Students and the principal of the Eslyn Henley Richiez Learning Centre check out the new van that was donated by members of the Lions Club of Tortola and other organisations. (Photo: ZARRIN TASNIM AHMED)

The students and faculty of the Eslyn Henley Richiez Learning Centre are one step closer to returning to pre-Hurricane Irma conditions after several groups came together to donate a van for their transportation needs.

During a small ceremony outside of Althea Scatliffe Primary School on Tuesday morning, members of the Lions Club of Tortola and government officials handed over the keys to principal Vansittart Huggins.

“A bus has always been associated with the school since 1972,” she said. “It was not fair for me to use my piece of old car to go with people children in the car to take them to different places.”

Ms. Huggins said the vehicle will allow the students to learn in more conducive ways.

“Our students are learning, but they cannot learn inside the room there,” she said. “Right now, because of our limited space, we just have everything shut up. It’s very frustrating for them because the chalk and talk just does not work.”

Thirteen special education students were moved into a classroom inside Althea Scatliffe Primary after the Eslyn Henley Richiez Learning Centre was destroyed during Hurricane Irma in 2017. It hasn’t been rebuilt yet, but plans to build a new school are in progress.

In addition to needing its own building, Ms. Huggins said the centre is in “dire need” of a kitchen.

Eslyn Henley Richiez Learning Centre Principal Vansittart Huggins expressed her gratitude to receive a bus donation for the school on Tuesday morning. (Photo: ZARRIN TASNIM AHMED)

She voiced other concerns as well.

“We are teaching them for life. We are teaching them life skills,” she said. “Those who have left since 2017, I don’t think they’re placed properly in society. … We are hoping that it will take a matter of months to build us a well-deserved school so that we can get our children learning for life.”

Kedrick Malone, president of the Lions Club of Tortola, led the ceremony with opening remarks.

“Today is a perfect example of what happens when individual initiative, backed by the world’s largest service organisation, joins with the private sector and government to meet the needs of the community,” he said.

The purchase of the van and other essential items was led by Lions Club First Vice President Nichola Dunkley.

During the ceremony, Ms. Dunkley invited a student to stand with her in front of the attendees and said that the purchase of the van wouldn’t have been possible without him.

“This is the little fellow who I met,” she said. “I actually met his mom first and then I came across the entire family, and he is the reason why we are here today.”

Nichola Dunkley said it was a student who inspired her to help the school. (Photo: ZARRIN TASNIM AHMED)

Lions membership director Maria Viera said Ms. Dunkley started meeting with Ms. Huggins in September 2019 to learn more about the school and its needs, and to take the information back to the Lions Club. She learned that the school needed computers, a television and a van for field trips, and the Lions Club set out to secure the items.

The club donated four iPads and a smart TV in March 2020.

For the van, it received assistance from the West Indian Association of Bermuda, which had mounted a fundraising drive to assist the VI following the hurricanes, Ms. Viera explained.

After reaching out to the Lions Club, the association agreed to donate $20,000 to purchase a new vehicle for the school “without any hesitation,” she added.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth Affairs, Fisheries and Agriculture donated $9,000, and the Ministry of Health and Social Development provided $5,000 toward the purchase as well, she said. Creative Arts, a graphic company, branded the vehicle with the logos of all those involved in the purchase.

New school

Deputy Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley said during the ceremony that designs for the new school are being completed. He added that he travelled to the United Kingdom and met with one of the main consultants of the project.

“She designed a wonderful school in the United Kingdom — one of the best schools in the world for special educational needs — and she gave me a personal tour of a school called Glenwood,” he said.

Dr. Wheatley said the VI will build something similar, but on a smaller scale. The school will “swap” locations with the current Magistrates’ Court, which will place it closer to Althea Scatliffe Primary, he said. The location, he added, would allow the schools to share resources, including the playground.

Though there has been “some financing” through the Caribbean Development Bank, more funds need to be secured, according to the minister. He also said government recently appointed Afiya Smith as education officer for special needs.

“That was a position that was open for some time, and we are so grateful that it is now filled,” he said.