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“Put Money to Shame”

Features“Put Money to Shame”

by Jasmine Anderson

My mother and I started off the day drinking coffee around her wooden kitchen table at her home in Independence Village.  We picked up the chatter from where we had left it the night before.  We had discussed life and love and failure—the usual topics that made for long-winded conversations. Her phone rang and her sister informed her that Eworth was going out again that day. Eworth Garbutt is family and friend to everyone. After the video that had gone viral over social media, everybody knew about the work he and so many others were doing to save the Silk Caye islands. After about five minutes of consideration, we both decided that we would join the team for the day. A quick boat ride across the lagoon and a fast walk to Eworth’s dive shop, and we were in the boat, thick with sunblock, and ready to go. 

The boat engines revved, and so did our enthusiasm for the day’s work ahead. Every other word or phrase that I heard, from the time we left the dock, could very well have been a slogan for community service and activism. The day was rainy and the sea a bit choppy, but the calm in Eworth’s resolve was bright and steady. He asked us to start the day with a prayer, and so we bowed our heads for a quiet reflection.

The ride to the island was about an hour long, Eworth spoke to us about “the human machine”,

“the old fashion way,” and how he felt about seeing everything “come to reality and get back to the way they remembered it”.  He said that “the young never get tired”. He spoke with indescribable passion. Every word and observation seemed to come directly from his heart. The words jolted my consciousness. His passion was intoxicating. My humanity was stirred, my activism triggered, and my patriotism made ever clearer. My mother and I were in awe of him and his crew of country-loving Belizeans. 

On the boat were current and past chairpersons from Placenica and Monkey River. There were school students, women, men, younger, older, and, all in all, regular community people. Where my sense of right and wrong on the issue was concerned, I was already on Eworth’s bandwagon. His candor and genuine appreciation for our interest made it easy. He talked about what the islands mean to all the surrounding villages. He pointed at their importance for tourism workers.  He stressed that there was no more time to do the “proper studies”—the practical and theoretical, as well as the academic and social, would have to be conducted simultaneously if the islands were going to be saved. He talked, and we listened. Those discussions would not be uploaded to Facebook. There would be no dramatics. This trip to the cayes was already routine, since Eworth and the others have been making it regularly for a month or so already. 

A squall came down on our way out. We all held a plastic covering over us. The sky seemingly was black ahead while the boat valiantly rode into the rain and the breeze. We all enjoyed the blessing. No sooner had the team held the cover down to ease the drops, than we released it to look up and see the clear skies. The Silk Cayes visible ahead and all the richness that the day was promising to be. The sea became calmer, but my spirit remained turbulent and stirred from Eworth’s passion and generosity. I was never happier at the prospect of work and being around my community men, women, and youth.

Eworth Garbutt, Glen Eiley, Althea Schable and Emelina Vernon are only a few of the people whose determination have put money to shame.  Since the viral video which shows Eworth being threatened with arrest, so many others have decided that they too will save the Silk Cayes. They will save it from erosion; they will save it from rising sea levels; they will save it from the environmentally focused paper policies that would soon see it completely disappear, and they will save it from becoming another thing that their kids and grandkids would only hear about and never get to see. The NGOs’, GoB’s policies and restrictions that were initially meant to preserve the islands have long since become obsolete. When exactly the policies created to help preserve the islands became the very things that only maintained the damage, is anybody’s guess. Eworth Garbutt and so many from Placencia, Monkey River, Independence, and other surrounding communities decided that they would have to right that wrong. Eworth and his volunteer group of family, friends, tour guides, activists, school kids, professionals, locals, foreigners, and anyone else willing and able to lift rocks and carry sandbags have already done tremendous work. Their success and progress are a testament to the power of community service and working together. 

Silk Caye

That morning when we arrived on the island, there were no pretenses of goodwill. Everyone immediately got to work. Eworth politely gave his vision for what he hoped to accomplish for the day, and we all moved to bring it to fruition. Eworth and the others have “walked the walk” and left the talking behind. The pictures on the island’s restroom door told the entire story.  Surely, by the end of the summer, the entire southern island would have been all gone. As I grabbed one bag after the next to fill them with the rocks, I became more and more filled with pride. The unfiltered love for country and community that I felt around me, was enough to make me never want to forget it. The day promised to be an excursion and a lesson on civic duty. I could only hope that every Belizean could get the same lesson in a similar way: to dive into social awareness, to swim in a united front, ride the boat to activism , lift bags of red tape and political roadblocks, and be pulled into a world where people volunteered to move boulders with their bare hands, carry bags of sand, build a sea wall, and put money to shame by taking back their island. They are taking it back from the sea and from the well-meaning politics and policies that were taking too long to recognize that there was no more time to conduct school-book studies. The island was being saved without the use of machines, with minimal damage to the coral environment, and with people, not money, being the only bottomline.

We left the island after five that evening. We had cleared enough rocks so that the boats would be able to come closer to the island without any damage to them or the creatures below.  Sunburnt and happy, my mother and I took some pictures to commemorate the day. This was her element, and she was in her glory. Other than being out in in the natural environment, the only thing that made my mother happier was when she felt she could help others. Once we were back in the boat, Eworth thanked everyone and made small jokes about the day’s happenings. We rode back mostly in silence and completely fulfilled. 

My mother and I were proud to know we helped Eworth Garbutt, Glen Eiley and the others to continue to “put money to shame”.  The work is not done. There are many more islands and communities that are being washed away, waiting for the paperwork to finish and the permits to be approved. Hopefully, the work and progress happening on the Silk Cayes will help to prove that man and not machine, people and not paper, and the right mindset and not money are a large part of the answer. Volunteerism and civic pride can lift any rock placed in its path and recover some of what nature has already taken away. The work must continue.

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