Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Week Three: Construction, Upton Gardens, Dunnottar and More...

We started our week off with another successful writing workshop pertaining to our papers on Liberation Theology! After the writing workshop, the Gapsters parted into two groups. Eight of us spent the week building a home with the Good News Project, while the others ventured to Upton Gardens--a rehabilitation center for girls--and Dunnottar--a school for children with special needs.

Painting sure is fun!
Monday, one group was introduced to the experienced volunteer build-crew leaders, Pat and Maureen. After a brief safety lesson, Pat and Mo (for short) began molding us into a well oiled machine. We worked together as an efficient team in the backyard of where we are staying. Monday, as well as Tuesday, consisted of cutting and painting all types of lumber. That implies power tools! Pat and Mo gave us all a chance to use power drills and hand saws to prepare the materials for assembly. We ended the day with piles of brightly painted blue and white boards that soon would be hauled to the build site and assembled into a house.When Wednesday came around, it was time to start construction. We loaded up a truck with supplies and started our journey with another long-standing volunteer of the Good News Project named Reggie. As a local and skilled driver, he expertly navigated through the twists and turns of Saint Lucia's roller coaster of roads. When we arrived to our build site (after an hour in the van), all we saw were 8 concrete pillars on a steep hill. As a group we were a little nervous, but once Pat, Moe, and Reggie gave us some directions, we got the floor and three walls put up within one work day! The biggest struggle during the construction process was that the wood was extremely hard and the nails were very soft; so as we hammered, the nails would constantly bend, rendering them quite difficult to use. Besides that, each of us felt competent on the work-site, and we were pleasantly surprised when we were welcomed by local passers-by. One man even brought us some breadfruit--a local fruit that grows on trees here and tastes like potatoes after you cook it! We made the mistake of cutting open the breadfruit and attempted to eat it raw, until Reggie told us it was better cooked, so we made a small fire on the side of the road and cooked it, all the while still building the house! For a construction site, there sure were a lot of fruit trees near by. During our work breaks, we had the opportunity to try golden apples and coconuts!
Build Crew hard at work on the roof of the house
Thursday and Friday were our final days of building. Thursday we raised the final wall, and then put the roof on. That day we also had the opportunity to meet Michelle, the woman who will be living there. She stayed to chat for a bit and told us how she loves the color of the house and can't wait to see it finished. We learned that Michelle has several children who will be living in the house with her. As the day grew to an end, we threw on some music and danced in the dirt road for a bit to celebrate the building process. All the while, Reggie sang to us while he hammered the final nails into the sheet-metal-roof. Then Friday came along, which consisted of paint touch ups, installing windows, and hanging the door. After a week of hard work, the final project was complete and there was a new house for Michelle and her kids to live in!

Build Crew, nailing it!

While we began our building careers on Monday, our peers travelled to Upton Gardens Girls School. Upon arrival, they were given a brief overview of the organization and its history. Open for over 30 years now, Upton Gardens was founded by the Saint Lucia National Council of Women. The St. Lucian women's organization formed the school when they recognized that many young girls were being falling through the cracks, so to speak, as the economy shifted from agriculture to the service industry. This economic shift had a powerful effect on the family structure of many St. Lucians. Instead of having the flexibility to balance the demands of raising a family and harvesting bananas, once the economy shifted, mothers were not able to be at home with their children due to the 24-hour demands of the service industry. As the economy rapidly shifted from agriculture to the service industry, many working mothers took up jobs in local hotels and restaurants, which required them to work odd hours, day and night. Upton Gardens was started as an intervention program for girls on the verge of delinquency, due to the change in family structures. The school offers basic education classes, life skills training, and rehabilitation & counseling services to girls ages 12 to 16 who have behavioral issues due to neglect, abuse, or getting into trouble with the law. This organization serves a vital role in the community and is essential for girls who either go through, or are lost to, the court system. It is one of very few places in St. Lucia that offers guidance and support to an all-female student base. It is sad because before Upton Gardens, there was no help for the girls who needed it. Yet there were several long-standing government-funded support organizations for boys in tough situations.

