Saint Lucia – a volunteer story

By Kate Stefanko. Filed in newsletters, volunteer stories  |  
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Volunteer Amanda has been in Saint Lucia since mid-October, working in C.A.R.E. (Centre for Adolescent Renewal and Education) with work-related training for young people.

Amanda has been embracing all aspects of her time in Saint Lucia – from organising workshops and sharing her skills with local staff, to enjoying all that the island offers during her time off !

Here are some extracts from her story, so far …

Arrival 
Well this is a first…blogging and St Lucia that is…It’s 3am and I’m wide awake, thinking about my first day here which started when I landed at 1.30pm yesterday.
I was met at the airport and driven to my new home from home – passing cocoa trees, grapefruit trees, banana plantations, a local guy selling crabs on the roadside. It’s beautifully luscious and green here. The rich countryside, colourful houses dotted in the hills, kids immaculately presented in their school uniforms, colourful roadside shacks selling creole bread and fruits. …

sunset at Rodney Bay

sunset at Rodney Bay

Rodney Bay is on my doorstep and the beach is literally across the road. …

Induction Day
… I’m overwhelmed with the C.A.R.E facility here in Odsan. Physically it’s an unmarked warehouse, opposite a factory in what appears to be the middle of the countryside …

Odsan C.A.R.E. facility

Odsan C.A.R.E. facility

I arrived into an area of the warehouse decorated with positive and ‘can do’ mottos and statements handwritten onto flip chart size pieces of paper, hanging in different places around the wall. … Following a private meeting with the head I had the pleasure of a tour of the different classrooms. All the students stood as I entered their room and I had an amazing sense of pride as I was introduced as ‘Amanda, our volunteer from London, please make her welcome’.
My brief for C.A.R.E is to write a “Technical Vocational Policy that addresses self sustenance for each of the skill developments taught and entrepreneurship for the trainees”
There will be lots more detail about the school, its pupils and their amazing success over the coming weeks … had a lovely meal at home (avocados are the size of a bowling ball here!) and a cheeky little spiced rum and coke at my local beach bar before bed.

C.A.R.E – my first days
There are about 45 young people who attend, coming from marginalised backgrounds, and referred to C.A.R.E for specialised help and skills development to enable them to live a successful life.
I joined a class who were sharing their weekend stories – 6 in the class, aged between 14 and 17. It was a cultural insight into a typical Lucian weekend. They are reminded by their instructor to stand up, speak up, gain eye contact with everyone, explain clearly. What a great way to build their confidence and enhance their communication skills… I stayed with them until lunch and sat through their next topics, Language, Spirituality and Self Awareness. Whilst a bit of a handful, with a few teenage strops and talking over the instructor (who took no bull) they were really nice kids who were attentive, focussed, respectful and keen to learn.

mechanics workshop in one of the C.A.R.E. centres

workshop in one of the C.A.R.E. centres

There are special skills-training groups here that they move on to in their second year. The largest group is car mechanics and electrical engineering.

I met with Dr Mason who leads the 4 C.A.R.E centres in St Lucia. She has worked there for 10 years. She explained the challenges she has leading a charity & getting the funding. She writes off a lot of money each year when the trainees fail to pay their fees – which to you and I are peanuts but to a poor family it’s the difference between food on the table or not.

 

Miss Augustine has been very helpful and supportive and has worked at C.A.R.E for 16 years. We had a chat in her office and she would like me to facilitate some skills lessons for the trainees over the next 6 weeks on how to run a business. This has me thinking… as I’ve no materials documented I have started preparing the content, purpose, mission, goal setting, monitoring, documenting a plan, presenting a plan etc. Sounds fun! Post it notes, sharpies and laptops to the ready!

new kids lurking outside :)

new ‘kids’ lurking outside 🙂

The weeks go by … and I’m busy
Today was an important networking opportunity as it was Instructor Training Day at our Centre for all instructors from the four C.A.R.E centres. The government have supplied laptops to C.A.R.E so they can use them in lessons with the trainees. Today was all about free cloud software available to use plus some classroom management tools. I wonder if it will take some time to build confidence with the instructors before the laptops can or will be used regularly. Couldn’t help thinking how I would love to facilitate a Change Leadership session with the instructors to support them, helping them to engage, become involved and drive accountability for an implementation plan.

 

I asked my class yesterday to write down 3 lessons they learnt about our English and St Lucian cultural differences. Top answers included:
1) The English buy old coconuts in the supermarket. We sell them on the streets when they are green and fresh and drink the water from them.

cocnut new2) In England they love to drink lots of tea to stay calm, Lucians drink lots of rum
3) We do nothing to celebrate Halloween in St Lucia but the English celebrate it
Monday I will return the marked papers – if it’s allowed, I will give a small gift to the person with the best answer (bought some London keyrings and Cadburys Eclairs!)

 

… another Monday. It was a productive day. I wrote a skills management course called ‘Managing YOUR Business’. It’s in 5 modules which I will deliver over the next 5 weeks to three different groups on a Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. This week I wrote Workshop 1 – ‘Why Bother?’ I worked interactively with 9 boys who are learning auto mechanics. We had an interesting and lively debate about the benefits of running your own business (not least because there is 28% unemployment here) and started to consider the skills and behaviours they will need to be a success. I’ve asked them for Homework to consider what type of business they would like so that next week we can focus on ‘Vision and Goals’ to start bringing it to life.

