Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Meant To Be

A sunny"home" for an RCP mom's Earth Box.
Volunteers gathering for breakfast; thought of the day; the journal reading; loading in the bus; off to our projects - it has been a long time for me since my last Global Volunteers program, but I feel at home again. 
Meeting the staff at the RCP; walking through the village; smiles & greetings from villagers I have never met before; meeting young fathers & mothers in their home; playing & singing with their children; helping where I can; holding a baby as a tourist bus drives by knowing how lucky I am to be welcomed into this community & the lives of the people of St. Lucia while they just peer through the glass window never knowing how special the St. Lucians truly are - I am blessed.  

Returning to the hotel, meeting with the Global Volunteers staff - my fellow staff - from China, from India, from Peru, from Poland, from Tanzania, from the US - that alone makes me smile! We talk about ways Global Volunteers can help improve the quality of the life of a child - such important work, I feel priviledged to be part of such a group. 

Joining the cirlce of volunteers, feeling their excitment about the work they are doing, listening to their stories, hearing about their challenges, their successes, sharing their passion to make a difference - I am moved by their spirit. 

Meeting the team for dinner; breathtaking views, delicious food, wonderful conversation, looking at the million dollar boats, thinking after today I am truly richer then they are - this is what I am supposed to do, this is where I am meant to be, I am home again.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Work and Routine

“My son Ajohny enjoys watering the plants.  He is two years and four months old.  I hold him up to the Earth Box, he waters it.” Zarana proudly pointed at her Earth Box, which was flourishing on a board creatively invented by one of her brothers.  With a beautiful smile, Zarana said “I love Earth Box.”  Another RCP mom, Karen, was a lot outgoing, chatting with us and holding her 6-month old son Nature, “ When I harvest cucumbers, I shared with my neighbors.  I gave each one of them one cucumber.  She laughed and continued “now they are jealous of my Earth Box….oh, yes, I want to have another one!  It is easy to take care of.  I want to plant tomatoes and spinach.”

The visits to eleven RCP moms’ homes to check on Earth Boxes were the highlight of my day.  Their smiles, enthusiasm, excitement and pride are contagious.  

Our day started with a routine 7:30 am breakfast.  Fresh smiles, morning greetings, discussions about the Spa Day and other projects and perseverant search for coffee, sugar or banana jam, patient waiting for the last basket of French toast decorated our breakfast room in a Global Volunteers’ way.  After we heard from Carol and Edith yesterday’s journal and the message of the day, Bud and Warren announced the transportation arrangement.  The very noticeable changes from yesterday were that announcement was made only twice and Carl’s name was mentioned only once.  And even the electronic device caught on one of the characteristics of an effective team, “cooperative”.  The document didn’t disappear.  

Team 7 is ready!  Up the hill went the three vans, driven by Warren, Bud and Ean.  Edward and I were joining Dawn and Wayne in the Earth Box team, to visit RCP mom’s homes.  Four of us met Carol and JoAnne at the library, waiting to be picked up by one of the caregivers.  We were told one of them had left early today to go to the other side of the mountain.  The librarian welcomed us and offered us the meeting table and chairs.  As the Earth Box was trying to obtain insights from the RCP team about the moms, the latter tried to pick on our brain about ideas about the SPA day, at one point, even to convince Edward he can be good at foot massage.  Soon, one of the caregivers arrived and asked the Earth Box team to follow her.  She was obviously aware of the assignment of our team and was on the task to show us around.  A big applauds to Warren and Bud’s coordination!  And great appreciation, on be half of all the Global Volunteers staff on this team, to volunteers for your flexibility and for sharing what you have learned about the project with us, as each one of us rotates to different assignments.  

Then it returned to the beginning of my journal.  We visited a total of eleven moms and observed a consensus of pride and excitement about the earth box they have received and interest in receiving more earth boxes in the future.  Some of them face the challenge with space.  A couple of them have insect problems with the crops.  A few other were confused about when would be the right time to harvest.  However, most of moms seemed having mastered the basics of growing in an Earth Box.  Dawn and Wayne worked together as a team, rotating between asking questions and taking notes.  Edward’s input was very much appreciated by the moms.  

We returned to the hotel around noon and started staff meeting at 1:00 pm.  We discussed the interdependence of the 12 essential services, under three overarching categories and the critical importance of comprehensive services to local communities.  After a few staff presented on each category, with research data, presentations and videos, countries managers shared the progress made in the services delivered in each of their countries.  Conversations continued about challenges encountered, hopes for the future and follow-up actions.  We also took a field trip to visit Mr. Henry who is a retired agriculture extension officer.  He has opened his seeding company in 2010 and has been providing seedling to the Earth Box team.  Mr. Henry impressed all of us, with his knowledge about crops, seedling techniques, as well as his generous and genuine support to the project.  

