015Mabouya Villages

The Mabouya Valley has 11 small village communities. Some of these are adjacent to the rivers or in the foothills of the surrounding mountains overlooking the Caribbean Sea.  Between the houses and roads the surroundings are vegetated in a wide variety of forest trees and tree crops including mango, breadfruit, sour sap, coconut, cacao, star fruit, banana, golden plum (golden apple) and many more. It is a landscape where nature and “happy” Lucians (as Neil describes his countryman) live as one.  Last Friday we traveled to these different communities to recruit 7 facilitators who will form the backbone of our educational program for high school students. Metro dove us in his pick-up truck.

This was the first time I visited some of these communities.  Most of the villages have narrow, curvy roads: some newly paved snd others potholed by rain due to poor drainage.  In the tight curves, on the straights, next to pedestrians walking from one community to the other: everyone here drives fast, really fast! Neil and I were safe and comfortable in the back of the truck, taking a break from our typical day where we walk about 2 miles to visit a stakeholder or just going to the MVDP office. Andrew would be proud: we getting fit!

Selecting facilitators

Given the tight time constraints, we are head-hunting the 7 facilitators.  However, finding all of the people we decided on has been a little tricky.  When we were looking for a particular person in a community, an acquaintance of that person would direct us to where we could find them: either at friend’s home or the neighbor. After finding each person, we took the time to explain to them what the program is all about and what their role will be.  Some are willing to do the job but others, while interested, were either working or couldn’t make it.  Our criteria for the facilitators were youths living in the Valley between the ages of 18 to 25 who are unemployed.  In similar domestic projects, such positions would often be selected by project managers or government officials with political ends.  Our project circumvents such selectivity: we are searching for motivated young people who are aware of the environmental problems and want to be a part of solving them.

I had a very good conversation with Malonia, one of the facilitators we selected. She came to us after she heard that we were selecting facilitators. Like many young people in the valley, she understands the issues but does not how she can contribute to finding a solution.  As I was telling her about the project for peace she asked:  “Everyone here knows about the environment, what will you teach the students?” The youth and the community as a whole are aware of the problems, but they need leaders who will bring about change and new ideas and initiatives to bring them together.  It is through locals like Sandra, who understand the people and culture in the valley, that we will raise awareness to a point where no obstacle will get in the way of positive change.

— Zimm

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Welcome — Neil (motivational)
Introduction — everyone

Project overview — Zimm and Neil

Objectives of the Student Education Program — Zimm
Food Security, Biodiversity Loss, and Environmental Other Issues
Leadership Skills
Activism

Fostering Project Sustainablity and Continuity (an organization): The Facilitator’s Role — Neil
Recruiting 35 students ages 15-18
Workshop : Professional Training
Planning and Calendar

Our original project proposal outlined a plan to recruit 10 students with which to carry out our educational workshops and who would then help us plant the trees we would procure.  But opportunities for environmental initiative abound here and our project is taking on life of its own as we begin to realize our full potential in the Mabouya Valley.

We are pleased to announce that we have partnered with the St. Lucia Social Development Fund (SSDF).  This partnership will allow our project to have a greater impact in the Fond D’Or watershed. Through the Holistic Organization for Personal Empowerment (HOPE) program, our project has received additional funding to garner greater outreach and capacity building.  Now we are working with 15 more students (35 in total) and seven facilitators (5 students per facilitator). The matching funding we have received from the SSDF will be utilized in the following ways:

Description Quantity Unit price (EC)    Total ($ EC)
Lunch for 22 persons                       440                          8                               3520
5 gallon water                                         25                       25                                   625
Juice                                                         440                      3 1                                  320
Fruits                                                                                          7                                 140
Transportation                                     440                           3                             1320     Notebooks                                                  25                          2                                  50
Pen                                                                 25                          1                                   25
Folders                                                         25                           2                                  50
Flip Chart                                                       5                         10                                  50
Markers                                                5 pack                         20                               100
Misc expenses                                                                                                               200
Field Trips                                                      6                       200                            1200
Facilitator’s Salary                                     7                       1500                       10500
Total $ EC 19100
Total $ US 7074.07

