Woodside residents win community development prize

Thursday, August 15, 2019

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RESIDENTS of Woodside in St Mary are one step closer to completing an 'ancestral garden' in their farming community, which they believe will help them generate additional income.

After years of lobbying for funds to improve the existing garden, their crusade ended on Tuesday when Caribbean Cement Company Limited announced that they were the winners of its 'Build Your Community Competition'.

Launched last year with the aim of fostering community spirit and contributing to safe outdoor spaces and overall wellness, the competition saw Woodside residents emerging the winners from 46 entrants across 13 parishes.

When Carib Cement's Communication and Community Outreach Manager Klao Bell-Lewis announced the winner on Tuesday, a resounding cheer from more than 20 residents echoed throughout Carib Cement's Sports Club on Harbour Drive in Harbour View, St Andrew.

The residents — all of whom were excited to capture the moment on their smartphones — were delighted to have been awarded the prize of a development project valued at $5 million.

One resident, Dr Erna Brodber, while delivering the remarks on behalf of the winners, said Woodside is more than just a farming community.

In fact, Dr Brodber said the village is a college and a hotel.

According to the former University of the West Indies lecturer, local and international tourists have been visiting and studying in the community for decades.

“It began with the University of Massachusetts, which after (hurricane) Gilbert sent their students to live among us and help [us]. Our own University of the West Indies put students here to do their social work practicum and approved of us enough to send a visiting paramount chief from Ghana to spend a weekend with us,” she said, adding that students from the University of Atlanta and a university in Germany also visited the Woodside community.

Soon after, she said, the residents realised they had a community tourism product on their hands and began capitalising on it.

“Visitors have learned from us and us from them, in what we call the shared learning approach to tourism,” she continued.

She said it got to a point where a college in the United States began entrusting them with 15 students per year, which lasted for a decade. A number of students from a variety of other institutions in the United States also sent their students to spend time in the community.

According to her, some students would visit for three to six weeks, while others would visit for a day or a week.

“We did learn together and we did make money. We could house 30 guests at US$30 per night in about 20 households [that were] vetted by our accommodation committee. The grocery stores sold bottled water along with snacks, and one was specially approved by the community development action group as a place where students would interact with members of the community, play dominoes, and drink beers there,” she noted.

Pointing out that the residents have been showcasing their skills through cultural activities for years, Dr Brodber said even though a number of international university students have stopped visiting for extended periods, the community has been able to accumulate income from local one-day tourists.

With four national heritage sites in the area, the residents are convinced that with the completion of their ancestral garden, they will be able to generate more money.

Lennox Boyd, president of the community's Action Development Group, which submitted the entry to the competition, said a number of residents have left the community in search of better opportunities.

Noting that his community is now into the reckoning, the 63-year-old said he's hoping that some of the residents who had left the community will return and create new opportunities within Woodside.

In the meantime, Social Development Commission Deputy Executive Director of Strategic Planning and Communication, Omar Frith, while noting that the agency is pleased to have partnered with the cement company, commended all the participants.

Applauding the winners, Frith said too often community projects are built in communities across the island but do not benefit the residents.

— Racquel Porter

of Strategic Planning and Communication


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