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Virgin seas & the children’s future!

Dickson Igwe. Photo: VINO
Dickson Igwe

Leveraging the maritime environment is the best thing that could happen for Virgin Islands youth, and future generations. It is not happening!

Now, it never ceases to amaze this Old Boy the lack of vision this community has, especially with regard to its maritime resources. For years he has been singing a song to the powers that be to leverage the maritime industry for the benefit of the country’s youth, especially with regard to youth learning and employment. To be fair, he is happy to note that at last some effort is being taken to introduce a maritime programme into the national learning culture.

Ok. The Virgin Islands is the yachting capital of the world. The archipelago sits between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. It is washed by pristine waters that are wonderful for sailing. The country is also a sailing hub. All year round, International yachtsmen sail across the Atlantic from Europe to the Virgin Islands and back to Europe.

In the Americas, yachtsmen sail their yachts from North, Central, and South America to these islands and back regularly. Yachtsmen and women moor their boats on the island and then return to their countries of origin leaving their boats to be managed and maintained here. This is a great revenue earner and adds to the country’s GDP.

But these waters mean much more to the security and quality of life of the archipelago than being simply a yachting haven and economy.

There is a precious maritime heritage the country possesses. Virgin Islanders of the 1930s, 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s, were captains, sailors, boat builders, and tradesmen. Links between these islands and Santo Domingo, St Thomas, Cuba, among others, depended on precious boating skills that allowed culture, trade, and travel to flourish.

The agrarian culture of yesteryear depended on the local boating industry for trade with St Thomas. Boating was the beginning and ending of the Virgin Islands economy. The maritime museum at the college is a symbol of the maritime culture of yesteryear.

Today that seafaring culture, instead of being buttressed, maintained, and innovatively managed, for the benefit of the country has been lost. It has been binned, together with the agrarian and rural way of life for the modern services oriented economy. Many argue that this exchange has left the country worse off culturally.

Youngsters are being encouraged to learn everything else. Great as all learning this is, it can never be compared with learning the skills, sciences, and culture, of the seas that surround these islands.

Someone stated once that money is not everything. And it appears that many look at a career in the maritime industry as not financially profitable enough: how short sighted.

It is a wonderful thing for a child, male or female, to learn the skills, techniques, arts, sciences, and culture of the sea and ocean that wash these Virgin Islands.

Consider learning to swim and dive, a hobby that can pay, yet a majority of our children do not even have the most basic of marine skills: that ability to swim skillfully and proficiently.

Swimming leads to the opportunity to sail a boat. Swimming will help the child achieve a knowledge and appreciation of the sea environment that will lead to numerous careers from swimming instructors and lifeguards, to sailors and boat captains. There is a universe of opportunity in the maritime industry: marine electronics, marine communications, navigational systems, meteorology, rigging, leisure systems, reef and beach maintenance, shipping, ocean science, and so on and so forth. 

The knowledge and skills of the maritime industry lead to careers in the management of that maritime industry, from yacht moorings and boat maintenance, to hotel and resort management.

Thankfully, the leaders of this community appear to be waking up at last to this golden but ignored opportunity.   

Bear in mind, maritime learning is a discipline in its own right that can be viewed as a unitary curriculum. Meaning? A maritime academy can train children and youth, not simply in the skills and sciences of the maritime industry but link with every other academic discipline. In the maritime academy children can also take GCSEs and learn a full swathe of vocational disciplines.

Anyone visiting Nanny Cay Resort and Marina, on any afternoon will witness a number of children regularly learning to sail and swim. This is an excellent thing. And it is fully sponsored by the resort in that most of these organisations are not charged for the use the resort’s facilities, unlike most other places. This swimming instructor and water safety trainer considers Nanny Cay a great example of a socially responsible business: kudos to Mr Miles Sutherland- Pilch and his superb team.

However, the number of children learning these valuable skills is miniscule when compared with the general population of the country’s youth.

But take a drive into Road Town. Youth who should be learning a critical marine skill every afternoon after school instead get crushed under the wheels of vehicles riding uninsured scooters. Others get into mischief and crime, a number paying with their lives. Take a drive further up to Balsam Ghut, and one can only wonder whether a fully comprehensive maritime programme would not have prevented some of this precious cargo from ending up in incarceration.

Introducing a national maritime and sea skills programme is not rocket science. In fact the resources are already in existence. There are instructors and trainers on these islands, like this Old Boy, that are certified to teach every marine skill, from swimming and diving, to sailing and boating, and who would willingly give of their time to train the youth. The country sits a number of moorings and yacht harbours where kids could go learn the “tricks of the boating trade.”

A maritime academy would have been a great asset to the community, and a third alternative to academic and vocational learning. Kids attending a maritime academy do not have to go to any other institution, and in addition to learning core maritime skills, could achieve regular academic qualifications at the academy, even higher marine qualifications with global pedigree.

It is time the Virgin Islands stop talking about every other industry and look within and see the lost opportunity in not appreciating its own maritime environment, and the gifts it offers the society.

Then, the marine industry is naturally labour intensive, and can be a very pleasant working culture in the great outdoors. In short, a career in the marine industry offers a wonderful and fulfilling life.

But take a visit to any yacht marina or boating harbour, and what will you notice? The majority of workers doing a great job there are expatriates. These men and women are learning the critical skills of a critical local industry, while our own kids are learning how to ride and crash scooters.

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