We don’t all have the same choices in life. The children of Caye Caulker are faced with a decision most of us thankfully don’t have to make when we get to secondary school. Ocean Academy on the small island of Caye Caulker started in 2008. It provides a sustainable secondary school education to teenagers in a country where only 40% choose to stay in education. Until Ocean Academy opened in 2008 the nearest secondary school was based back on the mainland over a hour away by boat. Many families simply cannot afford the cost.
60% leave to join the workforce but unskilled workers wouldn’t be able to join the burgeoning tourism economy that the Belizean government is embracing. Young adults would instead be forced to enter into less environmentally friendly industries such as land clearing or sand dredging.
Ocean Academy – Providing Affordable Education
Employment on Caye Caulker, has shifted from fishing to tourism. Thanks to its idyllic position in the Caribbean Sea 1 hour by ferry from Belize City, tourism now dominates the local economy. Ocean Academy provides specific courses that compliment the local industries on the island. Children can learn alongside marine biology studies, tour guiding, scuba diving or kayaking. Core subjects like English, maths and Spanish are on the curriculum. To better equip the students for life outside education courses in web design, business management and office skills run concurrent to the standard curriculum.
Ocean Academy receives just 17% funding from the government of Belize. Another 17% is provided by school fees. The remainder is sourced through fundraising. Instead of just asking for money, students are tasked with coming up with a viable business idea that can benefit themselves, the academy and the local community. Through this innovative approach the students receive a small payment for the time and energy they bring. The Academy receives much needed funds for maintenance, school materials and wages.
Many arriving tourists use Caye Caulker as a base to explore the amazing barrier reef just off shore. Diving and snorkelling trips among the many atolls are top draws as is a flight over the world famous Blue Hole 20 minutes offshore (2 hours by boat). The influx of tourists created a need that the island inhabitants have adapted to fill and Ocean Academy is supporting the next generation to succeed.
Bike With Purpose – Ocean Academy Supporting Education With A Viable Business Solution
Along with accommodation & transport, restaurants are thriving on the island and the children in the school came up with an innovative guiding tour idea to support their school. ‘Bike With Purpose’ was originally set up with help from Planterra, the non profit charity supported by G Adventures.
People on certain G Adventures trips take a paid 2 hour tour around the island with children from the school as guides using bikes purchased with initial funding from Planterra. 2500 people take the tour yearly through G Adventures and this helps them to improve their English and teaches them important business and life skills. You don’t have to be on a G Adventures trip to take advantage of this unique way to see the island.
Bike With Purpose has been such a success that the school has expanded with other students ideas. They now also offer ‘Kayak With Purpose’ and ‘Fish With Purpose’ to tie in with two of the most popular activities for tourists.
They are currently working towards a funding target to purchase instruments so the children can learn music and set up a band. Go beyond the bustling First Street, see the island through the eyes of a local. Venture away from the beach. This is an ideal way to get an idea of the island layout. The children will take you to see the seahorse nursery and discover the interesting past of the football field. Find out where the locals go for dinner, the nursery and school the children attend before getting to Ocean Academy. Then head back along the residential Third Street which has wonderful views at sunset.
Stop off and directly see where your money is going in the Ocean Academy building, brightly painted with murals from former students to inspire the next year onto success. The model clearly works because the school has won numerous international awards for its teaching model. Students have also won first place in many of the international competitions they go in for.
There is clearly pride in what they have been able to achieve in such a short amount of time. Quite rightly so because they make it work through sheer hard work and determination and they deserve to succeed.
If you find yourself on Caye Caulker, why not support the school that dared to do things differently. Dare to see the island from a different perspective. Visiting this tiny atoll is one thing but living here is something completely different.