Wednesday 8th July, 2015 marked the commencement of what many hailed as a new way forward for the Des Barras Combined School and the Des Barras Community. A ceremony was held on that day to recognize the invaluable contributions of the students, ancillary staff, parents, businesses and other community members towards the development of the school. The inaugural awards ceremony, which took place on the school’s compound, was also attended by education officials, principals from Education District One, and the parliamentary representative Hon. Alvina Reynolds.But this was no ordinary ceremony. In 2009, the Des Barras Combined School with an enrollment of only 21, faced the threat of closure. Ironically, this would be the same year in which the school would attain the highest mean at the Common Entrance Examinations and, for the first time in the school’s history, a student – Ms. Victoria Alberty would feature prominently on the list of top performers. Protests from community members and those who knew of the school’s importance to the community would halt in these plans but the threats of possible closure would continue to loom over the community for a long time.
In 2015, the enrollment stands at 35 and plans have been initiated to bring in students from the nearby community of Garrand in the new academic year. These plans were revealed by the school’s principal Mr. Ezra Joseph who anticipates that the enrollment will increase to nearly 50. While many perceive the small enrollment as a case where the community members have unanimously decided to halt procreation efforts, this is actually a twisted tale involving the relocation of community members, unavailability of land and migration. For years, Des Barras ( which is located in a mythical location known as “Behind God’s Back”) has silently fought an unusual problem – unavailability of land for construction. As a result, some community members were re-located to Resinard (Garrand) through the PROUD initiative while many others chose to migrate because of perceived primitive infrastructure, employment opportunities elsewhere, and love interests outside the community. Today, the infrastructure has been modernized in most instances; roads which were unfit for donkey’s hooves are friendlier, the effects of droughts constantly evade that part of the island and cablevision is present but restricted to one telecommunications company.
While many question why any sane government continues to finance a school with less than forty students in the midst of a category five economic hurricane, the school continues to prove that the government’s investment is not a waste. Moreover, the institution has partnered with a non-profit organization known as “Hands Across the Sea” to assist in the refurbishment of its library. In a community where Creole is the first language of many persons and few receive the benefits of early childhood education, the principal sees this as a necessary step towards the improvement of literacy rates.
The principal also revealed plans to erect a greenhouse on the compound. Des Barras, he explained, is a farming community and it would be sad if the students did not appreciate such a fact. It would be unfortunate if they did not understand the value of tilling the soil and how to do so. Years ago, community members gained revenue mostly through farming initiatives at the Grande Anse, Louvet and Marquis Estates. As these farming enterprises closed, the “green gold” and copra production would take over to provide much needed relief. Today, many community members are seasoned horticulturists and many others are involved in the planting and processing of cassava in the community. Backyard gardens are common (no doubt assisting in the reduction of food bills) and many persons are involved in the rearing of cattle, poultry, goats, sheep and pigs. The community is also home to an organic farm operated by rastafarians – Zimbabwe Roots Farm. This is the community – it was built by farmers through farming and the school hopes to nurture a generation which appreciates its farming roots. Mr. Ezra Joseph also hopes to etch deep in the hearts of community members and students a love for education, an unwavering love for the farming roots of the community, a love for community-building and remodeling, a deeper appreciation for where we came from and an embracement of where we are going together.
Perhaps this plan to bring the garden into the classroom may serve to inspire others to see the education of our nation’s children outside of the classroom’s walls – in our gardens, on the construction sites and in our restaurants. Proponents of constructivism have spoken of the need to balance book knowledge and experiences … but few listened. Our private and public sectors often speak of the wave of school-leavers who knock on their doors wearing only caps of book knowledge and swinging unskilled hands… but few listen. It now appears that the re-location of the classrooms at this school will inevitably be the nail to pierce the hole in the unemployment bucket whilst opening the windows of self-employment and entrepreneurism.