My name is Ammon Felix and I am from the Richland, WA, U.S.A. I was part of the Fighting Shoulder to Shoulder with the Poor Program at Richmond Vale Academy from April 2016 - November 2017. During this Time I spent 6 months studying the massive forces in the world that keep many people in poverty. I spent 6 months learning the practicalities of working with an NGO and with the people of Opoluca, my assigned village in the province of Loja, Ecuador. Later I spent 8 months more at RVA studying Permaculture, gardening, leading trips and Teaching one month Climate Activist Courses.
You are joining a program that has taken many shapes and forms. Many diverse people from many countries have taken this opportunity to leave their comfort zone and join the struggle for a more just and sustainable world. As you should know by now this program is guided by you and your teammates. You must be morally motivated and enthusiastic or your chance to make a difference will slip away. You and your teammates must learn to live and work together. If you do this you can build something truly amazing in a short amount of time. Some advice from my own experience in the program. Use your first period in Saint Vincent to learn as much as you can about food production, crafts, tools, cooking, and organizing events. Gather resources such as books, instruction manuals, and project ideas for use in the service period, you will need to be able to start projects often from scratch. Spend as much time as you can visiting Farmers, Community Leaders, and other villages while in Saint Vincent, Selly Patterson and Luke Punnet will be a great resources.
Remember that RVA is a playground to try out projects, gardening techniques and new ways of organizing community actions, make use of it! For my service period I was in Ecuador. When I arrived in there I spoke no Spanish. I learned Spanish by necessity, This is not the ideal way to learn a language but it worked. I could teach classes, give reports and work independently after just 2 1/2 months. If you are worried about learning Spanish, or English, do not worry. Spend every chance you get speaking and do not be afraid to make mistakes. If you follow this advice you will learn very quickly. Take every opportunity you have to connect with the people you are working with even if this means losing some privacy or small comforts. Spend time talking with the families, if they invite you to events or parties take that chance to experience the culture they want to share with you. My favorite memory from Ecuador was watching the sunset and shelling peanuts the families in the village. You have been given a people to work with, some financial resources and connections with the NGOs you will be working with.
Make use of all these resources as much as possible. Your job is not to "help poor people". Most of the people you are working with are strong, capable people, your job is to bring new ideas and new energy to an old system. While I was in Ecuador I helped start home gardens, taught English and basic Natural Science Classes, and my own project was to build water filters for reusing dishwater. I could have done more in my project if I had more ideas and resources to draw from, this is why I want to reiterate that you should learn as many practical skills as possible in Saint Vincent and use the Internet to find Inspiration and resources. The Journal period of your program is your chance to reflect on your experience and share them with the public. Previous participants have written books, made films, done presentations or started projects in Saint Vincent as part of their reflection. Personally I shared my experience and knowledge by leading trips around Saint Vincent to meet people and get to know the island and teach the one month climate courses at RVA. This was an amazing opportunity. We had many opportunities to organize actions with people in Saint Vincent. One piece of advice I would give is don't get too caught up in the comforts you are used to. Take opportunities to camp out with a local farmer, organize to stay in a community center for a weekend and organize activities with community leaders. Initiate projects, initiate activities and actions, use your experience to create something beautiful to share and pass on to others. RVA is an amazing place. It has it's own culture and pace of life. Make use of the unique opportunity the school presents. You have people from 5-20 countries at any moment as well as the rich local culture, create art, make music and share your culture.
You will have a team budget that can be used to start projects or organize community events, this is an invaluable resource. Learn to create things with recycled materials and build things with limited resources. Get to know the local people working at the school, they are amazing people. My final advice to give is if you have a question or want to learn something ASK SOMEONE! If they don't have the answer they will know someone who does. As for me after I left RVA I returned to the United States. I found one of my passions while working in Ecuador and Saint Vincent. While working in impoverished communities I saw that a sustainable communities begins with sustainable food. If you are working in development of any kind growing food must be involved. After realizing this I decided I had to learn to Farm. When I returned to the United States I found an apprenticeship on an organic Vegetable and Flower farm. I hope to one day use my knowledge to grow food for a school, food bank or other community organization. My other passion is working with trees. I will be working to train as an Arborist this winter. Working, Living, and Teaching at Richmond Vale Academy helped me learn to build a community, how to take opportunities and open my eyes to the wide world we live in. I now see the massive issues that face us today such as climate change, neocolonialism, and increases food and water insecurity, but now I also have the ability see and make my own solutions. I hope you find this program as educational, fantastic and exciting as I did. Feel free to contact me with questions, to brainstorm ideas or just to chat!