Faithful Guidance (2014 Workshop reflections)
YuGaCuRe 2014 was a memorable year for
its participants and staff on many levels. With still no grants in sight and
several personal setbacks I was faced with a choice of postponing the program
for 2014. But I felt we needed to persevere and not disappoint the kids, and
most important we need to keep this retrieval effort going. On January 10th
while running down my front steps to get my children from school, I slipped
onto black ice, crashed onto the pavement fracturing some of my ribs. The pain
was indescribable. After a stint with disability I returned to work in
mid-February. I was just getting back to normal when my home caught on fire on
March 4th during a routine plumbing repair. Most people thought it
would be too much to deal with Yugacure while trying to re-build my home, but I
felt I needed to focus on something positive and not consume my time with my
problems. So I pressed on with our fundraising dinner. This year we decided to
have one YuGaCuRe fundraiser, so with guns blazing we set out to make our
fundraiser a success. Thanks to Christine Vernon, the folks at my job and our
many family and friends, the dinner was a success. We were on our way, but
still a long way from our financial goal.
I remember speaking to my Friend Mr.
Cornelius Cacho before he went to St.Vincent in December 2013. He was actually
in SVG when the freak storm occurred. Mr. Cacho is a Belizean living in
Florida. Being the true humanitarian he is, he went to the salvation army and
emptied his suitcase so they could distribute the content to those in need.
When he returned to the states he told me that years ago he had left some money
with the government in SVG to benefit the Garifuna community in Yurumein. Mr.
Cacho and his elderly father had visited SVG in the 1960 and, in my opinion,
started much of the Garifuna consciousness in the homeland. For those who may
not know this, many Garifuna people in SVG have been greatly disenfranchised
for many years. When Mr. Cacho visited SVG in December 2013, they were not sure
where the funds were placed but promised to look into it. Around the Easter
season of 2014, I received a call from Darkie Williams in SVG saying the
National Trust had the monies and that it was actually invested for a certain
period and had now matured. The beautiful thing was that they were giving the
money to YuGaCuRe. I could not believe it. I called Mr. Cacho and joked that
like the Good Lord did at Easter time, his money had been resurrected from the
dead. Thanks to Mr. Cacho and our other sponsors we were able to execute
YuGaCuRe 2014 successfully.
We received commitments from other
supporters like Rene “Mama Culture” Baptiste, Endangered Language Alliance, the
Culture Department of St.Vincent and the Grenadines and other sponsors. Now we
were ready to roll. I prayed for guidance and asked God and the ancestors to
help us to have a successful workshop and to prepare us for all unforeseen
problems that may stand before us. Barrels were packed and shipped courtesy of
our ever faithful supporter Standard Shippers. With the help of our friend Mr.
Darkie Williams, we were able to finalize securing the school. One of the thing
we took special care with this year was to pack a lot of medical supplies
including lots of ibuprofen (ingredient in aspirin) and other medical items. As
usual reserving transportation for the children was challenging. We double
checked that a staff was in place in SVG as well as accommodations for the
staff travelling from New York. As usual James Lovell travelled first to
St.Vincent to kick off the workshop. Christine Vernon and I travelled four days
later. Christine focused on the language while James focused on the music. This
year I decided to teach a history class so the children would get a full
understanding of why the YuGaCuRe Workshop is so important to Yurumein. The
children were much more numerous than I had expected. We had to split the
language and history classes in two. The music class was held under the
unenclosed section of the administration building, so it was capable of accommodating
all of the children. The most refreshing thing was to see how extremely eager
they were to learn about their history. They told such interesting stories that
they had learned in school and I was happy to straighten out some
mis-information they shared with me.
When Christine and I got to SVG I asked
about one little girl who had a special way of dancing Punta, and was told she
had Chikengunya. This is a virus that is plaguing the Caribbean and SVG was not
spared. The virus affects the joints and is often accompanied by headache,
diarrhea, and vomiting, rash and severe joint pain with swelling. Within days
the children were coming down with this virus and within a week you could
rarely meet anyone in town who did not either have the virus or have a love one
with the virus. Before long the children were sent in record number to the
kitchen staff for water and ibuprofen. Because in many cases, they might be
going home to an empty house, we had to keep them on the grounds. We had to
have them put their heads down on a table in the dining area while the ladies
in the kitchen kept an eye on them. Sometimes we would have to give the
children plastic bags to take on the bus in case they needed to vomit. I must
say those little tykes are determine and tough. As painful as the virus is,
they were often back at the workshop in one or two days. With the concert
looming close we had to intensify the practice in spite of the ferocious
chikengunya. We had decided to have one concert this year instead of three so
that took some of the stress off the children and staff.
