Augier farmer speaks out about school woes

Is this Augier farm the cause of problems at the Augier School. Both sides want an investigation.

Two weeks ago the STAR highlighted a six year old problem at the Augier Primary School which has gotten the attention of the media on more than one occasion over the years. The issue surrounds a foul odour that those affected claim emanate from nearby farms. The situation worsened in 2007 with teachers and parents beginning to agitate for something to be done by staging various forms of protest action. Efforts by the Ministry of Education then to remedy the situation by fumigating the school, compounded the issues since the chemicals used created a stench even worse than the original odour. Additionally, the chemicals used in the fumigation appeared to have caused an allergic reaction to students and teachers, resulting in five persons being hospitalized.
In 2009 there was yet another spate of students and teachers falling sick; a result they claim of pollutants in the air from one of the farms in particular. The victims’ condition then included respiratory problems, fever and allergic reactions.
In October of last year, the PTA decided that enough is enough and keep the children from the school at home following an infestation of flies at the school. The teachers and parents took to the streets, protesting the situation at the school, calling on the attention of the authorities. What followed was a meeting with education officials including the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education who promised something would be done, without giving a time frame.
It is now 2011 and parents, teachers and students are fed up of the many promises made to them by the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Agriculture to thoroughly investigate the matter and address it once and for all. The health and quality of education of the children they say is being compromised.
The executive of the PTA tells the STAR that although they have nothing conclusive as to what is affecting the quality of health of their children at the Augier School they strongly believe, based on their observation that the nearby farm is compromising the quality of air and creating the fly infestations that the school has had to deal with on several occasions. They want the matter to be investigated and dealt with. They also want addressed as well, a pile of asbestos which was removed from the school’s roofing last year and buried on the compound.
“We just wrote a letter to environmental health as well asking for some kind of quality check for the air that is circulated around the atmosphere in the school to find out whether there are any foreign particles in the air that could cause sinuses and allergies and what the long term effects are,” the VP of the PTA told us.
The Augier Primary School which is located in Augier, Vieux Fort has been in existence now from 1950. The farm which is now the source of concern has been in the Williams family for more than sixty years says Julie Williams, one of the owners and farmers.
On about one acre of land less than a stone’s throw away from the school, the family rears goats and poultry with the sale of eggs being their main source of income. The farm is divided amongst three siblings, a brother and two sisters and supply the island with approximately twenty-five percent of its eggs according to one of the Williams sisters.
And after speaking to one of the farmers it became clear that she too is just as frustrated (for different reasons) with the “School Vs the Farm” situation at Augier.
The STAR spoke with Julie Williams recently who told us she is simply fed up with all the accusations and all that has been going on over the years. She said at one point she was tempted to take her story to the media, but decided against, it hoping things would go away. Even when we approached her, she was reluctant to speak out at first, but eventually did.
We got straight to the point and asked Williams whether she believed that her farm was creating a problem for the school in terms of the odour and flies.
“I don’t see how it is affecting the school, because we are on the down side of the school and when the wind blows it blows away from the school. I am not saying that if the wind changes direction like in September, October, November, I am not saying if they have things like decaying closer to their side there might not be a slight odour, which we are not the only persons around there with farms. But I will not say it is from my farm, I am not saying it is not from my farm. It can be from anywhere because wind blowing, it can come from as far as Laborie, there are other farms around the school, no one is pointing at any other farm but just this one,” Williams told us.
She also told us that she has had visits by officials from the Ministry of Agriculture and have complied with their requests to make the farm more sanitary. “They have been here and if I am not doing something right they suggest ways of doing it better and even if I may not be able to do it right away, I always try to do what is right, because I really do not want any problems,” an irate Williams explains.
Sensing her frustration we asked her what was her greatest concern. “You see with all that is going on the thing is I have no problem with moving my farm as long as I am given adequate space.  Ministry of Agriculture have come and look and they promised to relocate me, but it has been so long now and I have heard nothing,” Williams revealed to the STAR.
According to her, she would love to expand her farm which is situated too near the school for any expansion. She presently houses about 5,000 birds, a few goats and also grows some vegetables. “Right now I want to rear more goats and go into producing more vegetables. I am still waiting to hear what the Ministry of Agriculture has to say,” she states. Meanwhile she says the finger pointing continues creating tension in the community and even with her own brother. She claims too that even her son who went to the Augier School was taunted by a few teachers and students who mocked him about the smell from “your mother’s farm.”
Julie Williams says her family has been a part of the community and through their efforts and the contribution the farm has made they were able to get proper roads and utility poles leading to the area near the farm. She told us that she is ready as she has always been to cooperate with the authorities and is ready to move if it comes down to that, once she is given adequate lands to relocate. “They are all free to come and do whatever they wish to do whenever they are ready. Whatever information they want and I can share I will share,” she says referring to the Ministry of Agriculture officials.
Meanwhile the Augier farmer says she has also been awaiting promised assistance after the passage of hurricane Tomas which also affected her business. “I lost my feed storage, my feed got wet and I lost about 500 birds,” she says. A promise to assist the livestock industry of which she is a part she says has not materialized.
Meanwhile Julie Williams and her two employees continue to work their farm in an effort to keep their market supplies going. She says times are tough but is thankful for some assistance rendered by the OPSR. The bigger problem however is one she says has to be dealt with once and for all.

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