While I enjoy the important work of the OECS, I also get to ‘play hooky’ once-a-week for five weeks on a side project. Amanda (my fellow MSW student & 3-month roommate) works at a children’s home and in the community with Human Services. She and I are co-creating and co-facilitating an arts-based workshop for secondary-school-age youth to create awareness and ways to avoid or get out of of sexual exploitation. It includes topics like predation, grooming, drugs, alcohol, gangs, social media, masculinity, femininity, and social justice.
While the program is loosely based on Amanda’s work with Children of the Street in Vancouver, we had to make significant changes to adjust to realities in St. Lucia. Through community meetings, we learned that drug use, gang involvement and prostitution work differently here than in Canada. There are also important cultural differences that I won’t get into for this article.
During the mornings of the lessons, we practice and refine strategies and try to get to the school on time. Since we do not have our own vehicles here and since children from the home are involved in the lessons, we are dependent on others for rides. It’s kind of a fun because instead of arriving with time to prepare the class, set up the projector, etc., we get there at the time it the lesson is supposed to begin. In Caribbean-time this does not appear to be a big deal.
Last week, Sister Anthonia explained to Amanda that, “It’s more important to be well-fed than to be on time.”
For me, I kind of thrive on lack-of-preparation but Amanda gets a bit more concerned – she is a diligent registered teacher after-all. I also like observing culture and seeing where the experience takes me – I like going along for the ride.
The lessons are going generally well and we are learning where the program will need adjusting when others take over. Amanda is trained for acting and she has pushed me out of my comfort zone into acting in front of young people. I am definitely not as talented in this skill but it wasn’t so bad – even if I do end up playing the creepy old dude more-often-than-not.
Remember when I said I liked going along for the ride? After the lesson, Sister Anthonia came to pick us up. She asked if we had somewhere we needed to be. When we said, “no”, she asked if we wanted to go for a drive to Dennery where she could drop off food at an seniors home. Of course we were ready for another excursion.
When we got to the seniors home, I helped carry boxes of food up the stairs from the van. While inside, a woman reached out her hand and I sat down with her. She pulled me close and gave me a kiss on the cheek. We sat there holding each other by the arm and watched cricket on the television. She spoke to me in Patois so I didn’t understand anything except when she repeatedly said, “Jesus is love”.
This was a special moment for me because I was invited to her space and no longer felt like just another interloping white guy from another country where the weather is cold. Sister sat with a blind woman for a bit and we watched the game.
When it was time to go, I explained that we were leaving – she hugged me tighter and then let me go, I shook the spritely gentleman’s hand on her other side and we walked down the hall. There was a 97-year-old woman in bed that Sister talked to on the way out – she passed away a couple days later.
On the way home, we stopped for fruit on the side of the road. I was amazed at the price Sister was able to get for us. Where I could not buy more than four passion fruit for less than EC$5.00 near our home, she got us a whole bag of about 15 for EC$5.00. In the end we had a shopping bag of passion fruit, mangoes and plantains for EC$20.00 (about $9 Canadian)!
Tomorrow, we have another excursion to another new location. Two sisters invited us to speak to a 50-person church youth group to answer questions they provided anonymously. My piece is on parenting including reasons why parents are so strict. I don’t think of myself as strict but my kids do call me “mean” when they’re angry so I guess I do know something about the subject.
Notes on social work, community development and religion:
As a student of social work and a community developer, I think it is important to understand cultural diversity. For me, working and living in a country with strong religious beliefs involves a respect for those beliefs.
In six weeks I have met more nuns in St. Lucia than during my whole life in Canada, and every nun has been friendly, warm and welcoming. Sister Anthonia has shown me more of this beautiful country than I would have seen on my own. I consider her to be a valued friend and we haven’t even discussed religion. She displays a non-judgmental quality that I strive to attain. The Sisters know and understand community development and St. Lucian culture in ways that I will never know and understand. I am here to learn.