Four days before the concert I came down
with Chikengunya. My body ached from the top of my head to the last joints in
my toes. Every joint in my body hurt and my right leg felt like I had a
stroke. It was so swollen I had to drag it. On the day of the concert I dreaded
climbing the stairs to the stage to give my speech. But one look at the turnout
I grinned and bear it. One of our lead drummers name David became so violently
ill with the virus, he slept for three days without eating. But the day of the
concert, he beat the drums without taking a break, despite the pain in his
fingers. My son Joseph also got the virus and was barely able to walk. I was
glad we had postponed our trip to Balliceaux for 2015 as the discomfort we were
feeling was excruciating. The only treatment for this virus is ibuprofen and
the leaf of the male pawpaw tree (the one that only bears a flower and not a
fruit). We did not make it to Balliceaux this year but we did go to Bequia, which
is where many believe the Africans, who created the Garifuna, landed before
being taken to mainland St.Vincent by the Caribs.
This year the Trish St.Hill Scholarship
fund decided to distribute 75 school bags with school supply and was able to
give financial assistance to 7 students based on academic excellence and
economic needs. Several longtime students helped to choreograph the dances and
we were able to give stipends to those individuals. The van drivers, merchants,
kitchen workers and parents mentioned they were anxious for our return to SVG
in 2015. We were reminded at every turn that YuGaCuRe was good for the economy
of SVG. In addition to our main focus of cultural retrieval, YuGaCuRe have
become a humanitarian organization as well as an economic stimulator.
This year the Honorable Maxwell Charles
spoke at the concert and gave a wonderful speech. Our concert this year was
hosted by Sean Frederick from the Department of culture. During a visit to
St.Vincent and the Grenadines’ Prime Minister, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, we
mentioned that we had medical supplies left over and asked where would be the
best place to donate them. He suggested we deliver the items to the permanent
secretary of Health who would donate it to the general hospital. I couldn’t think
of a better place for those items.
Finally YuGaCuRe 2014 was over and was a
success on many levels. We were able to meet all of our expenses and the
turnout at the workshop and the concert were both outstanding. We take many
fond memories with us from YuGaCuRe 2014. We remember little three year old
Cory and five year old Destiny who were born to Punta and Miss Tas who managed
the kitchen skillfully. I particularly remember when I was stuck in the city
and she had to cook Hudutu with instructions from me on the phone. I must say
her Hudutu was quite scrumptious. I remember the children who helped with the
dances and other areas of the workshop (too numerous to mention). I
particularly remember my colleague and friend Christine Vernon who paid her own
way to SVG, two years in a row to teach the children Garifuna. She has been a
blessing to Yugacure. Chris has a keen sense of the selflessness necessary to
keep this project alive. Like me she rolls up her sleeves and help to make it
happened. There were many winners in Miss Chris’ language class this year. And
being a woman of her word she gave them all the gifts she promised from her own
budget. The little ones were grateful for the cash gifts she provided and the
parents were even more appreciative.
At the writing of this report I am
already sketching the outline for YuGaCuRe 2015. I look forward to seeing the
children who have been with us for years and to meeting new children. As
promised, I have been researching the cheapest way to get to SVG as well as living
accommodations for 2015. I will share that information as soon as it becomes
available. Due to my hectic schedule I will not be able to organize the trip,
but I will share the information so anyone who wishes to join us in SVG can
plan more effectively. Our Workshop in 2015 would be from August 3rd
to August 21st with our concert on August 23rd. My advice
is that August 19th to 26th would be the best time for
folks to visit the homeland. As always I pray to the Good Lord asking for
health and strength and I count on the ancestors for their guidance. I have no
magical powers or nifty tricks to pull out my sleeves, just faith,
determination and an intense love of our culture and homeland Yurumein.
