Passion Points: Giving Back
REACH Grenada is not a charity that believes with handouts. On the small Caribbean island of Grenada, Karen Lawson and Neo Moreton have created a children’s charity determined to improve not just the day-to-day, but a positive future with opportunity. Founded in 2003, the charity celebrates the life of Karen’s husband, Bart, who died unexpectedly on the island and who did much positive work in the local communities. “My children were young” she explains “so I felt it would be best to create a living testimony to teach them about their Daddy”. Since then, REACH Grenada has supported the island through two devastating hurricanes in 2004 and 2005, restoring the basic needs of homes, schools and health facilities and implementing education and health care worker programs. Karen explains, “while the island may be lacking in material resources and highly trained professionals, there is no dearth of spirit and a longing to improve on the part of most of its inhabitants”. The charity encourages social enterprise through the island’s cocoa industry and voluntourism initiatives with a program of yoga retreats at the beautiful Laluna hotel. Karen Lawson spoke to Indagare about training the trainer, the power of a chicken broiler and falling for the hibiscus scented island.
What inspired you to start the foundation?
I was inspired to start the Bartholomew J. Lawson Foundation for Children after my husband, Bart, passed away in Grenada, unexpectedly, in 2003. He was a brilliant man, very loving and extremely generous. I thought that the best therapy for our family would be for us all to develop something fun and helpful in his honor, and that is how REACH Grenada (www.reachgrenada.org), the main project of the Bartholomew J Lawson Foundation for Children, was born. Bart was an Ambassador-at-Large for Grenada, and he had contributed much to the betterment of the country’s people through healthcare system and general infrastructure improvements. In fact, he died on the day that he was to receive an award for installing Grenada’s first public playground.
How does REACH Grenada help the local community? Where do you focus your efforts?
We utilize a ‘train-the trainer’ model so that the community’s existing teachers, doctors and others engaged in childcare may feel empowered by their own abilities. There is a palpable sense of pride and determination and REACH as an acronym captures this notion of “reaching new heights” by aiming to raise the levels of Recreation, Education, Agricultural development, Community building, and Healthcare. Our efforts are currently focused on harnessing the time and talent of a growing community driven by the belief that we all bear gifts that can alleviate someone else’s hardship.
Have you always been involved in philanthropic work?
REACH Grenada is my first formal experience with philanthropy, though I have always had a passion for helping others. As a child and teen, I truly enjoyed visiting patients in a hospital or elderly persons who were unable to travel outside of their homes. I learned at an early age that a simple gift of time and emotional presence is often enough to make a big difference in someone’s life. I have found that if giving is conducted in this way – without the desire to receive anything in return – then there is always a benefit.
What has surprised you most about setting up the trust?
The most satisfying surprise has been the vast number of people who have offered to get involved in our work! At this point, our greatest achievement has been in the realm of education, as we have provided teacher training seminars and lasting guidance in curriculum development and literacy training as well as providing laptop computers, printers, ink and paper that have enabled the teachers in rural Grenada to build an interschool network. Perhaps most simple and touching though has been that we provided chicken broilers and feed to local schools to help them teach children how to grow and sell their own food locally. This has been a great success and the project is now self-sustaining from chicken sales proceeds! This is significant as Grenada spends a shocking amount of money importing chickens from the USA and neighboring Caribbean countries.
How can volunteers get involved?
There are so many ways, and as part of our Yoga, Chocolate, Charity Retreats at Laluna, we are giving participants the opportunity to volunteer in one of the local orphanages, which are dull and gloomy and would be so improved with fresh paint or a colorful mural. The island’s cocoa industry, which was almost obliterated following the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005, could prove an invaluable revenue source for the island if we could achieve organic certification and attract international buyers. Volunteers can support the farmers with hands on involvement and, of course, spreading the word on the importance of buying organic fair trade products.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the trip you’re planning to Laluna Resort in November?
In 2008, Bernardo and Wendy Bertucci, owners of Laluna, kindly offered to sponsor the venue, food and beverages for one of our literacy training events. After the event we began to brainstorm ways that Laluna and REACH Grenada could work together to provide more for the community and found we had many things in common including yoga, well-being, community service and a love of food, in particular chocolate. From these conversations we created a unique Yoga, Chocolate, Charity Retreat where participants can come and experience the luxury of Laluna as well as indulge in yoga, meditation, chocolate making and volunteering to help at the local Queen Elizabeth Home for Abused and Abandoned Children.
Why is the island so special to you?
I first visited Grenada in 1996 with my husband and immediately understood why he had been held under its spell for the previous twenty years. Its physical beauty, punctuated by a blue sea (like no other blue you have ever seen) and sand the color of buckwheat is easily complemented by the grace of its people. Fragrance of hibiscus and ginger lingers in the air. And any road less traveled will surely lead to a hidden waterfall, a cliff, a colorful fishing village, or an impromptu “boil-down” where locals gather ‘round a swimming hole, each bringing fish or vegetable to throw into a pot over an open fire, to be eaten at sundown. Of course, you will be invited to these jovial parties.
What shouldn’t visitors miss? And what should they avoid?
Of course, scuba diving and snorkeling for the unusual array of marine life and in particular, the underwater sculpture by Jason de Caires Taylor (www.underwatersculpture.com) and the Grand Etang Lake, rife with rich folklore referring to its bottomless center (and if you are lucky, you’ll see Mona monkeys on your way down the hill). For a safe adrenalin rush jump off the Seven Sisters Waterfalls, or make it to Fish Fryday at Gouyave where visitors and locals all cook seafood over open fires. In the spring, Carnival in Grenada is a five-sense feast not to be missed.
To avoid? Though the harbor in St George’s is considered by many to be the most beautiful in the Caribbean, one should resist spending all of their vacation time in that area, referred to as the Caranage. Instead, spend a day traveling the perimeter for breathtaking coastline dotted with quaint villages or traversing the island in order to appreciate the depth and breadth of its physical beauty.
Can you share some of your favorite spots?
For beautiful views try the beach at Laluna, which is tucked in dramatic rocky cove and makes for fabulously private sunsets, or walk along the beach from the Calabash Hotel to the rocky end. For the best chicken roti and callaloo soup in all of Grenada go to Patrick’s (Lagoon Road, St George’s; 1-473-440-0364) or stop at any roadside home kitchens where the proprietors are so friendly that you may even be invited to cook along with them. For drinks, True Blue Bay (Grande Anse, St George’s, 1-473-443-8783) on a Wednesday night is alive and kicking, and for an authentic shopping experience, go to the open air markets in St George’s and Grenville where you’ll find Grenda’s famous nutmeg, cardamom, ginger and other spices as well as jellied fruits and cocoa balls.
Charity, Chocolate & Yoga Retreat with Neo Moreton will run from November 12 – 19. For more information visit www.laluna.com
Read Indagare’s report on Grenada
Read about a gourmet chocolate company in Grenada
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