05/12/2006, Portsmouth, Dominica
Imagine walking out into your backyard and you’re surrounded by a variety of trees growing avocados, bananas, coconuts, papaya, mangoes, limes and nutmeg. In the front yard there are a variety of exotic flowers including birds of paradise and hibiscus. From your back door you can see the rain forests growing up the steep mountain slopes with peaks shrouded by clouds. There are about 365 rivers and waterfalls within a days drive supplying you with clean mountain water. People stroll by your front door in the early morning and twilight hours but all is quiet during the heat of the day. And when you sit on your front step you can see and hear the waves washing up on the black sandy beach. If this was your yard then more than likely you’d be in Dominica.
Dominica is an island where people don’t go hungry. This island easily feeds its people. As one farmer told us at the Saturday morning farmer’s market in PortsmouthYou can grow anything here in Dominica. Bananas and coconut products are exported to North America and Europe. However, Dominica also supplies many of the Caribbean islands in the region with fresh vegetables, fruit and bottled water. This is the first island we’ve visited where fresh water (or sweet water as it’s called locally) is in great abundance. It’s a rare treat.
Dublanc Primary School
On a suggestion from a teacher in Trinidad, we paid a visit to a local primary school in nearby Dublanc, a fishing village about 10 km from where we were anchored in Portsmouth. The local minivan (bus ride cost $2.50 EC $1.00 Cdn) dropped us off on the highway stop and we walked down over the hill to the school. Mrs. Green, the Principal, was filling in for one of her teachers in Grade 3/4 who was away for the afternoon. The classroom door was open and she was keeping a watchful eye open for her visitors. With a smile that could light up a room, she warmly greeted us. Mrs. Green proudly led us on a short tour of the school with its 4 classrooms, 63 children and 3 teachers from grades Grades 1-6. The school had a large soccer field and cricket pitch on one side and a view of the Caribbean Sea on another. Small flower gardens lined the walkway and there was a strip of pavement with a basketball hoop just outside the classroom doors.
We met Vanessa Hilton, who teaches Grade 1/2 and was my contact for the school. Ms. Hilton worked with a group of children in grades 5 and 6 on a program sponsored by UNESCO called SANDWATCH. (This program runs throughout the Caribbean islands and elsewhere – check out their website at www.sandwatch.org). This beach monitoring program asks students to clean up and track the health of their local beach and water. Ms. Hilton and her group of 18 students became politically active following their beach clean-up in 2003. With homemade posters and placards, the students marched into Dublanc to educate their community about littering. The villagers were so moved by the children’s actions, they organized and participated in a big community and beach clean-up. Ms Hilton and the students were thrilled by this initial response. However, the long term change has been slow to come. As one of her students said, Adults don’t listen to kids and change.It looks like another march might need to be organized.
While at the school, Mrs. Green also showed us the school library which is generally the hub of most schools. Making use of a vacant classroom, a little extra furniture was being stored along side 2 long bookshelves lining the two walls. They were filled beyond capacity with books. There were also boxes of books on several tables in the centre of the room. Mrs. Green proudly told us that all the books had been donated by generous visitors from both California and Canada. A wide selection of Math, Language Arts and Science textbooks were stacked on these shelves. It was great to see that school boards had generously donated their used textbooks.
With books still in boxes, there was no way teachers and students could make use of these recently donated resources. So, David and I rolled up our sleeves and unpacked and organized 8 boxes of books on the table tops. There was a great range, but unfortunately there was no space to put the books. Looking at the top of one of the boxes I noticed the return address was from Newfoundland. When I enquired, Mrs. Green quickly told me that schools in St. John’s Newfoundland (my home province) had donated a wide assortment of books. This was all organized by fellow Newfoundlander and Dominican resident, Sister Patricia King. I was thrilled and proud.
David and I came away from the school realizing that with a little more help, this school could have a working library. But, as Mrs. Green pointed out, the teachers are doing so much, they just can’t do that, too. It’s just one more thing for them to take on. The school receives little support from the Government and there are no additional funds for building bookshelves or outfitting the library. I was so proud that Canadians were helping in a way they thought would be best, but as with most things, there needs to be an infrastructure in place to support what is donated. It wouldn’t take much to put something in place so the teachers and students could manage it, but the school needs a helping hand. With hurricane season approaching, unfortunately we have to leave now, however, we plan to return to the school following hurricane season and lend a hand. Mrs. Green said they would be delighted to have us build a few book shelves and get a few things up and running for her students and teachers. We’re looking forward to returning to the little school.
Mrs. Green was our local tour guide on the return drive to Portsmouth. The one place you must visit is the Carib territory on the east side of the Island she told us. The Caribs are the Aboriginals of the island and as we learned later, Dominica is one of the only remaining Caribbean islands with Carib peoples. Everyone listens to Mrs. Green, I guess we will too.
Dominica Facts and Figures Population: 72,000 but only about 45,000 live on the island Area: 751 sq kilometres (290 sq miles) Temperature range: 34 C to 18 C (90 F – 65 F) Rainfall annually: 200 cm (79 inches) in the lowlands, 1000 cm (400 inches) in the mountains Main foods: bananas, bread fruit, coconut, fish, crabs and sweet potatoes European discovery: Christopher Columbus in 1493 arrived on a Sunday. Dominica is latin for Sunday People: Descendants of British, French, Carib and African Aboriginals: Arawak Indians inhabited the island 2000 years ago; Carib Indians took over 1000 years later. Slaves: Britain shipped slaves to Dominica from Africa as farm workers until 1834 when they were freed. Independence: November 3, 1978 from Britain Hurricane devastation: 1979 ( 1 year after independence) with 50 people killed and tremendous damage