On Wednesday, November 26, we went to the Folk Research Center in Castries to learn more about St. Lucia’s history. Although we had been reading about it in our assigned texts for class, it was helpful to have a native Lucian summarize it all up for us.
Kennedy “Boots” Samuel, the previous Executive Director of the Folk Research Center and now a teacher at the local community college, articulately explained the origins of St. Lucia’s culture and how the island came to be where it is today. He started with telling us about the indigenous people and how they were pushed out by European colonialists, mainly the French and the British. The island was exchanged between the French and British at least 14 times before finally gaining their independence in 1979. The British, he explained, imposed their education, political, and judicial systems on the island, which is the cause of much turmoil and divide among the Lucian society today. The French, on the other hand, implanted their culture by building community through the construction of churches while they were colonizing. Additionally, a Baron, an appointee of the French government, was placed within the communities so that they could learn more about the Lucians and the Lucians could learn more about them. Although the British had the last possession of St. Lucia, the French have a deeper embedded influence because they had the longest consecutive rule.
The major influence on St. Lucia’s Creole culture, the combination of many cultures coming together, comes from the Africans. Because Africans were the majority population during the plantation era, the indentured servants who gained their freedom and the Maroons who escaped to the hills were able to keep aspects of their African roots alive. The creation of the Creole language, also known as French Patois, was one of the ways Africans stayed true to their heritage. When the French had rule, they demanded that the Africans speak French to prevent them from planning a revolt. The Africans cleverly took vocabulary from the French language but kept the semantics of African language (like syntax and grammar) and tricked the French into thinking that they were speaking broken French. In addition, the topic of cultural imperialism and hegemony arose and we discussed the effect technology has on this small island nation. Boots explained how technology has the same lure here that it does in the US and young people are drawn to stay inside rather than explore the island. Because of this, many children living on the island today don’t know how to swim….. What? It was a fascinating morning and Boots presented the information in an interesting and easy to understand format. We all left feeling like we had a better understanding of St. Lucia’s history.
In the afternoon the group took a trip to the Missionaries of Charity to do some community service.While there, the team served food to hungry children from the area. For some of the students this was the second visit to the Missionaries of Charity; Mason, Chris and Joseph had been there before to help out with the residents at the nursing home. The organization feeds any child that comes in that is hungry.
There are no requirements that need to be met, or paperwork that needs to be filled out in order for the children to receive services. The group worked side by side with the sisters as we split up into teams, half served food and drinks while the rest cleaned up the dirty dishes.
Though we were there to give the sisters a helping hand we were also there to be present with the children as they ate their meals. Being present is something that we learned about from the article by Deborah Dunn, Bearing Witness: Seeing as a Form of Service. This article taught us that bearing witness and being present with a person, as well as recognizing the good works that are being done, is a good way to connect and see those we are serving as equals. It helps us to see those we are as real people and not just as a representation of an issue that needs to be fixed. It was humbling to see the community created through Missionaries of Charity, because it gives hope to those within it by giving them the opportunity to have a meal each day as well as a safe environment. Sister Maria told us about how some of the children spend more time in the community of the Missionaries of Charity than they do in their own homes.
She told us about how the children come every Saturday to attend catechism class and show off their high grades. The work we did made us feel grateful that we don’t have to depend on charity to receive food, and thankful that we have been blessed with the ability to spend time with our families while living comfortably. We realized that we are thankful for having three square meals a day, a roof over our heads, and an opportunity for a good education, as we witnessed the less fortunate situations that others are in.