A casual partnership between two Caribbean Kiwanis clubs, one Anglophone and one Francophone, yielded a committed relationship celebrating their determined commitment to children and bilingualism.
“In February 2009, my daughter visited Saint Lucia for four months,” says Inès Marinho, president of the Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, Kiwanis Club. “I accompanied her for the first week and immediately sought out a local Kiwanis club.”
Her search for a “sister club” led her to the Castries Kiwanis Club. Their initial partnership began simply as a means for the clubs to exchange gifts and discuss upcoming projects.
The following year, Marinho conceived of a project that would celebrate both the clubs’ relationship and the organization’s mission of serving children. She suggested the clubs host a French literature contest for Saint Lucian schoolchildren studying French. Children between the ages of ten and 15 (les collégiens) from eight schools were invited to participate.
Aiming to illustrate the benefit of diligently learning a language, Marinho says, “I proposed that the two winners would participate in a week-long cultural excursion to Guadeloupe.”
Bringing the project to fruition required an unwavering commitment and enthusiasm in spite of adverse circumstances. Part of Saint Lucia was ravaged by hurricanes and floods, diverting Castries Kiwanians’ attention, and a plethora of bureaucratic red tape complicated financial and logistical matters on both sides.
But their determination paid off. When the contest finally unfolded as part of the globally celebrated Francophone Week, the six schools’ entrants were split into two groups of three and quizzed by the Alliance Française (an international organization that strives to promote French language and culture) on topics ranging from French culture, music, geography, language use and grammar. The two winning schools faced off in an enthusiastic final round witnessed by the French Ambassador to Saint Lucia that saw St. Mary’s College edge out their competitor by five points in the tie-breaking round.
The two winning students, their French teacher and a Castries Kiwanis youth services committee member traveled around the island of Guadeloupe for a week, courtesy of the Kiwanis Club of Pointe-à-Pitre. The visitors explored the sights and sounds of various cantons (states), including an industrial zone, a national park, an aquarium, beaches, shopping centers, libraries and museums. Both of the final schools’ students will receive six months of free classes at the Alliance Française.
Despite the difficulties encountered, the clubs remain focused on the outcomes and hope to reap the benefits of a learning curve.
“The Kiwanis clubs hope to make this an annual event expanding the scope to eventually encompass all secondary schools in St. Lucia,” says the Castries Kiwanis Club’s public relations and marketing chairman, Peter Alexander. –Courtney Meyer
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