SusGren in a nutshell
The Grenadines are a group of quite diverse islands and cays in the Southern Caribbean (Lesser Antilles), of which, not counting the “mainland” Saint Vincent, 9 are inhabited (Bequia, Mustique, Union island, Cariacou, Canouan, Petite Martinique, Petite Saint Vincent, Mayreau, Palm island). These islands are linked both by many aspects of their culture and by their marine biodiversity characteristics. The overall population is about 109,500. Their administration is separate as they belong to 2 different countries, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada. These two countries have little coordinated policies concerning the Grenadines. There are major governance differences between the islands, and independence and resilience characteristics also vary from island to island.
Islanders of both countries feel they are forgotten, if not ostracized, by their governments, who are reaping off most of the wealth the islands provide through tourism while giving very little back and while not providing solutions for the most urgent needs and problems, such as waste, water storage capacity, erosion and climate change threats, isolation and higher, fast rising prices for everything, low employment opportunities, drug and alcohol addiction, disenfranchisement by affluent foreigners, both expats and tourists.
Pollution through waste is a very challenging issue, which continues to increase in a context of general acceptance and passivity, a “who cares” attitude which runs parallel with a situation or feeling of disempowerment, collective psychology of failure regarding individual and collective achievements for a better future.
Some of the Grenadines show a tremendous social and economic divide between the local population and the expats or foreign property owners, who have come to live or vacation in these secluded tropical paradises and transform these islands accordingly, and have taken over or are attempting to take over the island’s general management, with very good results in terms of viability, trash disposal etc, but also with increasing feelings of fatalism and resentment. Land ownership in some of these islands is also a big issue.
In islands that have a thriving commerce, it tends to be foreigners who reap the benefit of it, because of capital entry barriers, or because “they are better at business” according to some locals. Most easily available economic opportunities for locals are also linked to these foreigners’ consumption, usually at a low price, and quickly lead to overexploitation of resources, such as Lambi (Conch), or lobster, or near shore reef fishes including parrot fish and urchins. The islands reliance on tourism - mainly yachts - is overwhelming and leads to a very fragile economy.
The ecological context is one of general degradation because of the factors mentioned above, added to severe climate change impact which affects temperatures, coral reefs, invasive fish and vegetal species and threatens both marine and coastal human habitat at mid term. “Development” projects are no stranger to the degradation either, as they regularly are approved on critical mangrove areas, and many islands are eroding, leading to top soil being washed into the sea, with negative results both on land and ocean.
All these challenges the islands face are increasing exponentially, rendering a bleak scenario for the future.
The SusGren project started more than 15 years ago to face some of these challenges by strengthening organized local civil society, so that the local communities themselves got involved and engaged in knowing, assessing and improving their environmental and future living conditions.
The approach was to identify and invite all local community organizations to define local and common challenges and strategies and support them in achieving their goals while fostering a feeling of being linked by “the sea that unites us rather than the sea that divides us”.
Difficulties in financing this long term effort led to the creation of an NGO, which created both opportunities and new challenges, as NGOs tend to use specific language, which fosters a distance with the population is aims to empower. The “Us thing” tends to be replaced by a “They thing”.
Early on, the first efforts were aimed at improving community cohesion, through mini grants allocated to communities to carry out projects of their choice, such as regattas, beach clean ups, building of a belvedere, etc… These efforts were followed by ongoing capacity building workshops, as well as detachment of staff to help improve local organizations.
Over time, the location of staff dedicated to this project has influenced the location of the results, with efforts at one point more focused on the islands nearest to Grenada and currently on Union island, but a number of projects, specially linked to marine resources, were spread on many islands. The network of Marine protected areas for example, fishermen workshops on fish handling which were greatly appreciated all the way from Bequia to Carriacou, as were effort to create alternative livelihoods for fishermen disenfranchised by MPAs or for women groups. Union Island presented a major challenge with the restoration of a failed marina project in a critical mangrove lagoon, and after many years to struggle, it now shows enormous improvement, very symbolic to the local population who thought of it as irremediably broken.
Although notable successes have been achieved, including building trust with local populations which tend to be diffident about NGOs and initiatives initiated by non locals, the project is stalling in it’s initial goal to engage local communities and have civil society embrace the bulk of environmental work. The average culture of local communities has not yet changed significantly enough to make a difference and the increasingly disoriented and unoccupied youth does not encourage optimism about increased responsibility within the population. “Indeed, we are still scratching the surface”.
In order to push the effort to the next level, some of the staff and board members believe there is a need for a more cultural approach, as well as the need to renew and re-engage the local communities in a broader way. Maintaining the SusGren NGO afloat while doing that will prove difficult though, as the current workload and time dedicated to securing and managing funding takes most of the time of the staff.
