Plagued by a barrage of negative connotations the community of Anse La Raye has over the years been warding off a number of social stigmas which has in effect stymied the growth of the west coast village.
However a group of young persons have embarked on a mission to effect change, a change they insist must first begin within them, before spreading through the community and Saint Lucia in general.
My first encounter with the group “Youth on Fire Ministry” was two weeks ago during a youth day concert at the Sports complex at Vigie. Though the event itself was a lacklustre affair, the energy and creativity that “Youth on Fire Ministry” put into their performance, which incorporated singing, chants and the popular American stomp art-form, had me spellbound. The community based group has been reaching out with their messages in song, dance and stomping with original lyrical pieces created by Thaddeus Joseph and Neil George.
And so there I was last Thursday in Anse La Raye at the community square surrounded by more than a dozen members of the group, for my promised interview. I was previously informed by the leader Magnus Deboville that their stomp production was a way of coming together to highlight some of the social problems in the community and to reinforce that through unity the community could overcome some of its challenges. All of the members of the group agreed, that Anse La Raye is plagued by a myriad of issues, compounded by the lack of proper family structures and support services.
While education is the key all members agree, they are also calling for more avenues to be opened for creative expressions as an outlet for their talent and their emotions even in the most troubling of times.
Kate Popo, one of the original members of the group told the STAR that in the beginning the group was not really looking at community issues.
“We were more or less a Catholic based organization and we were looking at building spirituality in the young people of the church. But then it was a bit trying for the members since there was no real drive behind us and we saw that our talent and intentions were not really being met by the leaders and the organizers of the group at first,” Popo says. And so the group decided to become a lot more broad based but still with spirituality at the core of their message. And from a membership of about 12 seven years ago the group has grown to involve about one hundred young persons from the community. They now serve as an umbrella group for other talented individuals and groups.
“Today we now look at some of the social issues in our community and we try to curb them using ourselves as examples of change and our spirituality to try to foster change in our community,” Popo continued to say to us. “Our main intention is to take people, young people in particular from what is plaguing us, poverty, teenage pregnancy, drug abuse, alcoholism. We try to show them a better way, by speaking to them, offering counseling and mentoring them and giving them avenues to express themselves,” she adds.
Magnus Debeauville told us that the greatest challenge facing the group besides the negative stigma attached to the community is the lack of support from the older generation.
“It is like we have to deal with some of what they faced, with little guidance from them and some of our own issues as well.” Through perseverance however, he says he has seen how the group has improved the lives of members, by building on their self-esteem and providing them with something to do in the spare time as well as an outlet for proper socialization.
“We know that we are plagued with poverty here and constantly hearing that Anse La Raye is the poorest community and that nothing good comes out of Anse La Raye are notions we need to change. But I believe that in order for us to change our young people, it has to be a consistent thing to change this mindset,” the group leader says. Debeauville also wants to see an end to the cycle which has created the single parent households which are common in the community.
The mission statement of Youth on Fire Ministry is to pursue its vision by engaging the youth in a range of activities that will create within their minds, the desire to achieve their best and give their best in all that they do. The members range in ages 13 upwards and meet sometimes at the church office which is sometimes too small. The other options; the square or Debeauville’s home. Efforts to utilize the parish hall they say is met with lots of “red tape.” The group has hosted several concerts in the community and the sale of items on occasions as a way of raising funds.
Alice Minville sees it as a challenge getting through to the men in the community however.
“One of the main problems in Anse La Raye is our young men, many of whom turn to alcohol and marijuana, and later influence the young women who they get pregnant and then leave creating the single parent problem. Most of us here know about this, since we grow up without father figures in the house. However, this group has been our support. It has helped me in terms of being my family support group and gives me somewhere to go to socialize in a positive manner with my peers. Sometimes when I am stressed out I can socialize with them and even when I encounter problems at home, the emotional support is there for me and I know that I am not a very emotionally stable persons, but I get a lot of help from the group,” Minville related.
Seventeen-year-old Heidi Titus also told her story of being surrounded by a large extended family, but not getting the attention needed by a teenager to help steer her in the right direction.
“Sometimes it is hard for me to get the attention I really want and I also have to deal with the rumours in communities like ours where persons go to your mother with stories when you are out socializing. But the group has not only helped me by providing me with a family away from home, but has helped in building that trust with my mother as well,” Titus says. “I really need the community to support us and to reach out to us and to realize that Youth on Fire Ministry is a group with a lot of talent and that we are not just a stagnant group,” she explained.
“I also grew up in a family where no one is there emotionally to help and encourage us,” Alice Leonce says. “We need love and encouragement to develop our self confidence, and if we do not get it at home we may look for it in wrong places. This is why some young people find themselves in situations they cannot get out of which involves alcohol, drugs and sex,” she stressed. But we want a better community. This group is something good and through it we want to develop as young people and to grow up to become role models and have better children ourselves and make this place Anse La Raye a better community so we can no longer be called the poor community or the poorest place in Saint Lucia,” she expressed with confidence.
Another member of Youth on Fire Ministry, Shanil Charles told the STAR that being in the group has helped build her self-esteem and confidence. “I now have the social support that I did not have growing up with my mom alone having to do so much for the family,” she explained. “When I met this group I felt more complete, like I now had both my parents.”
Throughout our interview one thing was clear, that the young persons sitting around the square in Anse La Raye with me were fed up of being kept back and were no longer prepared to sit idly and accept the negativity thrown their way. They want to be better, they say, they want their community to be better and although they are crying out for support will not wait to get started along their path of success.
In one final chant before I leave Neil George calls out into my recorder; “we will not fail because with God on our side nothing can out our fire, in the dark we will not hide, because our aim is to reach higher, we don’t really think about what people have to say, because with the most high above we are what we are today, Youth on Fire.”