Meet the Caribbean collaborator in our project! Interview
Carriacou is part of the tri-island state of Grenada, Carriacou, and Petit Martinique, in the southeastern Caribbean Sea. It is a relatively small island with 33.7 km2 of territory. After centuries of colonization, independence was granted to Grenada in 1974. Grenada has been a sovereign state since and remained a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, so the country is currently headed by King Charles III, King of the United Kingdom. Carriacou is a popular vacation site with its coral reefs, beautiful sandy beaches, and tropical weather. The inhabitants of the island are not indigenous, they are mainly of African descent, with a mixed minority of European ancestry.
Beat Rettenmund lives in Switzerland and works as a teacher in public schools. He is co-director of the Kido Foundation. Each year, he spends one to two months in Carriacou, but he is planning to move there permanently.
Marina Fastigi, Ph.D. in social and political Science, is YWF-Kido Foundation co-founder and co-director since 1995. She lives in Carriacou and she is the administrator, coordinator, educator, trainer & writer for the Kido Foundation’s conservation projects.
Tell me how the story of the Kido Foundation started.
Beat: We came to Grenada on our sailboats some 30 years ago. We were a small group of young adventurous people who had bought two sailboats in England to travel around the world doing theatre and music to get people aware and interested in nature. We lived in Grenada for about a year when the YWF-Kido Foundation was established in Carriacou in 1995, as a not-for-profit organization. YWF stands for Youths, Wildlife, and Flora. The aim was to conserve the natural ecosystems of the islands and its biodiversity while educating and training the youths to appreciate, protect, and restore the variety of flora and fauna, in particular endangered species, sea turtles, wildlife, forests, and mangroves.
The main focus at present is on the keystone tree species restoration in the High North National Park and adjacent areas, which suffer from soil erosion, deforestation, and drought. These long-term projects actively involve young adults from generations of school leavers.
Marina: We also promoted a Women’s Initiative called Creative Women of Carriacou or CWC, which created and produced bags and other useful items out of recycled waste materials. We trained male and female nature tour guides, nesting turtle monitors, and forest gardeners and we have always concurrently run nature-based educational programs for generations of local school youths. Our present work, along with our ongoing mangroves and keystone forest restoration, aims for a new first in Grenada and the Caribbean: Kido is expanding our new learning program for young islanders, integrating our concept of a “Green College” and hands-on nature-based solutions to our field education to include forest ethics and peak learning processes.
Why is it important for you to support women?
Marina: There's a lot of work to be done to support women, through eco-job opportunities for girls and young mothers, who often carry alone the burden to sustain their families.
Can nature conservation be an opportunity for the women of Carriacou?
Marina: Exactly. They work as nature guides within ecotourism initiatives, they are contracted in our funded eco projects, some become entrepreneurs, and some studied and became marine and wildlife conservation biologists, running their conservation NGOs.
Is there any activity of the Kido Foundation that you consider a nature-based solution?
Beat: Yes. The keystone tree restoration project is definitely nature-based. To mitigate the effects of global warming we work to reestablish a dense and high evergreen canopy in the critical areas, such as the main watershed in the island that could bring more rain and a cooling outcome benefiting people, biodiversity, and the entire natural environment.
Marina: Kido’s coastal red mangrove restoration project is also a nature-based solution, which shields coastal communities from extreme weather like tsunamis, tidal waves, and rising sea levels while improving food security as the red mangrove roots are the nursery and shelter of 95% of coastal fish.
The decades of Kido coastal mangrove restoration allowed for a bird sanctuary to be protected and officially established, promoting guided tours for bird watchers.
We can tap the power of nature to mitigate the impact of climate change, benefiting biodiversity as well as humans.
Is this island suffering from climate-change-generated sea level rise?
Beat: Yes, the sea level has risen and eroded our beaches. Sea turtles are losing many of their precious nesting sites and coastal communities are affected, losing every year several feet of coastal properties and natural resources to the surging sea waves.
You receive volunteers from Europe and North America. How does it work when Europeans, educated white people, go there to help local people handle nature? Isn't it patronizing that people from Europe go, show and tell them what to think or do?
Marina: Personal attitude, empathy, and mutual knowledge exchange are paramount elements of being a volunteer at Kido. It would be improper and even arrogant if anyone from Europe or elsewhere came to just tell islanders what needed to be done. Kido developed nature conservation programs carefully involving local population members, students, teachers, and other interested community folks. Kido nesting turtle monitors, nature tour guides on the eco trails, and forest gardeners receive adequate compensation for their contracted work, and each conservation program is tailored to promote social and economic advancement for the local participants as well as gender equality. Volunteers, local and foreign, are obviously not remunerated, but they are still part of the social exchange process, and we all endeavor to genuinely help each other in hands-on conservation activities and in respecting a different culture. There are several foreign volunteers who returned to assist Kido multiple times in decades and are much appreciated and remembered by the islanders they worked with.
This means that the Kido Foundation appraises local people's knowledge of nature very highly.
Marina: Yes indeed. An example is the precious and fast-disappearing local knowledge about Carriacou’s medicinal use of wild plants. A Kido volunteer science student from USA recorded from consenting elderly local practitioners the data to preserve the cultural knowledge for future island generations; a local UK-trained Kido associate in the CWC women group is working on an online edition of such ethno-botanical data collection for wider free distribution; the former botany student and interviewer of 130 old practitioners is now a middle-aged university professor, who returned several times to conduct ecological studies with Kido, offering free training in coastal data collection and mangrove restoration for local officials and interested students.
Kido’s mission is to raise awareness about nature conservation, based on updated scientific facts, which sometimes differ from traditional beliefs. As an example, Kido ran a 2-year campaign, in the tri-island state, about the health hazards of consuming sea turtles and turtle eggs, which is an age-old tradition. Nowadays, a plethora of heavy metal poisons in the ocean unfortunately affects sea turtles as well, and it affects the health of locals eating them. Local tradition considered sea turtle eggs and flesh aphrodisiacs, but we debunked this myth with scientific facts through the media, radio, and news articles and the consumption of sea turtle meat and eggs has drastically diminished since. Kido was praised by a local official for this achievement.
Kido Foundation was established 30 years ago. Why do local people participate in the Kido program?
Beat: I can certainly explain why from the perspective of young people. They see Kido as a window into a different world. Maybe the schools don’t offer much in the sense of living exciting adventures in nature. And Kido became a unique space where youths actively experience nature in an exciting, sort of life-changing way. One may see and quietly observe nature (or a beautiful beach filled with plastic waste) and have a peak learning moment: all of a sudden, we understand what we are and experience nature’s works in amazing deeper ways. And, coming back to the idea of nature-based solutions, when a young person comes and sees how animals, plants, and everything natural work together, cooperate, exchanging vital energy elements, this can be a life-changing experience! That's somehow, I would say, the magic of the Kido Foundation. This is a space where young people can learn something out of the box.
How you think the Coevolvers Project can contribute to your foundation's programs?
Beat: I can think of two things: an exchange of valuable methods and techniques and the second would be an exchange of volunteers. People who want to get into tropical nature and people who might have a scientific background could go to Carriacou and participate in the different programs. And some young volunteers from Carriacou could go and visit the projects over here in Europe and get some ideas about the management and experience how ecological projects are run. For most of the visiting Overseas Cousins volunteers, it would be their first time outside their country, in a different society. Likewise, for the Coevolvers coming to Kido Foundation on Carriacou island, Grenada, West Indies. This exchange of experiences will benefit the hosts and the volunteers and new ideas for nature-based solutions may emerge to tackle the local impacts of climate change.