Sustainable Grenadines, moving forward…
The Grenadines are a group of quite diverse islands and cays in the Southern Caribbean (Lesser Antilles), of which, not counting the “mainland” Saint Vincent, 9 are inhabited (Bequia, Mustique, Union island, Cariacou, Canouan, Petite Martinique, Petite Saint Vincent, Mayreau, Palm island). These islands are linked both by many aspects of their culture and by their marine biodiversity characteristics. The overall population is about 10.500. Their administration is separate as they belong to 2 different countries, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada. These two countries have little coordinated policies concerning the Grenadines. There are major governance differences between the islands, and independence and resilience characteristics also vary from island to island.
Islanders of both countries feel they are forgotten, if not ostracized, by their governments, whom they see as reaping off most of the wealth the islands provide through tourism while giving very little back and while not providing solutions for the most urgent needs and problems, such as waste, water storage capacity, erosion and climate change threats, isolation and higher, fast rising prices for everything, low employment opportunities, drug and alcohol addiction, disenfranchisement by affluent foreigners, both expats and tourists.
Also, over time and perhaps, some locals say, since times of slavery, people have developed a mindset of passivity and “fear of rising”. The predominating feeling is that nothing can be done without funds, and that any value created will be snatched away. This might be the biggest challenge today to achieve the changes the islands desperately need.
Despite all this, quite a few people, who are fully aware of all the challenges laying ahead of them, tackle these issues on as many levels and scales as they can, and are fully committed to moving the islands forward, to create a better place and a better future for themselves and for their children.
Many of these people have at one point in time connected through a civil society strengthening initiative lead by Cermes (Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies, University of the West Indies, Barbados), which for financial reasons has morphed into SusGren, a transboundary NGO based in Union Island.
Meet a few of these people. They are not the only ones moving the islands forward, and they inspire others every day.
The Cermes team, launching Sustainable Grenadines
Professor Robin Mahon's steady gaze is constantly at the lookout for signs of manmade disruption of natural systems. He won't see just a road or a water pond where there is one, for example, but an obstacle to mangrove draining, or a rich ecosystem with a complex function. He foresees what can potentially harm functioning systems and imagines non disruptive uses that will also herald their value. More than what he does, this is who he is. He has spent most of his academic years at University of the West Indies's Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies (Cermes). It is from this platform, after many field trips to the Grenadines during which he observed great need, and potential, for a civil society led sustainable governance of the islands, that he launched Sustainable Grenadines (Sustainable Integrated Development and Biodiversity Conservation initiative in the Grenadine Islands) in 2002.
All local people and organizations working on environmental issues were identified and invited to participate in strategic planning sessions organized on the different islands. A first phase of the project was launched with communities choosing mini projects to further interests in tourism, heritage, and quality of life. Even a memorial and a gazebo. Although not many of these projects were directly aimed at the environment, they were all focused on the sea, and the training involved to design and coordinate these projects were crucial for the longevity of the initiative. It strengthened community cohesion and gave life to the project. People of the different islands were now part of a network.
By 2010, and after tackling issues as varied as taxi associations, reef conservation, garbage management, MPA management, lagoon restoration, amongst others, with publics varying from the youngest school children to the most seasoned fishermen, the need for self-finance led to the creation of SusGren, an NGO registered both in Saint Vincent and Grenada. SusGren's mission is to continue building a strong civil society focused on sustainability.
Robin is deeply conscious of the importance of a common cause and common vision, in a way that even if the project dies, “people will have been changed”. Today, despite a structural fragility of the process and the challenges posed by the delicate balance it takes to keep an NGO afloat while striving to help other NGOs develop and coordinate, SusGren can boast of many successes including a collaborative network of MPAs, years of environmental training programs for youth and the rehabilitation of a lagoon ruined by a failed marina project. Also, the NGO has gained the trust of the population at large, which is quite an achievement.
Yet, Robin ascertains: “We are still scratching the surface. We need to go deeper. Not enough people have been changed”.
Although originally from the United States, Sharon Almegiri has come to deeply care about the Caribbeans, and about Barbados, where she followed her husband Robin Mahon, and the Grenadines in particular.
As a professional facilitator, Sharon has been a crucial part of the team's effort to get the islands' inhabitants involved in designing and environmental friendly future for their islands. She led the first strategic planning sessions of the Cermes, later to become SusGren, project.
She believes participation is key to any long term change and has put her professional abilities to the service of that belief. “when people get brought into the conversation, they get more motivated to get things done, and getting a body of people to work together around the environment and a better place for them to live in was very stimulating to me. Once people see that no one is there to tell them what to do, but rather to provide processes they can use to further their goals, it becomes a totally different conversation”, she says.
Certainly, the initiative would not have been shaped the way it was without her contribution.
Patrick Mc Conney
Patrick, also a professor and researcher at Cermes, participated early on in the Sustainable Grenadines initiative and it's easy to see what attracted him to this project. He is fascinated by the notion of insularity and collaboration: “Is it the sea that unites us or the sea that divides us?”, he questions. His research largely focuses on lessening insularity while consolidating collaboration, raising awareness of both the limitations of island life and the possible uses of network capacity.
