An Account of Peace Corp Service - Beginning August 1999

 Vanessa Nehus-Huber, Volunteer

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Assignment: St. Lucia

General Information
(information supplied by Peace Corps)

Most people in the U.S. have read about the islands of the Eastern Caribbean in tourist brochures and travel sections of newspapers. Visitors to the islands add their own perceptions, often based upon a brief stay at a tourist hotel or a six-hour stopover from a cruise ship. Images of sunny beaches and coconut palms come to mind.

The people who live here however, along with the perceptive visitor, see a deeper reality. Islands in the Caribbean are troubled with major development problems: widespread unemployment,
disenfranchised youth, increasing drug use, inadequate infrastructure and a shortage of economic opportunities. Dissatisfied with the colonial patterns of the past and wary about the intentions of large political-economic powers, many residents search for effective ways to contribute to the development of their islands.

Because you are planning to come to the Caribbean for longer than the usual tourist stay, you may have ventured to the library or dusted off that set of encyclopedias tucked away on your shelf in order to read about such things as geography, history, social customs, rainfall, sugar cane, calypso, bananas, etc. But you may still feel that you don't know enough to comfortably move to a place where you will live and work for the next two years.

We hope these pages help make the Caribbean scene and Peace Corps experience more familiar to you and assist you in making preparations that are practical and thorough. Read through these pages carefully, knowing that they are written for you by Peace Corps staff and Volunteers who want to help you make a satisfying transition from one culture to another.

This information packet is revised each year and reflects the input from many generations of PCVs and Staff. Although we have made every effort to ensure that the information and suggestions are as clear and accurate as possible, many issues are a matter of personal choice and perspective. (e.g., ask any group of PCVs whether you should bring a pair of jeans and you're bound to hear different opinions - some will say they are too hot and other have found that they are just fine). In addition, some of the information will have changed before your arrival. If anything can be said with certainty! it is that you should be prepared to be flexible and respond to change.

Included in this packet are sections specific to the countries of assignment in the Eastern Caribbean: Antigua, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia and St. Vincent. Please refer to these sections for additional information specific to these countries and to the Volunteer experience on these islands.

Information about the Eastern Caribbean
Geography

The "Eastern Caribbean" includes Barbados and the Lesser Antilles - the island chain that separates the Atlantic from the Caribbean. The Peace Corps places Volunteers on any one of five major islands: Antigua, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia and St. Vincent.

The islands are geographically divided into "inner" and "outer" chains. The inner islands are volcanic in origin, and are characterized by rugged, mountainous terrain, heavy rainfall and lush vegetation. These islands include: Grenada and its dependencies of Carriacou and the southern Grenadines; St. Vincent and its dependencies of the northern Grenadines, St. Lucia; Dominica; St. Kitts and Nevis; and Montserrat. The high points of these islands are generally in the center, except for a few spectacular sheer slopes on some coastlines. Most roads go around rather than over. High points of elevation vary from 1,000 to 5,000 feet. The outer islands, Antigua and Barbuda, along with Barbados and Anguilla, have a coral limestone base. They are relatively flat and less rainy than the inner islands.

Climate and Weather

The tourist brochures don't lie when they describe the islands of the Caribbean as lands of sunshine and beaches. The first thing you must realize is that you are heading for two years of summer weather. Almost everyone brings along a few items of winter clothing because it is hard to believe they won't be needed. The temperatures make history if they go above 90 or below 70. The day night range is usually about ten degrees, 80 - 90 in the summer months, and 74 - 84 in the winter. The sun is hot year-round, but sea breezes that blow throughout the year from the north or the northeast cool the air. However because of the high humidity, it's easy to work up a sweat anytime,. Some localities are very hot and humid at certain times. The rainy season generally lasts from July to December, but the amount of rain varies widely in different locations. In addition, brief showers, sometimes downpours, are common in any month.

History

The Carib and Arawak Indians of the Caribbean discovered Columbus on the shores of their islands during his voyages to the New World. Columbus named the islands the "West Indies." His diary described the region as a "a country full of precious things and unheard of wonders." Lack of gold reserves and resistance by the Caribs and Arawaks, however, led the Spanish to turn their interests toward Central and South America. The islands initially served as a rendezvous for gold and pirate ships, and later became bloody battle grounds for contending European powers. St. Lucia, for example, changed colonial hands no less than fourteen times, ending up as an English territory only after the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars.

