GrassrootsVI News – Savan’s Caretakers Returning Home to Organize
By DaraMonifah Cooper
Off-island ‘Savanero’, Iffat Walker walked through areas of Savan taking photos, video, talking to anyone and recruiting support both within and from around the community as part of the initial research stages for a clean-up and revitalization initiative set to initially kick-off in July. Her passion for her Virgin Islands’ neighborhood, and all of the family that still lives there, keeps her coming home regularly to visit and help build.
In addition to the research work done within the neighborhood itself, she also met with agencies and individuals who agreed to partner with the initiative in general support of re-building the community’s self-pride. After the first community meeting and a few initial networking meetings, including those with the Enterprise Zone Commission at the VI Economic Development Authority Director, Nadine Marchena Kean, and the University of the Virgin Islands Cooperative Extension Service’s (UVICES) District Supervisor, Dr. Louis E. Petersen, Jr., Iffat is further encouraged to continue with her research and outreach efforts.
Knowing that it takes a village, Iffat sought out the assistance of others who are already known for having similar or related missions. “It’s not my intention to reinvent the wheel. People here have already been doing this work and I’m just trying to help them work together better,” she stated. As one of the suggestions from young men in the neighborhood interested in having a community garden, Iffat also met with Albion “Chico” George of the UVICES office who is known for his work with starting up various community and school gardens.
Also seeking youth insight and support, she reached out to the Sankofa Saturdays Youth Cultural Education Initiative and was able to appear on their radio show as well as have footage taken and donated by their youth media team.
With challenges ranging from individual to organizational, she noted that there are a range of potential support systems needed and Iffat is determined to do whatever she can to use her community organizational, networking, professional and personal skills to rally others to give it another try collaboratively.
“Some have given up hope or were basically discouraged to continue due to a number of challenges, so we’re seeking that information as well as intend to be creative with forming solutions to those previous and current challenges,” she continued.
As one of the managing administrators for Community Action Now, Inc., a Georgia based organization; this is more than just another project for Iffat. She has a personal vested interest in the Savan area. “Many of the people walking around in Savan are my family,” she noted, also mentioning the need to change the negative impression some have of the area. “With Savan being the neighborhood in basically the center of Charlotte Amalie town, it would benefit the entire community to have it restored to better reflect its original reputation. The historical significance of Savan spans decades of stories with it being the first organized neighborhood for local businesses and activity,” she added.
Iffat noted that many Virgin Islanders are interested in returning home both to visit and to live, but like her, they are doing what they can from off island to help restore it first. With regular initiatives like the Department of Tourism’s territory-wide clean ups and all other organizations and individuals who regularly make their contributions on island or online, the air of hope and determination are building. With the assistance of those both on and off island, the Savan area and the Virgin Islands is prepped to becoming a cleaner, safer and more productive environment for residents and visitors alike.
For more information on this initiative, contact Iffat Walker at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out the Proud to Be A Savanero Facebook group page and the main organization’s website based in Georgia. Photos are available here.