After graduating in 2019 from the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Community, where he studied sociology and green engineering, Marvin Douglas, 21, of Chauncey, was not looking for “a normal job where you had to be in an office all day”.
A friend told him about Richmond Vale Academy (RVA), and it was the first time that he was hearing about “such a school” in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG).
Douglas decided it was an opportunity to interact with people from different nationalities and cultures, right in SVG, as well as for him to travel.
He volunteered under RVA’s “Fighting Shoulder to Shoulder with The Poor” programme, which included three months of preparation at RVA, six months of teaching people in Belize to build home gardens, and one month of evaluation in SVG.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Douglas ended up spending eight months in Belize, where he and a team member, a French national, only completed six of the 15 gardens they had hoped to. However, his time in Auguacate, a Mayan village, was life-changing.
Douglas and his French teammate were in charge of mobilising the village to be active in the fight against climate change and to foster greater cooperation among farmers.
“My knowledge grew much wider because I had an opportunity to be in a country that speaks several languages — English, Spanish, Garifuna, Mayan,” Douglas recalls.
“I was able to see that there is a lot to be learnt outside of St. Vincent; there is more knowledge to be grasped and understood. It helped me to open my mind to different things and digest reality because what we are accustomed to in SVG is different from what they could call ‘normal’ in Belize.”
It was the first time that Douglas was travelling outside of SVG and it was an eye-opener.
“Even though we neglect foreign languages in school, somewhere in our lives we encounter it again and we regret not paying more attention. That opportunity helped me to see that knowing another language is more beneficial to yourself and your future.”
But in a more immediate and tangible way, Douglas’ experience in Belize has helped him to land a job as a project leader at RVA. And, whereas in Belize he received a stipend sufficient to meet his living needs, he currently has a job.
Like Douglas, Phyziah Craigg, 21, who is originally from Queen’s Drive, but lives in Chateaubelair, and Curland Baynes, 19, who has lived in multiple places in St. Vincent, as well as in Canada, were also intrigued when they learned that RVA has a six-month sponsored programme for Vincentians.
The two Vincentians are able to study at RVA, because the academy has secured a number of grants that fund the six-month training for Vincentians, even as non-nationals have to pay the full cost.
“It is quite a unique opportunity because here, we have students from up to 20 countries,” says Stina Herberg, director of RVA, adding that RVA raises funds from a variety of partners for scholarships and community projects.
“Even if you live in Chateaubelair and come to Richmond Vale Academy, it is different studying in an international environment,” said Herberg, who has been involved in education for over 30 years.
Baynes graduated in June from Emmanuel High School, Mesopotamia, but, like Craigg, began his secondary education at SMSS. He studied science and business and plans to attend the community college, but not immediately.
Baynes and Craigg are enrolled in RVA’s climate compliance programme. “The diverse culture is very good,” Craigg said, adding that a Columbian schoolmate is teaching them Spanish as an extra-curricular activity.
“The programme is very good. I can learn a lot. It is a good way to get out of the shell that I am in and become a more sociable person, learn more about cultures, traditions, and how people do other things,” Baynes said.
Since this is climate compliance, I think it is a push toward certain goals and after completing this programme, it gives a better perspective on what job I should get into, probably as a diver.
On the other hand, Craigg, who graduated from Petit Bordel Secondary School, knew about RVA because his mother works there.
In April, he enrolled in RVA’s nine-day ERASMUS programme about ocean protection. He was trying to decide whether to apply for the six-month programme in which he enrolled last month.
Craigg studied economics, accounting and management of business and wanted to become an economist or accountant, but over time, has developed an interest in science and the environment.
At the RVA, Craigg and Baynes are on the climate compliance team, which includes a mangrove, vetiver and sea grapes project. Next February, they will undergo PADI certified training in scuba diving, which he said would be a great addition to his résumé.
“It is a good opportunity to get this education without having to put family into expense,” Baynes said.
Meanwhile, Herberg said she is pleased that RVA has been able to raise funds to enable the participation of even more Vincentians in its programmes.
“We live in a globalised world and we are a tiny country and having that opportunity. Live among people who think differently and speak differently, besides the subject here is global poverty and resilience, I think this is something we should do in every school,” Herberg said.
She said that students should be exposed to issues relating to mitigating and responding to climate change. “That is very much what RVA is about.”
Herberg said that the main project for Vincentians students began in 2012, with the introduction of a decade-long, stand-in action conference called the St. Vincent Climate Compliance Conference
“It is a six-month programme, beginning with one month of intensive study of ecological farming, food, water and energy security,” Herberg said.
For the next four months, the students continue to study but the number of hours of classroom or practical sessions are reduced.
They will be involved with project leaders on continuously assisting people to create their ecological backyard gardens, teaching people the benefits of having them, health-wise and in terms of the environment.”
Some students are also involved in coastal projection activities including planting coastal trees.
“It is groundbreaking what we are teaching here, but because schools are so set in stone how you should learn, it is almost mind-blowing the concept we have of education,” Herberg said.
She said that two former Vincentians students are involved in the planting of coral gardens, while another student, Tomika Caesar helped to found and is running a chain of second-hand clothing shops in Guatemala.
Herberg also praised Douglas’ graduation from student to project leader. “It is good to have international project leaders; they bring something good to the table, but where we are heading, we want to have more Vincentian students.”
People interested in enrolling in RVA’s programmes can apply via the schools website www.richmondvale.org