At the 5 pm meeting, we heard from all service projects about their day.  The field event had affected quite a few volunteers’ schedule.  Many of them joined their students and teachers and cheered for their teams, while others returned to the hotel and spent the afternoon in the resource room.  Aside from comments about today being another good day, it seems that all of us have started to learn the ropes.  Debbi shared with us her observation of the lunch program at the secondary school.  Carl talked about spending a lot of time with two aggressive boys.  At different locations, challenges were handled graciously with understanding, flexibility and cultural sensitivity.  Team 7 is striving.  

Marigot Bay has become our home, soothing our tiredness from the day and embrace our commitment towards serving the community and creativity.  What can be better than a dinner, with a beautiful view of the bay at Julietta’s restaurant?  The evening ended with the China country presentation.  I would say the chocolate marketing strategy worked well, but I should have listened to JoAnn to distribute them at the end, rather at the beginning. 
-Hu Di


Monday, February 11, 2013

First Day of Community Projects

Today dawned bright and beautiful at JJ’s Paradise hotel in lovely St. Lucia. The day held a special air of excitement as all the Global Volunteers looked forward to our first REAL day of work, with our Anse La Raye partners.

Anticipation mounted as we quickly dispensed with breakfast and received our transportation assignments: preschool, infant school, and primary school teams in the first van; no make that secondary school and earth box teams in the first van and health education in the second; no, roving care givers, preschool and secondary school- well, you get the picture, and once again our fearless leaders, Bud and Warren provided us a good laugh at their expense.

Several of us took the opportunity while waiting for a van to return and hailed a water taxi across our pristine bay to change money at the Marigot Bank, can life be any more fun??

Then we were all off to our volunteer work assignments.  Country leaders and judge Kathy plus Steve, Joann and I met with Lucy Lubrin-Gerard, director of the roving care program which is run by the Ministry of Education Program Preschool Services of St. Lucia.  Lucy is a strong, capable administrator with a heart of gold.  She is a commanding presence in the Anse La Raye community as evidenced by her ability to simply step into the street of the village and call to two loudly swearing women, “Darlings, Darlings, Darlings, you must not do that”.  The fighting ended and each went her own way mumbling.

Lucy recounts statistics of negative influences on families, like reciting a grocery list: 22 % unemployment, no money for families to pay for preschool, recent passage of VAT of 15% Value Added Tax on all services, when none existed before. Domestic Violence, lack of social networks, incest, alcohol and cocaine abuse, high HIV rate, and more. Yet she remains optimistic, she is deeply appreciative of and committed to Global Volunteers for its role in supporting her programs.  She strongly advocates for her paraprofessional roving caregivers who are dedicated to serving their moms and babies even though they themselves only earn a stipend barely enough for them to survive on.  Always focused on the Mom’s personal lives, she embraces the Global Volunteers-inspired “spa day”, and encourages us to do it again. 

After our indoctrination by Lucy and our lunch which we shared with Lucy, Joann and I were pared with our individual care givers.  Joann went roving with Abna to two homes.  Channelle and I went to two homes, the first in which the Mom was not at home, the second was a five-month old boy and his mom (for confidentiality purposes, we will not discuss the specifics of the family situation in this report).

There was open acceptance by the mothers to allow us as Global Volunteers to play with their babies.  During our visit we noted the childs’ developmental stage, the mother’s interaction with the baby, the home environment and especially the genuine love the care givers expressed toward the babies.  Channelle sang, played with puppets, and entertained the baby while easing him into my arms, while I joined in and completed her song.   Just as easily she moved the infant to his mother and indicated that the silent reserved mother pick up the tune and finish by singing to her son and finally placing a book in the mother’s hands.  About 35 minutes after we arrived with Mom reading to her son, Channelle and I sang a good-bye song and backed out the door, waving to a smiling baby and Mom. 

This is one example in the monumental task of bringing change to one community to one Mom and one baby at a time.  Lucy tells us that she and her three caregivers are serving 46 families at this time.  That is 12-15 for each roving caregiver, two to three times a week. Clearly, Global Volunteers' continued involvement is central to this effort.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Day 2: Organizing Ourselves into a Team

6 am: I awake with the excitement of a child on Christmas morning today. After months of anticipation and preparation, It’s Launch Day for team 7 in the St Lucian Project.  A hearty breakfast provides energy for our day ahead and many of us travel to Anse La Raye for the first time, to join in worship at the Catholic Church. Encouraged to sit among the parishioners, I choose a seat near the front by an open window. I take in the beauty of the building, the tropical flowers outside the window and the church bells sounding the start of the service. Within minutes, melodious song and soulful voices soar to the rafters and spill out through the windows.

I marvel at the genuine kindness of our new community as they so warmly receive us in worship along with them. Pastor Raj shares the story of Jesus choosing the 12 disciples to be fishers of men from the gospel of Luke. He reminds us that each of us is called to a mission and it is up to us to respond to the call. 

