The Fond Gens Libre Development Committee (FGLDC) in conjunction with the SLHTA recently conducted a Tour Guides Skills and Training Assessment of a cadre of community based tour guides for a new visitor experience the community of Fond Gens Libre is introducing this winter. Sitting at the base of Gros Piton, Fond Gens Libre is home to descendants of Saint Lucia’s Freedom Fighters who rejected slavery hundreds of years ago, and even the community’s name which translates to Valley of the Free People, celebrates this freedom.
The community seeks to share its unique culture and history with visitors through a model of Sustainable Community Based Tourism that is developed from within the community. To date this initiative has received tremendous support from the General Manager of the Piton Management Area (PMA) who has oversight for Saint Lucia’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Physical Planning, Natural Resources and Co-operatives, through its Forestry Division and the GEF SGP UNDP (Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme United Nations Development Programme)
As a member of SLHTA the Fond Gens Libre Development Committee (FGLDC) reached out to the Secretariat requesting training for its prospective tour guides. The Secretariat sought to first identifying the unique challenges faced by the guides with a view to formulating a plan to help them achieve a level of excellence in telling their unique story that would do their ancestors proud. When asked why was she here for the training and what did she hope to achieve from it, a very animated Mary Thompson explained beautifully in Kwéyòl, “I have lived in Le Fond (the colloquial name for the community) for a very long time. I was married there and I had my seven children there. I am 74 years old and have never worked in my life, but I would like to work and this is why I am here.” Mary Thompson, or Miss Elaine as she is affectionately known in her community embodies the spirit of these proud people and the project at hand is a promising new approach to community based tourism.
Social Entrepreneur/Photographer Kirk Elliott, has mentored the community since 2015 having been invited by the PMA’s General Manager to help the community develop a tourism product that would gain international awards of excellence like his St Lucia Photo Tour has done. “From my very first time in the community there was a pull that kept drawing me back again and again as I saw the amazing potential of the project. Though many persons told me I must be crazy to keep at this and I’d eventually give up from frustration as “Gens Le Fond” are the most difficult people out my commitment to the community’s quest to be the best that it can be has never wavered” Elliott explained when asked what drove his passion and commitment to this little community all the way on the other side of Saint Lucia from him.
“It warms my heart today hearing Miss Elaine express her hopes and dreams and seeing the impact of her words on the young aspiring tour guides who are about to be exposed to a style and level of training that is based on their specific needs.” Elliott continued in expressing his delight on the impact of the one day skills assessment workshop.
SLHTA CEO Noorani Azeez who conducted the workshop explained “As the island’s leadin private sector hospitality and tourism organization the SLHTA stands ready to support its members in seeking out new pinnacles of excellence and commends the community of Fond Gens Libre for embracing community based tourism and seeking out assistance to create and deliver visitor experiences that help differentiate Saint Lucia in the market place.”