In the 17th century, privateering gave way to plantations. With the indigenous populations all but annihilated, plantation owners brought in Africans to provide the slave labor that made the sugar industry a success. When slavery was abolished in the 1830's a "coolie" system was devised to keep the plantations afloat, until it too was outlawed in 1916. The economic and social order of plantation life - a handful of white owners and a multitude of black laborers - was maintained well into the 20th century. The worldwide depression of the 1930's brought a sharp decline in sugar prices, and marked the beginning of the end for the plantations.

The West Indian historical legacy includes social inequities, a one crop economic base, limited opportunity for academic and vocational schooling, a rapidly growing population and high unemployment. Widespread poverty fostered social upheaval, characterized by the emergence of labor unions and the eventual stirrings of independence movements. Most of the island countries achieved independence in the 1960's or 70's. Some continue to be colonies, dependencies or provinces of other countries.

 Government

None of the various attempts to unite the islands politically has succeeded. All the governments
follow the British Parliamentary pattern: members of the majority party select the Prime Minister (or Premier), who in turn chooses the cabinet ministers. The actual administration of each ministry is the responsibility of the Permanent Secretary, the chief civil servant.

West Indian politics are always interesting and may, at first, seem confusing to the newcomer. Most of the governments are headed by socialist political parties, which grew out of the agricultural labor union movements. The governments have a strong commitment to provide extensive social services, such as free education and health services. Opposition parties in most countries have a difficult time trying to unseat an established government, although some islands have a strong two-party system. Political alliances are not always defined by ideological considerations, and political figures frequently change parties.

Economy

Island economies remain based on single cash crops, like bananas, or on tourism, which is the leading growth industry. There is also some light manufacturing. In general, economic development in the Eastern Caribbean is hampered by 1) small domestic markets, 2) a scarcity of trained labor, 3) the absence of raw materials and, in some cases, 4) inadequate transportation and marketing facilities.

One-crop agricultural practices are so pervasive that, despite favorable soil and growing conditions, most staple food has to be imported. Even so, due mainly to high transportation costs, it would be difficult for the islands' principal export crops to compete without special trade agreements with Great Britain. The dependency on the cultivation of bananas as the principal export is being threatened by initiatives to liberalize trade. Significant changes are on the horizon that will reshape the economic order of the banana producing islands.

The solution to the chronic problems of unemployment and under-employment lie in diversifying agricultural production, developing small business opportunities, expanding industrial capacity and searching for ways to expand the service industry.

Development Challenges and Peace Corps Involvement

Each nation in the Eastern Caribbean has its own set of priorities, its own resources, and its own approach to development. Tourism, for example, is a major industry in Antigua, but not very significant in St. Vincent. Grenada is one of the world's largest suppliers of nutmeg, but it is grown nowhere else in the region. Sugar cane is the largest crop on St. Kitts, but is insignificant elsewhere. Annual per capita incomes vary widely from island to island.

Development issues common to all the islands include: the limitations and expense of transport imposed by island geography, the dependence on one or two sources of export earning, emigration of many technically or university-trained West Indians to more aMuent countries, lack of sufficient funding for education and health care services, perennial budget deficits and increasing levels of unemployment.

In addition the increase in drug trade throughout the Caribbean has created problems related both to drug consumption and drug trafficking. Drug usage and addiction is on the rise, especially among younger persons. There has also been a rapid increase in associated problems such as crime, social displacement and disenfranchised youth.

Many prominent West Indians and outside observers believe that a formal political association of the island nations will be needed to meet long-term development and social needs. There have been recent discussions about a regional federation in the Windward Islands, but no course of action has been agreed upon.

The Peace Corps entered the Eastern Caribbean in 1961 when St. Lucia became one of three pilot Peace Corps post worldwide. In 1966 Peace Corps entered Grenada, and St. Kitts/Nevis, and in 1967 entered Antigua/Barbuda, Dominica and St. Vincent. Peace Corps entered Barbados in 1968, Montserrat in 1974 and finally Anguilla in 1980. At host country request Peace Corps was asked to cease, and then later restore operations in Dominica and Grenada between 1970-1975 and 1979 1985 respectively. The last volunteers left Anguilla in 1989 and Barbados in 1990. Maximum Volunteer strength reached 220 in 1982. To date almost 3,000 PCVs have served in the Eastern Caribbean. In 1988 a decision was reached to reorganize the Eastern Caribbean into two posts, Windward and Leewards. It was decided to return to a one post configuration in December 1989 with St. Lucia the new headquarters. The reorganization to St. Lucia was completed on December 31,1990.

