Twenty four teenagers and four teachers arrived at Richmond Vale Academy on April 2nd 2018 to take part an educational project covering climate change, disaster management and biodiversity.  At first what seemed a daunting prospect for the twelve Vincentian students and their twelve counterparts from the UK David Ross Academies soon became an enjoyable learning experience.  Friendships blossomed as the students learnt about environmental issues facing their new friends from different parts of the world.

Classroom meetings were complemented by beach cleaning sessions to clear beaches of debris harmful to marine and coastal flora and fauna.  Trees were planted to help stabilize coastal erosion.  Hikes and visits into the interior highlighted damage caused by flash floods in extreme weather causing landslides destroying homes, crops and even lives.  Swimming in a pool below a waterfall provided a welcome diversion.  Other highlights included the arduous Soufriere volcano hike.  Many attributed overcoming this challenging hike to the encouragement from team member with all exhilarated to reach the top and have the stamina for the descent.  A visit to Owia to experience Carib culture and see the manufacturing of arrowroot gave an insight into the heritage of the original inhabitants of St Vincent and the Grenadines.  To experience the full biodiversity of the islands the DRET group travelled to Mustique and Union Island.  The Tobago Cays National Park was visited to learn about turtle and other marine conservation.  A visit to the Gecko Project supported by the St Vincent and Grenadines Preservation Fund gave an interesting insight into the need to protect this species endemic to Union Island only.

Commitments were made by the students to protect the environment and now aware of the dangers of plastics, to reduce  the use of plastic items and dispose of them responsibly.

Many thanks to the David Ross Educational Trust for making it possible for the UK students to attend.  Without their participation, it is unlikely that the Vincentian students would be aware of how very special and fragile their environment and culture has become and develop the strategies needed to protect them.  Sincere appreciation to our donors in enabling the participation of the Vincentian group and the funding for all programme activities.  A very special thank you to Richmond Vale Academy for the third successful environmental education project.

Environmental Project Richmond Vale Academy, 2018

“It was truly fascinating to have the opportunity to build such strong bonds with a group of people that I would have never spoken to if it wasn’t for this trip, and I can truthfully say that I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to meet all of the Vincentian and British students that I did.”

This year we are delighted to share the experiences of two of the students, in their own words.

Oliver Halford

Well, where do I start? I would like to begin by thanking the David Ross Education Trust along with the Mustique Charitable Trust, without whom this trip would never have been possible. Also to anyone who may be sat reading this who is about to embark on this trip, make the most of it, take it all in because it will be over before you know it. This trip is a once in a lifetime opportunity and one that I will remember forever. I walked into that room at Grantham for an information evening with a friend from school, who I was lucky enough to be placed on the trip with, to meet 10 complete strangers and I left Gatwick airport on 19th April with 11 strong friendships that will last a lifetime, all of which I owe to this trip.

I think a good place to start would be the first day. After each of our individual journeys, we all arrived at the Gatwick Premier Inn for the start of what would be an incredible experience. The night consisted of getting to know the 10 strangers that I would spend the next few weeks with and settling into this new group. Mr. Mason and Miss Moorcroft did a brilliant job of preparing activities and giving us the chance to get to know each other as well as allowing us to talk amongst ourselves and become acquainted in our own time. That night I shared a room with Kai Campbell, who alongside Oliver Chiaramonte (Ole), I spent the majority of the trip with and forged a friendship that would last the entire experience and further. The whole group got on incredibly well but the bond I formed with these two was my strongest and one I shall cherish forever.

The next day we set off and later that night arrived at Richmond Vale Academy (RVA), where we would spend the majority of our time. I have to confess that on the first night here I wondered what I had gotten myself into but these feelings soon vanished when we began our activities and adapted into this life that was so different to my normal life the next day. It was here that we met the incredible staff at RVA, who all did an amazing job of making us feel welcome and ensuring we had the best time possible whilst also teaching us so much. A special mention must go to Selly who in many people’s words was a ‘true legend’, who taught us all a lot, inspired us and also helped us to complete many things, including perhaps the most challenging and rewarding experience of the trip, the hike up La Soufriere, the volcano.

That day was one of both the best and most challenging days in St Vincent. We all had to prepare both mentally and physically to be ready for this challenge. Whilst the hike to the summit was a struggle and an incredible effort, the support that the entire team gave one other to reach the top really encouraged and helped everyone a lot. When one person was struggling, we made sure they had someone with them to push them to reach the top and when we eventually did, the reward of that achievement partnered with the amazing views made it all worthwhile. And I mean, how many people can say they’ve hiked to the top of a volcano?

Over the course of the entire trip we were also given the chance to learn about the issues affecting the area and our world. We had classes on global warming, plastic pollution, the use of herbs instead of medicines and the problems facing the coral reefs. Although initially I was hesitant to be spending my limited time on the trip in ‘classes’, I was soon proven wrong that this would be a dull moment. Everyone at RVA did everything they could to ensure we had fun whilst learning truly important things that we could take action on ourselves.

