The St. Vincent Climate Compliance Conference was established in 2012 to run for 10 years. During this time, it is the objective of Richmond Vale Academy (RVA) to make the island nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines climate compliant, i.e. self-sufficient food and energy-wise, as well as resistant to natural disasters. This will be ensured both by implementing material projects (tree-planting, infrastructure building, creating vegetable gardens) and by educating the public – both youth in schools and adults through various actions.
The Conference participants are climate activists (or future activists) from all over the world – as well as from St. Vincent – who come to RVA to learn by doing and teaching. Ideally, those activists then go back home to teach others about climate change and sustainable living – either by giving presentations etc. or leading by example.
RVA starts 6-month teams 3 times a year to ensure the continuity of the Conference and longer projects around the islands, while each team prepares and realizes their own shorter projects from start to finish. Besides organising practical actions both in schools and local communities, the participants take the time to study issues pertaining to climate change, its causes and consequences around the world. Everyone is strongly encouraged to give presentations in the school on the topics they find most interesting, although prior knowledge about climate change is not obligatory to join – just an open mind and willingness to learn and to help out.
The Climate Compliance Conference is now in its fifth year, with many small and big projects started, implemented or tried. By now RVA has experience working in St. Vincent and has created a network of partners: activists, sponsors, politicians and administrators. We are now more aware than ever of which kinds of projects are needed, appreciated and possible, as well as how to approach the public.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a small (approx. 110 000 people) Caribbean nation on 32 islands in the chain of Windward Islands in the Caribbean sea. The biggest island of St. Vincent, with its capital, Kingstown, is mountainous with the La Soufriere volcano towering over the rainforests below. During the rainy season the mountain streams and rivers carry a lot of water, which is used, among others, to power the hydro plant. In case of heavy rains the rivers overflow and erode the banks, and rising sea-levels contribute to destruction of the beaches. Floodings are not unheard of, with the biggest one in recent years in Christmas 2013 destroying infrastructure and forcing thousands of people to move; its effects are still not completely fixed. Occasionally, strong storms or even hurricanes plague the island as well. On the other hand, the smaller islands – the Grenadines – are very dry and depend mostly on rainwater.
The nation imports most of its basics from abroad, making it vulnerable to international price changes and dependent on food, imported mostly from USA, where the regulations allow for lots of chemicals to be used in farming. Heavily processed food is the cheapest option in the supermarkets, while local, fresh products, are often disregarded as “worse” than imported ones. This, along with high alcoholism caused mostly by the lack of jobs and perspectives, is a cause of a rise in diabetes.
Most Vincentians are farmers with small plots of land, which they cultivate to earn just enough money to survive. The products are sold on the market in Kingstown, where both the producers and the buyers have to reach in order to do their shopping; hardly any commerce happens in villages. One of the main challenges of the Conference is to convince people that localisation can help them overcome many problems, lower the costs of food and build family-friendly communities for their children to grow up in.
By running the Climate Compliance Conference, Richmond Vale Academy strives to bring together different stakeholders interested in making St. Vincent an example of self-sustainability among other island nations of the world, all of which are potentially most vulnerable to both climate change and market fluctuations.
Richmond Vale Academy is active on many levels throughout the country. The climate activists, with the guidance of RVA teachers and the help of partners and local volunteers, are constantly implementing big and small projects; some in the Academy, to make it a model self-sustainable community where people come to learn about organic gardening or biogas, others outside, in the communities who sometimes need a little push and guidance. RVA also takes on international actions like the ENO Treelympics, World Coastal Cleanup Day or March Against Monsanto.
For now the Academy is the most active in three nearby communities of the North Leeward area: Fitz Hughes, Chateaubelair and Petit Bordel. Most of the projects are first implemented there (for reasons having to do with logistics as well as RVA’s already established presence in the area) and later, if they prove successful, replicated in further villages.
In a few years of trying to make St. Vincent Climate Compliant, the activists of Richmond Vale Academy have met and worked with many like-minded people all over the country. In August 2013 those people decided to come together in a group that would meet periodically and carry out environmental actions. They are called The Rainbow GAIA Club and among them are Scout leaders, politicians, teachers, radio and TV journalists, a TV cook, former and current RVA students, farmers and community leaders.
The group has organised and completed several projects together, including a campaign against GMO and March Against Monsanto, celebrating Earth Day or distributing and planting trees. Currently there is a process of re-structuring in order to become more powerful and permanent, with the plan to meet five times per year and study, discuss and organise future actions together. The group will expand to include even more activists from different islands, anyone can join!
Over the last five years RVA has gained a lot of supporters among Vincentians. Some of them have taken part in the Conference, while others have been local leaders, happy to volunteer for their communities. Teaching people about sustainability and building a network of local activists, ready to implement or join actions against climate change is one of the most important goals of the Conference. One of its tools are The GAIA Clubs.
