Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Taking SHAPE

SHAPE campus at what was originally Sandy Bay Primary school.

SHAPE, Saint Helena Active Participation in Enterprise, was birthed about 11 years ago, by a couple of Saint Helenians and modeled after the Soltane schools. It was a humble beginning with a few students and directors learning on they go. There is great pride taken, as it should be, that now 20 or so disabled adults and receive education, encouragement, job training and a variety of services three days per week.  In that time fifteen people have “graduated” and moved on to independent employment. 

We're helping in a variety of ways, although I've mainly been in the craft room and Kyle is working on two murals. We research craft methods/patterns, discuss design and help source supplies as getting stuff from the outside world on such a remote island is a task unto itself. We chat and encourage and drink tea. Oh yes, always tea.

Samuel has spent almost all of his time outside helping with the farming – pruning banana trees, planting potatoes, harvesting chow chow – all of which is taken home by students or sold to help support the center. (For a kid who wants to be a farmer this is like tropical, muddy heaven.)

The craft room.

Bangle bracelets that I designed using one of SHAPE's materials of choice, cereal boxes.

Banana and potatoes all in the same garden!
The needs of of students, or trainees as they are called, are varied. While some were born severely neurologically and or physically disabled, others suffered a stroke as an adult or were the victim of incorrect misdiagnosis of disease and subsequent lack of proper medical treatment.

Some people may wonder if this sort of environment is depressing – oh for sure it could be. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed when I fully think about the limitations of the students, what their daily lives must be like, what their families lives must be like. And for the tireless employees who are there 5 days per week no doubt there can be great stress and sadness. 

But day to day, SHAPE is mostly a place of relationship, laughter, amazing kindness and opportunity to find meaning. Daily I am challenged to think differently about how I act and speak and think about myself and my own problems. I hope I am giving to them as much as they are giving to me.

SHAPE's recycled paper, illustrations added by Jeannie, beads rolled by me = teamwork! She and I are really proud of these babies. 

Jeannie can only use one arm but she amazes me by making bracelets and even earrings. Here she's laying out a necklace with beads she and I made together. 


  1. I love cereal boxes....
    A sobering and yet joyful account of life in a very different place. I think you must be in a wonderful space, mentally and physically.

  2. Its hard here for a many - I don't approach the island with rosy colored glasses for sure - but I do love it here!