Imagine a Caribbean vacation, and what comes to mind? Sun-dappled waves? Certainly. Fruity drinks? Probably. Volunteering? Doubtful. But Sandals Resorts, well known for its all-inclusive properties throughout the Caribbean, is on a mission to change that.
The Sandals Foundation, now in its fifth year, was established to foster educational, environmental and community improvements on its host islands. My friend Kim and I recently visited Beaches Turks and Caicos, which is under the Sandals umbrella, and we each got to join a different volunteer excursion — both rewarding in totally different ways.
I went for the Reading Road Trip, a program that provides support for Enid Capron Primary School on Providenciales (a.k.a. Provo). Located in a pocket of the island that’s seen its share of economic hardship, the school and many of its students are pressed for the resources they need. To help, Sandals Foundation has led initiatives that range from donating backpacks filled with supplies to raising funds for classroom computers.
I was charmed the second we arrived: the reigning Little Miss ECPS was there to greet us and escort us inside (wearing her sash and tiara — adorable!). We split into small groups and headed for the classrooms to read stories to the younger children and lead lessons for the older ones.
Their attentiveness and enthusiasm made the entire visit delightful, and it was sweet to see how the kids in our volunteer group immediately grasped what it means to make a difference to students their own age. If there’s one thing kids can relate to, no matter the country, it’s their peers.
Kim opted for a tree-planting trip to Turks & Caicos’ Little Water Cay, a short boat ride from Provo and a habitat for endangered rock iguanas. The small island has had major erosion problems in recent years, putting the animals at risk.
Sandals Foundation partners with the Turks & Caicos National Trust on efforts to stabilize the beach — and thus protect the iguanas — by planting mangrove trees, which are native to the area. The process isn’t difficult, so it’s perfectly suited for kids to help.
Between the instant gratification of seeing all the freshly planted mangroves and the chance to take a dip in the pristine waters off the cay, Kim said it was a fabulous afternoon. The coolest part? Getting up close to the iguanas, which roam by the hundreds all over the island. What kid wouldn’t love that?
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Editor’s note: Ciao Bambino volunteered with Sandals Foundation as part of a media trip to experience Beaches Turks and Caicos. As always, our opinions are our own. Photos by Lisa Frederick unless otherwise noted.