Early on in his career, he realized resource management was really about people's management. A much harder task. In the Caribbean, “you have to dance the dance “, he believes. “Science is not put on a pedestal even when funded by government, and going with gut feelings is important. This makes it more challenging, but more realistic when you realize governance by government alone is never going to be successful in this region”.
A bottom up and including people approach is not customary but it is not strange either in this region. Citizen empowerment is desired, but the capacity and knowledge needed for it severely lacks, so it is a daunting task.
Luckily, he sees a refreshing number of new people practicing governance and as people's world view have expanded, there are many threads people can follow. They may choose to stay insular but they are aware of the existence of hubs and spaces for collective action.
Patrick also believes that as the notion of a necessary subregional collaboration grows, more of a new kind of leadership is needed, which entails a capacity to build trust and respect, and to remove disengagement of representation of the basis.
Without this, projects cannot sustain themselves over time.
Union makes strength
Katrina is a driven and determined woman of Union Island, who decided at age 16, after an eye opening conversation with a visiting Australian, that she could and would become what she dreamt of being since a child: an environmentalist.
Shortly thereafter, she started the Environmental Attackers group. She has since multiplied the water holding capacity of several islands affected by long dry seasons, organized countless beach clean ups, set up monitoring and protection programs for gecko turtles and migrating birds, while still holding a full time paying job at the local internet store.
She also volunteers in countless programs aimed at increasing her people's well being and stops at nothing, not even spending hour after hour climbing steep hills on hot afternoons, going from household to household, for census programs, poverty eradication programs, or whatever else is at her reach that can help Union Island go forward.
“When I started the Environmental Attackers in 1999, 9 people came forward, but today we are more than 28. Hundreds of garbage bins were donated to us for beach clean ups, which we organize every year, and we doubled the water-holding capacity of Union Island before working on other islands as well, now that we have the experience. We planted trees! We did so many different things! All of these activities open people's eyes to much more. They started to understand how the Central Water Authorities work for example, or they are now seeing things around them they never paid attention to before.”
“Basically, to progress, you need passion, and you need to act more than you talk. It's better to avoid politics, which are very divisive on our islands. There is very little funding available, so voluntary work has become a second nature. You need to be persuasive and not be afraid to talk to every single person, but above all, you need a lot of patience because most of the time, it all goes very slowly and you find yourself alone pushing for things that benefit all.”
Katrina has been involved with SusGren since the beginning. She was part of the first strategic planning in 2002 and has been part of the last one early 2018. “I saw it as a big opportunity. I have learned a lot over the years and my self confidence has grown. Also, I would not have gotten the Canadian funding for the water tanks without my involvement in SusGren, not would I have been part of the GEF training.”
Miss Anne Harvey
Miss Anne Harvey, an imposing, wise, deep voice speaking school teacher, is also a community organizer and activist, as well as a local food shop owner. At first, she couldn't recall what vision had emerged from the first 2002 SusGren strategic planning session she participated in. Yet, going through the notes of that meeting she kept all these years and thinking about the collective work that followed, she realizes how much has actually been done over the past 16 years. She believes most islanders, and fishermen in particular, are more aware about the environment and climate change. Attitudes have changed and “you now see some people speak out when they see bad things. Not many, but it just didn't happen before”.
According to Anne, SusGren has been a very positive force on the island, but must reach out more actively towards the whole community if it wants to have a lasting impact. It should aim for more turnover to really spread the effects and involve more people, while focusing on follow up and motivation. That last part is not easy but is crucial to any initiative, and Anne has often witnessed with schoolkids how the results of initial efforts get lost by lack of continuity, preventing any long lasting change. In schools at least, she says, “the current curriculae of the 2 primary schools and the secondary school all include programs on issues such as the effects of littering, so continuity is possible”.
“The general passivity of the population is our the biggest challenge, and I still cannot fully understand it or how to go around it”, she says. “I think it comes from past hardships. I think it's the culture. There is no voluntary spirit, people feel if they work they have to get paid. That makes everything hard. People lose motivation fast, and you have to work extra hard for any result. It takes special leadership skills.”
Anne believes the Island lacks groups and leadership, specially in the young people, and that in the past decade Internet has worsened the community cohesion even at the family level. Religion doesn't break or help anything, and those who could be the new generation of leaders migrate. Despite all this, she feels positive: “We need to identify the right people, those who want a better future for their children, specially women. Women, for example, are the ones cleaning the drains on the island. They do it for the children.”
“We need programs to reclaim the young men we are loosing because there's nothing here for them here except drugs and alcohol. There are no jobs. No skill learning. No opportunities. You need to bring hope and a sense of self worth. Mothers have to come together to rescue their children.
