A few weeks ago my family and I agreed to host two of the "Up with People" group in our home (http://www.upwithpeople.org).
I knew a little bit about the organization but not a lot and figured we'd pitch in as we had been asked a few times. But as the time came to pick up our UWP kids, to be honest, my husband and I were a bit worried we'd be running around all over the place and would be really inconvenienced.
On pick up day we were a bit apprehensive but off we went in our soccer outfits (we all had themes to wear), to meet our people. We were very surprised to see all sorts of local families at the pick up. Some were large families, some retirees, some second home owners, some full time residents and quite a few locals. To my son's delight we were to host two young ladies (both eighteen), one from Canada and one from Belgium. Acquaintances were made and we loaded up the family, the girls, and the luggage to go home.
We did the tour of our house, showed them where everything was - including my 9 year old daughter's Justin Beiber wall of posters. It was then we learned our Canadian guest knew the Beiber and was good friends with Beiber's best friend (definately in with my daughter)! The girls were super friendly and we chatted easily about where they had been and what their travel plans were for the next 6 months. They were on the winter/spring tour (each group goes for 6 months - you can go more - see the website for details). It was funny, there were no uncomfortable moments, they seemed to just fit in.
They had a heavy schedule during their stay but suffice it to say we dropped them off in the morning (took them late the first day - so Bahamian) and picked them up at night. They took care of themselves for breakfast and at night we all ate dinner together. They helped clean up and helped us with our kids' homework (loved that). In fact, the host family get-together on the Wednesday, which was held at Toni Macaroni's, was super. Tons of food, family, kids running all over Taino Beach, and a huge bonfire with fun singing and a little island dancing too.
On the last night before they left we went to see their show as families who hosted got two tickets each. The show was really nice and showcased the wonderful talents of this group of over 125 young persons and proceeds benefited our own community. At the start of the show Magnus Alnebeck, General Manager of Pelican Bay Hotel and main sponsor addressed the audience. He gave what I thought was a very nice summary of what had happened that week and it really impacted me.
In 1969, 42 years ago, the Prime Minister of the Bahamas came to Freeport to deliver a speech. In that speech, he described Freeport as follows;
"What it lacks is humanity; what it needs is social conscience; what it must have, before too long, is a soul. I have always been concerned about the lack of soul in Freeport, the absence of honest concerns for the human and social needs of the people."
I think history has proven that Sir Lynden was fairly correct. Now, 42 years later, I think you will agree with me, that Freeport has a better soul, but I still believe that we can do better, and that we can create community spirit and togetherness that helps everyone living in Freeport.
All of us who lives in this community are responsible for helping shaping a community spirit that gives everyone living here a chance to prosper and to have a decent life. We cannot leave anyone behind.
Whether you arrived by Private Jet, Canoe, or is one of the lucky ones to have your navel buried under a sea grape tree, should not matter. We all have an obligation to help each other.
When Pelican Bay decided to Sponsor Up With People coming to GBI, my request was for their community impact project to focus on giving us an example to follow. I am proud of the varied projects that they have started in a few days, and that they have been able to motivate people to work alongside that has not volunteered before. Up with People has produced 2000 hours of volunteer work in our community.
There are 100 young people that has spent 6 nights in host families. That is 600 room nights. We have had host families that has accommodated our guests in some very modest houses in Lewis Yard. We have had some that has been staying in some very nice homes on Spanish Main.
Everyone has been welcomed in the same warm way, and the students are overwhelmed by the love displayed by those host families. I thank those families for having hosted,
without you, this would not have been possible.
Last night we had a bonfire party that Tony Macaroni hosted at Taino Beach. It was great to see the UWP cast members interact with GBYC members, but is was equally great to see host families interacting across some social barriers that did not seem to exist. I would like to thank the persons and organisations that has made this visit possible.
In the 45 years that UWP has existed, there has never been a Bahamian that has travelled with the group. We are going to change that, but we are not sending a Bahamian, we are sending a Grand Bahamian. We are tonight announcing a scholarship fund, that will be used for that purpose. The more we raise, the more students we can send. Tonight’s tickets proceeds will go that fund, and Pelican Bay has written the first corporate cheque. Anyone who wishes to contribute to that fund, please contact me at Pelican Bay.
Last but not least, I would like to thank you all for coming tonight. By your attendance, you are supporting this cause. I thank you, and I am looking forward to seeing you back next year. Enjoy the show!
One of my girls (I call my hosts kids mine now) was very concerned that during her adventure with "Up with People" she would not make an impact on the lives of others. She meant, I believe to impact the charities and persons who they helped during their week of volunteering in Grand Bahama. But I think she had it wrong. I think she impacted our family and so did her friends. Everyone I talked to who hosted these young adults have all given me wonderful glowing reports. I saw host families dropping kids off with huge hugs and kisses, exchanging address, giving them gifts and I've been in touch with my girls on Facebook almost everyday - so have my own children.
We only spent one week with our two girls and yet I feel that my family and I have made friends for life. Its strange to think that something I thought was going to be such an "inconvenience" has turned into an honest to goodness fantastic experience. Opening our doors to new people, new experiences, new cultures was not just good - it was meaningful. I want to thank Magnus, the hotel, and all the sponsors for their efforts to make this happen. It is my hope that this organization will come back to Grand Bahama and continue its impact on us. A job well done to those happy "Up with People!"
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