After the briefing about Upton Gardens, the group made their way to go and meet the girls and women (graduated Upton Garden students) they would be working with. This group of Gapsters taught a process of making "up cycled" jewelry. Materials included leather cord and old bottle caps. The bottle caps were stamped with metal letter pieces, which could be used to spell out any word. Then these indented words were filled in with colored markers. Using a hammer and nail, a hole was made to insert the cord. The Gap students taught the Upton Gardens women and girls how to tie off the leather cord with a "slip knot." This type of knot allowed for adjustable necklaces and bracelets to the desired length. This jewelry workshop was designed not only as a fun activity for the current students, but also as a means to make some extra income for those who have graduated. The women quickly took to the notion that this "project" had potential for market value. It was inspiring to see how much creative flare and business savvy some of the women had!

During their first visit to Upton Gardens, the Gap students made comments on how shy the girls were: that they would barely answer questions and would not ask for help on the jewelry. When the group returned on Friday, the girls were much more excited and comfortable with them. Madeline mentioned the great conversations she had with the girls that day. They talked about many topics; ranging from music and piercings to school and their celebrations of Carnival and all of its facets. One of the most interesting details revealed during the chats with the girls was that of transferring schools to be near people they liked (i.e. if a female student likes a boy, she will transfer schools in order to be closer to him and to have a relationship with him). Upon hearing this, the Gap students were all surprised at the fact that this was a common occurrence on the island. This is just another example of difference in culture and how interesting it is to learn from listening to others.

Classroom Crew at Dunnottar School
 with some staff and students

During the middle of the week, the classroom crew travelled to Dunnottar School to build friendships. Upon first arriving, the students were surprised at the wide range of abilities of the children. They also took interest to how the students' behaviors were handled by the teachers. Dunnotar, being a school for the developmentally disabled, presented our peers with another cultural experience that not only opened their eyes to alternative education methods, but also the resources available to people who are typically marginalized. During the three days our peers spent at Dunnotar, they learned and embraced the importance of learning how to be flixible and adapt to different situations that may push them outside of their comfort zones.

Abby accompanying a 
student at Dunnottar School
Jake with a buddy!

While visiting Dunnottar School, the students participated in various activities with the kids, such as coloring, making paper airplanes, playing outside, and chaperoning a field trip to the local swimming center. They were also given the chance to volunteer in the classroom! Each student was assigned a classroom to join, and they assisted the teachers however they could--playing matching games, using shaving cream and dough to exercise fine motor skills, cooking, washing lunch dishes, hanging linens, working in the garden, etc.This classroom time gave the Gap students a chance get to know the students of Dunnottar on a one-on-one basis; thus, building new friendships everyday. As the Gap students learned in class, this act of getting to know and appreciate the unique personalities of each individual is known as accompaniment -- and it is exciting to put our classroom knowledge into action with the experiential component of our Gap Experience semester.
Jack and Matt learning from
the Life Skills class! 

After a week of being separated into two groups, all of us reunited for a day-long catamaran sail. It may have been raining all day, but nothing could keep the Gapster's spirits down. We saw a large pod of dolphins (30+), snorkeled among patches of fire coral, and soaked in the salty sea air. This was a perfect way to celebrate all that we did throughout the week.
Sailing in to the port of Soufriere'

Who could forget the bright colors of the Caribbean houses once you've seen them?!

A tropical paradise for most tourists, yet home for the locals

Look at those exhuberant faces: Kate, Mallory, Autumn, Matt, Jake, Alec, MoJo & Sam

And we can't forget the other side of the boat: Abby, Jack, Madeline, Morgan, Zach, Nicole, Josie, Sydney, Heston and Morgan P.

Autumn, Josie, Abby, Kate, and Morgan M. ready to set sail

1 comment:

  1. Very happy to read that you have been able to spend quality time at two of my favorite institutions in St.Lucia. I'm sure your smiling faces were given a warm welcome at both places. The people who direct and staff these special purpose schools love to have visitors who are willing to interact directly with the students, and with them.

    And, the building project looks like it produced a very nice result. Pat and Mo, Reggie and St. Omer make a great team working with volunteers. We know how much fun they can be, and how much they enjoy teaching.

    I would have enjoyed the day of sailing with you and the crew from Cats. Hopefully, some of you got a chance to drive the boat!

    Thanks for taking time to write this enjoyable blog. It is well written, and tells a great story!

    Chuck MacCarthy