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UWI and SUNY students volunteer to rebuild

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THE University of the West Indies (UWI) and the State University of New York (SUNY) recently joined hands in a charitable initiative to rebuild a preschool in hurricane ravaged Dominica.

The project is being spearheaded by the SUNY UWI Centre for Leadership and Sustainable Development. It is the first initiatiative of this type undertaken by the centre, reflecting the work which so closely aligns with its goal of facilitating student advocacy toward sustainable development in the region.

Fourteen students, seven from the UWI and seven from SUNY – New Paltz and a faculty member from each institution, recently travelled to the island of Dominica to begin work, rebuilding the Morne Prosper Pre-School and restoring the attached primary school from January 7 to 19.

The work is being managed by the non-profit organisation – All Hands and Hearts – which provides immediate and long-term assistance to communities affected by natural disasters. At the centre of the NGO’s approach to rebuilding are notably sustainable ‘build back better’ techniques which ensure homes, schools and other community infrastructure are resistant against future hurricanes and earthquakes and can also serve as evacuation shelters in emergencies.

Funding for the project, including the students’ travel, was supported by a donation of US $3,000.00 from the New York Chapter of the Jamaica Ex-Soldiers Association through the American Foundation for the University of the West Indies, as well as from corporate entities in Trinidad and Tobago.

Commenting on the project, Dr Luz Longsworth, pro-vice-chancellor and principal of The UWI Open Campus and co-chair of the SUNY UWI Centre for Leadership and Sustainable Development, said: “When we launched the SUNY UWI Centre for Leadership and Sustainable Development in 2016, one of our stated goals was to encourage and facilitate student advocacy. We were so pleased to see the buy-in from our students; they paid their own way to and from Dominica in an economic climate that is very challenging. At the UWI this says to us ‘service to the region’ is not just rhetoric but is a living, breathing aspect of our culture that is permeating one of our largest stakeholder groups – our students. We are also positive that the choice to partner with All Hands and Hearts was definitely the right one, given their sustainable approach to disaster relief which is in keeping with our values at the centre.”

Other project leaders, Sally Crimmins Villela — associate vice-chancellor for global affairs, SUNY, and Dr Robert Balkin, director of Latin America and Caribbean Collaboration, SUNY also expressed satisfaction with the level of student participation from the students.

The SUNY UWI Centre for Leadership and Development was formally established in September 2016 with the aim of contributing to the pool of innovative solutions to specific problems that constrain the achievement of the United Nation’s sustainable development goals. One year later in September 2017, the island of Dominica was devastated by Hurricane Maria which damaged 90 per cent of its structures. This presented an opportunity for The SUNY UWI Centre to deliver the kind of support it was set up to provide.

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