Oracabessa Foundation: The saving grace of St Mary
Janet Silvera, Hospitality Jamaica Coordinator
With the mission in mind, 'To be a catalyst for the sustainable development of Oracabessa and its environs', the Oracabessa Foundation has become the saving grace of a parish once dubbed the poorest in Jamaica.
The Foundation, under the leadership of environmentalist Jonathan Gosse, has taken sustainable deve-lopment to unprecedented levels, focusing its attention on four major areas: environment, health, education and sport.
"Our aim is to get more people in the parish working, provide a healthier bay, produce positive and engaged youths, and ensuring sustainable community development," said Gosse.
Already, the community has successfully differentiated itself from other fishing villages on the island, which are suffering the effects of depleted fish stock and coral life.
Gosse is extremely pleased with the latest National Environmental and Planning Agency (NEPA) report for 2014, which reveals an increase of 1,313 per cent in fish biomass and a 31 per cent increase in coral coverage in the town's fish sanctuary.
"There is also a nine per cent reduction in algae," he said, noting that the fish sanctuary works because the Oracabessa Bay Fishermen's Cooperative manage the area. "It's a partnership between the Foundation and the cooperative," he explained.
Admitting that the situation was not always as encouraging as it is now, Gosse said since the bay was gazetted in 2010, and the fishermen have supported the move, they are catching more pounds outside the sanctuary than they were in the middle.
"The fish migrate outside the sanctuary and allow the fishermen to live off the interest of their investment," he said, adding that 85-90 per cent of fisherfolk will not fish in the sanctuary.
The remaining 10 per cent have been known to steal or break the rules, but clearly, the changes are working. "The entire community is aware that immense progress has been made and that the changes made have been working. It is the wardens who police the area," he stated, noting that the aim was not to build a museum, but to create a bay that people can continue to fish in.
The goal of the sanctuary, which was to create a no-fishing zone protecting the bay's critical breeding areas and fish habitat has today been realised.
The Foundation has also since planted 3,670 corals and now boasts a nursery that will produce 2,000 corals per year.
"Currently, Oracabessa has the best snorkelling in the country," boasted Gosse.
With fishing being only one industry, the Foundation, in partnership with the community of Jack's River, has trained nearly 300 persons since 2008 in housekeeping, food and beverage, accommodation and villa services.
The aim, Gosse said, was to tackle the issue of underskilled residents, hence the establishment of the Jacks River HEART Community-Based Training Centre.
Because it is situated in the middle of Jamaica's north coast with many hotels constantly looking for people to work, the decision was taken to have housekeeping as the primary curriculum.
"Our first batch of students began in January 2008 and since then we've graduated 81 persons. Thirty-five per cent of these graduates are now working in the hotel industry. At first glance that doesn't seem like a stellar performance, but considering that these students have graduated in one of the worst economic climates since the Great Depression, it is actually pretty good."
Another major project the Foundation has introduced to Oracabessa is the A GANAR programme (to win or to earn), for at-risk youths. A GANAR, which started in Latin America, was brought to the region by the USAID and Partners of the Americas.
Offered in three phases, AGANAR is delivered via vocational training, work experience and instruction using sports.
"It teaches workplace themes, communication and team work which is results oriented, with special focus on self esteem, discipline and continuing self improvement," said Gosse.
Summing up the programme, he described it as having its weight in gold.
According to him, 66 per cent of the youths who complete the programme are now working in the hospitality sector, and some have even found work with the Urban Development Corporation (UDC).
Even before they enter the world of work, he said, during phase one of the training, the youths work with each other, becoming self reflective. "They don't fly off the edge. They are no longer victims of the system," he argued.
Using sports, the Foundation has been running primary school sports leagues for 20 years and recently built the first BMX track in the English-speaking Caribbean as part of the sustainable development programme.
Some 600 youths per year benefit from the sports league and this has been the case for the last 15 years, said Gosse.
The BMX track was funded from grant provided by the Fetzer Institute in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Funds have been used to design the 'Two Wheels, One Love' programme which has been developed into a curriculum incorporating principles of love and forgiveness into a structured BMX learn-to-ride programme.
The curriculum will be rolled out to five primary schools immediately surrounding the Eden Park BMX Track, culminating in a Two Wheels, One Love race series at the track for those students 'graduating' through all six levels of the programme.
"Our goal is to teach 250 area youth about love and forgiveness while getting them onto the BMX track," said Gosse.
The parting shot that Gosse delivered was the Foundation's motto of 'Belong. Build. Believe.'
Oracabessa is the same community that has given the turtles written about in this publication two weeks ago, a chance at life.
Their turtle hatchling has become a popular sight, with Jamaican and visitors flocking the area to participate in this life-changing experience.
The Oracabessa Foundation is among hotelier Chris Blackwell's Island Outpost group of environmentally friendly projects.