By Dean “The Sportsman” Greenaway
A pile of steel rubble that was once the Belle Vue Gym, which came crashing to the ground during the passage of Hurricane Irma on September 6, 2017, has been cleaned up by an international cast of volunteers hailing from Europe, Australia and the USA, representing the Nonprofit Organization, All Hands and Hearts, who have spent the last two weeks removing the contorted steel and parquet floor.
Belle Vue resident Sherwin Fahie said he was glad to see the debris being cleaned us as the facility had been there since he was a youth.
“It was one of the first indoor gyms and we really appreciate the late Hon. Omar Hodge for giving us such a beautiful thing because this is where we recreate, have fun and socialize with the whole island and this brought us as one as a family,” he said. “After Irma it was very heart breaking because we couldn’t believe such a size building could be destroyed that way. We had no place for our recreation or to socialize in the community. It warms our hearts that someone really cares, came to clean it up and give us back what we really love.”
The facility that has housed Volleyball and Basketball Federations games and practice matches when both bodies hosted regional tournaments, also served the Belle Vue community as a recreational center.
All Hands and Hearts Project Development Manager Stephanie Wood, explained that they began working with UNICEF and ANDRA and UNICEF was funding a cash for work scheme with ANDRA and using them as an implementation and cleanup partner for the initiative around six of the territory’s schools.
She said while they collaborated with them to extend the project, they cleaned up debris around several schools, fixed fences and drainage initially.
“They actually funded a crane to come in here because there were some huge, huge steel sections and there was no way volunteers could get rid of them, so the crane came and an took it off site,” Wood explained of the work at the facility adjacent to the Joyce Samuel Primary School. “We came in afterwards and took the rest of it out, so that it ends up being a safe space that’s not full of rubbish in the community. Hopefully, people can start playing sports again. So it was through UINCEF that we identified this project and agreed to take it on.”
Wood said initially they had 10 volunteers and there’s an agreement with the All Hearts and Hands volunteers in St. Thomas, who have 70-80 volunteers on projects there since September, for the 10 to come to the BVI on an as needs basis. However, they are now operating as their own program and can invite volunteers from around the world, as opposed to being a satellite project from St. Thomas.
“We have volunteers from Wales, England, Holland, the United States and Australia, while two others from Scotland and Slovakia for the initial assessments here, who have left,” noted Wood, who has been in the Project Manager’s role with All Hands and Hearts for 19 months. “We also had some assistance from a BVI youth, Ryan Benjamin, an Elmore Stoutt High School student. He has been amazing. It’s actually so nice to see that someone came to help. We’ve had a lot of support through Facebook and support through and a lot of support on the ground when we’re walking around or driving along and a lot of people stopping us and thanking us. It’s been amazing support that way, but, there have been people who have expressed interest and never showed up, so it’s amazing to have someone actually coming to help.”
Benjamin, an Elmore Stoutt High School 10th Grader said someone told him about it and he needed a project to go towards his 120 hours of community service.
“This was a little heart breaking seeing how this was,” Benjamin who attended basketball games in the facility said. “But, we’re just doing our jobs and getting it cleaned up, so it can be rebuilt again.”
With the facility in close proximity of the Joyce Samuel School, the original plan Wood said was to clean up the debris because of health concerns as people were bringing cars and everything else there, became a health and safety concern for the school. She said if they can find rims or material on the island, they want put two basketball courts on the existing space.
“This was an overwhelming project when we first saw it,” Wood reflected as the final pieces of 2 x 4 were being placed in a garbage bin. “It was just so much debris—so much of everything. We’d never seen a picture of the original structure, but it was such a heavy structure and it was just contorted like you wouldn’t believe the was the steel was contorted. When we arrived, we had no idea there were steps to get into the gym. We didn’t know where to step, but we’ve done a lot of this around the world and we started doing it bit by bit and get the teams in different areas. But, there was just a lot of tangled mess that we have managed to cut up and get in the dumpsters.”