The Bequia Sunshine Project, a College of William and Mary student-led, international service learning trip was established to address both the superficial and underlying educational needs in Bequia. Bequia, one of the St. Vincent and Grenadines islands, is a small 5 ½ mile long island whose drastic needs, like many other Caribbean islands, are often overlooked, due to its small population and poor economy.
The project, founded in 2001, through the College’s Education Department, works closely with the teachers and principal from the Sunshine School (the island’s special needs school) to improve literacy instruction and build student self esteem. The program features curriculum instruction, an individualized tutoring program focusing on reading, writing and art, and a soccer camp that teaches gross motor skills and teamwork. The success of the Sunshine program, in achieving these goals, relies heavily on contributions from businesses, as well as the volunteer time of College students and faculty.
Last year McGraw-Hill Publishing Company donated new reading curriculum materials to the school, and the W&M students and faculty trained school personnel how to use these new materials. Other donations included slightly used sports equipment from the W&M Athletic Department for the soccer camp and notebooks and art supplies and pens to enrich the individual tutoring of students.
This year, fourteen undergraduate students have been selected, from a pool of many applicants, to travel to Bequia. In planning for the trip, expanded goals were developed beyond simply monitoring the implementation of the curriculum and tutoring students. This year’s volunteers wish to add the daunting task of painting the high school classrooms. The natural beauty of the island is astounding and stands in stark contrast to the currently dilapidated and derelict conditions of the school. The students have a hard time focusing on their studies in this run-down environment. We hope that painting the school, together with the high school students, will instill a sense of pride and grant the students a new appreciation for their education.
Many American college students have no personal conception of the realities citizens of developing countries face, or the complex forces that govern Third World poverty. This project seeks to give William and Mary students a personal understanding of the effects of this disparity through an intimate cultural exchange with local families in another country, as well as by forming new relationships with other Sunshine Project members. These relationships and understandings develop throughout the experience – from the initial fund raising to cover the cost of the trip, to the actual painting and tutoring on Bequia. This trip not only creates a trans formative experience for W&M students, but also builds a genuine connection with, and insight into, the lives of those Bequians with whom we share the experience of painting and tutoring. If we are successful in raising the funds needed, this year’s trip will also transform the High School’s physical facility.
A substantial budget is necessary to implement this large-scale endeavor. Based on prior trip expenses, we need a total of approximately $30,000 to cover airfare, accommodations, painting supplies, and other expenses for fourteen students, while in Bequia from December 30, 2007 to January 13, 2008