21 December 2010

If money were no object: a Blog Off Post

The following is a Blog Off post. A Blog off is a biweekly event that's sweeping the internet. It's an event where bloggers of all stripes write about the same topic. You can learn more on the Let's Blog Off site. As the day progresses, a table will appear at the end of this post and it will list all of the participants as well as link to their posts.

The gist of the Blog Off this week is a suggestion to muse and meander about what I'd buy my loved ones if money were no object. Well, my loved ones don't really need anything that can be bought with money so I'm abandoning them for this exercise. Well, they'd be welcome to join me in the thing I'm about to muse and meander about but it doesn't involve the exchange of goods between us.

I've written quite a bit about an island in The Bahamas that's very near and dear to me, Cat Island. It has it has own keyword in my glossary it's so near and dear to me.

I never made it over to my Cat Island in 2010 but I will change that in 2011. I will.

I go to Cat Island for its isolation. I can relax there in its primitive loveliness like I can no where else. The combination of being cut off from the rest of the world and the hospitality of the Bahamian people touch me in a really profound way. The accommodations where I stay are pretty primitive but that just adds to the allure.

They're alluring because I'm a white American on vacation. The living conditions for the Bahamians who live on Cat probably don't hold the same romantic allure they do for me. The Bahamians I've come to know are a cheerful, generous lot. I doubt they realize it, but I've learned more from them than I have words to elaborate. Most of those lessons have to do with forcing me to see that most of what I tell myself is a need is an illusion.

The poverty on Cat Island may not feel like poverty to Cat Islanders but it looks like poverty to me. No one goes hungry, but life on the Out Islands of The Bahamas is hard.

I read an article in the Cape Coral, FL Daily Breeze last year that talked about the conditions at the Old Bight High School on Cat Island. I've driven past that high school more times than I can count but the article talked about how the Cape Coral Charter School System donated 2,000 text books to the high school in Old Bight. Prior to their donation, the kids at Old Bight High had one text book for every five to 15 students, depending on the subject. I read another article last October in The Bahamas Weekly that was written by the Honourable Philip "Brave" Davis, the Member of Parliament for Cat and its neighboring islands. Old Bight High School had to close in the fall of 2010 due to a lack of teachers and the unsafe conditions at the school. As of last year, Old Bight High School had 13 teachers to its 134 students. Those 134 students had to be absorbed by the already over extended Arthur's Town High School, 25 miles to the north.

25 miles is an insurmountable distance when your primary mode of transportation is your feet. I can't help but think that due to a lack of resources, any chance of a better life got snubbed out for those 134 kids with that school closure.

My proudest possession is my intellect and it hurts me deeply to hear about the educational conditions on Cat Island. That a generation of kids just had their intellectual opportunities pulled out from underneath them rubs me raw.

photo from The Bahamas Weekly

These kids deserve to be able to do anything they want with their lives and they can't do that without books and schools.

So if money were no object I would start a foundation, an educational foundation. A mistake a lot of western aid organizations make is that they're western aid organizations. Mine wouldn't be in the business of making sovereign people jump through hoops to get money. Instead, my foundation would be staffed and run by Bahamians, Cat Islanders wherever possible. My foundation would staff schools with Bahamian teachers and provide Bahamas-appropriate text books. My fantasy foundation would help to raise a generation of smart and proud Bahamians. They'd be a group of people who knew who they were and where they stood as integral parts of the sweeping history of the islands they call home.

But alas, my foundation is all in my head and likely to stay there. Unfortunately, money is an object all too real and the kids at New Bight High School got that for their big lesson this year.

It's unfathomable to me that schools close due to a lack of teachers and resources in a country just offshore from the US. A country where millions of North Americans and Europeans go every year to unwind.

So maybe what there is to do here is stop dreaming about money not being an obstacle to having basic needs met. Maybe what there is to do is find a way to actually lend a hand. Schools across the developed world throw away books by the truck load every year. It's true that Cat Island's schools represent a small, small portion of the total need, but they're the portion I know.

What would it take to partner up with a couple of school districts in Florida or elsewhere in the US? Anybody know somebody who can make a connection like that happen? Anybody out there want to lend a hand?


  1. It’s an old line, but it’s very true. I wept because I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet. Terrific insights, Paul.

  2. Growing up in the Caribbean also I can relate. It's true the islanders don't think it's poverty because we are so used to that life.

    Great post!

  3. Thanks Jerlyn, what's your country of origin?

  4. What an excellent proposition. (And uncommon - I'll be honest, never before had I mentally combined the words "Bahamas" and "charity efforts") Sounds like they need more than textbooks - perhaps some scholarships for locals to attend college and become teachers? In the mean time, I don't think it would be hard to convince some American teachers to hop on a plane bound for the Caribbean and fill the position for a temporary term (until the locals return).

  5. Ahhh would that it were so simple. There are immigration and work permit issues with that plan you cannot imagine. This has to be a situation where it's Bahamians helping themselves. The help from outside has to be gentle and distant.

  6. Perhaps we should add "If bureaucracy and paperwork were no object" to today's prompt then. :) But you're right - it seems like problems are best addressed where they actually exist by the people most closely involved. Too many cooks spoil the broth and whatnot.

  7. Excellent post, Paul- Thanks for sharing about Cat Island. My couple of trips to the region never ventured outside of the beaten path and while I knew other places existed and of their conditions it's a completely different realization to hear first hand accounts.

    Great post, and great idea.

  8. Cham: Sad but true.

    Nick: Thanks for the compliments and good wishes. I don't often get a bug to Do Something but this is one of those times.

  9. Thanks for introducing me to Cat Island. I hope your foundation becomes a reality and that you will get to help the good people there.

  10. It's a magical place. Here's the link to all my posts on it: http://www.kitchenandresidentialdesign.com/search/label/The%20Bahamas

    But this one sums up the Cat Island I know best: http://www.kitchenandresidentialdesign.com/2009/08/travelers-tale-high-adventure-with.html


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