My opportunities to interact with the local community have been such a blessing so far. The School for Field Studies (SFS) realizes that we are guests on the island, and so we do what we can do give back to the community; whether that be through environmental education, youth outreach, conducting research to benefit country-wide decisions, or scientific consultation for DEMA (the TCI government department for marine/development issues) . Today I had a really great talk with my environmental policy professor—it’s so weird to call him a professor, here we only use first names so he is just Edd—about his role as an individual of higher education in the TCI. There are so few scientific institutions here to monitor and give advice for government decisions (like none), so when issues happen throughout the TCI, he often gets called for guidance. He was just telling us today about a case currently still in court about a yacht that dragged its anchor through the reef in Provo and Edd (along with some outside consultation) was called to do some economic valuation of the damages to assign appropriate reparations. Few locals have higher education to his level, or even to the bachelor degree level, and it is an interesting dynamic to see who is in positions to make government or development decisions—and likely NOT locals. Edd is working with the high school students and encouraging those interested in environmental science to pursue that; most currently go to Provo or Grand Turk for a 2 year hospitality degree, which I’m not sure would ever allow them to rise very far up in the career sector. Such a quandary to observe… how to help these people improve their quality of life without desecrating their beautiful island.
Anyway, for the small steps towards change, we work with the youth on Wednesdays and Saturdays in a variety of ways: teaching science education in schools elementary through high, playing with the kids, taking them on nature walks, involving some of the older ones in water testing, teaching swim lessons, etc. The hope is to instill in them an appreciation and awareness for the environment around them, which is not prevalent currently. Last week I worked with what they call the “infant class”, which is really kindergarten; my SFS colleague and I did puzzles and books in the classroom for half an hour, and then just played with them outside… AN EXHAUSTING UNDERTAKING! Picture 8-10 kids for both of us, all pulling on our hands, wanting us to push them on the swings, give piggy-back rides, run around the playground, and touching our faces (shocked that we’re white? I don’t know). They were adorable in their little school uniforms and beaded cornrows, and full of life and energy—I was pooped and thirsty after 40 minutes of running around but they were going strong!
Saturdays are when the kids come to us—we open the center from 1:30 – 3:30 and have stations for painting, crafts, books, games, sports, swim lessons, ping pong, foosball, nature walks, water testing, etc. At the same time we send SFS students out to clean up beaches or collect ghost traps—helping to keep the environment in its pristine quality. The first week I played foosball with some preteen boys and then many rounds of Uno and dominoes (the official game of the island---seriously, the kids are taught it from their parents and grandparents). The kids are so friendly and wanting to be with us, I had a little girl who pulled my hand to go read books… but she wanted to read to me. Last week I was painting (repairing) a sign for one of the local churches and I had so many kids come up and want to help. I got some of them their own paints so they could paint next to me, and they were just content to sit and paint oceans and skies to their hearts content. It is always a tiring afternoon (and BAKING hot), but the kids don’t seem to notice: they are at the outside gate by 11am some days, waiting to come in and we have to tell them that it’s not time yet, come back at 1:30!
Another evening we had the Soroptomists—a women’s group on the island that strives to improve the community and futures of islanders---come speak to us. They talked about their work and then taught us some local dances, which mostly consisted of skipping around, and then limbo, and then some middle-school boys played the traditional “ricksaw” music for us. The kids were actually REALLY good at it—and you could tell the adults were proud;): ricksaw was formed when the locals didn’t have much instrument-wise, so it is a combination of drums and rubbing knives against metal “saws” (used to be real saws, now just whatever). It was fun to get to see part of their culture and to get to know some who really have a love for their island. One of the soroptomists is leading a tourism development council for South to talk about how they might deal with/support/encourage tourism for their community, and I’m hoping I can get more involved with this. It is so cool that these decisions are happening right now… in another decade, who knows, maybe full scale tourism will be the norm here, maybe just eco-tourism, or maybe something else!
Last weekend before the drinking crowd went out, some girls and I went for ice cream which meant we went to the Haitian store, bought 2 pints of chocolate ice cream (OH MY GOODNESS SO GOOD), and took it to the community docks to eat it. Yes we ate all of it. It was delicious and since we don’t have dessert (except for birthdays…thank goodness just about everybody has a birthday during this program. No joke), I was definitely having a chocolate craving!! I actually really enjoy the weekends even when most people go out, because it gives me time to think, to have some quiet time at the center, to Skype my sisters and my parents, and to just be me. Watching the ocean while I read and the sun sets is priceless, and swinging in the hammocks is something that I will surely miss. Some of us usually sit around and play games in the open air area as well, so bananagrams (some reason our favorite?) as the stars come out is another common occurrence. The slow pace of the island is a blessing, it is good to remember we don’t need all of the “stuff” that we are used to in the US.
I'm a twenty-something from the Pacific NW making home in new places as I follow where God leads.
My intent is to show Christ's love to the world and use business to solve some of the social problems we face: hunger, illiteracy, healthcare, economic hardship. For now, I'm in a stage of learning. A little adventuring, a few books, some good friends, and a whole lot of prayer and life runs on.