These facilitators will be trained for a week on the topics of food security, biodiversity loss, and environmental  degradation: how these global issues affect the communities in the valley, and what can be done at the local level to counter such global forces.  If we think local and act local, we may have a chance of fixing the global issues. The facilitators will help us provide both the intellectual and experiential learning that the students need to address the issues faced by the Fond D’ Or watershed communities. In accordance with the criteria set by the SSDF we are providing a short term employment (in the form of travel and food expenses as well as a small stipend) to these seven young people.  To foster greater reach, these facilitators come from five of the eleven different communities in the Mabouya Valley. With a a ratio of five students per facilitator, we hope to create close relationships between the students and facilitators.  The seven community leaders we have identified will also serve as mentors to these students.

We have also made some significant savings  since we began.  Having secured all of the forest trees from the Ministry of Forestry propagation center with no cost to us, we allocated US$4.00 per tree crop (fruit trees).  However, the Ministry of Agriculture has sold these trees to us at the reduced price of US$1.50. These savings will allow us to plant more trees to plant and thus achieve greater community outreach and riverbank protection.

Sunday June 21 2009

It has been a few days since Andrew left for South Africa due to a family emergency.  He had to be with his family and we will miss him both as a good friend and and an important pillar to our project. His contribution to the success of the Project for Peace has been substantial from the beginning: the idea, planning and the execution.

Meeting Stakeholders

Meeting with the Key Stakeholders

He will continue to work from afar on the blog and will keep in contact through on-line video conferences.

The same day Andrew left, we were unable to ride with him to the airport because we had an important meeting with some of the key stakeholders who will help solve the problems of deforestation in the Mabouya Valley. In that meeting were present: Mr. Anias and Mr. Issac for IWCAM, Mr. Propere for the Forestry Department, and Mr. Best for the Mabouya Valley Fairtrade Farmers’ group. As representatives of the Project for Peace we wanted commitments from Fairtrade farmers before we would commit to working together on the larger project planned for the four rivers in the valley. We were ensuring we listened to all parties involved in this issue to diplomatically reach consensus on how we could best contribute to the wider goals, while garuateeing the success of our own goals. The meeting was long, with each of these persons presenting their parties’ points, with Neil and I as active listeners and participants.

Mr. Anias started the meeting by introducing the Riverbank Assessment report prepared by Mr. Prospere. There were some suggestions to Mr. Prospere as to improving the report, but overall, his document best descibes the environmental impacts and remedies. The report had imagery and detailed descriptions of the problems along the rivers: farmer’s property, land use, available forestry, and plants lists with recommendations for planting.  Mr. Prospere’s take on the degredation was clear: “farmers have caused the problem of reforestation” and they (the farmers) have to get on board immediately.

Mr. Best discussed the difficulties of planting trees to protect the riverbanks.  He recognizes deforestation, and the resulting problem of soil erosion, yet kept emphasizing that it is difficult to pursuade farmers to plant trees even though they were years behind in meeting a 20 foot “forested” setback from the river banks required by the Fairtrade Association. Mr. Best said that if farmers did not meet the requirements “it is at the cost of loosing their certification—there is no other option” but to achieve this for the entire Valley will be challenging.

The discussion followed exchanges of the best place start restoring the riverbanks, considering the difficulty of managing vigilante cattle grazing, and the receptiveness of the farmers. Form the Draft Riverbank Assessment Mr. Prospere had sent us a few months back, we decided to work on the Derniere Reviere Tributary, the same place that we walked before on our first site visit and the location that was prioritized during the meeting.

Mr.Best was willing to reach a compromise on behalf of the farmers in order for the planting toget underway. It was in everyone’s interest: for the environment, the communities, and the farmers themselves. Now that the meeting was leading to a compromise by the farmers, Neil and I revealed what were bringing to the table and what we hopedto achieve in the short time we had. The riverbank restoration gives us the opportunity to invlove young people in building local leadership, and to have the media involved in spreading the message to the local St. Lucia audience.  Remember everything in this island state is local!

