“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. People don’t know that St. Lucia has one of the highest rates of diabetes per capita in the world. 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.” -Taj Weekes
They Often Cry Outreach (TOCO) is a 501(c)(3), U.S. based, not-for profit organization co-founded by St. Lucian musician Taj Weekes and attorney Shirley J. Menard. TOCO’s mission is to raise awareness and address the issues that affect Caribbean youth through comprehensive projects and initiatives on every island in the Caribbean. TOCO’s projects range from after school sports programs, a diabetes awareness initiative, a domestic violence awareness campaign, animal rights awareness, and artistic programs.
TOCO SPORTS is the staple of TOCO’s programming and initiatives. It was created to support and provide underprivileged communities with balls, uniforms, and gear to encourage children of all ages to engage in sports programs rather than be lured by the violence of the streets. In 2009, TOCO distributed over 500 soccer balls and 600 uniforms to children in five underprivileged communities in St. Lucia. Since then, TOCO has expanded the program to Trinidad, Haiti, and in 2013 will expand the program to Grenada, Dominica and St. Vincent.
TOCO Health is a health initiative that targets both mental and physical health issues in the Caribbean. Programs and campaigns are designed to educate and address the needs of children affected specifically by diabetes and domestic violence. Additionally, TOCO delivers medical supplies to underfunded health facilities.
TOCO’s enrichment programs strive to enrich the lives of children through various learning and artistic programs that will allow them to immerse and express themselves in a creative environment. In 2011, TOCO launched its annual toy drive, delivering and distributing toys to children in need during the holidays. TOCO also provides school supplies, musical instruments, computers and other educational tools to help encourage and engage Caribbean youth to learn beyond the classroom.
Weekes presents workshops and lectures on a variety of topics, including the importance of reggae music in addressing issues such as acceptance, tolerance and social responsibility. As a musician and songwriter, he delves into the subjects that compel him to pick up his pen and continue in the tradition of storyteller/town crier that is at the root of reggae music. He also conducts music oriented workshops – sharing his insights, methodology and process. Weekes has presented workshops and lectures at various high school, universities, festivals and special events across the country.
TOCOPAWS was born out of Weekes’ desire to rescue stray cats and dogs in St. Lucia. Groups of international volunteer veterinarians, vet techs and assistants, the Caribbean Spay Neuter group and local communities, work tirelessly to humanely operate on animals to limit the animal population on the island. Additionally, TOCOPAWS works with the community to help get these animals adopted into loving homes. Every 6 months for the next three years the team will follow up to check on the success of the program and consider the benefits to communities served. TOCOPAWS’ long term goal is rescue, education, adoption and eventually an animal sanctuary. TOCOPAWS, in sync with TOCO’s work with children, seeks to educate and inform young people about respecting and caring for animals as well as working to see that the laws protecting animals are enforced.
On November 19, 2013, St. Lucian musician and philanthropist Taj Weekes was officially appointed as a UNICEF Champion for Children in St. Lucia. His appointment is recognition by UNICEF of his tireless efforts on behalf of the children of St. Lucia through his work with TOCO. “UNICEF is very pleased to have Taj Weekes on board as we work on bringing together a network of credible voices to advocate for the rights of Caribbean Children. His passion to care for children though his music and philanthropic work are the perfect ingredients to be UNICEF’s Champion for Children in St. Lucia, his home country. We look forward to working closely with him in applying his creative talents and networking skills to highlight the plight of children in St Lucia. UNICEF will also help him link up with other Champions for Children in the Eastern Caribbean countries to have the strength of numbers for a powerful Voice for Children,” states UNICEF Representative for the Eastern Caribbean Area, Ms. Khin-Sandi Lwin.? When asked what it meant to him to be named a UNICEF Champion for Children, Weekes said, “the power of UNICEF not only legitimizes the work I do through TOCO but will also allow me to help even more children.”