Em­brac­ing Com­mu­nity Farm­ing Roots to Im­pact Fu­ture Gen­er­a­tions

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By

Alicia Valasse

Wed­nes­day 8th July, 2015 marked the com­mence­ment of what many hailed as a new way for­ward for the Des Bar­ras Com­bined School and the Des Bar­ras Com­mu­nity. A cer­e­mony was held on that day to rec­og­nize the in­valu­able con­tri­bu­tions of the stu­dents, an­cil­lary staff, par­ents, busi­nesses and other com­mu­nity mem­bers to­wards the de­vel­op­ment of the school. The inau­gu­ral awards cer­e­mony, which took place on the school’s com­pound, was also at­tended by ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cials, prin­ci­pals from Ed­u­ca­tion Dis­trict One, and the par­lia­men­tary rep­re­sen­ta­tive Hon. Alv­ina Reynolds.

But this was no or­di­nary cer­e­mony. In 2009, the Des Bar­ras Com­bined School with an en­roll­ment of only 21, faced the threat of clo­sure. Iron­i­cally, this would be the same year in which the school would at­tain the high­est mean at the Com­mon En­trance Ex­am­i­na­tions and, for the first time in the school’s history, a stu­dent - Ms. Vic­to­ria Al­berty would fea­ture promi­nently on the list of top per­form­ers. Protests from com­mu­nity mem­bers and those who knew of the school’s im­por­tance to the com­mu­nity would halt in these plans but the threats of pos­si­ble clo­sure would con­tinue to loom over the com­mu­nity for a long time.

In 2015, the en­roll­ment stands at 35 and plans have been ini­ti­ated to bring in stu­dents from the nearby com­mu­nity of Gar­rand in the new aca­demic year. These plans were re­vealed by the school’s prin­ci­pal Mr. Ezra Joseph who an­tic­i­pates that the en­roll­ment will in­crease to nearly 50. While many per­ceive the small en­roll­ment as a case where the com­mu­nity mem­bers have unan­i­mously de­cided to halt pro­cre­ation ef­forts, this is ac­tu­ally a twisted tale in­volv­ing the re­lo­ca­tion of com­mu­nity mem­bers, un­avail­abil­ity of land and mi­gra­tion. For years, Des Bar­ras ( which is lo­cated in a myth­i­cal lo­ca­tion known as “Be­hind God’s Back”) has silently fought an un­usual prob­lem - un­avail­abil­ity of land for con­struc­tion. As a re­sult, some com­mu­nity mem­bers were re-lo­cated to Resinard (Gar­rand) through the PROUD ini­tia­tive while many oth­ers chose to mi­grate be­cause of per­ceived prim­i­tive in­fra­struc­ture, em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties else­where, and love in­ter­ests out­side the com­mu­nity. To­day, the in­fra­struc­ture has been mod­ern­ized in most in­stances; roads which were un­fit for don­key’s hooves are friend­lier, the ef­fects of droughts con­stantly evade that part of the is­land and cable­vi­sion is present but re­stricted to one telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pany.

While many ques­tion why any sane gov­ern­ment con­tin­ues to fi­nance a school with less than forty stu­dents in the midst of a cat­e­gory five eco­nomic hur­ri­cane, the school con­tin­ues to prove that the gov­ern­ment’s in­vest­ment is not a waste. More­over, the in­sti­tu­tion has part­nered with a non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion known as “Hands Across the Sea” to as­sist in the re­fur­bish­ment of its li­brary. In a com­mu­nity where Cre­ole is the first lan­guage of many per­sons and few re­ceive the ben­e­fits of early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion, the prin­ci­pal sees this as a nec­es­sary step to­wards the im­prove­ment of lit­er­acy rates.

The prin­ci­pal also re­vealed plans to erect a green­house on the com­pound. Des Bar­ras, he ex­plained, is a farm­ing com­mu­nity and it would be sad if the stu­dents did not ap­pre­ci­ate such a fact. It would be un­for­tu­nate if they did not un­der­stand the value of till­ing the soil and how to do so. Years ago, com­mu­nity mem­bers gained rev­enue mostly through farm­ing ini­tia­tives at the Grande Anse, Lou­vet and Mar­quis Es­tates. As these farm­ing en­ter­prises closed, the “green gold” and co­pra pro­duc­tion would take over to pro­vide much needed re­lief. To­day, many com­mu­nity mem­bers are sea­soned hor­ti­cul­tur­ists and many oth­ers are in­volved in the plant­ing and pro­cess­ing of cas­sava in the com­mu­nity. Backyard gar­dens are com­mon (no doubt as­sist­ing in the re­duc­tion of food bills) and many per­sons are in­volved in the rear­ing of cat­tle, poul­try, goats, sheep and pigs. The com­mu­nity is also home to an or­ganic farm op­er­ated by rasta­far­i­ans – Zim­babwe Roots Farm. This is the com­mu­nity - it was built by farm­ers through farm­ing and the school hopes to nur­ture a gen­er­a­tion which ap­pre­ci­ates its farm­ing roots.

Mr. Ezra Joseph also hopes to etch deep in the hearts of com­mu­nity mem­bers and stu­dents a love for ed­u­ca­tion, an un­wa­ver­ing love for the farm­ing roots of the com­mu­nity, a love for com­mu­nity-build­ing and re­mod­el­ing, a deeper ap­pre­ci­a­tion for where we came from and an em­brace­ment of where we are go­ing to­gether. Per­haps this plan to bring the gar­den into the class­room may serve to in­spire oth­ers to see the ed­u­ca­tion of our na­tion’s chil­dren out­side of the class­room’s walls – in our gar­dens, on the con­struc­tion sites and in our restau­rants. Pro­po­nents of con­struc­tivism have spo­ken of the need to bal­ance book knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ences … but few lis­tened. Our pri­vate and public sec­tors of­ten speak of the wave of school-leavers who knock on their doors wear­ing only caps of book knowl­edge and swing­ing un­skilled hands… but few lis­ten. It now ap­pears that the re-lo­ca­tion of the class­rooms at this school will in­evitably be the nail to pierce the hole in the un­em­ploy­ment bucket whilst open­ing the win­dows of self-em­ploy­ment and en­trepreneurism.

Sports­man and Sportswoman of Year at Des Bar­ras Com­bined School proudly dis­play­ing their awards

and cer­tifi­cates.

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