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Craftsmen Garfield Nero, left, and Winston Nicholls shows a basket woven from vetiver grass.
Craftsmen Garfield Nero, left, and Winston Nicholls shows a basket woven from vetiver grass.

The Sandals Foundation has joined local NGOs Hand2Earth and Grow In Time’s Vetiver Craft Project, making a US$10,000 investment into the vetiver livelihood prisoner rehabilitation and re-socialising training programmes.

The investment — which will support Phase 1 of a 2-part project — will see the development of a Vetiver Heritage Craft and Design Centre to create an experiential space designed to educate the public about the use of vetiver grass in livelihood creation and land conservation.

It will also showcase vetiver products made by prisoners and ex-prisoners of HM Prisons Kingstown and Belle Isle Correctional Facility.

Income generated from products is channelled to support prisoners and their families as well as rehabilitation of prisoners through skills and entrepreneurship training, including a vetiver farm project at Belle Isle.

“Through the creation of this educational gallery, we hope to increase the potential for ex-prisoners to earn a living through the sale of products and train between 5 – 10 at-risk youth in vetiver craft production,” Vonnie Roudette, project designer and manager at Hand2Earth said.

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“The support from Sandals Foundation is enabling us to set up a craft production team of ex-prisoners to support the prison team production. It will also provide a physical space to interface with customers, host eco or environmental workshops, film screenings, skills training and product development workshops for artisans.”

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From left: Hand2Earth Social Media Manager Olivia Stephens, Hand2Earth Manager/Project Designer Vonnie Roudette, Sandals Foundation Executive Director Heidi Clarke and SVG Conservation Fund CEO Vanburn Harry.

The vetiver prisoner rehabilitation programme, which was started in 2015, has trained over 160 prisoners in craft skills, sustainable farming, land conservation and eco-entrepreneurship.

The project has teamwork and collaboration at its core, offers prisoners an alternative life view through improved communication skills and self-esteem and has seen a very low rate of reoffending — 3%.

Hand2Earth has also introduced a mentorship literacy program for prisoners.

The programme is supported by the Ministry of National Security, Prison Superintendent Dwayne Bailey and a dedicated officer attached to the programme, Kevly Gould. 

Heidi Clarke, executive director at the Sandals Foundation, said the partnership with Hand2Earth’s rehabilitation programme forms a core part of its community development efforts in islands in which it operates.

“Our primary goal at the Sandals Foundation is to invest in sustainable projects and programmes that empower lives, and in this case — provide second chances,” Clarke said.

“We were very inspired by the work being done by Hand2Earth and the wide reach of its tentacles to support not only livelihood development, but agricultural output and by extension food security. Together, we will help some of our most marginalised members of society find purpose and engage some of our at-risk young people to channel their energies into meaningful activities.”

Additionally, the Sandals Foundation support will also strengthen the livelihood capacity of farmers who grow vetiver as a natural land conservation resource and a key element of St. Vincent’s agri-heritage.

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Displays at the Vetiver Heritage Centre in Villa of woven items made from vetiver grass.

“Vetiver is a low-maintenance grass that offers a wide range of benefits to the island’s agricultural output,”  Roudette said.

“It effectively prevents soil erosion when planted along the contours of sloping farmlands. St. Vincent has a tradition of using vetiver in farming that dates back 100 years but the knowledge was lost and we are intent on reinstating it to conserve and regenerate healthy soil and improve crop yields.”

Since 2018, Hand2Earth has set up eight vetiver nurseries in North Leeward and trained 55 farmers in vetiver systems technology.

Twenty-five farmers have been supported to set up vetiver systems and report success with complete cessation of soil erosion on their farmlands.

Farmers have also noted improvements to groundwater retention which has positively impacted their crop yields.

The development of an education vetiver heritage site in Troumaca has captured the interest and support of the north leeward communities from Coulls Hill to Petit Bordel.

Vetiver is also an organic fertiliser, a deterrent to pests and rodents, and effectively de-removes toxins such as heavy metals and chemical pollutants from water and soil.

Because of its high biomass and deep root system, vetiver can capture carbon dioxide from the air and deposit it deep underground adding to climate change mitigation efforts.

Traditionally, the plant was also used for roof thatching, floor mats in general homes, and as a natural ingredient in the clay daub that formed walls and plasters of farmers’ early dwellings. 

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