By: Dr. Kim Williams-Pulfer, OEF Board Director
I recently had the opportunity to travel from my residence in the United States to visit Eleuthera and to join fellow One Eleuthera Foundation (OEF) Board members for our quarterly meeting at the Rock Sound campus. It was a wonderful weekend, partly because the Boards of OEF and the Centre for Training and Innovation (CTI) had the opportunity to meet, strategize, and fulfill our fiduciary responsibility to the organization.
We also had time to get to know each other better and discuss our perspectives on pathways for social impact. Furthermore, we also had the opportunity to engage with staff and the broader community while on campus. Even beyond our Board meetings, this weekend made me consider the importance of campuses like OEF/CTI and how they can bring people together, providing a space for civic learning and action while demonstrating the importance of place-making.
It made me consider the significance of what the geographer Yi-Fu Tuan defines as (place), which helps us feel a sense of belonging, and (space), which gives us a sense of freedom and openness. As I will show, campuses like the one at OEF/CTI and other public-serving spaces allow diverse community participants to partake and have access to space and place in ways that facilitate learning, connection, and creativity.
Promoting Community Development with The Ministry of Tourism’s Food and Craft Fest
I hope you will soon find the time to visit OEF/CTI’s diverse, approximately fifty-acre campus. Over time it has expanded quite organically to meet the needs of the organization and community it serves and trains. Board members recently returned to the campus after COVID-19 forced our meetings online.
While we were grateful for the technology that kept us together, we were eager to return to in-person meetings where we would have ample time to provide professional insight and learn from the experiences of staff’s day-to-day knowledge about community needs. Furthermore, we sought to engage with the broader community and understand their use and value for the campus and how we, as an organization, could better serve them.
As Board members, the OEF/CTI campus provided us with “civic space,” which organizations like the European Civic Forum define as “spaces which allow [community members] to come together, share their interests and concerns and act individually and collectively to shape their societies.” The campus serves as a valuable civic space for Board members, staff, and the community to think and grow together “in real-time,” strengthening enduring community development practices while identifying innovative strategies that can further enhance social impact relevant to community needs. As we continue this in-person board meeting practice, we hope to deepen our cross-community connections through increased engagement and learning.
After our Board meetings concluded on Saturday afternoon, we found numerous tents and stalls erected around the pool and grounds as OEF/CTI partnered with The Ministry of Tourism to host its Annual Food and Craft Festival. Community members and visitors to the island ate, purchased well-made local crafts, and danced the night away while enjoying beautiful performances, even fire dancers. I was most thrilled to see the children enjoy themselves, and it was clear that they felt included in the day’s activities.
There were scores of them next to the bouncing castle and a stall selling bright, shiny glow-in-the-dark toys. They played in an open green space, blew bubbles, and met new playmates. If you were a tired parent looking for a night out with your children, this was the place. The designated “kids corner” and the high walls of the campus protected children from the street and kept them safe.
Additionally, the staff was proud of how the space was utilized and worked eagerly to make artisans, Ministry officials, visitors, and community members feel welcome. In this instance, the campus served the community of South Eleuthera by bringing us all together.
CTI’s Campus Supports Education and Engagement
Scholars and community development practitioners also talk about the importance of placemaking. For example, a report published by MIT entitled, “Places in the Making” defines placemaking as a way “to build on improved public space, spark public discourse, create beauty and delight, engender civic pride…support community health and safety, grow social justice, catalyze economic development, and promote environmental sustainability and nurture an authentic sense of place.” OEF/CTI’s campus offers a unique large-scale meeting place for entertainment, education, economic and social development, as well as civic engagement while maintaining the architectural and people influences of the island of Eleuthera, which helps contribute to the community in many tangible and intangible ways.
Visitors to The Bahamas valued the opportunity for weekend entertainment while locals caught up with each other in a relaxed and festive atmosphere. Artisans and entertainers had the opportunity to share and sell their work and perform for an eager crowd.
I also want to highlight how the role of publicly engaged spaces like OEF/CTI’s campus creates a setting that supports a broadened definition of education. Campuses like OEF/CTI facilitate traditional education while supporting a variety of “experiential” learning forms. In addition to the organization’s numerous offerings throughout the year, the weekend depicts a broader form of educational opportunities. Children formed new friendships and, we as participants learned how local craft men and women innovatively reused local materials, observed alternative and innovative forms of farming, better understood our local foodways as culture, and enhanced our skills in becoming strong changemakers as staff or Board members of a community development organization.
Intellectual exemplar (with Bahamian roots, I might add) Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois expounds upon a broadened definition of education as “not one thing….nor is it a matter of schools. Education is the whole system of human training within and without the schoolhouse walls which molds and develops man.” This weekend reveals how OEF/CTI’s campus serves as a place that advances a broader appreciation of education from youth into adulthood.
Spectacular Community Engagement
Indeed, it was a spectacular weekend, but an even more valuable perspective is one that focuses on the power of public spaces like OEF/CTI’s campus.The vivid description of the weekend shows how the campus, with its varying possibilities of civic space, placemaking, and an expansive definition of education, is fruitful in building stronger communities to promote and even more robust culture of giving and generosity.
It is one of the many places where we can learn that our sum of experience is greater than our parts as we are interdependent. We can find connections within a larger community and have space to creatively plan for social transformation in partnership with local input. Undoubtedly, building this campus took tremendous foresight from the organization’s founding leadership and capable staff along with the support of advocates, donors, volunteers, and a lot of sweat equity.
While campuses like OEF/CTI require a lot of energy and commitment, we should support the development and advancement of other spaces across our archipelago. We need these kinds of spaces and places in varied sizes and compositions to provide communities with rich opportunities to work together to achieve their aspirational goals for improvement and transformation.
About One Eleuthera Foundation
Founded in 2012, One Eleuthera Foundation is a community-based non-profit organization dedicated to transforming our local island communities into thriving, self-sufficient ecosystems. We do this by focusing on five key areas: economic ownership, meaningful educational advancement, pathways to wellness, and environmentally sustainable communities centered around our island’s unique cultural identity. We run a number of social enterprises, including CTI, our vocational school; the Retreat Hotel, a training hotel for hospitality students; and our farm and Cooling House, which trains future farmers in the best sustainability and food production practices. Through OEF’s consistent dedicated efforts, the tenacity and resourcefulness of our legacy community, and the support of donors and partners, we are creating change in Eleuthera.