Links to an hour long interview on IKTV
Comfort of a Rainbow (2013 workshop reflections)
As our taxi journeyed from Hewanorra International Airport to the smaller George Charles airport of St.Vincent’s sister island and neighbor St. Lucia, at times I forgot we were driving through the St. Lucian country side. St. Vincent and St. Lucia are so similar in topography that one could scarcely distinguish between the two. I bath in the excitement of boarding the small LIAT propeller plane which will stop in Barbados, before taking us to St. Vincent and the Grenadines. But our trip was dampened with delays and no explanations from airline officials, that is typical of the one airline that services St. Vincent. Me and my colleague Christine Vernon along with my son and grandson had travelled from New York at 8:45 am that morning and were scheduled to arrive in SVG (St. Vincent and the Grenadines) at 8:50 pm. We never made it to SVG until 2:00 am the following morning. Needless to say my children were tired and hungry. Eventually we were allowed a meal at the airline’s expense. With Christine’s calm demeanor and positive outlook, we were able to make it home without further frustration. My biggest regret was that I did not get to see the expression on Chris’ face as she beheld her majestic homeland for the first time. At 2:00 am in the morning the lush mountains of Yurumein were not visible.
Miraculously we were able to get enough sleep to be at the Garifuna Cultural Retrieval Workshop by 9:00 am that morning. I walked into the classroom to many familiar faces and a hearty Buiti Binafi Miss Trish and Miss Chris. We sat in amazement as the children sang Luagu Ubouhu Balliceaux (On the island of Balliceaux) to the tune of “by the rivers of Babylon” with gusto. Our brother James Lovell had obviously been hard at work making sure the kids knew the songs, so they could start working on the dances, drumming and the language by the time we arrived. Chris commented on how impressed she was at the clear and preciseness with which the children sang. “If I didn’t know I was in St. Vincent, I would have thought these children were from Honduras, Belize or Guatemala where Garifuna is spoken,” she remarked. She spent the day getting acquainted with the children.
On Tuesday August 13th 2013 Chris started her first Garifuna language class at the Central Leeward High School in Peter’s Hope on the outskirts of Barrouallie. She skillfully built on the foundation started by James Lovell and exhibited a teaching technique so exceptional, that it was hard to believe her students had not always spoken Garifuna. Having lingered for two year in the coordination of the Garifuna textbook, Chris and I were able to get tremendous materials, assistance and information from Mr. Clifford Palacio to present a rough draft of a manual. My main contribution to this free handout was a modest one of putting the materials together. This is minuscule compared to Mr. Palacio’s contribution of materials as well as expert advice. Mr. P. as I affectionately call him, is a true example of a selfless Garifuna elder. He reached out to Chris as soon as he heard she was going to teach our children in Yurumein. He not only offered materials he felt would be useful, he also told her he is available for advice. Our hope is to get this text to final form and present it free to every child in Yurumein who wants a copy.
With the language class well on its way, we had the monumental problem of dance choreography to tackle. Unlike past years we were unable to take a choreographer with us for our 2013 workshop. I huddled the older girls together on Tuesday evening and voiced my concern. I asked if they thought they could use what Miss Ellie and Miss Erica had taught them to put together some dance routines. They told me they believe they could. They immediately started to put together some dances routines splitting up the children in groups. What materialized was so beautiful, it left us with our mouths wide open. Enormous thanks goes out to Eleanor and Erica for the great job they did with these children in 2011 and 2012 respectively.
Having the music and drumming in good standing and the language class and choreography on their way, administrative concerns were another matter to contend with. Transportation was still to be mapped out and would prove to be the most monstrous of the issues to tackle. Our trip to Balliceaux was still not confirmed and costuming was still looming before us. Here is where our faith paid off. We knew that just like previous years, God would pave the way for us. We found in the children a group of eager soldiers ready to assist in a very capable manner. They assisted with handing out the costumes, putting flags together, cleaning up the workshop grounds and even took turns cleaning the bathrooms. They would even assist in preparing and serving breakfast to the children from Sandy Bay who travelled a great distance daily. Additionally we were assisted in many ways by old as well as new friends of the workshop. Literally miracles began to unfold. Before long we had secured our trip to Balliceaux, transportation was paid for, Food was paid for and costuming completed. On the day of the Garifuna cooking day, one of the children forgot to bring us a bunch of banana her mother promised us. The Gardener overheard us talking and told us not to worry. He hailed a van to Barrouallie and returned with a robust bunch of green banana. Thanks to him, we were able to make an ample portion of Bundiga. I called on everyone I could to assist us in any way possible and happily they delivered. This is the surprising thing about the human spirit; it will surprise you every time as long as you keep a clean heart and let faith lead the way.
