What started out as a project geared towards providing increased water access and better nutritional levels at the Watermount Primary and Infant School has evolved into a story about community development and empowerment. The Watermount Community which has been plagued by water woes and low morale for years has seen a drastic improvement in the living conditions of its members following its receipt of a $5.9 million grant from the European Union.
The grant falls under the EU’s “Addressing Environmental and Climate Change Challenges through Improved Forest Management in Jamaica (IFMJ)'' programme and was implemented through the Government of Jamaica’s Forestry Department.The IFMJ programme aimed to not only mitigate the harmful effects of climate change but also create sustainable livelihoods for communities located near forests.
Through this funding, the Watermount Community Development Commission (CDC) was able to implement its programme “ Improving Sanitation Practices and Nutritional Levels of Watermount Primary School through Water Harvesting and Smart Farming.” This allowed the school to improve its water harvesting, resuscitate its farm and improve the livelihoods of persons in the community.
Among the resources provided, Watermount Primary School Principal, Karlene Thomas-Laing says the provision of water tanks has had one of the biggest impacts on the school.
“We acquired quite a number of resources under the project but the one I am most proud about today is the 20,000 gallon tank we received. Before this project, there were days where we had to close school because there was no water. As the project name suggests, we wanted to improve sanitation practices at the school and ensure that when our students go to use the restroom, they can wash their hands before going back to class. We also got two additional 1000 gallon tanks from the project and since that day, we have never had to close school. Those are the days of the past.”
The school also received a solar pump which helps to move water to and from the tank without electricity. This provided a major boost to its water harvesting capabilities. Since then students have been able to focus on their academics and would have been among the cohort of pupils and teachers who returned to the classroom in September. CDC Members also benefited as the school tanks also served the wider community.
Meanwhile, Principal Thomas-Laing who also serves as the Public Relations Officer for the Watermount CDC Benevolent Society explains that another aspect of the project which lifted morale within the community was the introduction of agroforestry and beekeeping. Under the project, each member received two boxes of bees.
“After our survey we found that members and persons within the community were interested in beekeeping. We also recognized that there were not as many beekeepers in the area so it was perfect for the implementation of that aspect of the project,” she added, “however, some persons were more interested in the value-added part of the beekeeping process which included making honey infused products such as jams and jellies. These were also created using products from the farm such as sorrel.”
Thomas-Laing adds that due to the success of this new venture, the community will be expanding its beekeeping business.
“We have come to realise that our individual members are expanding their businesses but we have decided to take a more collective approach in order to prevent an oversaturation in the market. As a result, we will be creating our own honey brand as a community so that we can market to larger companies such as Hi-lo,” she stated.
Teacher and President of the Watermount CDC Benevolent Society, Carlos McLeod lauds the EU funded initiative for the positive impact it has had on the community. He notes that beekeeping and farming has created much needed income for members.
“In terms of the beekeeping project, I myself benefited from it. It is important to note that I was never a beekeeper or had any expertise in that area but it is because of this project that I have been able to take up this profession. The intent is to have as many people as possible onboard so we ensure that we distribute bees to members within the community,” he continued, “members are also grateful for the seedlings that were provided. The last time we distributed seedlings there was a large turnout and we were able to give away about 300. These fruit trees and honey now play an important role in not only feeding the community but also act as a source of income for many.”
Alexander Beckford, Project Officer at the Forestry Department commends the community for effectively utilising the funding. The Agency played a major role in providing seedlings to the community.
“I think the community has worked really hard to implement the various aspects of the Watermount Primary and Infant School project. They definitely worked as a team in order to maximise their training and capitalise on the opportunity offered by the EU so the Forestry Department is happy to have been a part of this initiative,” he stated.
Meanwhile, André Fache, programme officer for the EU delegation to Jamaica, Belize, The Bahamas, Turks and Caicos and Cayman Islands says the organisation is pleased with the progress in the community.
“The European Union is proud of what we have been able to accomplish in this community. It shows that once given the right tools, persons will work together for the betterment of their community. We also hope to continue working with groups like these in order to find more sustainable means of livelihoods for communities located close to forests,” Fache said.
The Watermount Community is now home to numerous skilled beekeepers and beautiful farms that provide provisions such as yam, potato, green banana, coco; cane and fruit trees such as pineapples, guava and mulberry which all serve to further uplift the community as it works to empower itself.