On September 3rd, 2014, OPOE said goodbye to Antigua and the Caribbean. Tom & Nuin returned to their homebase in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Annie returned to Denver and then Kenya, where she will begin a position with the UN. Many thanks to Annie, all her hard work, professionalism, and enthusiasm. Annie was a great asset to OPOE in the Caribbean and she will be missed. 

 Annie, Nuin-Tara, and Tom. Final group pic before departing - photo, Jace, our driver

Annie, Nuin-Tara, and Tom. Final group pic before departing - photo, Jace, our driver

 Tom and Nuin-Tara, on the way home,  settling in for a night at the Dallas airport  - photo, Tom Miller

Tom and Nuin-Tara, on the way home, settling in for a night at the Dallas airport - photo, Tom Miller


 Cosmos in Bloom, Santa Fe - photo, Tom Miller

Cosmos in Bloom, Santa Fe - photo, Tom Miller

OPOE has been back in Santa Fe for one week now, resting up, going over equipment, logistics, and preparing for our next destination - Nicaragua. For this next leg, OPOE will be joined by Daniel Vance as audio engineer, and translation and production assistant.

In other news - and in case you missed it - on September 4th, our partner, Ensia Magazine, release the first OPOE On The Road video. This series of films will be rough, travel-style documentaries (hence the name - OPOE on the Road) and will highlight people and organizations around the world and the great work that they are undertaking.

This week, the following blog will be a write-up of OPOE's experience on Union Island and with the Environmental Attackers. It is meant to be paired with the video OPOE produced, so if you haven't seen it yet, please check it out on Ensia's website to get some context for the following write-up.


OPOE, Union Island, and the Environmental Attackers

By Tom Miller

The Caribbean is a hotbed of climate change activity: coastal erosion, rising sea levels, increased storm frequency, longer periods of drought.  Island counties like St Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, and Antigua and Barbuda, are all feeling the effects and are working rapidly to adapt.  

From July to September, Our Place on Earth (OPOE) traveled throughout the Caribbean, to film, research, and talk with organizations, ministry officials, and community members about how their communities are responding to the impacts of climate change.  Each community OPOE visited was actively engaged in building their capacity to respond to climate change and openly discussed their projects, and the challenges and successes related to these projects.  A vibrant and unique example of community action that OPOE stumbled across is Union Island’s all-volunteer organization, the Environmental Attackers.

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 Screen Grab from Ensia's  Website

Screen Grab from Ensia's Website

In early August, with a few extra days in our pocket, OPOE found ourselves, almost randomly, on the secluded island of Union, in the southern Antilles.  A name, Katrina Collins, passed to us by a Ministerial representative in St Vincent, was the only connection we had to the island. 

We discovered Katrina at work at a small internet café off the bustling harbor in Clifton.  She is a passionate, excited personality, and she spoke at length about the organization she founded, the intriguingly named, Environmental Attackers. Her group’s mission is to empower and educate the community to value and preserve Union Island’s natural resources, thereby creating jobs, livelihoods, and most importantly, the capacity to sustain Union’s 3,000 inhabitants indefinitely.   

We asked Katrina what being an environmentalist meant to her. “For me, human, nature, and the environment, is interconnected. Whereby we cannot separate one from each other.  We work hand in hand with the environment so we can protect it more, and encourage people more to do what’s right.  So, being an environmentalist means to me…” Katrina thought for a moment, “…being a true advocate for your society.” 

Union is the southernmost island of the Grenadines, part of a long chain of islands that belong to the country of St. Vincent.  But because Union is separated from mainland St Vincent, both geographically and politically (Union is staunchly New Democratic, the mainland – Labor), Union receives little support from the Labor government whose tenure is now going on 17 years. 

“We sometimes get the feeling that we are second-class citizens,” said Roseman Adams, Katrina’s boss and longtime Attacker member, “and that we don’t get our fair share of the pie.” Behind Roseman’s huge smile and easy-going manner, is a focused intensity.  He is a father figure and mentor to many in the community; the kind of man whose family and community come first––in everything. He continued, “We are a people who are strong-minded.  We are strong-minded because for years we have always had to fend for ourselves. These islands don’t offer much, and we’ve learned to make what little that we have do.”

