Will the authorities ever take seriously the problems of the Boys’ Training Centre?
Behind several beat-up structures along Saint Lucia's roadways is a wellintentioned, ambitious proposal laden with the attractive prospects for positive change. Darnell Boxill's relationship with the Boys' Training Centre—a rehabilitation facility for young boys who have contravened the law— dates back many years to the time he, along with his sister and friend, would take lunches to the facility on Sundays. Boxill's most recent contribution to the organisation came to fruition in 2018 when his threeperson party, now named Third Sector Development Foundation, officially received US$45,553 from the Global Environment Facility for a proposed aquaponics project at the BTC grounds.
This came after a grant of US$3,417 was issued for the project's planning, which involved various stakeholders. The aquaponics project was to work in conjunction with the OECS USAID-funded hydroponics plant that was erected beside it. Together, the two would not only facilitate the breeding of tilapia, and teh growing of lettuce and other produce, but it was also expected that at the completion of the project there would be “a fully managed aquaponics facility delivering organic produce through a process that provides job training and assistance for boys in becoming gainfully employed citizens of Saint Lucia”.
Once the aquaponics pools were set up, things became operational thanks to Marlon Williams, Agriculture Instructor at the BTC, who is currently on vacation. Assisting Mr. Williams is Samantha Joseph, BTC Head of the Education Department, who gave a report on the progress of the project and its setbacks: “We have been able to harvest quite a bit of our tilapia which we used for the centere so that was a good yield. And also, we were able to get Chinese cabbage, although we had some iron deficiency. But we knew why and what we have to do. In terms of the lettuce, we were able to harvest three times.”
So far so good. Joseph went on: “Right now we are on a lull. We're short-staffed; we have persons on vacation and others whose contracts were not renewed. We also have repairs going on, thanks to damage by Storm Kirk to some of the items down there, including our ponds being dismantled. Right now it looks abandoned but it's not. We are in the process of obtaining and purchasing everything we need to do our repairs for both projects—the hydroponics and aquaponics.” The cost of repairs is being paid for by the government.
According to Boxill: “A second grant I want to get would be used to enclose both the aquaponics and hyrdoponics systems so that there's a greater level of security. That way we can determine whether there's an outside factor or internal factor damaging the facility.”
Perhaps the most pressing dilemma confronting the parties involved—Boxill, Ms. Joseph and GEF's National Co-ordinator Mr Giles Romulus—is the lack of human resources at the BTC. Said Ms Joseph: “Prior to the BTC getting the aquaponics and hydroponics project placed at the centre, the agriculture teacher was there to instruct and guide the boys. It was more like class; they came in for two hours, then headed back to another class. But it is taking too much out of us to deal with two big projects with no labourers. What happens is the teacher is there to guide and then has to come in on weekends and off-days to take care of the farms. As it stands, for now, we don't even have a groundsperson and we are sort of teaching boys to do certification programmes. It's very difficult.” She added: “It would not be fair to use the wards as the primary source of labour.”
As for GEF, which funded the aquaponics project, Romulus says they are aware of the human resource deficiencies. “This institution has been maligned for years, from the time I was a child. Some may classifiy it as a place that you should avoid but, because of that, the young boys up there really need a lot of assistance, a lot of mentoring, and we thought if this could work, we could really bring in revenue to help out.
"This project has taught us a number of lessons. There have been successes but there have also been challenges with the system and its full and total adoption into the curriculum at the BTC. Having observed that challenge, our board set up meetings with the OECS, because they had a hydroponics project nearby, and with the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Equity—which is in charge of the BTC—because we thought that the real problem there was a management problem.
“We had two meetings and at the final one the OECS agreed that funds left from the hyrdoponics project would be used to hire a consultant to do a business plan and to really get us to understand the human resource deficit that was existing at the BTC.”
Romulus says the agreement was that once the study is completed, the ministry will address the major concerns. He could not give a projected date of completion but said he would be getting in touch with the OECS soon for an update.
All three entities agree that giving up on the initiative is not their ideal option. Ms Joseph still believes the programme has merit. “The whole idea of our agriculture programme is to take the boys to some sort of certification so at least they could leave here with a certificate in some vocational skill. And we're pushing entrepreneurship. We don't want the boys to be dependent on going out there and working for others. As I said, we have had our successes but we have also had our challenges. I do hope they can be addressed as soon as possible.”
For some, passing along the Massade Road, the GEF- and OECS-initiated aquaponics and hydroponics facilities at the local Boys' Training Centre have become two eyesores.