Many skills could be taught. Boat building, video and music. We are also loosing food production skills. People need to know about old knowledge. In the past, they used to fish and farm and moonshine but they don't do this anymore”, she says.
One such initiative is the sea moss cooperative, created with the help of SusGren, The skills have been learned and it generates steady income. 100 pounds a month of sea moss is sold to Grenada and mainland St Vincent, to Tortola, St Kits and Dominica. Drinks are done with it. Anne's son Orlando, a marine biologist employed in Grenada, comes 3 times a year to support the program. Yet, Anne, who is the current president of the cooperative, says, “if I'm not there, the cooperative dwindles, because it takes constant effort to keep it running and because payment doesn't occur immediately as it would when you are employed by the day for a specific task, for example. You have to be very organized to create a constant stream of revenue”.
She believes partnerships aimed at product development are possible, to create more value added products such as cosmetics, soap, or rhum punch. That is where she will put her efforts into in the near future.
Kristy works for the Sustainable Grenadines Inc since 2013. Often described as a shy young woman, she is mostly reserved and cautious, and wise beyond her age. She won't say anything she hasn't given lots of thought about, and you won't catch her being superficial.
After completion of her college education, she already spent 5 years working with youth, through the Youth Empowerment Services Government program from 2013 to 2016 and the remaining years through SusGren. Ms. Shortte worked in the coordination of many programs on the island, including the SusGren Junior Ranger program and the St Joseph RC church youth program. She loves children and learning by teaching, and believes teaching them skills is crucial.
A lot of effort was put into these programs, and looking back upon them, Kristy expresses frustration as the results of so much effort and asks herself again and again what can be done to reach a larger audience, put together a more adapted and effective training and bring enough follow up to the equation. She believes asking participants what they want to learn is key, and also that having outdoor training on the island will help them love what they do. Working in pairs instead of with one single trainer or program leader could also help.
Maybe these are leads to start tackling the core problem, which is always the same, according to Kristy:” things start hot and sweaty but people rapidly loose interest. It's a mentality. A sort of perverse self sabotage, and this mentality burns out the most motivated people.” Also, people have grown too dependent on the government. They used to plan more for themselves. Unfortunately, Internet is not making things better.
“We need to think what kind of skills are really needed for what programs and be capable of shifting perspectives. Environmental professionals are surely needed but also people who can weave environmental awareness in their livelihoods and daily lives. Most NGOs and donor organizations in the region don't give people what they need but what they think they need” affirms Kristy.
At the end of the day, she wants to see people use what SusGren has put in place to improve, diversify and complement their livelihoods: “people can become tour guides, kite instructors, run a bar, be bird watchers, etc. The junior ranger program should become ranger program for all” she declares.
“Communication training, using and enhancing cultural language and ways would also go a long way. I can see drama about climate change issues brought to life. Ultimately, all change begins with your inner self, so that's what we should be aiming for. The path doesn't have to be straight but the aim is to keep trying and it will be rewarding because the vision comes when you're walking that path, alone or with others”, she concludes.
Ricardo is 19. He is a beekeeper. A childhood fascination for the bees motivated him to research them at school and he is confident he will one day gather the 1200$ necessary to have his own hive. His self acquired knowledge impressed a governmental officer during a school visit focusing on bees and got him involved in a ministry of agriculture project to rear queens from Saint Vincent in Union Island. The dry season of Union allows viruses such as Varroa mite and wax moth to be eliminated, which were preventing this program to be established on Saint Vincent mainland. Ricardo is now the most knowledgeable person on Union Island regarding bees.
His other passion is coral structure. That and the urge to feel what a floating marine creature feels has led him to work in a scuba diving shop, where he is slowly being taught to dive. He has worked on any available job since he is 7 years old, on land and on boats.
His thirst for knowledge is unquenchable, his faith in his ability to self improve is unlimited.
Among many other things, he currently helps SusGren teach fishermen about bees, so that they can diversify their livelihoods. Most fishermen he trained took a liking to it. Ricardo loves to teach, and loves seeing people's reactions when they learn new things. He believes the more you know about your audience and how they learn, the better a teacher you can be, and that taking into account the different rhythm of the students is vital to the teaching process. As you teach, you learn and as others progress, you yourself progress.
“The island needs more pragmatic, skill learning, fun, teaching programs for all, including trans generational programs”, he says. “SusGren is a good starting point. It teaches skills such as beekeeping and sea moss farming, and it has been a tremendous help for the island. Union would be loosing it's mangrove if not for SusGren”, he affirms. “We have to move forwards together, helping each other to do so. We need to show the new generation what they need to learn, with education being an organic process not confined to institutions, but flowing all around all people.”
Krista Kavanaugh : A little flash back to 2008
With a background in geology and environmental science, Krista was one of the interns from Canada who staffed SusGren in 2008. The team tackled many things then, organizing the water taxi association, the international coastal cleanup in 5 islands, getting the sea moss forage club going, the Ashton Lagoon restoration project going, building an application for a transboundary World Heritage site, as well as acting as an umbrella for other local NGOs.
