We live in a world without balance. A world out of balance is open to bad compromises and dangerous illness.
It is our task to bring the world into a balance that closes doors to both.
Dangerous illnesses include Ebola, Cholera, Malaria, HIV/Aids, the novel Coronavirus and other contagious disease-causing agents thriving within the human body out of balance.
Some of us have chosen to live in a community setting, sharing our lives, because we are aware of this unbalance. Collective living keeps us focused on what is important in life. It is easy to go astray in this information- and misinformation-saturated age—especially in the middle of a pandemic.
A community is based on togetherness; the COVID-19 is forcing us to find new ways of being together. We see this all over the world—using modern technology and not excluding anyone just because we have to socially distance.
Richmond Vale Academy is “Another Kind of School,” rooted in collaboration. The school was started in 2002, and the current leadership started with it in 2007, so we have more than 20 years of experience built on the idea that a collective with an essential outward purpose can manage to work with and put aside all differences to take up big challenges and make a change!
The 10-year program “St. Vincent Climate Compliance Conference” was one of these challenges with the aim of making a small island nation like St. Vincent and the Grenadines “Water and Food Secure,” “Energy Secure,” and “Ready for Climate Change.”
Different events, including a hurricane and numerous floods, led to this 10-year program built on cooperation within teams of 10 to 30 participants with different backgrounds, ages, and aspirations, all coming together because they believe it is imperative to make an example in this climate crisis. (See www.youtube.com/watch?v=hExsSLsYQqY.)
When this virus turned up we were in the middle of making 20 home gardens in the community of Barrouallie, one of the towns in St. Vincent. We had students living in the community, working with the families, immersing themselves in the culture of the people they worked with—as far away from “Physical or Social Distancing” as you could ever imagine.
We had to call everyone home—end the projects in the community and tell the hopeful home garden owners that we would be back. We also had to put a hold on meeting each week with several Farmers’ Cooperatives, in order to boost the cooperation amongst them, but we truly believe that they will still support each other in every way they can. Once people can see the advantage of working together they will strive to do so by solving issues and sharing advice. (See issuu.com/richmondvaleacademy/docs/issuupromoting_food_and_water_security.)
The team working with the home gardens had to leave a month before scheduled in order to get a flight connection, and still six did not manage, but were “stuck,” which they didn’t mind at all!
As we terminated the projects we had to finish the reports from the trust we had received money from and return the rest of the money. We had worked so hard to get the grant and still we had to do what was necessary to stay safe.
So here we were, 24 people—16 students and eight staff—at the school, plus 20 other staff working in the farm, gardens, and much more.
We had to make some hard decisions like closing the hiking and diving center, which we run to earn extra money for the programs, letting some people go, even though we knew they needed the money more than ever.
We lost income left and right and had to make a very tight budget for the next three months—a survival budget to bring us over to the other side.
Up until then we had only one reported case of COVID-19 in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, so it was hard to take it seriously. The numbers have since increased, so even though St. Vincent and the Grenadines is called the Country of the Blessed we could not escape!
We started half-heartedly implementing some of the WHO advice, but then we decided to take this seriously and within a week we turned everything around.
We had to come to terms with this, look at everything we did, and solve the situation in a practical manner:
- We analyzed all the traffic coming to the school and put a hold to all of it, except a few persons like a driver and a guard with whom we made exact agreements to avoid contamination.
- We made separate areas for each team—living with their teacher. Separate bathrooms, terraces, and much more. Everything in the school was divided up so each group of eight has their own area, fridge, washing machine etc.
- The only common area is the assembly hall, with each group at separate tables with their specific plates, utensils, and food.
- We keep a physical distance between the different groups—a horse length—easy to remember.
- We invited our cook to live in with us and luckily she said yes, with a kitchen team replacing her usual helpers.
- Dishwashing for all is still done within the groups, because you have your hands in soap, so no infection possible there.
It took a lot of effort to reach consensus. We did not vote but kept discussing till we were in agreement. We held a lot of Staff and Team meetings as well as several Common meetings.
The news from around the world hit home and everyone agreed to follow suit with other countries to keep this virus out.
So how do we manage?
Much of the food available locally is imported and full of chemicals, evident in the synthetic additives now commonly placed in our food. This is neither environmentally nor financially sustainable, as much of this food is unhealthy. As a country, we used to be more self-sufficient, but the globalized economy put a stop to that. We showcase several models of sustainable farming and healthy food production at our Climate Center.
At the school’s garden farm, we produce meat, eggs, vegetables, staples, and fruits, supplying a big part of the food we eat. All dairy products consumed at the school are imported and we also buy some local meat. We aim to become 100 percent sustainable with local and ecological food.
We produce eight to 14 piglets per year; we want to double this production so we can eat two pigs per month. We started out with five sheep in 2018, that now have grown to a herd of 20, and we plan to double up to a herd of 40, so we can eat two to four sheep per month.
We have always been aware of buying as little imported as possible, but now we decided to cut even more.
We decided to take this as an opportunity to change things around on the one-acre Garden Farm, boosting our production of vegetables and root crops. One group took it upon themselves to do that as well as deciding to make a nursery with vegetable seedlings, to be ready for when we again could work in the community. These seedlings will be given to people in order to boost the area’s food production.
We also produce passion fruit and bananas, using ecological methods. We have a small-scale juice and pulp production from passion fruit along with collecting and selling some other fruits like banana and sour sop. There is a potential for expanding the production, so we decided to put efforts into this. A group of three Staff decided to go for that.
The March Team is working on setting up a passion fruit field with 150 plants mixed with trees using peanuts as ground cover. This will go on the whole of April after which they were supposed to work in the communities, but they have instead come to terms with working on projects at Richmond Vale Academy if that is necessary to stay safe.
We are lucky to live in one of the most beautiful countries in the world, close to the beach, fresh fruit at all times, possibilities for diving to see fish and coral reefs, hiking the Volcano La Soufriere and numerous other trails in the rainforest, listening to parrots.
We are planning to start new teams in the autumn to continue our work, making this country ready for climate change, whatever it takes.
We are lucky to live in one of the most beautiful countries in the world close to the beach, fresh fruit at all times, possibilities for diving seeing fishes and coral reefs, hiking the Volcano La Soufriere and numerous other trails in the rain forest listening to parrots.
We will overcome this virus and be an even stronger Collective after this!