By Stephanie Mines and Stina Herberg.
We don’t generally think of the Caribbean as a place of suffering and vulnerability. However, Stina Herberg and Selwyn Patterson, who are fund raising to attend the CCC19 conference at Findhorn, live on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent where each day they experience the truth of the Caribbean’s defencelessness against climate change. They have scoped this out carefully and are taking action. They call themselves ‘rebels.’
When I asked Stina to explain her self-proclaimed identity as a ‘Rebel of the Caribbean,’ she said: “A rebel is a lover of life who believes in the value of change. Practical rebellion is what is needed right now. There is no other choice.” Stina offers the following points as the catalyst and context of her activism; about the island she loves and for which she works tirelessly:
- St. Vincent was the last country in the Caribbean to be colonized.
- European colonizers, especially the British, killed or removed all the original peoples of the island, then replaced them with kidnapped African slaves.
- The slaves were forced to work for free so that Europe could prosper.
- The British made it illegal to speak the indigenous language (Garifuna), which was eradicated and replaced with English.
- During the 350 years of British occupation they established only 2 secondary schools.
- St. Vincent is still the second poorest island nation in the Caribbean, after Haiti.
- St. Vincent claimed back its independence in 1979.
Stina continues, “After World War II, the population of St. Vincent fed itself from its own organically grown food, but today we import chemicals and food worth millions. Globalization with its disaster capitalism is destroying local production and forcing people to be dependent on imported goods. Europe sells us chemicals that are banned there, making profits for itself while destroying our soil. We have now lost our topsoil. Once you destroy the soil, climate change hits much harder. We are in our 7th year of disaster recovery, we do not recover from one disaster before the next one strikes. We are made more and more vulnerable by the way Europe takes advantage of us, making what was once a strong place, a fragile one.” These are the conditions that have brought out the rebels in Stina and Selwyn. A rebel is someone who pays is activated by injustices and contradictions in the environment and then takes action to make a difference.
Stina Herberg left her homeland of Norway as a young woman to go to Africa as a volunteer, teaching reading and writing to women in Mozambique. “This changed my life,” she says, “and ever since I’ve been involved in educational and environmental projects. I have never turned back. You either rebel or you do not. I rebelled.” Stina eventually made her way to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) where she joined the Richmond Vale Academy (RVA), an organization that provides training to fight global warming and promulgate climate justice.
Selwyn Patterson is a native of St. Vincent where he worked in prisons and at the Ministry of Agriculture before becoming a passionate environmental activist. His life priorities shifted when the RVA supported a community clean up action in his village of Rose Hall. It was then that he chose environmental activism as his vehicle for self-expression in the world. “Why work to protect an old story when you can advocate for a new one?” he asked. He met Stina at the time and joined her at the RVA.
Established in 2002, the Richmond Vale Academy is a registered non-profit research and education institution situated in the Chateaubelair area SVG. Since opening, students from the Caribbean and around the world have participated in courses centered on poverty reduction, environmental conservation and climate change awareness. The Academy’s educational programs give students the opportunity to directly influence positive change on the environment and in communities. As a consequence of its actions, RVA has been the catalyst that motivates and mobilizes both students and local community members to build resilience into their lives, whilst simultaneously developing themselves, personally, academically and socially.
Stina is now the Director of RVA and together with Selwyn they created the St. Vincent Climate Compliance Conference (CCC). The CCC aims to bring people together to identify and undertake concrete climate change adaptation projects. Since 2007, it has hosted in excess of 500 local and international students divided into work and study teams. Students have participated in CCC research activities and completed a variety of climate change adaptation projects, working with residents of St. Vincent. The CCC program works with a diverse range of stakeholders ranging across cultural, social and economic boundaries. Participating members include local community and family members, international volunteers, community organizations, institutions as well as government bodies. “Everyone, we feel, should be given the opportunity to participate, irrespective of their circumstances,” they argue.
The CCC has impacted the lives of 50,000 people in Saint Vincent and abroad. The program has been the platform from which a springboard of hope has been built; to enable and empower several groups and communities. People have dived into action for positive climate change. From 2012 to 2016:
- 25,000 trees were planted.
- Farmers were supported to use more sustainable agriculture techniques.
- 15,000 students across SVG have been engaged in environmental education.
- 20,000 climate compliance papers have been produced and distributed.
- A new organic home garden movement has been started. It aims to establish 200 gardens by 2021.
Furthermore, lessons on global warming and climate change have been offered to 3,000 people visiting the Academy and to another 5,000 students and teachers at universities and colleges in Colombia, Guyana, Costa Rica, USA, England, Germany, Denmark, Norway, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Jamaica.
A rebel can be described as: intractable, daring and defiant. This exactly suits the Rebels of the Caribbean in St. Vincent. Rebels are not discouraged by the odds against them, which is the spirit with which Stina, Selwyn and their St. Vincent community meet the climate challenge. Their pro-active and celebratory spirit come through strongly in this video about the home gardens project, inspired and supported by the Richmond Vale Academy.
Miracles are born out of conscious, guided and grounded activism. Those who believe and embody this activism can be considered visionary rebels or sacred activists, just like Stina, Selwyn and all the community climate activists of St. Vincent. If you would like to contribute towards bringing Stina and Selwyn to CCC19 so that they can return to St. Vincent with resources, networks and inspiration to help thrive in a climate changing world please consider sponsorship or making a donation in their name on the CCC19 website.