Sunshine School in Bequia brings joy to their eyes

January 21, 2015   ·   0 Comments

Sometimes we are led to where we should be in life by little nudges and pushes that are just too hard to resist.  Four years ago, my husband and I stumbled upon a school in Bequia, quite by accident, a twist of fate that was to bring much joy into our lives.

You may be asking yourself, ‘Where is Bequia”?  It is a tiny island half a world away, only seven miles square, with a population of less than 5,000, that is the smallest island in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Think Barbados, then hang a right. And this is where our story begins….

It was our last day in Bequia.  We’d had the most memorable holiday of our lives and didn’t want to leave this paradise, so we spent our last day there, wandering around, feeling the need to get to know even more about this oasis we had discovered.

We were eager to make new discoveries as we walked along roads that we hadn’t walked before.  We stopped in at the tourist information centre, to say goodbye to Verna May, a lovely young woman who had become our unofficial ‘tour guide’, advising us on what to see and do during our 10-day visit.

As we were about to leave, my husband spotted a canister on the counter that simply said, ‘Sunshine School’ on it.

It had an open slot on the top to push coins through like a piggy bank, so my husband dropped the rest of his change into the tin.

Verna May’s head shot up like a rabbit.  She smiled broadly and said, “Why, thank you!”, looking as if we’d just given her a million dollars.  She explained to us that the Sunshine School was very dear to her heart, as it was the only special needs school on the island and her nephew attended it.

The school can only accommodate a maximum of 30 students, and there is a wait list, with students from grade 1 to 8 all attending the same large classroom, just like an old fashioned schoolhouse.  The school is not for profit, with the government paying the principals salary only, while the salaries of the other 4 teachers, and all school expenses are raised privately by the school each year, by fundraising.  The operating budget is $70K Eastern Caribbean dollars, which is the equivalent of approx. $31K Canadian.   As I’m sure you agree, that figure still boggles my mind.

Needless to say, we were hooked.  We decided we had to see this school before we left Bequia the next day, so Verna May gave us directions.  Our destination wasn’t far from the heart of town, so we began walking, and as we climbed the final hill, there it was – a building painted a bright, cheery yellow that seemed to reach out to us, as warm and welcoming as the sun. Very aptly named.

We were disappointed to discover that school was already out for the day, and our next visit would have to wait until our return to Bequia.  My husband and I looked at each other and vowed that when (not if) we returned, we would do ‘something’ to help this school – and we did.  The following year we returned with a sizable donation that was the result of a Christmas party where we asked friends to simply ‘drop change into a can’ for the Sunshine School.  It seemed fitting, as that’s how we had discovered the school, by dropping coins into Verna May’s tin can.

So there we were, a year later, meeting the staff, students – and touring this place where magic happens for all of these special needs kids.  And we discovered the one thing that was ‘maybe’ missing from this magical place were drama classes.   So, what did we do?  I’m sure you can guess.  We made another vow.

Well, really, I made a vow.  I would not return to this school and this island without coming back prepared (and able!) to teach these kids music and drama.

And that’s how I got involved with TOEP (Theatre Orangeville’s Exceptional Players).  As soon as I returned home to Canada that February, I offered to volunteer for this amazing program that Theatre Orangeville provides.  Alongside the phenomenal teacher, Chandra Gibson, and some incredibly gifted volunteers, every Monday night last spring and fall, I participated in and assisted the TOEP program.

I think it was hard to decipher who was the student and who was the teacher, as I came home from my first TOEP class and said to my husband, “Okay, I feel guilty.  I think I’m having more fun in class that the kids”!!

The best part of my week was joining my new friends in the Theatre Orangeville rehearsal hall for an evening of music, fun, dance and friendship.  I learned what amazing people each one of these kids are – and like a sponge, I soaked up Chandra’s teaching and gained skills that allowed me to travel to the Sunshine School in Bequia this January, and share my love of music and drama with these special kids here.

Yes, that’s where I am right now, and I’m so excited to share this story with you, as I have to admit, the highlight of my weeks here are the days spent at the Sunshine School getting to know these kids.  Their creativity and passion inspires me, and their warmth and friendship has warmed my heart.

And once again, I am reminded of the power of music and the arts to bring people together – and celebrate the Abilities we all possess.

Stay tuned for more about the fun we are creating in the  classes – next week!

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