The Atlantic Impact Mentoring Experience

If you’ve travelled abroad before do you remember what you did on your very first trip? Do you remember how you felt?

I was four years old when my grandparents took me to Toronto for the Summer. All I remember was being in awe by real zebras I was seeing for the very first time in the zoo. Oh, that and eating lots of soft serve ice cream. Don’t remember anything else about Toronto honestly!

Atlantic Impact Mentoring Program - Barbados 2014

Yup, that’s little me in this really old photo!

Many more trips over the years and I have become quite the seasoned traveller that sometimes, and as open minded as I’ve become, there are certain things that have become so routine on my trips that I take them for granted.

That’s why when the idea of going to Barbados to mentor the students of the Atlantic Impact 2014 program was pitched to me, that silent voice inside instantly said “GO!” And that I did, afterall Barbados was only a stone’s throw away from Trinidad where I was spending this Summer.

Atlantic Impact is a Detroit based non-profit organisation I had met earlier this year in Chicago. I was impressed but their objective of increasing opportunity in persistently low-achieving schools by using history, community engagement and global exchange, through experiential learning and student-led opportunities and youth develop college-ready skills that will empower them to become the next generation of urban innovators. During the school year the students in the program explore their communities and over the summer they go abroad. 2013 was the first year Atlantic Impact took students abroad to England. This year they decided on Barbados.

There were seven students from Denby High School in Detroit, Michigan who embarked on a trip to spend nine days exploring the history of Barbados, immersing themselves in local culture and using what they learnt to create a joint project to present to the school boards on their return.

Atlantic Impact Mentoring Program - Barbados 2014

After a history lesson in beautiful Speightstown, Barbados

In conjunction with the Barbados Tourism Board, the Barbados Historical and Museum Society gave the group the Freedom Footprints tour – a sneak peak into Barbados’ history. The students were able to relate this back to their African history in the US. From visiting an old sugar cane plantation, slave burial ground to touring the local museum there were many “wow” moments from the students as history came to life for them as they experienced the past to ignite the future.
Atlantic Impact Mentoring Program - Barbados 2014

Starting the tour in front of the lovely Barbados Museum and Historical Society.

Atlantic Impact Mentoring Program - Barbados 2014

Full attention being paid on the sugar cane plantation tour.

Each Atlantic Impact student was also paired individually with a local small business entrepreneur through the Caribbean Centre of Excellence for Youth Entrepreneurship/Caribbean Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Livelihoods. As a mentor I got to tag along with Jayvon, who learnt valuable business skills and was inspired by his entrepreneur’s passion and determination. He is afterall a budding rapper in Detroit and was already applying these skills to his own entertainment business as we went along. Made me feel like one proud Mama!
Atlantic Impact Mentoring Program - Barbados 2014

On site learning about the success of Delicious Treats.

It did not take long to realise these mentees were mentoring me too. Through their eyes I was reminded of the little things my seasoned traveller self sometimes took for granted. How?
  • their excitement at tasting local food for the very first time;
  • their attempts to speak the local dialect and blend in;
  • their willingness to soak in all they were exposed to;
  • their deep rooted desire to apply what they learnt to their daily lives when they returned home;
  • their determination to plan future travels now that they have had a taste of what the world has to offer (and find ways to save to do so);
  • their open-mindedness and different perspectives.

Yes they were mentoring the mentor, reminding me of my younger self when I left Trinidad and set off on my world adventures at eighteen.  And I was soaking it all in enjoying the experience through their eyes as if I was a first time international traveller all over again.

Here are a few of their firsts on their trip to Barbados:

Getting ready for their longest plane ride ever! In fact it was the first for most of them and turns out it wasn’t scary as they had expected They felt more brave when they arrived in Barbados as a result.
Atlantic Impact Mentoring Program - Barbados 2014
Kayla’s first time running carefree on a beach ever! The open water was relaxing, calming, and got the kids to take a step back and think about things from a different perspective.
 Atlantic Impact Mentoring Program - Barbados 2014
Jaylen bravely smiles as he tastes his first Bajan HOT pepper sauce! He liked it so much he bought a few bottles to take home as souvenir.
 Atlantic Impact Mentoring Program - Barbados 2014
Laurel’s goal was to try a real mango; I helped him carefully select one at the market. He was so excited even cutting it was like a ritual for him. The smile says it all!
Atlantic Impact Mentoring Program - Barbados 2014
Jayvon even climbed a tamarind tree to get a sample of what the pods look like; they had no clue what they were picking from the tree.
Atlantic Impact Mentoring Program - Barbados 2014
Kenneth excitedly ran down a coconut vendor on the street so that he could taste his first real coconut.
 Atlantic Impact Mentoring Program - Barbados 2014
Punai only wanted to try plantains. We surprised her on her last night, not only did she taste it, we taught her how to cook with it!
Atlantic Impact Mentoring Program - Barbados 2014
They tried their first curry dish…in this case it was street food called Doubles from Trinidad & Tobago. 
Atlantic Impact Mentoring Program - Barbados 2014

No matter how seasoned a traveller I become, I was reminded there will always be a place, a thing, a person to remind me of my very first international trip and all the excitement it brings with it. It’s that excitement that you carry on all your adventures really.

The kids of Atlantic Impact came as a family but left not just having grown closer as a group but also full of that excitement I’m talking about. Their appetites have been wetted. Their journey is far from over. Now it’s their turn to go home and inspire others that travel is possible and dreams do come true!

Atlantic Impact Mentoring Program - Barbados 2014