29 September 2009

Concerned Citizens

Last night Jessee and I, along with John the SFS Center Director, attended a meeting of the SCCCA (South Caicos Concerned Citizens Association). SFS was invited to attend the meeting to discuss collaboration opportunities in the organization's efforts to clean up the township. On Saturdays we regularly send a group of students to pick up trash on the beaches as part of the "community engagement," but until now we weren't really engaging with the community.

I didn't really know what to expect of the meeting or of the group, but as I've mentioned in previous posts, I feel somewhat disconnected from the local community, and I thought this would be a good way to change that. We were asked to arrive around 7:30pm (a half hour after the start of the meeting), so the group could finish their regular business before we arrived. Luckily, they were behind schedule. This gave us the opportunity to sit in and observe how the group functioned. It was impressive how seriously they took their business and how formally the group was run; members addressed the president as "Mr President," they passed resolutions, they approved measures, and they used phrases like "let the record show...." This was not a group of amateurs.

When it finally came around to our turn, John spoke for the group. He thanked them for our invitation and talked about what he saw as our common goals. He explained that it was in the interest of SFS to provide a service to the community, such as volunteer labor to clean up trash and unsightly properties in the township, but that it can be a sensitive issue for the School to take up projects like that on our own accord (what does it communicate when a group of outsiders enters a community and decides that it needs to be "cleaned up?"). They all nodded in agreement. The situation, he told them, was much different in the case where we were being asked by the community for help. He happily pledged our support. This Saturday's schedule will need to be reworked, but we will join them in their clean up efforts.

The members of SCCCA were grateful for our willingness to be at their disposal and I felt, possibly for the first time since arriving here, a real connection to the community. As the meeting wrapped up we were thanked for coming and told that we would always be welcome. They scheduled their next meeting (in one week at the same time) and discussed some of the issues that would be taken up, one of which is concerns over the turtle research project that I've mentioned before. I'm very interested in hearing how the project is perceived locally (I have gotten conflicting information on the matter - there appears to be a positive relationship between the community and the researchers, but I've heard there is concern among some that the research is just an effort to bring an end to turtle hunting). I think I'll take them up on their open door policy and attend the meeting next week.

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