For Krista, fresh from St Francis University in Nova Scotia, this was an eye-opening experience. “Academia is great but it's worthless if it can't relate to people. My experience in Union Island was a humbling experience. I lost my shyness and got grounded through my experience. Managing difficult people has taught me a lot. SusGren is where I learned my work ethics, which I now put into my new job. The island is a place I still call home and I hope I will return to live here in the future.”
10 years later, even though the country has been through rough times with a weak economy and dwindling tourism, she feels sees a cultural shift. The country is moving in the right direction. An example of this is the ban on styrofoam and straws in Saint Vincent. She sees a lot happening at grassroots level as well. The new generation seems more aware of trash issues. She believes this is the result of getting schools involved, with children participating in the clean-ups. Yet, despite this, the problem not only subsists, it's getting worse. The older generation doesn't see it anymore even though the trash heap is right in the middle of town and is getting bigger, wider more than higher, and is now encroaching on paths and the hardcourt.
Lots of groups exist that work on the environment, which used to operate independently. SusGren intended to be the umbrella, a governing body for their work. But it wasn't easy, specially when implementing projects took up most of the staff's time and energy. In most of the local NGOs, internal frustration is a frequent trait, as well as criticism from one group to another. Also, the islands don't get support from the mainland, which creates resentment. “Steering the conversation away from negativity and diffusing it is necessary before taking any further step. It can be done but it's hard. There is pride in being from the island though, and there are forms of self governance, so these are positives you can use”, says Krista, and she adds: “one thing that may be worth addressing is the lack of documentation about people's history. There is no basis for people to understand their legacy or to push it into the future, which can plays against any solid social processes.”
Krista believes people saw value in SusGren's work at the time she was working there, but that it was not organic to them. Part of the value to them was the capacity to bring funding. Also, sometimes, they felt project successes were attributed to SusGren and not to the other NGOs involved. The balance is hard to keep. “SusGren was playing the role of the parent and in a way, I believe it still is. Emancipation of the kid is difficult but necessary, and perhaps the process hasn't reached this stage yet. Listening is hugely important, but it takes time and discipline”, she adds.
Krisma Mc Donald Moore
Krisma grew up in Grenada before transferring to Union Island for family reasons. She was always involved in the environmental community of the Grenadines and thought highly of SusGren even before working there.
She is currently the GEF coordinator for the Ashton Lagoon restoration project at SusGren, and part of her role is to train groups to work more efficiently together around that project. She believes the core role of SusGren is similar to that of a parent. The organization helps people write projects, which also implies reinforcing core capacities such as registering, institutional assessment to determine weak areas and to come up with a plan, and then seeking out grants.
The difficulties arise when people just want SusGren to write grants for them, be it for lack of confidence, passivity, or lack of time. “There are almost no cases of emancipation”, she says. Yet, in some places, in the mainland for example, she has witnessed groups that are active in their communities have had good results. In Saint Vincent for example, there are cases of groups who worked on rehabilitation of a natural site together with creating an image and tourism services, which also eventually get to the point where they can collect a fee. “Here people just wait for SusGren to get the project. This is our biggest challenge. Also, people don't see SusGren as an emanation of the grenadines people. They see interns, they think there is a headquarters somewhere. Yet it's all about their benefit”, she describes, adding that “We need to get better at finding a way to spread the word that it's a WE thing, not a THEY thing. We also need to explore how to tap into bright ideas that are floating around and transform them into businesses, with an acute awareness that you can't start the business and then they need you and can't do it long term on their own.”
At the same time, people bring a lot of creativity and passion into cultural expressions such as popular art and dressing. Krisma sees this passion when she volunteers for theatre and dancing activities in the primary school in Clifton, or during festivities such as Easterval and the Juvert parade. It is her dream to marry conservation to popular forms of art. It is her experience and her intuition that this might allow for longer lasting impact as well as keeping high levels of motivation.
Currently, the way SusGren portrays itself and interacts with the community is too divorced from the culture. So the question Krisma raises at this time, is how to use these popular art forms to further engage people. She has a vision of dramatic pieces telling stories of the environment and the people, bonfires and dancing used to raise awareness about fish populations, etc. “This is what our islands used to be before television”, she regrets.
Krisma is committed to find ways to use the cultural extravaganza which is natural to the islands to portray, share and advance a vision of an environmentally friendly future for all.
Ashton Lagoon lives! a symbol for all
In the 90's, the government approved a project of a marina in the Ashton lagoon, against the advice of many scientists and the wishes of most locals. The place was teeming with conch and lobster spat and juveniles, a place of living beauty, a nursery for many important fish populations, not to mention a place where many activities of the local population took place.
The project collapsed with half the infrastructure already in place. Not surprisingly, no provisions had been set aside to dismantle the partial infrastructure and restore the ecosystem to it's previous state.