Our first concert was at Barrouallie in the town’s park. We passed Miss Grace sitting by the side of the road. The previous year she had saved us when she finished over twenty five costumes in less than three days as a favor to YuGaCuRe. We reiterated how thankful we were for her generosity and urged her to come see us at the park. A large crowd gathered eager and generous with applause. The children danced and sang their hearts out. The Skits “We get back we culture part one and two” were extremely well received with the audience mouthing, “Ah true,” to the words of the children.
Our Second concert in Sandy Bay and our third at Peace Memorial Hall were also impressive with the children performing and delivering their lines with gusto. Once again James Lovell pulled it together brilliantly. The same children who giggled and fidgeted during rehearsals were perfect during the performances. They sang Luagu Ubouhu Balliceaux, Walamiserun and a host of Garifuna songs. According to Christine Vernon, who grew up speaking Garifuna, it was hard to tell they did not grow up speaking the language. At our main concert, awards were given to two well-deserved recipients Rene Baptiste (former minister of Culture) and Toni Johnson of NBC Radio. Both ladies have been champions at helping to preserve the Garifuna culture by their support of the workshop. Without these two ladies, our tasks of bringing this workshop to St. Vincent would be very difficult. Miss Baptiste is one of the pioneers of Garifuna Cultural Retrieval in St. Vincent. We were also able to give financial awards to 5 of our students and each child who completed the workshop were given a certificate. Additionally 24 Garifuna dictionaries were donated to the kids by Roy Cayetano and since most kids came in groups from the same household, we tried to deliver a copy to most households with older children. Dictionaries were also donated to the following libraries – Kingstown, Barrouallie and Sandy Bay.
On Monday August 26th we embarked on our vigil to Balliceaux. As it was in 2012, Balliceaux was tranquil and interestingly comforting. This year we were given a wonderful donation of a boat to take us there. As we made it towards the island we asked the children to mentally come out of their comfort zones and be mindful of the circumstances under which our ancestors were taken to Balliceaux over two hundred and fifteen years ago. Christine led our group in the ceremony to honor our ancestor with the presentation of food, water and candles. She asked each child to say what this all meant to them. At the end we thanked the ancestors for their guidance and ask for their continued direction as we go forward with the program. On our way home from Balliceaux Chris and I saw a beautiful rainbow that looped from Balliceaux to Battiwa, which is the island next to Balliceaux. As we edged further from the tiny island, the rainbow seemed to extend to mainland St. Vincent. I couldn’t help but think that the rainbow was the ancestors’ way of telling us that things would get better. With three years behind us and numerous years ahead of us, YuGaCuRe moved from being an organization to being a family this year. We want to thank the children and their parents for being a part of our YuGaCuRe family. Two thousand fifteen promises to be a big year for us as this would mark our 5th anniversary and we hope that family and friends will join us from America as well as Central America to celebrate the revival of our culture in the Garifuna Homeland. The workshops are a lot of work, but this year we received wonderful support from numerous individuals and business entities and we are very mindful that we could not have done it without them. We want to extend a heartfelt thank you to everyone who helped this cultural family and I also want to thank my colleagues James and Christine for their selfless contributions. Additionally we want to thank the people who, along with me and James, were among the original six that first took this workshop to St. Vincent in 2011– Eleanor Bullock, Verna Arthurs, Keila Herbert and James Cordice. Thank you all for lighting this torch.
The following is a list of individuals and businesses who supported us in 2013:
Trish St.Hill & Ajani Publishing
Rashida Smith & Easy Legal Solutions
Rene Baptiste Attorney
Standard Caribbean Shippers
Toni Johnson NBC Radio
Dr. Cadrin Gill MD
Mr. Cap Balcomb & Charmayne
Dora James at Central Leeward High School
Endangered Language Alliance (ELA)
Anthony Theobalds and the Department of Culture
Margery Laing & Shirley Gibbs-Bryant
Trish's Skadden Colleagues