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Giving Community Opportunity: An Interview with Asha Frank

Asha Frank is the co-founder of the first locally-led NGO on Barbuda, BarbudanGO. Frank was instrumental in facilitating emergency response and recovery efforts after Hurricane Irma. She was one of the first residents to return to Barbuda after the island’s mandatory evacuation to help recover and rebuilding. Her work has been and remains instrumental to building a sustainable Barbuda and safeguarding the integrity of Barbuda’s unique environmental and cultural heritage.

Our team had the opportunity to interview her about barbudanGO's work for the community, challenges they faced as a result of the pandemic, and what's next.

Asha Frank and Cleo Isaacs, barbudanGO cofounders, at an interview for the local ABS television channel.

Tell us about your experience growing up in Barbuda.

My father is Barbudan - I was born in the UK and I came to Barbuda when I was three years old. I was raised here until about 14. I think growing up on Barbuda is one of the greatest childhood experiences you can have due to its rich nature. It is so empowering as a child to have the free will to explore, to go to the Lagoon, to chase the silver fish, dive for conch, and learn to swim in the gentle bay waters, without adults. Growing up in nature like that was such a natural childhood experience.

And that connection to nature really shaped the rest of my life. Myself, Cleopatra Isaacs, and Brandon Walker, the founders of barbudanGO, all know that our lives are linked with nature, and our personal connection to our home is what’s going to drive change. The three of us have experienced governments and councils around the world not meeting the objectives necessary for sustainable and holistic development, so we wanted to form our own NGO to guide the future of Barbuda.

Flier for a disaster preparedness workshop
Flier for a disaster preparedness workshop

What is the mission of barbudanGO?

The tagline of barbudanGO tagline is “Giving community opportunity.” Our mission is to empower community members to work towards the protection and success of community pillars. Our pillars are: the preservation of the environment, education, culture, history; and increased disaster preparedness. Disaster preparedness was a foundational pillar for barbudanGO, because we experienced one of the worst hurricanes to ever hit the Caribbean - Hurricane Irma, which struck in 2017. There was sadly one fatality, a baby, and Barbudans were then evacuated two days after as Hurricane Jose approached the island, climbing rapidly from Cat 1 to Cat 4 as it crossed the Atlantic. From that experience, we know intimately how the community and environment are linked together. Barbudans are and have always been so tightly connected with nature and we need to maintain that connection to foster healthy communities through sustainable development.

Tell us about Hurricane Irma.

After the evacuation, it was a lot of work to coordinate relief and recovery for our communities, and a long road to get people back to their homes. So many organizations were crucial in helping that process, including the Waitt Foundation. That was really the starting point for barbudanGO so we could be organized and be established in Barbuda by Barbudans, to be able to give direct assistance to communities in need, and to be prepared when the next hurricane comes and we can make recovery so much faster.

One bright spot for me is that we saw such a quick recovery for the natural environment. Nature is so resilient and quick to regrow if given the chance. And that’s why we want to make sure whatever efforts we take to develop Barbuda goes hand in hand with environmental health.

Water is distributed to water tanks provided by barbudanGO in collaboration with the Barbuda Ocean Club community office and ICF.

Tell us about some of barbudanGo’s projects.

Water storage was one of our first successful projects as a young NGO. Fresh water is and was so difficult to access after the hurricane. The International Community Foundation, ICF, funded our first initiative and we were able to supply 26 homes with 600 gallon black water tanks as potable water.

As for the environment, we want to focus on outreach and celebrating the connection between the ocean to our communities. The 2019 Ocean Fest was such a great experience to bring together chefs and families and showcase the wealth of our oceans. People can only know to protect the environment if they can understand why it’s important, so education is crucial to help people understand why they can’t fish certain species or why we need to preserve certain locations. Thanks to the Waitt Foundation, we’ve been able to completely protect the chub fish (parrot fish), which is such an important species for our reefs. We’re so proud to be leading the protection of these species and for such a community-led development of management and marine protected areas.

Barbuda Fisheries interns with barbudanGO's project manager.

Tell us more about the partnership with the Waitt Foundation and what you hope to accomplish in the future.

We are really excited to affect real change in Barbuda. So much was accomplished over the life of the Blue Halo Barbuda program, and thanks to the Waitt Foundation putting the power into our grassroots organizations, we can really take these initiatives into the future. All of our goals can be achieved with the tools that we have.

We are a fishing community, that’s how the people of Barbuda survive. We can’t survive if we just use our resources without being thoughtful. We have to manage and preserve our resources so they last and grow into the future. We know this is important for Barbuda, and we know it’s important for the world. It’s very exciting as a young NGO to be building our capacity and expertise while working with our community to continue the work of recovery and environmental preservation.

barbudanGO donated sanitary equipment to Hanna Thomas hospital.

How has Barbuda faired during the COVID19 pandemic and where do you go from here?

We faced a threat that was new, unknown and dangerous with this pandemic. Barbudans were required to remain at a distance, to adapt the way we live, and conform to a new 'Norm'. Change is usually never embraced with ease, even when it is for our safety, so it was important to give voice to the community so the community could champion the change. With funding made possible through the International Community Fund (ICF), we hosted a song competition - The Extempo (Calypso) Junior and Senior Song Competition. This served primarily to sensitize the community about COVID-19 and the social responsibility each member of community shared to ensure safety and security of our community through music. barbudanGO also joined forces with other local charitable groups like the Red Cross and Be Foundation to assist the hospital in meeting its needs to control the disease. barbudanGO purchased sanitary equipment such as hand sanitizer dispensers which were installed by the Red Cross and the Be foundation were able to raise a significant amount of funds.

About Barbuda:

Barbuda is the smaller island of the state of Antigua and Barbuda. Each island has a unique cultural identity and history that affects all aspects of life on Barbuda. Along with the Barbudans, the island is home to the largest frigate bird colony in the Caribbean, wild donkeys, horses, and other livestock, and a healthy marine environment, 33% of which is fully protected through the efforts of Blue Halo Barbuda.

About Blue Halo Barbuda:

Blue Halo Barbuda is a partnership between the Barbuda Council and the Waitt Institute, with support from many collaborators like barbudanGO. Barbuda established a marine spatial plan in 2014, protecting 33% (139 km2) of its waters, zoning which was entirely drafted by the people of Barbuda. The Barbuda Council signed a set of new ocean management regulations that zone their coastal waters, strengthen fisheries management, and establish a network of marine sanctuaries.

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