This Caribbean Island Is Training the Next Generation of Environment Leaders

This Caribbean Island Is Training the Next Generation of Environment Leaders

By Justine Simonin on 03/05/2020

If you were told that a 400 sqm island in the heart of the Caribbean, mostly known for its yacht-filled harbors and luxury villas, was also the home of an incredible school teaching how to fight climate change… Would you believe it? You better!

Richmond Vale Academy, located in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, has been training students from all over the world on poverty reduction, environmental conservation and climate change awareness since 2002. The Academy’s programs give students the opportunity to directly influence positive change on the environment and in communities. We talked with Richmond Vale staff Else Marie Pedersen about the Academy and how it contributes to a greener future for all.

What is your role at Richmond Vale Academy?

I am the Marketing  and Enrollment Manager. I have been working at Richmond Vale Academy for the past seven years. I am in charge of filling up the teams at the Academy. We have three 6-months and two 1-month Climate Teams a year, plus two 10-months Fighting With the Poor teams. Besides that, I also have many other responsibilities in connection with administration.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you became involved with sustainable development programs such as Richmond Vale Academy?

I am Danish, and I have traveled all over the world. In particular, I went to Africa in 1979 during Apartheid in South Africa. This travel made such a big impression on me that I decided to work in the development sector for the rest of my life. I knew I was destined to work in a collective setting. I worked in Europe and in the USA for 12 years in Marketing and Enrollment positions. I decided to move to St. Vincent and the Grenadines because the idea of the St. Vincent Climate Compliance Conference attracted me greatly. This program aims to enable and empower several groups and communities to dive into action for positive climate change. Small island nations like St. Vincent will be the hardest hit by the consequences of climate change, and we need to make some changes.

How does Richmond Vale Academy operate? How many volunteers do you work with on a regular, ongoing basis? What are their roles and responsibilities?

We have an average of 40 volunteers. The volunteers join a team and then they work within the specific team they joined for a 1-10 months period. They have a team leader who facilitates learning and training.

During the Climate Compliance program, student volunteers learn how to set up water collection systems, grow an organic garden, plant and grow trees, install solar systems and so on.

During the Fighting with The Poor program, students spend first three months learning about global affairs, political science, international and economic development, and are then sent on field projects in Belize or Ecuador.

In addition, the Richmond Vale Academy is another kind of school compared to the way most schools are run. Here, the students are involved in all processes of running the school. Staff and volunteers alike take part in daily chores.

Can you describe the importance of what you teach at Richmond Vale Academy ? What are some of the challenges faced by the Academy?

We receive around 1,000 visitors a year from St. Vincent and around the world. They expect to see an innovative community from which they can learn. With this in mind it is imperative that we have an extensive ecological garden, fruits, water harvesting, solar power and so many other interesting projects for people to hear and learn about. We aim to cover our own needs for vegetables and we are on the way to achieve this kind of self-sufficiency. It is a constant struggle, as any farmer who does not use any kind of chemical pesticides or fertilizer knows. We are in the process of making a production plan for our garden, which eventually will move production to cover all our needs.

How has the Coronavirus crisis affected your work?

We have made changes at the Academy, according to WHO guidelines, for our student volunteers to keep learning in safe conditions. In terms of broader immediate and mid-term/long-term effect, I would say that more people would realize they need a home garden right outside their house, so the home garden movement will expand. I also think that many people realize that we need a change of system, because this society does not glue people together as it should, but quite the opposite. In a crisis like this the society that is supposed to take care of its people lets people down. We are divided into have and have not’s – we need a collective living!

What consequences of this crisis are you most worried about?

All the people dying. There was knowledge about this virus before it came to the surface but as profit reins this system of ours nothing was done. We need to prepare for what is to come because there will be more virus, more hurricanes, violent storms and the vultures will be ready to scavege what is left. The future has to be built on collective living because alone we cannot move things. And these are exactly the principles and practices we teach at Richmond Vale Academy.

Richmond Vale Academy would like to give back to its local community and give 𝟒 𝐲𝐨𝐮𝐧𝐠 𝐕𝐢𝐧𝐜𝐞𝐧𝐭𝐢𝐚𝐧𝐬 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐨𝐩𝐩𝐨𝐫𝐭𝐮𝐧𝐢𝐭𝐲 𝐭𝐨 𝐣𝐨𝐢𝐧 𝐚 𝟔-𝐦𝐨𝐧𝐭𝐡𝐬 C𝐥𝐢𝐦𝐚𝐭𝐞 T𝐞𝐚𝐦. With your help, these young aspiring environment students will receive a full scholarship to be trained by the Academy. To support this project click HERE.


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