Will the au­thor­i­ties ever take se­ri­ously the prob­lems of the Boys’ Train­ing Cen­tre?

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - Keryn Nel­son

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.

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