04/11/2007, Leverick Bay, Virgin Gorda, BVI’s
While still in Toronto, in September 2005 (that was a while ago, now), I received my first of many emails from a new e-pal, Paul Diamond, a Canadian working at a school on a small Caribbean island in the British Virgin Islands (BVI’s). At that time, the Caribbean was one of many far away destinations for Amanzi. So, it was difficult to predict when we’d reach the area. On our southbound trip, as we arrived in the BVI’s, all schools were on a 3-week Easter break including my e-pal, Paul. So a visit at that time was impossible. However, on our recent northbound trip, we were able to plan our rendez-vous a little better. With timing and weather on our side, we arrived in the BVI’s the week before the Easter break. We dropped our anchor in Leverick Bay, Virgin Gorda – the small Caribbean Island where my e-pal Paul and the primary school, Robinson O’Neil Memorial Public School (ROMPS) is located. It was great to have finally co-ordinated a visit.
“I’ll be the one wearing the red Caribbean shirt”was how Paul described himself. This was to be our first meeting face to face, so Paul knew we needed something to help us identify him. It’s an odd feeling to meet someone for the first time – with whom you’ve been corresponding for more than a year. You feel you know the person, yet you don’t know something obvious – what they look like. Paul treated us to the grande tour of Virgin Gorda and first thing the next morning we paid a visit to the school.
Similar to my school on Toronto Island, ROMPS has a school population of about 150 students from Kindergarten to Grade 6. And as with our students, the ROMPS students have to take a ferry to play other schools for any of their Inter-school sports events. That can make for a great adventure but also a very long day. After meeting ROMPS principal, Mrs. Stevens, we learned that all the students were writing their midterm exams during the two days of our visit. But a special arrangement was made and we met with members of the after- school Explorer’s club for a talk and slide show. In addition to producing the school’s monthly newspaper (check it out at www.robinsononeil.com), this keen group of Grade 5 and 6 kids are actively involved with UNESCO’s Sandwatch program. In addition, several recent environmental projects they’ve done includes adopting an Iguana on the neighbouring island of Anegada as part of a population study, exploring coral reefs in a submarine and restoring a local snorkeling trail (yes, an underwater trail). So, we had lots to talk about and share.
We were particularly interested in their Sandwatch investigations. You may recall we met students on the islands of Dominica and Bequia who were also actively involved with Sandwatch on their local beaches. At ROMPS, the Explorer’s club members monitor their local beach – Savannah Beach- over a period of several months a year and measure and document changes. The students investigate and collect data on beach erosion and accretion (sand or other material is added to the beach), water currents, sand analysis, the effects of anti- erosion activities such as tree-planting and test water quality. Recently, the students identified and documented pollution affects on water quality. With the assistance of a local marine biologist, the students were able to identify bacteria that’s having a negative effect on sea fan growth. Great work, team. And as recently as December, two students of the Explorer’s Club, accompanied by Paul and Mrs Stevens, took part in UNESCO’s Regional Sandwatch Youth Symposium (meeting) in Trinidad (400 miles south). Teachers and students participating in Sandwatch from 14 Caribbean countries attended the meeting. The ROMPS students presented the club’s recent findings of their beach investigations and participated in a video news webcast. Visit the Sandwatch website to read about the Trinidad meeting and read the results of the Explorer Club’s latest investigations (www.sandwatch.org).
There is so much more to all these exotic Caribbean islands than simply sun, sand and clear blue water, as we see on the travel posters and brochures. Through our travels and conversations, we’ve learned that all these islands are faced with similar environment concerns – marine debris, garbage on land, hurricane damage, pollution and an increase in large scale tourist or resort development. A lot of people from the outside want a little piece of this paradise. And of course, this is putting a tremendous strain on the island environments. Once again, meeting kids like the members of ROMPS Explorer’s club in Virgin Gorda is very reassuring. They have an enthusiasm and passion for their environment. They are taking action on their island. And although they have their work cut-out for them, the future of their island paradise is in good hands. Keep up the terrific work, kids.