'I want to continue the dream'
American vows to keep alive project shared with late husbandWednesday, December 08, 2021
BY HORACE MILLS
PORT MARIA, St Mary — The death of Ron Drake has not dimmed the dream he and his wife Christina shared about helping to improve this parish, starting with the frequent clean-up of Pagee Beach in the capital.
Halfway through the two decades that they have made visits to Jamaica, the couple from Arkansas in the United States started taking exploratory trips beyond the resorts where they stayed on the north coast. That's when they noticed the worrying issue of pollution.
Determined to make a difference in their favourite destination, the duo established the One Love Outreach group in February 2017.
Its mission is to “enhance the quality of life in Port Maria and the parish of St Mary through community restoration and economic development projects”.
Pagee Beach has been the main focus so far. The first clean-up there happened eight months after the group was formed.
“In the last four years, we have had 10 beach clean-ups,” Christina Drake told the Jamaica Observer. She added that despite the novel coronavirus this year there were clean-ups in February, June and October.
“On [each of] those three occasions, we removed over 100 [large garbage] bags of plastic bottles, and we didn't even go far,” she commented.
She believes a lot of the garbage comes in from the sea as well as two rivers that end up at Pagee Beach. The improper disposal of garbage by area residents is also an issue.
However, Drake is pleased with the response that her effort has been getting from the community.
“Every time [we clean the beach] we have had at least 70 to 100 volunteers. Every single time we have had local people come and join us, at least maybe half of them are children,” she added. “We don't bring people from the United States to do it; we get the community involved.”
News reports of the beach clean-ups have spread, resulting in the initiative also getting support from different organisations. They include the Port Maria branch of the Red Cross, Earth Ambassadeurs, St Mary Municipal Corporation, and Recycling Partners of Jamaica.
Through support from outside the community, the plastic bottles collected are now being recycled, and three rubbish receptacles have been placed at the beach.
“Previously, you couldn't find one (receptacle) on the entire mile-long beach,” Drake pointed out.
The clean-up initiative, she noted, also builds community spirit.
“It brought the residents all closer to each other because they are caring for their area... And I don't feel like a 'whitey' in Pagee Beach; I feel like a friend and a sister now... We are not only cleaning a beach and restoring it to its natural beauty, but it also restores people's hearts in communities when you do a service project,” she added.
Now spending a lot of her time at a cottage that she and her husband bought across from the beach, she has dedicated the One Love Outreach project to his memory. She does not intend to stop the work they began.
Ron Drake, who did restoration projects in the United States and also authored the book Flip This Town, died in August after being diagnosed with stage four cancer two years ago.
“One year ago, we sold everything that we had in the United State — our home, our car, our furniture — and moved down here in Jamaica to live out our dream [of restoring Pagee Beach],” said his tearful widow. “For the last nine months of my husband's life, we were here doing our dream of abiding, respecting, and restoring a community; and we don't have any regrets... I want to continue the dream, and I know that Pagee also wants to continue the One Love Outreach dream.”
She also dreams that, one day, local residents will be able to tap into the huge economic opportunities that she thinks are yet to be explored at Pagee Beach.