The clubs are formed by at least 20 people from nearby villages, who meet once a week to learn about Global Warming and Climate Change in St. Vincent, biodiversity, sustainable agriculture, food and water security, renewable energy, adaptation to the effects of climate change, pollution reduction, health and nutrition and local food production and processing. The clubs organise actions to fight pollution and climate change, like trash pick-ups or workshops, and will be ready to join bigger projects, coordinated by RVA, as leaders of local communities – for example helping with nation-wide projects like beach clean-ups or recycling rallies.
In the future, the members of GAIA Clubs will become strong local community leaders, having gained skills and competences, as well as knowledge needed to create their own actions and events.
The GAIA Club members are active in other Climate Compliance projects on regular or sporadic bases.
The idea of local Farmers’ Markets is to create places where the local farmers can bring fresh produce to sell once a week, eliminating the need to travel all the way to the capital for both the sellers and buyers. The products are fresh and the money stays in the community, facilitating its growth instead of paying the international companies for lower-grade, GMO, imported food in the supermarkets. Furthermore, the local market is a place of neighbourly interactions, with possibilities of different happenings, educational actions, children’s games, etc.
Another group which the Climate Compliance Conference is aiming to reach are the children. RVA activists have been laying the groundwork for cooperation with schools, holding campaigns, workshops, gardening sessions and climate lessons with and for the pupils. The next step is to prepare a curriculum of 30 lessons, achieve a partnership with the Ministry of Education and hold the classes in three of the nearby schools. The subjects are related to climate change and include the following headlines: Global Warming and Climate Change Globally and Locally, Fossil Fuels vs. Renewable Energy Sources, Biogas, Sustainable Agriculture, Biodiversity with the case studies in St. Vincent, Pollution and Recycling, Health and Nutrition, Food Processing, and others.
Richmond Vale Academy recognizes that in order to achieve maximum self-sufficiency, the country needs to produce as much of its own energy as possible. It is predicted that St. Vincent might soon get most of its energy from renewable sources: Hydro and Geothermal and the remaining from solar power.
Promoting biogas within household has become an important part of the Conference. Currently an average family uses one LPG gas container per moth, which costs approx. 40 East Caribbean Dollars (EC) – a day’s salary. The teachers and students at the Academy have done a lot of research and come up with a relatively cheap way to build a working biogas unit, which takes about 15 minutes of work per day to fill with kitchen waste and water. In exchange, it gives out gas which is sufficient for cooking.
RVA is going to build a model unit in one of the villages and use it as a showcase for other potentially interested beneficents. Should there be an interest, 50 more units will be built in North Leeward.
Because of its proximity to RVA, many teachers and activists of Climate Compliance Conference have witnessed first-hand the changing of Richmond Beach during the years. The impact that climate change and resulting natural disasters had on this landscape is huge, with flooding river washing out the beach from the inside, while raising sea-level takes up more and more of its sandy shore. This is why we have taken the first steps towards stopping the erosion and protecting this small area.
Although currently there are no officially protected nature areas, RVA is trying to change that, first restoring the beach by planting a mangrove forest with red, black and white mangroves. The trees will expand and keep the wetland area and create a buffer zone between the sea and the land. Once the forest is established and protected, it will become a place of fish nurseries, birds nesting and a home to many other species. With some effort and care, the Richmond Beach will become a model beach around the island where groups from school and other visitors can learn about nature, the dangers of sea-levels rising, the importance of biodiversity, etc.
The beautiful rainforest nature is one of St. Vincent’s biggest treasures with its trekking and hiking trails an underestimated tourist attraction. However, frequent heavy rains make the trails less available and more dangerous, and the infrastructure is lacking. That’s why RVA has applied for, and been awarded, a grant for restoration of a 4-mile nature trail combined with education about biodiversity.
The project is set to start in the second half of 2016 and includes the making of information signs, removing fallen logs and clearing the paths, building stairs and lookout spots, in collaboration with the Forestry Department. 20 Vincentians will be employed in the restoration project. The second part will be led by RVA teachers and students and include giving lessons about climate change and the importance of biodiversity in 8 schools, 8 communities and all fishermen, restaurant owners and tourist businesses in those communities, and the Biodiversity Competition will be held to spread awareness among the broader public.
The Open Day in December will celebrate the completion of the trail, celebrate the winners of the competition and involve everyone involved in the lessons and work to restore the trail.
Although Richmond Vale Academy works in and for St. Vincent, its activists make sure to keep in touch with a broader global movement against climate change. Coordinating local parts of international actions makes the small, relatively unknown state of St. Vincent a part of a bigger community of environmentalists. Some of the most important actions that we partake in include actively celebrating the Earth Day, the Biodiversity Day; organising a March Against Monsanto (which takes part in many parts of the world on the same day), Coastal Clean-up Day and the ENO Treelympics.