The lagoon stayed on a steady path of degradation for years, as the natural water flows and currents were blocked by dykes, the passage of rainwater from land to sea blocked by elevated roads, with the concurrent eutrophication of waters, disappearance of nurseries habitat, death of parts of the mangrove, etc. The Lagoon was slowly dying.
For years, people expressed their wishes and hopes for the place to be restored, and it was one of the items listed in the first strategic plan of SusGren. Over time, people developed a vision of how to bring this landmark back to life and what to implement there. Paths and lookout towers were designed on paper, restored passages for fishermen to access fishing grounds, a nursery for mangrove trees, etc.
But the core restoration would never start. Projects were written, administrative delays meant lost opportunities, and the patient's status remained stationary.
Until the stars finally seemed to align, and with a lot of juggling on SusGren's part to cover all angles, to meet at time conflicting donor requirements, to attract collaboration and funding by international NGOs as well as the authorities' blessing while keeping the communities engaged, the restoration work went ahead. The Lagoon is now on it's way to once again become a beautiful, serene, benevolent, soul filling presence on the Island. People are proud of it, and some see it as a symbol, that what seems beyond repair can be fixed. Possibly, with the help and direction of SusGren and all those involved at any level, the Lagoon will become a vehicle to dive beyond the surface, to reach for the life changes that are needed for communities to rise and take ownership of their future, for many generations to come.
Petite Martinique, the fisher island.
Originally from Grenada, Keisha knows the island where she resettled after marrying her fisherman husband Markan like the palm of her hand. Unlike many women of the island who stick to domestic chores and leave their houses mostly to go to church, to school and to participate in local celebrations, Keisha roams around the paths, up to the peak where the American flag was planted during the aborted 1983 invasion, on the wind beaten side of the island, across gardens and beaches. She knows where erosion is affecting the island the most, how many animals, sheeps and goats, roam freely, where the stone dams and water puddles used to be store some water during the long dry season and she knows every bird and insect that nests on the island. She also knows who has herbal knowledge, who is more willing to give time for the community, who are the best boat builders and how the collective mentality deals with problems. Gradually, she is understanding how specific moments in time have shaped her island: when the bees disappeared, what forms of trade were replaced by others, how land occupation is organized with no private property regime on the island...
She sees every issue and she sets about to tackle every single of them at her own level. Women empowerment, eroding surface soil rushed along the steep slopes into the water and onto the coral reef after every strong rain, lack of food security, lack of local opportunities for youth, the local economy being drained away to the mainland and further islands...
Keisha keeps a nursery for endemic plants capable of keeping the soil in place and every day, one plant at a time, inch by inch, she goes out to cover the most vulnerable land.
She started the conversation going about leaving grazing animals roam freely on the island, instead of maintaining the practices of previous generations, of controlled reproduction, rotational grazing, slaughtering and eating the animals to keep the population at a steady number while self producing food.
She plants corn and tomatoes and shows people that they do not have to buy industrialized food but that they can actually have fun producing their own, like their ancestors did, and that it also creates beauty for the island.
She assists in any cultural manifestation she is solicited, donating her time, she improves environment oriented programs for school, organizes hikes for the children to strengthen their love for the island while teaching them about birds. She is also a professional tour guide and bird watcher, and works on the neighboring island managing foreigners' properties.
She leads Women in Action, a local group which obtained a grant to work on food sovereignty in the form of Aquaponics. It is not necessarily what she or the women of the island would have chosen, but the project provides a great opportunity for women to set goals for themselves and organize and show the community they can be determined and carry out anything they decide.
She also raises two children and helps in a variety of capacities any project concerning fishermen, the most important activity of the island.
“People here build boat and go fishing. That is what they do. That is what sustains all the island”, she says. “I want to help lessen the dependency on fishing, get people involved in growing food on the island so they don't have to buy it somewhere else, and also, help young people gain skills that they can transform into businesses. Anything. Artisanal transformation of conchs, sea moss soap, music, wood craft, dried fruits and other food products, manure, why not a local beer... We could produce most of what we use and create items that are specific to this island which can be sold elsewhere. This is the future I envision. It is the purpose I have found on this island”, she declares.
Dexter, a soft and gentle soul if there are any, also married into the island, where he has been living for many decades now. In spite of many of the islanders being passive and suspicious minded to a point of self-sabotage, and even spiteful at times, you will not once hear him attributing blame or badmouthing anyone. He has taken a deep interest in Petite Martinique and has demonstrated long term dedication to making life better there, at the image of the strikingly beautiful flower and food garden one can see when going up to his house, putting his best skills at the island's service. He assisted the Government Ministry in securing the funding and approval of the project to build the water desalinization plant, making the island one of the few self reliant in water. He constantly battles for better infrastructure and development directed at fishermen, such as a fish handling facility, fisheries cooperative or training on safe and quality handling of the fish (bleeding gutting and ice).
