A community takes control
The area where her centre is located in Fondes Amandes was a dumping ground for people within the community. With the development of the area, contractors and developers would also deposit detritus from the construction sites. There are two sides to the community of Fondes Amandes, Akilah states: the well-to-do and the poverty which is hidden in the recesses. Both communities dumped and no garbage trucks entered to clear.
Her husband rallied the community and a big clean-up drive ensued. “For us, it was to start cleaning up and with that we just continued cleaning.” They noticed something with the community’s involvement, “…we were able to transform that whole dumping pattern, the whole uncaring pattern, to a more custodial way. The people in the community started thinking about the environment, and feeling a sense of pride in seeing the transformation.”
Tacuma died in March 1994 and in memorial to him, every year Akilah hosts a gayap, where people come out to work and learn. February to March is the driest period of the year, so the gayap is perfectly timed. “Now we have schools coming on board for gayap. We educate young people; we educate communities; we go out to communities, cut firebreaks with them to show them this is how we do it.”
What began as a community protecting and rebuilding its space has now become a model which has been taken to 21 countries around the world. The group became an NGO in 1999, Fondes Amandes Community Reforestation Project (FACRP), and 60,000 seedlings have been planted from Fondes Amandes to Lady Chancellor. In the interim, between 1982 to 1999, the group, without funding, did what they could simply out of “love and devotion and passion for the natural environment”.
Now they offer tours, and are in the process of writing a proposal to the Green Fund. The group continues the clean-up of the river at Fondes Amandes and fight fires at the [fire] breaks as far as Lady Chancellor. “Even though we have the Forestry Division and the fire services, they need extra support…we do and we continue to do.” The area has been fire free since 1997.
Trinbagonians and the environment
In Trinidad and Tobago, the model has been taken to different communities and FACRP is requesting money from the Green Fund for other NGOs, to supply them with fire kits. The group has been actively working with and alongside other NGOs. It’s not just talk but continued action, too.
She admits, however, that a whole new way of thinking has to be encouraged. A little-known fact is that 100 per cent of forest fires here are manmade – from slash and burn, to hunters using fire to flush out their prey, to malicious pleasure in seeing things burn, to campers leaving their firesides burning or smoldering. Then there are those who use fire to clean: “‘Allyuh, all dem dry bush, jus’ light fire and burn down de ting, nuh?’ So they just light and burn. It’s a lot of education needed to really transform that behaviour.”
Developers too came in for criticism for their lack of ecological integrity. “You are a planner or a contractor, you must know the importance of trees in keeping the soil together….instead, you just cut down everything, cover natural springs. You put houses around a water table, or by a river. People need to be guided and laws enforced.”
There appears to be an utter disconnect in the awareness of the direct impact of environmental abuse – until perhaps the rainy season. We may be able to identify beautiful spots but we don’t value them, often leaving garbage behind for somebody else to clean up. Akilah describes the nasty habits of outside groups visiting the river and leaving cups, bottles, foodstuff and bags behind.
There has been much in the news about the atrocities in the Caroni Swamp, with the hunting of our National Bird, the Scarlet Ibis for meat. Can we really be proud of who we are, and boast of living in ‘Sweet T &T’ when we care not for the very land on which we live?
Akilah emphatically summarised the needed change: “Environmental caring starts with you. It starts with you and you and you…”
The FACRP is always looking for volunteers to help in any area, either with reforestation practices or in administration. You can contact them, or an NGO in your area, and truly prove that you are willing to make T & T a better place: firstname.lastname@example.org | email@example.com