Our Readers' Opinions
August 28, 2012
The facts about Lower Bay School

Tue, Aug 28, 2012

Editor: As one of the trustees of the Lower Bay School, I feel it is time that some of the myths, innuendos and rumours surrounding this controversy be dealt with in an honest and impartial manner. I do hope you will verify the facts and assist us in making them known.{{more}}

The ownership of the property in question at Lower Bay, Bequia is vested in the Incorporated Trustees of Lower Bay School – see deed No. 1585 of 1986 in the St Vincent Registry.

It should be known that this property did not drop like manna from heaven. Its acquisition, rebirth from a derelict bakery, and maintenance over the years was a result of one of the most successful grassroots community projects ever conducted in St Vincent and the Grenadines. It was started by a few parents who were concerned about the quality of education of their children; within a few years, there were many more parents and children. Foreign visitors to Bequia were impressed by the passion and dedication of the founders and assistance started to pour in. The derelict bakery was acquired mostly through donations from both private individuals and foundations in the U.S.A. and Canada. Then the aid agencies got involved. C.I.D.A. gave a grant for the transformation of the old bakery into a bright and cheerful facility for early childhood education. The work on the ground was done exclusively by Bequia construction workers, mostly by parents of children enrolled in the school. All labour was done at a discounted rate and some plumbing and electrical work was done pro-bono by parents. Mothers were constantly involved in fund-raising activities, the annual school fair, and the Christmas pageants.

Children who could not afford to pay the fees were sponsored through The Bequia Mission (Canadian) and Friends of Lower Bay School (U.S.A). The school was never political, nor did it espouse any religion. Any form of proselytizing was not on the agenda.

After ten years of very successful operation, the school was forced to close. The trustees were now faced with the need to find the right organization to carry on the tradition of education and community development that had been established by the parents and by the foreign donors. From a number of applicants, Rotary was chosen because at the time their membership included men who were involved in various community service organizations, the Bequia Tourism Association, and the Bequia Sailing Club. More importantly, they were sponsors of the Skills Training Program and the B.S.C. program for young sailors. In addition, we felt that being an international service organization, they would have more access to international funding for projects.

However, those programs are no more. Nor does the current membership reflect any of the concerns that one would expect of a reputable community service organization. Therefore, the trustees decided to terminate their contract. At the same time, we discovered that once again, Bequia parents were seriously concerned about their children’s education and that a new school called Paradise Primary had emerged that needed space. We were pleased to be able to offer it to them for use starting September 1, but it seems this is not to be. We have been blocked from accessing our own building; some people have tried to make the issue political; the Mitchell family has been libeled and verbally abused. Quite apart from Sir James’ political career, the various Mitchell family members have an impeccable record of public service in such community organizations as the Bequia Tourism Association, Bequia Sailing Club, Bequia Heritage Foundation, Bequia Basketball Association, National Trust, Bequia Hospital Committee and Paradise Primary. Although the trustees have signed an agreement with Paradise Primary, the trustees retain ownership and can terminate the contract if the agreed terms are not met. The insinuation that we have “given” it to the Mitchells because one of several of its volunteer administrators is a Mitchell is insulting to our integrity as trustees.

Meanwhile, “squatters’ rights” are being claimed – not in the name of Rotary, but in the name of one individual. If he were to succeed in gaining possession of the property, imagine my feelings, as someone in whom such a trust has been placed, at having to tell those parents who worked so hard, and those donors who gave so much, that this community asset is now in private hands.

Should there be any doubt about the seriousness of the need for better educational opportunities in Bequia, one need only check the number of parents who pay the $325.00 – $365.00 ferry fare monthly to send their children to better schools in St Vincent.

Yours in good faith,
Marie Kingston, Trustee