In September of 2009, David and I were loosely helping with education on the island and wanted to get more involved. Ted and Cam O’Brien from Partners in Education Roatán (PIER) suggested we tour the Elfrieda Brooks School in Coxen Hole to see how one school was doing it right. Elfrieda Brooks was not a public or private school, but a “community school” and they were seeing positive results.
When David and I drove up unannounced one day, we were given a tour by a young woman, Miss Darla Pandy, their 4th grade teacher. She was positive, energetic and passionate about education. Impressed, we asked where she was from and she said St. Helene. We said we’d never heard of St. Helene and asked about it. She explained it was an island off the eastern tip of Roatán and that she had left there to come to school in Roatán at a young age and subsequently got a teaching position, but it was her dream to have a school in her home community of St. Helene because they didn’t have one.
We thanked her for the tour and left for the car where I punched David in the side and said “Did you hear her?! They don’t have a school where she’s from in St. Helene!” In the car on the way home that afternoon, we talked about the possibility of helping them build one. Little did we know where that idea would lead!
On a following trip to Roatán, we looked up Miss Darla at the school again and mentioned the possibility of helping with a school, but that we wanted to meet the community first. She arranged to have us picked up in her father’s dory from Oak Ridge and took us through the reef and the mangrove creek to the north side community of St. Helene. We loved them from the first moment we met them! It wasn’t exactly true that they didn’t have a school. They were having school, just not in a traditional building. They had constructed a shelter of bamboo walls, a tarp ceiling, and a dirt floor that had about 20 students attending.
We made two more trips to talk with the people about the idea of a school, then we had the difficult discussion about the community’s “buy in”. We firmly believe that most people don’t value what’s given to them, and it only creates dependency, so we were adamant that there should be something for them to be invested in this project… but what? They had no money, that was certain. One family had already donated the property, but what about the others?
At the risk of offending them and being chased off the island, we decided to ask for a commitment to rid their community of trash – and keep it clean – teaching this form of respect to their children. Surprisingly, they responded with gratitude saying they had wanted to do something about the trash but needed the nudge. So… it was off to work!
Through our relationship with the development of the Grand Roatán Caribbean Resort, our architect jumped on the opportunity to design a 3-room schoolhouse pro-bono. David and friend/partner/islander Kevin Wesley worked diligently getting all the materials either donated free or at cost. We even got a barge donated to get the supplies shipped from Roatán to St. Helene! However the day of the big transport, in September of 2010, the barge got 100 yards off the coast of St. Helene… and got stuck on a sandbar… three times! The captain apologized, then turned back for Roatán. Time for “Plan B”!
Rather than a single shipment on the barge, it wound up taking hundreds of shipments in the Sea Breeze – Darla’s father’s dory! Supplies were driven to Camp Bay, loaded onto the Sea Breeze, shipped to the dock of St. Helene, then hand carted up the hill to the school site. The community was involved, including children! Then, 4 months later…
February 2011, the dedication of the new Sady Bodden School! It opened in March of that year with 59 students in grades K-6 and continues to this day!