After 36 hours of traveling - through the air, on the road and across the sea - I eventually arrived at the stunningly laid-back Belizean island of Caye Caulker, thanking the respective gods of neck pillows and podcasts.
Contrary to the common misconception, I hadn't only ventured to this corner of the Caribbean to snorkle with sharks, swing in hammocks and gorge on fresh lobster. I was also there on a filmmaking mission with the island’s only high school, and relentless force for social good: the Ocean Academy.
The Ocean Academy opened in 2008 to offer Caye Caulker’s children an education without the prohibitively expensive and lengthy seafaring commute to Belize City. Since its launch, the school has also turned its hand to several social enterprise initiatives that actively encourage pupils to make a sustainable living in the tourism and fishing industries.
My short doc focuses on one of the longest running of these initiatives: Bike with Purpose. Every Thursday, pupils lead visitors on bike tours around Caye Caulker's tiny network of sandy, pot-holed lanes as they point out their favourite spots and tell stories from their childhood. The money is then split between the school and the pupil, all ultimately going towards their education.
|Caye Caulker, Belize © Ryan Chapman|
A popular hippy hangout in the 1970's, Caye Caulker has retained its lazy vibes - whilst avoiding the tide of resortisation that has swept over neighbouring Caye Ambergris - and thoroughly deserves its legendary status throughout the backpacker community.
Little more than a sand bar, and just a few metres above sea level at its highest point, Caye Caulker is particularly vulnerable to hurricanes and rising seas. But, if this puts the locals on edge, they don't show it. The island’s mantra ‘go slow’ is painted on tree trunks and etched into the minds of locals and tourists alike.
One hazy, lazy afternoon - running slightly late for a coffee appointment - I was stopped by a police officer and, only half-jokingly told that I was walking too fast. "Go slow" he softly demanded with something approaching a smile, though sternly enough for me to take note.
I was on my way to meet Joni Miller, a Canadian teacher who had originally just come to Caye Caulker on a snorkelling trip in 1999. She was struck by the lack of opportunities for the island’s youngsters and later returned to establish the Ocean Academy.
Today, she's probably the busiest person on the island, dedicating every ounce of energy into giving Caye Caulker's children the best possible start in life.
The film I made with Joni at the Ocean Academy can be viewed below and on Destination: Utopia, a platform for sharing ideas and initiatives from around the world that inspire positive change.