St. Vincent, January 2018: From Lemons You Make Lemonade

By David Schweidenback
Photos: Jim Lincoln

In 2010 P4P made a shipment of 20 sewing machines to the Barrouallie Secondary School in St. Vincent. On a January 2018 trip on the Island Windjammers sailing ship Diamant, I realized we would be spending one night in St. Vincent. Crew member Brown was from St. Vincent and was able to get in touch with the principal of the school and arrange for me to visit.

After we moored at Young Island, shipmate Jim Lincoln and I took a taxi to Barrouallie. It was only 12 miles as the crow flies but it was 17 miles to drive down into and up out of Kingston and up and over and around steep ridges of mountains with almost no flatland anywhere. The road was barely wide enough for two cars: there was a cliff on one side and a wall of rock on the other. No place you would ever want to ride a bicycle.

We arrived at the school and were greeted by the new principal, Mr. Kenneth Holder, and the math teacher Mr. Raffique Durham. They greeted Jim and me very warmly but after I introduced myself they started explaining the real needs they had for the school. They were especially in need of math books, rulers and other measuring instruments, and graph paper. Unfortunately, these are things that Pedals for Progress does not provide.

I asked if they remembered Peace Corps volunteer Liz, who worked with P4P to get the original shipment of sewing machines. But both the principal and the math teacher were relatively new to the school. The principal called in Mrs. Hildred Anderson, who is the head secretary of the school and has been there since forever. I have always been convinced that secretaries should rule the world, or maybe they already do!

Mrs. Anderson did indeed remember the Peace Corps volunteer and knew exactly where the sewing machines were: sitting in a storage closet. She brought me down to show me the machines, which were sitting there in amazingly good shape, most of them operational. She said she is the only person who ever uses them—sometimes she comes in on weekends to do her sewing.

On leaving, I suggested to principal Holder that, if he asked, he could probably get a new Peace Corps volunteer to teach sewing and fashion design. I’m afraid the meeting did not go well for him because he did not get the funding he was hoping for.

The sewing machines were shipped to help the people of this small, hard-working but poor community. I have since written to the principal with a suggestion that I think is a win for everyone. My suggestion is that the school sell the sewing machines to interested people in the community, and then use the income from those sales to buy the supplies the math department needs. The community would have more people earning a little more income because of the sewing machines. And the school would have the funding it desperately needs. This is Plan B. Plan A was to have the school teach young adults to sew, but the new principal is not now interested in this sort of vocational education. Plan B will work, though, and it’s a lot better to get the machines into the community and fund the school rather than let 20 good sewing machines sit in a storage closet forever.

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