… and some time off. It was a brilliant Friday. I met with Nova for a 121 catch up and lunch. She took me to a fabulous local place in Gros Islet. Amongst the project and general news I took the opportunity to ask about the local protocol with addressing people. Everyone is calling me Miss Amanda. Saying ‘Miss’ in front of someones first name is considered to be polite and respectful. I have adopted this however find it unusual by how many people are still addressed by their surname, rather than first name…
The weekend was amazing. I took a tour and bathed in mud, showered in a hot volcanic waterfall, saw some bamboo bursting, sucked the fruit of a cocoa, ate golden apple, drank coconut water, bought fresh fish (Blue Marlin) in the street which had just been caught. Then a local cooked me Fish Stew with green plantain, green banana, peppers, carrots, cabbage, spices … delicious!

… Jounen Kweyol Weekend This weekend was the annual Creole celebration so Friday at school was a dress down day and the traditional breakfast was cooked, saltfish, cocoa tea, bakes… We had Creole music playing all morning, hung around chatting (no lessons) and left at 12. Sophie who volunteered here last year is back on holiday (with a car) so we headed into Castries and wandered around the market. Sunday was Jounen Kweyol celebration day. Each year four communities host the celebrations. The Lucians often drive around the island from one area to the other throughout the day. I went with Yinka to Gros Islet who were hosting this year. Everyone wears their traditional check clothing and historical activities are reenacted. We spotted a huge pig and asked why he was there … turns out he was the raffle prize!!!

… football & local support. Nova took me to the Sacred Sports Foundation (SSF) office [people and places local partners] and I had the pleasure of presenting kit donations. They are genuinely so grateful.

SSF & colourful new kit

SSF & colourful new kit

I am so impressed with the work that SSF do here to help communities and kids. What’s amazing is they get all their grants oversees which means they stay truly independent & don’t get caught up in local politics. SSF is a local non profit charity. The work they are involved with is vast and is associated with youth development through sport.They are also my local family, looking out for me, making sure I’m safe, happy and well.

Today I travelled to watch the C.A.R.E football team take on another school in a Seniors knock out league. They were smartly turned out in their grey football kit – which is on loan to them from the Sacred Sports Foundation.

boots for some

boots for some

What shocked me though was the lack of football boots and shin pads. The kids were literally swapping their kit with the ones on the bench and swapping over again when a sub was made because they just didn’t have enough between them for 11 players.

They played brilliantly in the 2nd half (whilst I was sweating buckets watching… I’ve no idea where they get their stamina for 90 minutes!)

 

 

 

… All is progressing well at C.A.R.E. I have now held the 2nd Workshop in my series of 5 called ‘My Business, My Passion’. This week we have been focussed on setting a vision and the importance of goal setting. I found a quote online from Yogi Bear “If you don’t know where you’re going then how are you going to get there?” A nice thought to end on …

some personal notes …
I arrived 4 weeks ago today so thought it might be a good time to reflect on all the new experiences and lessons learnt. With a little tongue in cheek!

umbrella – the essential accessory

. Always carry a bottle of water and an umbrella
. Never put your bag on the floor because it means you have no money
. Don’t step on the orange tiles when it’s raining
. The traffic is heavy on cruise ship days
. People with dreds do eat meat
. Buy tomatoes when you see them, they are in high demand and short supply
. My hair will never look good in this humidity
. My hair will always be wet due to sunshine and heat or rain
. Politely say no to the beach vendors
. Wear shorts on a jet ski
. Extending your visa can only be done within 5 days of it expiring
. I can live without a dishwasher and washing machine
. I still can’t stop buying shoes
. The cocoa tea is delicious
. The Lucians cannot make a decent espresso martini
. The food is delicious and you always take leftovers home
. Always say good morning/afternoon to everyone you pass in the street and when you get on the bus
. Hire a jeep, not a car
. No-one wears a seatbelt or crash helmet
. There is no speed limit in St Lucia
. When it rains hard school closes early because everywhere floods
. The brightest star in the sky is a satellite
. Unemployment is 28% and these guys know how to sell!
. You have to be able to cook to demonstrate to a potential spouse that you will be a good husband / wife

… December. 

Today SSF hosted the Digitel Sponsored Festival of Fun. The event was attended by government officials and this year was the 5th anniversary. Around 400 children with disabilities were invited to attend. Each wearing a T Shirt representing the colour of their special needs school. After a few important speeches and singing of the national anthem (I know most of the words now!) the fun began!

Festival of Fun

Festival of Fun

We had football, volleyball, basketball, golf, hoola hoops, table tennis, face painting, bouncy castles, a Dj, free pizza, free ice creams. The kids all seemed to have an amazing time, lots of laughter, dancing … Even the kids in wheelchairs were being pushed around the (massive) sports hall by their friends at speed, giggling their heads off!!!
I stuck to volunteering on the table tennis table and took on the role of table tennis coach (hillarious I know) , ball boy, argument breaker upper, table tennis bat retriever, cuddler, dance partner and occasionally opponent. I mainly said things like “Wow, great shot”, “Do it gently” “Try and hit the ball on the table” and “You’re really good at this” “That was brilliant, well done”. We didn’t get on to anyone actually playing a ‘proper’ game (due to time spent on getting balls back) thank goodness because I would have had to Google the rules and didn’t have wifi …

… and finally as the Christmas holidays are almost here …

It’s started to be more relaxed at C.A.R.E. now. The kids are on their Christmas wind down as school finishes Friday. We are playing games as exams and parent/teacher discussions are done. Thursday will be special lunch day, everyone has been asked to dress in Christmas colours. (I do have some gold shiny trousers so might drag them out!)
I suggested to Miss Douchan on Friday that we could perhaps have the kids make some Christmas cards this week for their family. As she was in agreement (and there are no resources) I nipped into Castries Friday and bought the materials – cardboard, glitter, glue… I also have a big pack of coloured sharpies with me. The total bill to make 10 cards was just $13 (£3.86).

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

The class spent pretty much all day making their cards today…

MERRY CHRISTMAS from SAINT LUCIA  🙂

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