Our first visit was to Saint Lucia National Trust (SLNT). As in the UK, SLNT is responsible for conserving the historical and natural heritage of the island – and they are situated in one of the most historically important and picturesque spots on the island, Pigeon Island. We enjoyed a stimulating discussion with Conservation Manager Shirlene James about some of the challenges posed to the local natural heritage by climate change with erosion of the coastline and decline in some marine species, as well as the perennial problems for all conservation societies of balancing the books and balancing the need to attract more visitors with preserving the landscapes they have come to see. I was delighted to hear her speak so enthusiastically of the work done by our volunteers here – in particular that the document fiche prepared by one volunteer now forms the basis for an Antiquities Bill soon to be passed into Saint Lucian law. For more information about our volunteer programme with SLNT take a look here:
However the majority of our placements in Saint Lucia work, in one capacity or another, with disadvantaged young people, mostly between the ages of 12 and about 20. Saint Lucia may be a beautiful tourist destination, but for local young people there are few jobs available on the island and the education system is strict, meaning many leave school with few or no qualifications. There are many poor and disadvantaged communities on the island, and little for people to do. Alongside our local partners we support a number of initiatives which are providing support to these young people, and we have placed a number of volunteers on these programmes over the last six years. The programmes all offer their students training in life skills and vocational skills focused on encouraging them to make something positive of their lives, and equip them with the skills to do this.
Some of these programmes are run by our local partners themselves, whose organisation, Sacred Sports Foundation (SSF) was set up to tackle critical social issues for Caribbean youth, such as crime and violence prevention, conflict resolution and health lifestyles, using sport as a catalyst for change. Their courses are run by young mentors, previously unemployed themselves, who they have trained in youth development, child safeguarding and special needs participatory programmes, to enable them to run these sessions. I was delighted to meet some of these mentors and watch them at work. I particularly enjoyed the session they ran at Lady Gordon Opportunities Centre, a school for children with physical disabilities and/or learning difficulties – the programme they run there is called Ability Counts and the mentors were clearly aware of each child’s level of ability and physical challenges and took account of that in the activities they asked them to do. The mentors I met were confident young people who now have a purpose in life – however despite their best efforts they failed to get me onto the sports field!
Similar programmes are run by other organisations, and our local partners work closely with them. Nova and I visited several of them, including Upton Gardens Girls Centre and the Centre for Adolescent Renewal and Education (C.A.R.E.) which has several centres across the island and where we have placed a number of volunteers. I was pleased to renew my acquaintance with Dr Mason from C.A.R.E. and with staff at two of the Centres, at Odsan and Anse la Raye. We were lucky enough to visit the Anse la Raye Centre on their Open Day, so were able to talk with many of the students and staff more informally and to see some of their work on display. Trainees in the carpentry and catering departments had particularly impressive work to show us, and in the life skills area I met a young lady who was a real ambassador for C.A.R.E., telling me how she used to think the programmes were just for losers but she now knows they are for people like her who for one reason or another were unable to complete their education and needed another chance – she is completing a business and IT course which should give her the skills and qualifications to find work in the future.
These are worthwhile projects which need your support, whether your expertise is in education, sport, entrepreneurship or practical skills. If you are interested in finding out more about the projects we support for disadvantaged youth take a look here and here