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School boat fees in Southern Grenadines should be subsidized

School boat fees in Southern Grenadines should be subsidized

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by Donald De Riggs Tue, Mar 10, 2015

While there are a myriad of reasons why students from mainland St Vincent and the Grenadines drop out of school, residents of Mayreau say an inability to pay the ‘school boat’ fees is the main reason why some of their children fail to complete their education.

One of the persons who operates the {{more}}‘school boat’ service between Mayreau and Union Island, but prefers to remain anonymous, said that there were, at one stage, about 22 students attending secondary school in Union Island.

That number has now, however, been reduced to about 14, because parents could not afford the $200 per month boat fare, the operator, who prefers to remain anonymous, said.

The parents are therefore calling on government or big private sector companies like LIME, Digicel, the St Vincent Brewery Ltd, VINLEC, the National Insurance Services, RUBIS, SOL, CCA to subsidize the transportation costs.

By and large, the motor launch used to ferry these students back and forth daily is providing a very useful service and its operators must be applauded for taking the initiative, but from a safety standpoint, a much larger vessel, providing more comfort/safety during the 20 minute journey, will be a better option.

Additionally, it would be nice if some local business or even the Coastguard could provide each student with their personal life vest, to be worn during each trip. These could be left on the ‘school boat’ in the safe keeping of the crew.

During the school vacation, these life vests could be taken home for cleaning and disinfecting in preparation for the next term. Each student can have his/her name printed on the life vest to avoid conflict of ownership, and life vests still in good shape can be passed on to younger siblings who will also attend secondary school.

During a recent visit to the Grenadines, I had the good fortune of travelling on the ‘school boat’ from Mayreau to Union Island. The boat generally arrives in Mayreau about 7 a.m. but seldom later than 7:15, depending on the condition of the shallow channel between Union and Mayreau, which can become very turbulent at times. During this journey, when we were opposite the runway in Union Island, we encountered some rough water. School bags were strewn across the floor of the small cabin, with lunch boxes and books scattered on the ground, students desperately trying to secure them under very unstable conditions. When it is windy, this can be a daily occurrence. The captain reduced the throttle and allowed everyone to settle down, because going full speed through turbulent waters can cause a boat to capsize, especially with a shifting load.

Therefore lifejackets are absolutely necessary for every student travelling on sea, despite the fact that it is such a short journey. Here again is the appeal for help for these students. The parliamentary representative for the Southern Grenadines may already have brought this issue to the attention of Parliament, but something needs to be done sooner than later, or hopefully by the new school term. The good old adage “a stitch in time, saves nine” is most appropriate in this situation.

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