Environmental Project Richmond Vale Academy, 2018

We had the chance whilst there to take action on the things we’d learned and take part in both beach clean ups and tree planting. The opportunity to take action on issues that we are all aware of but never act upon was enlightening and made us all think about how we could act and make a difference in our own lives when we got home. Again, another experience that opened my mind and despite how it may sound to some people my age, was incredibly fun.

After visiting Kingstown, hiking to see beautiful sights, learning about issues in the area and ways to prevent them and taking action ourselves, it came to our last few days at RVA, in which we got to spend scuba diving. This was yet another personal highlight. It was an experience that I thoroughly enjoyed and that I hope to do again! We had the chance to see the coral and marine life up close and again, do something most people never get the chance to do.

Then, our time at RVA was over and it was time to take a trip on a catamaran over to Union Island for our last few days. Stopping off at Mustique on the way, we had the opportunity to see some stunning views and learn more about the way the Mustique Charitable Trust are working to help the island and the environment, an eye opening opportunity. When we arrived at Union Island, after sharing a room with Kai and Ole at RVA, I found I would spend the last days together sharing a room with Kai in what we liked to call ‘The Penthouse Suite’. Whilst there we had the chance to visit Tobago Cays, a marine park and turtle sanctuary with some beautiful and stunning views! We also were able to go on a hike to see a species of Gecko that can only be found on Union Island and we spent our final night on a beach, late at night, turtle watching, where despite not actually seeing any turtles, we had an amazing time.

And then it was over. We travelled home, met our parents and I said goodbye to the friends that I’d spent almost 3 weeks with. These are friendships that I know will last a lifetime. As well as these friendships, I have been given the opportunity to make incredible memories that I will treasure forever! I have also learnt a lot about myself and been given new skills and knowledge that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I learnt that if you see something needs changing, then take action as even the smallest thing can make a huge difference. I also learnt to appreciate the things we have in life as other places have it very different and being able to see an entirely different culture really opened my eyes. This is all thanks to DRET and the Mustique Charitable trust who I would like to thank again for giving me this amazing opportunity.

Shauna Vine

Environmental Project Richmond Vale Academy, 2018

After two and a half weeks of intense emotional and physical challenges, I can easily say that this trip has been a truly eye opening experience for me personally. Not only did I meet a group of 11 amazing people from across the trust, I continued to be intrigued by the dramatic differences between the British and Vincentian cultures. Although the trip was, at times, incredibly difficult to pursue, I feel a strong sense of accomplishment knowing that I completed it and I have left the Caribbean with a collection of experiences and lessons that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

It was strange to me that I got along with the other people in my group as quickly as I did – but it seemed as though the overwhelming sense of anxiety I felt around my other teammates drifted away within a matter of days and all conversation came naturally. As I anticipated, it took me a while to get used to the way of life over in the Caribbean, though with the help of the Vincentian students and my fellow British team, I was able to quickly adjust and continue to build friendships with everyone around me. It was truly fascinating to have the opportunity to build such strong bonds with a group of people that I would have never spoken to if it wasn’t for this trip, and I can truthfully say that I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to meet all of the Vincentian and British students that I did.

Before this trip, I had never really known exactly what we were doing to our planet. I didn’t realise just how much we are damaging the Earth by simply using disposable cups and plastic bags. It was honestly heart breaking to see just how our carelessness can impact the wildlife and the environment in general.

One of the experiences that I treasure the most is the beach clean-up. Before this, I’d never thought about just how much our excessive use of plastic was harming the environment, but after seeing first hand just how quickly the waste can build up on the beaches, I feel as though I will continue to make a conscious effort to reduce my plastic usage.

Additionally, I’d never climbed a volcano before. The hike up La Soufrière was something that I found particularly difficult due to the fact that I was feeling quite ill the night before and the morning of the climb. Although I wasn’t feeling 100% throughout the journey, I feel extremely proud of myself (and everyone else) for having the stamina and persistence to complete the hike and to be able to do it with such positive attitudes. Not only will I never forget the amazing views from the top, I will never forget the sense of accomplishment that I felt knowing that I’d completed the task I’d been dreading since we arrived.

In my opinion, this trip has been one of the best things I’ve ever been able to take part in. There was not a day where I wasn’t learning and I had the opportunity to partake in so many activities that I would never be able to take part in back home in England. It’s amazing to know that my team and I have made a difference to the environment in St. Vincent – no matter how small our impact was. Since coming home, I have tried my hardest to implement the Vincentian ways of life in as many ways as possible – whether this is being extra cautious when recycling or simply using reusable bottles instead of my typical plastic ones. Words cannot describe just how thankful I am for being able to take part in this incredible experience. Not only have I met a group of lifelong friends, I have gained so much from this trip and it will be something that I will treasure forever.

Thank you so much for everything! I had the most fantastic two and a half weeks and I cannot thank you enough,

Environmental Project Richmond Vale Academy, 2018

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