classroom and into a world full of possibilities.”
Taj explains the importance of TOCO for the people of the Caribbean, “When poverty, violence and disease are discussed, no one thinks about the Caribbean. It’s just a place to vacation and sit in the sun. They look at the bare feet of the children playing soccer in the street and don’t realize it’s because they have no shoes. It’s my mission to expand awareness and aid for these issues which equally affect the Caribbean, especially for the children and youth.”
As Taj once explained to me, his mother used to say, “If someone brings you a full basket, you never give the basket back empty.” This philosophy is one that he has clearly taken to heart and thanks to this mothers wisdom the people of the Caribbean are being met by him and his great work with TOCO, as they work to fill the baskets that are empty and patch the ones that are broken, evolving to meet the needs as they find them and do their part to give back that which they have received.
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They Often Cry Outreach (TOCO) go to:
Article by Haley Ann O’Neil
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