Before I get into a reflection of my first week at the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (“OECS”), I wanted to share a fun beach story. Other than going for espresso Saturday and Sunday mornings, I don’t take money to the beach (nothing, nada, zip). This weekend, we were laying in the sand when a friendly gentleman stopped to chat. He had three large leaves of aloe vera in his hand and explained that he helps people with their sunburns and their livers after drinking too much rum.
He wanted to help me because, apparently, I had sunburned my forehead and shoulders. He started to peel the aloe vera and I stopped him to say that we had no money with us. “That’s okay, health is more important than money”, he said several times. Then he rubbed what felt like a half-centimetre thick layer of aloe vera juice (thick and gunky juice) on my face, into my hairline and on my shoulders.
When finished, he mentioned that he just needs to make enough money to get back home (another city on the island) and that any amount would do. I explained again that, “I meant it when I had no money”.
“Even small money is okay”, he said.
I told him again that I didn’t have any money at all with me and that I hope he earns what he needs. And with that, we tapped fists and he was off with a friendly jester. I liked that guy, he was fun – but I really had no money at all with me on the beach (nothing, nada, zip).
Okay, onto stories of work. On my first day of work at the OECS, I went to the main building to meet with a woman from Human Resources. She did a fantastic job of orienting me along with another person who was starting her new job. Later, I was shown my office – an office with a desk a phone, wonderful tropical view, air-conditioning and a door. The office isn’t in the same building as the small team in the Education Development Management Unit (“EDMU”). In a couple weeks, there should be room for me in the EDMU building.
After lunch, I sat down in my new office. It felt a little like one of those Seinfeld episodes of George Costanza pretending to work.
Instead of pretending though, I read. I read revised legislation of the Act creating the OECS; I read two years worth of education programming and policy; and I started reading books of statistics.
The next days, I was able to connect my laptop to their network for internet access. I noticed that ,for years, the member countries had been improving education initiatives in many, many ways. One thing that kept coming to my mind though was that I did not know exactly why kids (especially boys) were dropping out of school. I could not find any academic literature on the subject and my social work education kicked in: we need to ask kids why they are not in school; and we need to ask students why they stayed in school.
I brought this up with the head of EDMU (also my practicum supervisor) and he confirmed the need for research. He provided steps for me to take leading up to a research proposal – if funding is granted, the OECS and a Caribbean University will conduct the research. This felt amazing and exciting (and still does) – that I can start something that will hopefully lead to participatory research that would find answers from youth. This could give voice to the experiences and knowledge of at-risk youth. This could help The Commission (OECS is also known as ‘The Commission’) set policy that makes it easier for youth to stay in school in ten Caribbean countries.
Sometimes self-doubt kicks in and I wonder, “What the hell am I doing here?”, “I’m so under-qualified”, “I don’t even know about education – I’ve never been a teacher”. It is at these moments when I try to remember that I am a life-long learner, I’ve experienced a lot of education, I co-founded Helping Youth Through Educational Scholarships (“HYTES”) so kids could attend secondary school in four countries.
Lately, I am also reminded of something an old friend (we recently reconnected on Facebook) said a couple days ago, “you’re living what people dream of”. I am living one of my dreams and even in times of self-doubt and minor culture shock, I am happy.