Volunteers were initially assigned to education, agriculture, health and community development. The contributions of Volunteers in these areas have provided strong and consistent technical support to the Eastern Caribbean for over 30 years. "Basic human needs" programming in the 70's encouraged health, special education, pre-school education, teacher training, forestry, fisheries and livestock extension programs. The 1980's was a period of focusing programs into the four sectors of education, health, agriculture and small enterprise development. At the beginning of the 90's, education, environment, health and youth initiatives were priorities. Peace Corps/Eastern Caribbean has made significant progress since January 1991 to establish project based programming and to provide focus to the program. Since an EC-wide needs assessment in 1993, programming has been developing partnerships with NGOs and steadily away from formal schools into educational programs targeting at-risk youth.

The major focus of Peace Corps assistance in the Eastern Caribbean is directed toward addressing the educational and self-esteem needs of out-of-school youth. More than 80% of the PCVs currently work directly with youth programs as basic educators, technical skills trainers or counselors. Peace Corps is considered by many government officials to be a leader in addressing the social and economic problems resulting from high unemployment and drug/alcohol abuse among youth in the Eastern Caribbean.

Work Environment

English is the official language of all Eastern Caribbean islands in which Peace Corps Volunteers serve. However, each island has a dialect of its own, and these dialects are difficult to understand at first. At first glance the work environment looks similar to that of the States, but large differences soon become apparent. West Indian culture is an intriguing mix of African, English, French and American influences, as well as some that have developed as purely West Indian. Learning to understand and function effectively within this culture this does not happen quickly and presents the greatest single challenge to the Peace Corps Volunteer serving in the Eastern Caribbean.

Each island and each country has its own particular variety of official bureaucracy. As the islands are linked to British traditions, Volunteers find that the work environment is more formal than would be the case in most offices in America. But the islands are also developing nations trying to work out their own ways of doing things. Volunteers find that government operations appear less organized than in the United States. At times it seems that the pace is hopelessly slow when it comes to solving immediate problems. Sometimes too Volunteers think that they are being used at less than their full level of ability, especially in the early stages of a project. Changes often occur in the assigned project, due to a shift in key personnel or a budget crunch, requiring additional flexibility.

Peace Corps Volunteer assignments vary as widely as do Volunteer expectations. Some people come to the West Indies to get away from a 9:00 to 5:00 routine, only to find themselves figuratively punching a time clock with their West Indian co-workers. Others feel frustrated in a loosely structured situation with too little assigned work. Others are frustrated by putting in eighteen hours a day and still finding many things left undone.

Peace Corps Volunteers are considered local employees of the West Indian agencies they serve, and are treated as such. Volunteers are expected to observe the same work schedules, reporting procedures, leave-of-absence policies, and access to agency resources as do their co-workers. The need to report to supervisors, observe protocol and respect established procedures cannot be over emphasized. In addition it is important for Volunteers to remember their commitment to voluntary service and be sensitive to the reactions of colleagues: that is they must not compete with co-workers or expect recognition for what they consider to be an outstanding contribution.

The important point in all of this is that a Volunteer assignment in the Caribbean involves a high degree of commitment. Projects are set up and assignments are made with the idea that a Volunteer will stay and work hard for two years. Host agencies, sponsoring Ministries and local community members or students are counting on a Volunteer to remain in the position for a full term. Do not accept this invitation to service if you are not willing to make such a commitment. Also do not come with the idea that you will "try it for a year and then decide whether to stay".

It is also important not to interpret "Volunteer" in the informal way that some volunteer service is viewed in the States. Your assignment will involve being on the job day-in, day-out following the
same schedules and protocols as your host country colleagues. You will not be able to casually take a few days off or go off on a trip to visit family whenever you wish. There are provisions for taking annual leave and vacation, but associated application procedures and scheduling restrictions must be observed.

Whatever frustrations and limitations may exit, Peace Corps Volunteers who serve in the Eastern Caribbean consistently find the experience to be uniquely rewarding. There is a special kind of satisfaction that comes from learning to live and work effectively in another culture. And it soon becomes apparent that the experience effectively contributes not only to personal learning, but also to the development of both the host and the home country.

Log on to:
http ://kokotwiz.8m.com/dw
for information regarding the Peace Corps Volunteer experience
in the Eastern Caribbean
(prepared by PCV David Walters, St. Lucia EC#65)

 

Other Information About St. Lucia

HISTORY: It has been noted that the island of St. Lucia was first inhabited by the Arawaks from as early as AD 200 - 400. However they were overpowered and gradually driven out by the 'war-like', cannibalistic Caribs who migrated here during the period AD 800 - 1000.

