Natelee Forbes – My ‘Why Roatán’

What was it like to grow up on the island?

The island provided a safe haven, a paradise to frolic and play. I had an interesting childhood; I spent most of my time in or around churches. Reading was my roadmap to the world and the elders I visited with my mother always had words of wisdom or some story to share. Those visits peaked my interest for history and cultural heritage of the people of the Bay Islands and the world in general. From St. Helene to West End, the elders of the community provided a cultural and linguistic incubator, a harmonious aura keeping us grounded. I did not realize how amazing my childhood was until I left to go to college in Trujillo.

How has the island changed since your childhood?

I often find myself walking around Coxen Hole, reminiscing on how thing used to be. The architecture has changed, demographically our population has increased, creating a serious impact on the available natural resources (eg. potable water, wild game and fish.) The once bountiful harvest of bananas, avocado, mangoes, yucca, coconut over the years has declined. Overfishing and bycatch have gravely affected the artisanal fishing performed by locals.

I remember seeing the afternoon English schools, which were traditionally taught on porches under almond or coconut trees. There are more schools now than when I was growing up.  The education system has made a lot of progress, the most significant being the incorporation of English as a subject in the national curricula.

How have these changes affected local islanders?  

The greatest changes have been in education and security. Linguistically, Roatán is different from the rest of Honduras and takes pride in that. Securing employments for locals has been a great challenge as there is more competition, due to immigration. It is important to note there are greater opportunities to access scholarships, thanks to the Internet. The percentage of university graduates is also far greater than 40 years ago.

When it comes to security, I have to address the land rights issues. Nowadays, there are people squatting on property that has been family patrimony for generations. This is something new to the island, and it is affecting the social fiber of the community. Islanders are generally peaceful people but will protect their property with their lives because it connects them to their ancestors who worked the soil. Progress is a good thing, but can also create divide.

Immigration and increases in tourism bring positive opportunity but also come with a higher cost of living for locals, plus a clash of cultures.

You have traveled worldwide to pursue your education. What keeps drawing you back to Roatán?

I owe who I am today to the “village of strong women” that raised me; each one of them has influenced my life to some extent. One of the values they embedded in the fabric of my being is gratitude. My philosophy is, if I can instill the same values in one young girl, then I have fulfilled one of my life goals.

Every time I get on an airplane, I give thanks. I used to daydream about flying and traveling to some of the countries I’ve now visited. Whenever I receive a scholarship, my initial thought is I have to extend this gift to others; I do so by giving back to Roatán. Working, living, building bridges and empowering others allows me to honor the women who never left the shores of the Bay Islands. I urge the youth to go as far as they can up the education ladder, then come back home to Roatán and be the change they wish to see.

What are you most excited about in your new role as Regional Director in Roatan?

What drew me to the Abundant Life Foundation were its founders – the passion and authenticity  Brenda and David Dachner transmit is contagious. The phrase “enrich lives” I believe sets ALF apart from others. Enriching lives is no easy task; it means building bridges that will last for future generations. I believe sustainable development hinges on the three pillars ALF focuses on – education, community, and conservation. I am excited for this opportunity to be a part of the building process of this leading organization whose mission and vision aligns to the core values of people of the Bay Islands.  

3 Responses to “Natelee Forbes – My ‘Why Roatán’”

  1. Andrew Bentley

    Natallee, you commitment to the is,and is an inspiration to anyone that has visited and seen the opportunity for measured, sustainable and available (to all) development. The Dachner’s are wonderful change agents that operate with vision and respect.

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