Most of us working and studying in the sustainability education movement in the last 10 years would have been privileged to join programmes or projects already established on a province-wide or nation-wide basis. We would have had the support of government agencies whose mandate it is to promote or even institute environmental education, such as urban recycling programmes, education programmes in parks or electricity conservation programmes.

Some of us may have even been pioneers, creating brand new projects within the conservation and sustainability movement in our areas.

Few of us, however, can claim to have been passed the baton to create the movement, as did an Australian woman, Nicole Garofano, who worked and lived in Barbados for 7 years. A vivacious trail-blazer in a sometimes antagonistic venue, Garofano’s relentless initiatives to forge alliances between government and private sector parties and create opportunities for Barbadians to learn sustainability affected me in a profound way.
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Nicole Garofano with students at an agricultural camp.

For the first 3 years that she worked with the Future Centre Trust, an NGO in Barbados with teaching sustainability its core mission, Garofano rode her bicycle up and down the ABC highway to work every day. In Canada, a 7 km bicycle commute to work is nothing heroic. Try doing it in 30 degree weather with 90% humidity. Add in that the highway was being reconstructed from 2 lanes to 4, and the traffic and dust that would create. She finally broke down and let the Future Centre Trust arrange a small second hand van for her to drive. This meant she was able to arrive at meetings at the Ministry of Environment a bit “fresher”!
Living sustainably was not the only thing that made Garofano such an inspiration to us. With no formal training in either education or environmental issues, her professional background was in travel. After years of hard work in a travel agency in Australia, it was time to “walk about” herself – which is what brought her to Barbados and subsequently volunteering a few hours with the Future Centre Trust. She became bitten by the bug and after returning home, wrote to the chairman of the FCT and told them if they could arrange a long stay visitors permit, she would gladly return and do some more volunteer work. In the end, the chairman realized the floundering NGO was in need of Garofano on a full-time basis, and a small
contract and work permit were also arranged.
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Minister of the Environment Dennis Lowe presenting
Garofano with a certificate of appreciation.

Her enthusiasm and ability to lead others to find their best attributes and lend them to this movement are perhaps, in a nutshell, what created so much admiration for Garofano. For me personally, a stay-at-home Mum with primary school aged children at the time, when my daughter’s Brownie pack asked Garofano to preside at a recycling programme we were starting at our school, that was enough for Ms. Garofano. She told everyone who would listen that they must run to our school to see what we were doing and replicate it at their schools! I was asked to mentor university students on implementing effective community recycling programmes in this country where recycling is entirely optional and where, in some communities, rather that wait for the Sanitation Authority to collect their garbage each week, they burn their garbage. She encouraged me to apply for a grant to introduce 12 community recycling centres in schools, churches and neighbourhoods which I subsequently received. Eventually she asked me to sit on the board of directors of the Future Centre Trust, which I accepted a year ago.
As a board member of a now thriving NGO with 1.5 full time staff and 4 major projects ongoing (including Green Business, Future Trees and Clean Up Barbados) I look back on the last 7 years and realize how far we have come and how much of an impact one person with the right attitude can make. We are consulted regularly by the press and government agencies when anything “environmental” comes up – in fact today I sat at a table with private sector recycling company representatives and bureaucrats from the ministries of the environment, health, town planning, drainage, the water authority and the sanitation authority to assist with drafting legislation to take Barbados into the next 20 years of solid waste management. On an island of roughly the geographical size of the GTA with 1.5 million visitors a year and a permanent population of about 300,000, solid waste matters become huge problems very quickly.

Garofano was as comfortable speaking with Ministers and government officials as she was chasing donations from corporations to sustain the organization. She actively educated herself on trends and kept meticulous notes on our projects. She wrote papers, produced puppet shows, did presentations at schools, and sat on radio and television shows to explain programmes and to promote the “brand” of the Future Centre Trust. Strangely, for many years, the average Barbadian didn’t know we existed, nor did they understand there might be environmental problems in their homeland. Now, thanks to Garofano, programmes of the Future Centre Trust and a local press that seems insatiable when it comes to articles about environmental matters, we are not only known to Barbadians, but we have gained their trust.

All this would not have come about if it had not been for Nicole Garofano – the person who helped me understand my role, and who fostered my ecoliteracy.
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With the British High Commissioner to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean,
Paul Brummel (right) as well as National Conservation Commission Staff.