As part of our contribution we will work on the design of sign boards to inform people of the project, a media kit for the Government Information Services, and  monetary contribution to buy trees. The tree planting would be carried out by the Fairtrade farmers (who will be reaping the benefits from the tress) as a way to ensure their committment to taking care of the trees and thereby ensuring the long term success of the project. As we work towards the planting of trees, as a principle objective of our project, we will also begin to visit the schools on Monday and recruit student volunteers. With the help of the volunteers we can focus our energies on planting trees in other areas of the river, working towards a lasting environmental group (like the old Environmental club) by giving them the tools to remain actively involved in the community.

Our plan is to ensure the long term survival of the environmental group with local mentors. Planting trees is good, but planting ideas is paramount to our work. We had another meeting with the District representative who gave us a letter of support to carry to the St. Lucia Social (SSDF) Development Fund.  Niel and I had a hard time finding the office. We met with the SSDF manager who said he was interested. A small contributing grant from the SSDF will allow us to pay a stipend to three volunteers who can be mentors to the young people. We want these volunteers involved so that they will oversee the long term success of the project and the environmental group after we leave.

We met Neil’s mentor. The meeting was brief and we told him about our project. He directed us to Mr. Paul, who works with the Global Environmental Fund (GEF). Again or meeting was brief but successful. We might also be able to acquire funds from this group towards the project for more riverbank restoration in other areas, and the long term survival of the project. For this reason, we need local people to take the lead. Local capacity building is important and we still have a lot of work ahead of us.

I think that there are many opportunities to educate, yet have initiatives which can lost. We want to leave St Lucia not only having planted trees, but having established a well organized environmental group that has long term goals, will have local impacts, be involved with initiatives regarding soil degradation, food security, and other environmental degradation. This group has to be vibrant, flexible and we need to get as many young leaders involved as possible.

~Zimm

It was with a heavy heart that I drove to the airport last Thursday.  After just a week in St Lucia; the project progressing according to plan and a new experience around each corner, I received news that my father lost his 8 year battle with Picks Disease.   While dad’s passing was not unexpected, it was my duty to return home and help  my mom and sister through a difficult time.  I also had my chance to say farewell to dad.  I will not return to St Lucia this summer, but I will continue contributing to the project from afar through email and video conference calls: you’re not getting rid of me that easily!  There are reports to write and blogs to keep up-to-date!   I want to express my deep appreciation to Neil’s family and friends for their unsurpassed hospitality during my short stay and to my teammates, Zimm and Neil, for their unfailing support.  Thank you.  Alas, South Africa is much cooler that St Lucia this time of year…so you boys better make the most of that superb weather!

~Andrew

Neil Posing before the Mabouya Man

Neil with the Mabouya Man in the Background

The Fond D’Or Nature Reserve and Historical Park is one of the pristine natural beauties of the Mabouya Valley/ Dennery region. There is a long history to match the abundance of life in Fond D’Or today. Over looking the interpretation center you glimpse a face in the rocks: the “Mabouya man”.  Once worshiped by the native Indians, this figure is now the face that represents the Fond D’Or Nature Reserve and Historical Park. The park is beautiful and an ideal for a picnic, jazz festival, or wedding. But a closer look at Mobouya Man reveals a different story. Only He knows how the malpractices upstream negatively impact the Fond D’Or beach and cause people to suffer. All of the rivers and waterways in the valley run into the Fond D’Or estuary. The Atlantic absorbs some of the debris, but the rest is left strewn on the beach. Who knows where this waste may end up? Walking on the beach, the magnitude of the problem is a little overwhelming for Zimm.  Each time I walk along the shores of Fond D’Or, I feel bittersweet. I feel bitter because I am walking through so many household products and plastic that is shocking Fond D’Or and the rest of the country, but at the same time I carry a sweet feeling with me. One full of hope and optimism.  When I tell Zimm am happy, he gives me a curious look.  “Seriously, I am happy; to a certain extent”.  I do not know how many times we (the Mabouya Valley Environmental Club) have cleaned this beach, but I will tell you one thing Zimm: “it sure looks better than the first time we came to clean it”.  The real problem is upstream my friend” I stressw, looking at Zimm with as much enthusiasm and vigor as I can draw from the magnificent Mabouya Man.  That is where we are going to focus our energy: upstream.

Neil has bittersweet felling as he surveys the debris stewn beach the MVEC worked to clean up

Neil has bittersweet feelings as he surveys the debris strewn beach the Environmental Club worked to clean up