April 8, 2005
Hard to believe it's April, isn't it? It seems like just yesterday I was ringing in the new year in Telluride (Oh, how I do miss mountains!). My parents were here for a visit this past week. They had planned for it since last June, but apparently the trip was worth the wait. When I spoke with my mom yesterday, she said my dad was about ready to board a plane to come back down. The highlight of the trip was an extended weekend in Carriacou. We spent it at my favorite small hotel (7 rooms) right on the beach. The pace is extremely slow but my parents really loved it. The hotel's rooms all open up onto a long porch. There is a restaurant on site that has all outdoor seating and is even closer to the sea then our rooms. The place comes complete with a hammock, an incredible beach, a pig (incidently named Ivan), a few puppies who like to sneak into your room if you leave your sliding door open--which is a habit of most guests, area fishermen, rastas, long-term guests (many european) and a great lesson in RELAXING. At any given meal, the time between sitting down and finishing your meal can be anywhere between 1-3 hours. The great news is that since you have no place to go and nothing to do but relax, you just don't mind. It's Caribbean time in it's truest form--and I must say, my parents fell quite easily (maybe too easily!?!) into this new schedule. We also took a water taxi to a nearby island that had some incredible snorkeling. The colors, shapes and patterns on the fish were absolutley amazing. I learned quickly that it is actually to my detriment to shreak with glee while snorkeling! My favorite was a small black fish with GLOWING blue dots on it. He looked like he had a light source inside him (or her...sorry fish). Quite amazing. We were joined in our excursion by JP and Kristin (another Grenville PCV) and her parents. A great mix of people, time and place...
When we got back to the pseudo-reality of Grenada, my parents and I spent a day delivering the donated school supplies to some area schools. We went to one school which is a skills training program for students who did not go to secondary school. We have a volunteer placed there and she had told us they really needed chalk. The staff was thrilled when my parents and I dropped supplies, including a load of chalk. Kate (PCV) held up a small cup with nubs of chalk and said "Look! This is all we had!" I want to say thanks again to everyone who donated and got chalk in the hands of those worthy teachers! We also visited another very rural school that was a long 2 story building. When we pulled up we saw that the whole roof was missing (not an uncommon site). There was a long line of UNICEF tents set up as classrooms. In speaking to the principal I learned that they cannot use the school at all because the school is structurally unsound, so the whole school is in tents. They have had no word from the Ministry about plans for rebuilding. As I walked back to the car with my parents, we looked at the school and noticed a large crack running horizontally on the end of the school. Frightening conditions to be working around.
My parents left on Wednesday and I spent Thursday delivering supplies as well. Flint, the Peace Corp's driver, drove Kristin and I around to the schools in St. George's. I had not been to many of those schools and the scenes I had seen earlier in the week with my parents were repeated in various degrees. Of the 14 schools we visited, 2 were actually in normal condition with electricity and roofs. Many had tarpulins (that are now nearly shredded) on their roofs. Many were still sending children home if the rain was falling too hard and often they were overcrowded from absorbing children from rural schools that were completely destroyed. One of the worst cases we saw was in Vendome, a rural school in the hills above St. George's. It is a small school (about 90 children) and their building was destroyed--roof gone and structurally unsound. For a time, they were housing school in canvas tents, but those had been destroyed by the extremely windy conditions a few months ago. The community center across the road also has no roof, so they are now holding classes in the basement of a completely roofless church. As Kristin and I walked down there, we were struck by the overwhelming smell of fish frying and quickly noticed that this was a one room deal--kitchen, classrooms, office, etc--all in the 1 room, unfinished basement of this condemned church. The principal, Ms. Francis, greeted us graciously and explained that they would have to move out of this structure come rainy season because of the condition of the building. We looked around at the cracks in the walls as she told us that the Ministry of Education said it was not economically feasible to build a new school for these 90 children. She continued about how the thought of having a whole community with NO SCHOOL saddened her and made her worried that many children in the area wouldn't be able to pay for the commute to the nearest school. She said that her parent community is not strong, mostly because of the dismal conditions in this hard-hit area. The one parent that she thought might be able to assist in advocacy had the financial resources to move her child to another school and felt the need to do so to meet her educational needs. She also told us about a family of 5 children that had to move to live with another family because their mother's home had been destroyed and she could not care for the children. Ms. Francis told us she had recently heard a report that the children were not being taken care of well and when they did come to school, were often dirty and hungry. With a deep breath, she thanked us again for the supplies and suggested we get out of the basement because before the mosquitos (which are ubiquitous in the damp, dark environment) find our white skin. As Kristin and I left feeling helpless, shell-shocked and despondent, we passed a teacher who was sitting outside on his break playing guitar and drums with a cirlce of children. It was heartening to see such dedication and optimism in such dismal conditions. Kristin and I are feeling driven to do something to help, but feel quite helpless at this point. We plan to talk to our Peace Corps staff and are considering writing an article of awareness to submit to the local newspapers. I think many people around the world can relate to this feeling of desperately wanting change and not knowing where to start or how it will ever really happen. All we can do is keep plugging away in our little corner of the world, huh? So keep on plugging, my good people.