Working on the island is never easy, and Dexter describes how “ over 15 years, a major change of the social ways has occurred. People used to take care of each other. New houses on the island were build together for example; now this sort of community effort only applies to boat building and launching. Also, flocks of animals were smaller and were managed, and in general, traditional knowledge is being lost. There once used to be a vibrant trade with Martinique, which absorbed a lot of the work force. Also, the population is more political now, ever since it has had to organize to refuse the US coast guard base project in 97.” Dexter remarks. “The challenge today is to keep whatever remains of the culture, which you can see at the maroon festival, in traditional wedding ceremony clothing, the dancing of the flag and the cake, the wooden boats building, the regattas, for example, and bring it into the future.”
Over time, he has been involved in work with most large stakeholders involved in development in the region, Caricom (Caribbean community), consultations of donor agencies about climate change, TNC, FAO, GEF, UNDP, etc. He knows how to speak the language and spin the arguments in favor of the small island. He participates in the global effort to build capacity on climate change through improved knowledge, risk assessments and grant writing.
There is a lot of funding available for climate change and biodiversity, yet Dexter regrets that many programs are not well implemented. Government agencies and politicians that aim for these programs are mainly interested in the funding. They don't consult or gather the necessary knowledge and advice to make these projects run on the long term and some of these even end up having negative impacts. Over time, this attitude and approach has discouraged the community to come out and participate, and has spread the “grab the cash when you can, it's not your money” mentality instead of building responsibility and commitment. He has seen this playing out negatively in the project of the fishermen coop for example, which he believes could have led over 10 years to an ice facility, better cooperative marketing, more women engaged in the process, a platform for fishermen to fight for their rights and even a retirement scheme, etc. But it is stalling after a chain of action led to blocked funds.
Dexter would rather have funding agencies work directly with communities, but he is aware that striking the right the balance is the hardest things and you get burnt out easily.
In fact, after many years in the game, Dexter has decided to “sit back and act here and there”.
SusGren also has had programs in the past which did not go forward, knowledge gathering which was not passed down, despite a strong participative process. “I fear we are not prepared for what is to come”, he says, “the way we are going, we won't be able to face the challenges that lay ahead. I hope in the future we can operate the necessary cultural shift to continue increasing community's knowledge while strengthening local organizations, with a special focus on youth, which is our islands' best hope.”
Bequia, the Caribean's sleeping beauty
Rise Up Bequia
Tracy Simmons, Patrick Hutchins and Narissa Scarborough are founding members of Rise Up Bequia, which was created in 2013 as a solidarity initiative, right after a heavy flooding brought much damage to the island. This is how a core group of motivated and committed people came together and then decided to continue walking that path together.
Their biggest concern is giving children and youth of the island a future.
To collect funds, Rise Up Bequia hosts a talent show every year, which gathers the whole community. The talents on display vary. “Last year for example was a Saga boy pageant. People on the islands love talent shows and are always eager to participate. In 2018, the show was more cultural: folk songs, acting, dancing, modeling of old clothe. We also created an award, a recognition for community achievement. We are hoping to create pathways for local talent to grow and be recognized”, says Patrick.
The proceeds are entirely used for the announced purpose, usually school supplies. “One year it was to repair the library roof. We also saved the almond tree, a local fixture, and after hurricane Maria in 2017, in solidarity with Dominica, the proceeds we raised were used to send 1000 tarps and food to our Dominican brothers.”, tells Narissa. Thanks to their fundraising effort, 175 school children were provided with school supplies in 2015. The next year they reached 390 students, and last year it was 1000.
They focus more on men, because the group believes women get more structure within their families, who tend to be stricter with them, so the problems affecting young boys, such as drug addiction, are more severe and urgent. Women do better than men at school for example, and tend to be more disciplined. Men have a higher risk of becoming school, or life dropouts. There is also a focus to teach people who are not academically inclined, through programs of skill transmission, hoping they will one day sustain themselves by working with their hands.
The organization counts 10 members, of which 3 directors. There are 3 teachers amongst the members, 4 business managers, a government employee, a customs officer, a graduate student. This diversity provides the group with fresh ideas, and they work together in a collaborative way intended to build consensus. Being a small core group, they understand the importance of networking, collaborating and gathering momentum, and they have a few, strict rules: “Decision making is horizontal. No one has more power than anyone else. If someone wasn't present at the time a decision was made, they cannot modify it, because we noticed that constant revising of decisions leads to inaction. We act, then we evaluate and we improve” says Patrick, “and we shy away from politics, which is dark and murky waters. Because when the government depends on external funding to function, it cannot be independent.”
