Belizean scholar reflects on similarities among coastal communities

There is not a thing I could have researched online that would have fully prepared me for the changes and experiences I have encountered thus far, as a QEII Scholar.  I say this in the most positive way imaginable.

Upon receiving the letter of acceptance to Vancouver Island University and the Queen Elizabeth II Scholarship offer on January 12, 2016 (aside from being completely overwhelmed with joy, gratitude and an immense feeling of being blessed), I thought back to the reasons why I applied, and I looked forward to the journey ahead.

With my acceptance to VIU and the award to study, my research had to be ramped up immediately. I had already done preliminary research on Nanaimo, Canada – both in terms of its geographic location and the fact of its existence, but I needed to know exactly what I was getting myself into. The findings were very simple: Nanaimo is cold and rainy, but located in the warmest region of Canada. VIU is littered with rabbits, the culture is liberal, there are many international residents and though the ocean is beautiful, it is cold.

The experiences have been both informative and humbling thus far. The activity in the first week of class was to facilitate a design charrette for the District of Lantzville, which concluded with a presentation to the Mayor and Council of that community. The cohort then participated in a world cafés (a hands-on approach to enhancing our outreach and  facilitation skills through public engagement), conducted in the communities of Lantzville and Ucluelet. Those trips also afforded us the chance to visit the historical MacMillan Provincial Park, and Long Beach in Tofino. Some of my most memorable moments up to this point have been the Colloquiums of BC Transit and the presentation by the very notable Franc D’Ambrosio.  More recently I participated in a QEII panel discussion, with two Canadian students who went to Belize and two Belizean students now in Canada.  We shared our intercultural experiences with an audience consisting of VIU students, staff and faculty.  This was another excellent highlight. 

The discussion has already started on our proposed research topics. Of the five possible themes related to coastal resiliency, my proposed topic covers three.  The proposed topic is somewhere along the lines of: The socio-economic opportunities and alternatives available now that may assist in diverting the focus from sea and forest extraction to more sustainable options. The research will aim to address unemployment through opportunities to display (as opposed to extract) natural resources through different forms of tourism and natural practices. The outcomes being the protection of the natural environment and creation of employment opportunities. 

From what I have seen on Vancouver Island, through visiting communities and speaking with locals, I’ve noticed similarities to coastal communities in Belize, and possibly others around the world.  Communities are keen on upholding the viability of their marine environment - being very careful to harvest consciously, while still being able to provide locally and for export. This has evidently and practically influenced the cultures and laws, both locally and in the global context. As I continue to apply my focus on the academic theory, I look forward with anticipation to the practical application of the courses, as helping people and communities is the ultimate goal. 

Kenny Williams, Community Planning, VIU