Union is a microcosm of challenges that any secluded island country might face: creating jobs and livelihoods; food and water security; healthcare; environmental damage due to increased hurricane frequency; rising sea levels; beach erosion; infrastructure maintenance.   The list goes on.  And without significant help from the mainland, many of these challenges are left for community groups, like the Attackers, to find the solutions.

In the face of these challenges, Katrina remains optimistic.  “We have another water tank project coming up.” said Katrina, “We are bringing in more tanks to increase freshwater capacity in the community.”  Union is a desert island with no fresh groundwater.  All water must be collected via rain catchment. A typical home harvests rain from their roof, and gutters deliver the water to poured concrete tanks. These tanks range in size from 5,000 to 20,000 gallons. But many residences have limited water containment capacity––maybe only one 800-gallon tank.  According to Katrina, during the dry season, a typical family of four might deplete an 800-gallon tank in just two weeks.  “And we have been experiencing longer and longer dry seasons.”  Bottled water can be purchased, but it is expensive. (During our stay, our team spent a large portion of our food budget on bottled water.) There is free municipal water piped to a central depot, but it is rationed, and then you have to pay a truck to bring it to your house, a luxury many on Union cannot afford. 

In response, Katrina spearheaded a project to deliver one hundred, 1,000 gallon water tanks for Union residence in need, free of cost.  Funded through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and supported by Sustainable Grenadines, a local NGO, Katrina has arranged for an additional round of tanks for community members to be delivered this month.  The Attackers also test the water quality at residence’s homes to prevent sickness from bacteria and other pathogens.

But the Attacker’s primary focus remains the connection between the natural world and livelihood.  With its beautiful beaches, forests and salt ponds perfect for birding, and spectacular hikes to Mt Taboi––the tallest mountain in the Grenadines––Union Island is well equipped to become an eco-tourism hot spot.  And the Attackers realize this.  They train community members in bird watching, hiking, and turtle watching, all popular tourist activities on the island.  These programs make the connections between humans and the environment clear.  Education around livelihoods and the natural world is the sweet spot where the Environmental Attackers exist.

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On OPOE’s last day on Union, we talked with Roseman and Philmon Taylor, another Environmental Attacker.  Philmon, now 28, and a consistent member of the attackers for over 10 years, is kind, thoughtful, and determined–-like a young Roseman might have been. A basketball player and youth leader, Philmon plans to leave Union to get his electrical engineering degree, but is intent on returning once he is done.  Roseman said, “Many people say that I’m the one indispensible person on the island, but that’s not right.” He points a large finger a Philmon, “I tell them, it’s this guy. This is the future of Union Island.”  Later, seated at OPOE’s hotel veranda, looking out over Clifton harbor, Philmon talked about the changes the Environmental Attackers programs have brought about in him. 

“To be engaged in some of the projects that the attackers have going on, it’s helped me out in terms of knowledge. Example: the turtle conservation project. I’m a trained turtle handler, and I know so much about turtles now. Before this project came about, I used to eat turtles.” He paused, thoughtfully, before continuing, “And after learning about turtles and how unique they are and important to our environment, I stopped eating turtles. So it has brought about a big change in me, personally.”

It’s a calm evening with a slight breeze coming off the harbor. Looking off from the video camera trained on his face, and out to sea, Philmon smiles and says sincerely, “So I’m a proud member of the Environmental Attackers.”

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Originally slated for a three-day visit, OPOE ended up spending two weeks on Union Island filming and visiting with the Attackers.  During this time, thanks to Stanton Gomes (the Attackers communications volunteer and founder of Union’s excellent Radio Grenadines) OPOE was able to hold a very successful spur-of-the-moment four-day film workshop that many Attackers and other community members were able to attend.

Tom Miller
Director, Producer - Our Place on Earth

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