“We have a 10 year vision”, adds Tracey, “50 active members, fully funded scholarships with the condition to come back to the island, we want locals to be stakeholders in what goes on on the island. We want a change of habits and mindset, demonstrated by no more mindless littering for example.” “We dream to see good jobs created on the islands, so our sons and daughters don't believe bartender is the best future they can aspire to, and we want to command the respect that we want. Today, people are so disenfranchised they have lost hope, but I believe change cannot come from elsewhere. People themselves need to BE the change” concludes Patrick.
The core messages of the organization, “You don't need a hand out. You can help yourself” and “We rise by lifting others” reflect this philosophy.
The main challenge they face today is the lack of a place to meet. “To grow, we need a learning resource centre. It's key to build capacity in the group and produce tools such as a community radio station. Getting more members and optimizing networking will also be crucial to avoid the risk of burn out we all know too well. But we trust we will get there”, they conclude.
Tauran Ollivier and Danny George
Tauran and Danny are preachers and sport coaches. One is Seventh-Day Adventist and the other Pentecostal. Tauran is also a schoolteacher. They both coach teams playing tournament basketball, running, jumping and swimming. Three students they trained ended up going to Taiwan, 2 now live and work there and one is on a scholarship.
They believe that in a community severely affected by crime and mental problems, sports is fundamental to provide role models people need to look up to. Also, coaching allows them to bring spirituality into a larger arena than that of the church. “Church and sports are currently some of the only things that brings people together”, says Danny. “Seeing change is very rewarding. On an individual level, when someone is going down a bad path but ends up in a good place, it is the best possible reward, and it gives us hope that the same thing can happen with the whole country.” adds Tauran.
Their teaching is not just physical. Being a preacher brings discipline to the field. Il helps build respect and behavioral changes that are sometimes needed. Also, they teach people how to themselves teach what they have learned. The notion of giving back is fundamental to both.
Working with these communities is hard on all counts. “There are no gyms, no swimming pools and no basketball courts on the southern part of the island, where the local community is established, which makes training and motivation harder. Then, if you train only those most able, you increase the risk of brain drainage. We face a lot of social degradation. There is high peer pressure to enter party life for instance, which brings drugs and alcohol and a dissolute lifestyle. Girls are going through difficult time too, with a lot of teen pregnancies. Parents use sport to punish bad behavior, putting their children out of sports, which doesn't help. Self sabotage is endemic. Rising is taking a risk. People fear of letting go of what they know to go find a better life. They go back to their bad lives at the first difficulty. This affects the whole upwards process. People tend to be complacent and comfortable and to reject structure. The island becomes a prison in their mind”, Tauran describes.
“We need a social path to bring a country together, and to give an outlet to anger. Being good at sports gives access to overseas competition, which is vital. Drums can also provide such an outlet but currently, there is very little knowledge transmission on that front”, says Danny. Both coaches would like to see crime stumped out, and citizens with a renewed good morale save the country from the path of destruction. The believe the path is holistic: only when we are changed, can we change others.
“There are almost no funds available for our activities. Funding would require an NGO structure.” Tauran feels this is a coded area he does not fully trust: “the stress of the organization takes away the spontaneity, and also it sets itself up for greenwashing as benefactors often use NGOs for advertising for themselves. Currently many NGOs have their code but not necessarily the deep understanding nor the genuineness. When money comes into an institution, it can easily corrupt it. We prefer to operate based on community feeling, not the dollar.”
“Steering the conversation away from negativity to diffuse it can be done but it's hard.”
“SusGren was the parent. Still is the parent. Emancipation of the kid is difficult and necessary.”
“there is a sense of being a community and sense of being different than the mainland communities”
“The initial phase of the project wasn’t environmental, but it was alive!”
“common cause and common vision are important, so that even if the project dies, people will have been changed.”
“governance by government alone is not going to be successful in this region.”
“You need passion to do all this and you need to grow your self confidence.”
“ Here people loose motivation. You have to work extra hard and it takes leadership. People feel if they work they have to get paid. That makes everything hard. You need to bring hope and a sense of self worth.”
“It's always the same: things start hot and sweaty but people rapidly loose interest.”
“Most groups don't give people what they need but what they think they need.”
“It all begins with your inner self. The path is to keep trying. It isn't a straight path but it's rewarding because the vision comes when you're walking that path.
“We have to move forwards together, to help each other to do so. We need to show the new generation what they need to learn, with education being an organic process not confined to institutions, but flowing all around all people.”
“You don't need a hand out. You can help yourself.”
“We dream to see good jobs created on the islands, so our sons and daughters don't believe bartender is the best future they can aspire to.”
“People are so disenfranchised they have lost hope.”
“People need to BE the change.”
“Seeing change is very rewarding. On an individual level, when someone is going down a bad path but ends up in a good place is the best possible reward. Same thing with the whole country.”
“Self sabotage is endemic. Rising is taking a risk. People fear of letting go of what they know to go find a better life. They go back to their bad lives at the first difficulty. This affects the whole upwards process. People tend to be complacent and comfortable and to reject structure. The island becomes a prison in their mind.”