Following worship, we gather with community leaders in the parish hall. After our team introductions, the individual leaders share with us about the various projects in which they work around the town. The excitement of our mission continues to build as we catch a glimpse at the journey ahead of us for the next 2 weeks.

Revived by a delicious lunch of codfish, vegetables, and fruit our team begins the next phase of orientation. We are each asked to share 2 ideas for developing team goals and an engaging brainstorming session ensues. Emerging victoriously, the context of our journey is summarized by five overarching goals: 

1.      To support Community Learning & Enhance Health
2.      To learn about St. Lucian culture
3.      To be immersed in the St. Lucia project
4.      To leave something good behind
5.      To have FUN!
Concluding our goal-setting session, the specific project teams gather to review prior team reports and goals & objectives for the days ahead.  Four more team members: Amy, Hu-Di, SuEllen & Edith join us just prior to dinner.  We are thankful for their safe journey and their presence among our growing team family. Upon washing up for dinner, I come out on my balcony and look towards the dining area.   Observing laughter and multiple light-hearted conversations among my new friends, I realize we are indeed blossoming into a team, ready to immerse ourselves into this project: ready to teach, to learn, to share with one another and the radiant people of Anse La Raye. 

Following a scrumptious meal of local foods by our gracious hosts at JJ’s, Bud shares details about the creation and vision of the St. Lucia Project.  Nothing happens by chance and I am certain that just as Pastor Raj said this morning, we are all called to a mission, surely Global Volunteers has been called to come to St. Lucia. I am amazed that for such a time as this, each of us with unique talents and passions has come together, now united to contribute our piece of the puzzle in this monumental movement.

Global Volunteers, Team 7 St. Lucia

Who can describe the feeling of excitement preparing to land in a country you’ve never been to before?  You get that first glimpse out of the airplane window of the numerous green mountains seemingly dropped from above competing to be more grand than the crystal blue Carribean.  St. Lucia—Where are we? What are we doing here?  Whatever it is, it was intriguing enough to pilgrimage volunteers from all corners of the world to focus on this place.
About 10 volunteers assembled over a three-hour period at the Hewanorra International Airport, all grateful to have landed amid reports of over 3000 flights cancelled yesterday in the U.S. Northeast.  We learned some didn’t make the cut before the snowstorm closed the area and they will arrive over the next two days. 
Three vehicles of people and one vehicle of bags headed out, and I’m trying to be objective here, on a harrowing ride of significant ascent on very winding roads up and around to Marigot Bay.  Our first clue of events to come should have been when driver Ean asked if anyone gets carsick.  But the fascination with the country was evident.  Lush green palms and ferns and lilys and tree tulips surrounding small brightly painted houses clinging to the sides of cliffs, some very near the road where we could first site the St. Lucian men, women, and children we will work beside and share life with.  Of course it is often the children who catch our eye and we wonder when and how we can interact.

On to JJ’s Paradise Hotel near Marigot Bay. Now descending down the driveway –can this really be this steep and rocky and narrow?  But abruptly we arrive and take that one step from van to hotel where manager Susan greets us with an icy drink of pink punch.  Rooms were assigned and we all found our cabanas-wood or cement, structures up and down the flowered paths, some old, some new, all unique. 

Very soon after we walked through the mangroves downhill towards the setting sun to JD’s restaurant, whereupon we gasped with delight at the beauty of the bay sparkling in the setting sun behind groups of palm trees and between the mountains on each side.  Ean says this is the bay where the boats are brought to be protected from hurricanes.  It is truly a safe haven from the sea and one can see that the inhabitants of this area must feel that too.  We shall see if the two weeks here engenders the same safe-haven feeling in us-as volunteers in this wild and seemingly uncontrolled place where not a straight line nor a flat surface nor a numerical grid of any sort exists.

We were greeted by the dynamic duo of Bud [Philbrook] and Warren [Williams]. Warren is the logistics person here and has cradled this project from the beginning.  He has success and vast experience leading Global Volunteers teams all over the world.  Bud, the driving force in all senses of the term will lead this team. As President and CEO and vision-master-in-chief, he is the reason many of the volunteers chose this team.  Why not be lead by the President directly?  Why not hear the vision first hand? And why not see the community response and interaction of two forces in development as it is actually developing.  All present were anxious with anticipation of the upcoming stage-setting and thinking of the honor of being here on the ground floor. 

Next, a lovely fish and chicken and vegetable dinner, and did I mention the first ten volunteers has now grown to twenty-two people around the table as we met our Poland, India, and Tanzania Global Volunteer friends and other volunteers who came early.  This made for a challenging name game followed by introductions.  Some of us have experienced before the excitement and awe when first hearing of the diverse backgrounds and personalities of the volunteers. What an opportunity for new friends working together! 

Well now the sun has set, the stage has been set and most of the players have assembled and the journey begins.  If the definition of “happiness” is “shared experiences”, it will indeed be a very happy journey. 

- Kathy