According to history the island was first discovered by the Europeans through the Spanish adventurer Christopher Columbus on December 13, 1492. Modern historians are however disputing this.

The island became a battle ground with the French and British vying for control. In fact between the period 1651 and 1814 the island changed hands fourteen times with the British being the final conqueror. This frequent exchange resulted in the establishment of a strong French influence evident by the names of people, communities and most importantly by the presence of the creole patois spoken by many St. Lucians.

Slavery was also a part of the island's history, hence the predominance of the African influence in terms of the inhabitants and their culture.

GEOGRAPHY: St. Lucia is an island 27 miles long and 14 miles wide and covers 238 square miles (816 sq. km.). It lies between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean and is situated to the south of Martinique and the north of St. Vincent. It is a volcanic and mountainous island whose highest peak is Morne Gimie (3,145ft. or 958 m. high).

PEOPLE: The population of St. Lucia is estimated at 165,000. The majority of the people are of African descent. There are other smaller ethnic groups comprising East Indians, Caucasian and mixed. Education is competitive for children between the ages of 5 to 16 years. There are 84 primary (elementary) and 14 secondary (high) schools on the island with an enrollment of 34,402 and 8,152 respectively. Tertiary level education is offered at the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College. Education for the most part is exam-oriented.

Students sit a qualifying exam (the common entrance) to determine whether they enter secondary school. After the end of 5 years of secondary schooling, students write the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) examination. The quality of performance determines whether they pursue higher education.

In terms of religion, the population is primarily Catholic with the Church of England (Anglican), Methodist, Rastafarianism, Seventh Day Adventists and the Protestant sects making up the remainder.

Life expectancy has been estimated at 72.9 yrs (males 70.3, females 74.9). The work force is concentrated mainly on agriculture (particularly banana production) and tourism, with smaller populations employed in industry and commerce and in the service sector.

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS: St. Lucia is an independent member of the Commonwealth, and as such, the head of state is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second. However, she is represented in St. Lucia by the Governor General. The government is based on the Westminister Parliamentary model. There are two chambers: The House of Assembly, where members are elected for 5 year period, and the Senate, where members are nominated for the same period.

KEY OFFICIALS:
Governor General - Her Exellency, Dr. Pearlette Louisy
Prime Minister, Minster of Finance - Dr. Kenny Anthony

Ministers
Foreign Affairs and International Trade - Hon. George Odlum
Trade and Industry - Hon. Dr. Walter Francois
Communications, Works and Transport - Hon. Calixte George
Agriculture, Lands and Fisheries - Hon.Cassius Elias
Community Development and Culture - Hon. Damian Greaves
Education, Human Resourse Development, Youth and Sports - Hon. Mario Michel
Health, Women Affairs and Social Services - Hon. Sarah Flood
Tourism - Hon. Phillip J. Pierre
Minister of Legal and Home Affairs - Hon. Velon John
Ambassador to the United States, United Nations and the OAS - Mr. Julian Hunte

TRAVEL NOTES: As a US citizen you do not need a passport to enter the island, proof of citizenship is all that is required, however you will be given a passport by Peace Corps. Please use it.

In terms of currency, St. Lucia is a member of the Eastern Caribbean (EC) Currency Authority and uses the EC dollar which is pegged to the US dollar at EC $2.68 = US $1.00.

St.Lucia is served by two airports. George F. L. Charles near the capital city Castries accommodates smaller aircraft, while Hewanorra International in the south of the island near Vieux Fort has regularly scheduled flights from North America and Europe.

TELECOMMUNICATIONS AND MEDIA The telecommunications system, operated by Cable and Wireless is a very sophisticated one. St. Lucia can be dialed directly from the US with the prefix
758 and the island's seven-digit telephone numbers.

Electronic mail (e-mail) and Internet access are available at the Peace Corps Office. The address for Volunteers is: peacevol@candw.lc and for staff: uspeacec@candw.lc. Please feel free to contact Volunteers or members of staff.

In terms of the media there are three radio stations: Radio St. Lucia is government-owned, Helen FM, and Radio Caribbean are privately owned. The two television stations are both privately owned.

Helen Television Service (HTS) and Daher Broadcasting Services (DBS) provide both US and local programming. However, US programs are more dominant. Cable Television is also available through Cable and Wireless in selected locations.

There are a number of locally published newspapers. However the four main ones are as follows: The Voice is the oldest paper, founded in 1885 and published on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The Star, Mirror and Crusader are all published weekly.

BUSINESS HOURS: The government offices are open to the public from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm, Monday to Friday. The commercial sector is also open on Saturday and Sunday half-day.

 

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