Travelling Teddy loves giving hugs — lucky for him, because everywhere he goes he gets them.
The cuddly stuffed bear and his “moderator,” United Kingdom-based educator and Virgin Islands native Carol Arneborg, have been witness to many aspects of hurricane recovery in the Virgin Islands.
Daily posts on his official Facebook page share where he’s been spotted: sailing on a Hobie cat in Oil Nut Bay; checking out rare plants with the National Parks Trust on Virgin Gorda; and riding around with linesmen from the BVI Electricity Corporation as they restore power.
“We took him surfing, too,” Ms. Arneborg said. “He got a little wet. Maybe that wasn’t such a good idea.”
After the hurricane, Ms. Arneborg was inspired to launch a project similar to Flat Stanley, in which children around the world send paper cutouts of a storybook character back and forth, taking photos and posting them to show where the character has travelled.
She wanted to focus specifically on hurricane recovery, and decided that a bear was an ideal character.
“In times of trauma, … a bear is often used as a tactile, sympathetic companion,” she said.
Along with the main Teddy character, who travels around documenting the recovery, there are also “Little Teddies” — paper miniature bears that can be sent back and forth between the VI and abroad with art and messages.
For the project, Ms. Arneborg is working in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Culture and has received support from the BVI Tourist Board.
So far, children from Jost Van Dyke School, St. George’s Primary School, Cedar International School and the temporary West End school have all given hugs to Teddy. Friday, he visited Pelican Gate School in West End.
“He lifts spirits wherever he goes,” she said.
Ms. Arneborg explained that Travelling Teddy is all about rebuilding. Wherever somebody is putting a roof on a house, fixing a door or a window, or reopening a business, the bear might show up.
“[He] is designed for children, but adults seem to enjoy him, too,” she said. “He shows the recovery in a positive way and reminds us of the enjoyment we can still find on the islands.”
Ms. Arneborg coordinates Teddy’s visits and posts on his Facebook page.
“But it’s not about me,” she said. “It’s about the reactions Teddy gets.”
On Friday at Pelican Gate, teacher Lois Freeman-Augustine gathered the student body in the schoolyard.
“How many of you are living in different houses?” she asked.
A few hands shot up.
“How many of you are missing windows? How many of you are missing doors?”
Almost every hand rose.
“Now let’s talk about some things that are getting better,” she said. “Who can name something that’s getting better?”
“The trees!” one girl shouted.
Other children chimed in, talking about their school, their homes, and the landscape around them.
Then Teddy appeared. Every child got a chance to give him a hug. The younger ones seemed like they didn’t want to let him go, and occasionally his legs and arms got a tug by a child’s overeager neighbour.
Next, Ms. Freeman-Augustine held out a handful of Little Teddies that had been coloured and decorated by students at the Port Regis School in Dorset, England as messages of support for VI children.
“We’ve had kids send bears from Greece and France,” Ms. Arneborg said.
Ms. Freeman-Augustine held up the colourful messages one by one.
“This bear looks like my bear,” one read. “It has a heart on it. I hope it makes you happy.”
“Don’t give up,” read another.
Then it was time for the Pelican Gate students to get out their crayons and markers and scribble messages, which would be taken back to their new pen pals in England.
Soon, Teddy was off on his next adventure.
“He offers some light relief from daily life after Irma,” explained Ms. Arneborg as the children waved goodbye. “And everyone needs a bear hug once in a while.”