Connection is what our world is built upon. Connection to people, nature, themselves, etc. can create massive growth within a community and oneself. Fish for Change helped me to get connected with the kids of Sandy Banks, which is a Haitian refugee camp where Haitians escape in hopes of getting to America. By hearing these kids stories and seeing how they live I was able to further myself in my appreciation for what I’m blessed with. Not did this connection help me, but it helped the kids as well. I sat down with an eleven year old boy to talk about his story and his future. He lives with 2 aunts, his dad, and a younger brother in a 1 bedroom shack. His dad is from Haiti and his Mom is from Nassau. They started a family and shortly after things went south. His Mom left for Nassau and his older brother left in search of any job. He barely sees his mom and brother and seemed unfazed by this. This left his dad, 2 aunts, younger brother, and himself sentenced to Sandy Banks in hopes of a way out to America. In America they will meet just as much struggle but the chance at a better life is what drives them to continue on. I asked the boy if he could have one thing in the world what would it be, he quickly responded “A plane to fly to the states”. I got chills. To think that I complain when things don’t go my way is disgusting; when there are literally eleven year olds stressed over getting to the states. The coming of age of these kids is insane; I was able to hold a conversation about life with this eleven year old for a good fifteen minutes. That doesn’t happen in the states. I asked him why he didn’t come to the last time we visited, and he said he had to help his dad build a porch. When I was eleven I was building porches in Minecraft. It got me thinking about what a normal day looks like when we aren’t there. When we started playing with the kids through their smile you could see the release of their daily life stresses that drag them down everyday. After an exhausting day of getting chased by packs of ten year olds we brought the kids back to the village. The boy looked me in the eyes and said when will you come back. My heart sank knowing that in only an hour of I have made this kid feel on top of the world. Knowing that I quite possibly will never see this kid again crushed me. People drive by this village everyday paying them no attention, but our simple act possibly made their summer. Throughout the week fishing shifted out of the spotlight and connecting to the locals quickly took its place. Hearing these people’s stories and impacting them is something I have become obsessed with. Fish come and go but people don’t their stories are what live on. This trip serves as a testament to the power of fishing and the spark it can ignite in someone. We all went from indifferent Americans who were fed by a golden spoon, to a group of young men who understand what struggle is. We are now able to appreciate our opportunities and therefore act on those opportunities to make the most out of them for these kids that we met in summer 19’ at Sand Banks Abaco.
Eric Schuher, 18 years old, New Jersey
The main pillar that I felt throughout this whole trip was the pillar of connection. When I arrived at the lodge, I was actually really nervous about what the other kids were going to be like. I thought they were all going to be try-hard fly fishing guys, that I would not really be able to become friends with. Even after meeting all of them, I was still a little skeptical. Sitting here writing this, I can easily say that this group of people have turned into some of the funniest and best friends that I’ve ever had. We all connected on such a great level, and my body really hurts from laughing so much. Whether it was fishing off the dock together, playing corn hole, or just spending some time together talking, each and every moment was so fun. Not only did I connect with the American boys here, but also the Bahamian boys as well. John, Nathaniel, and Junior were all so fun to hang out with. Although these boys are from the Bahamas, they would fit in with any American kid. None of these kids had ever fly-fished before, and tonight at Group Circle, Junior told us that he wants to become a bone fishing guide when he gets older, which I thought was so cool. It would be so funny to come back here in 20 years and have Junior as my guide. Outside of the lodge, it was easy to connect with all the other kids I might too. One of my favorite moments of the entire trip was the visit to the local community center to play basketball. There were about 10 other Bahamian kids there, and it was so fun to play 5 on 5 with them. I felt like I was there for 10 minutes, but it somehow turned into 3 hours. I had never been so drenched in sweat before, and I wanted to play for another 3 hours. It was tough to say bye to them because i knew I would never see them again, which was a weird feeling, but I know I will never forget those pick up games. Another crazy connection was with the Haitian kids at Sand Banks. After our 2nd visit, we really made it a point to sit down with the kids and talk to them on a very personal level. The kid I hung out with was named Eli, and he had moved to Sand Banks with his mother when he was a baby. He now has 3 younger brothers, Adrian, Issac, and Victor. All 4 of them share a single mattress with each other. These kids have probably gone through more in life then I could ever imagine, and Victor and Issac are just 5 years old and Eli himself is only 10. Although it may look to me like that would be a very rough life, they all Love living in Sand Banks. But, the main goal throughout the community is to one day get to The United States. One of the most eye-opening things I heard there was from a kid named Wesley, who is entering the 6th grade after the end of the summer. Talking to Eric, he said his goal is to one day be able to go to college in the States. Eric asked Wesley “if you could have anything in the world, what would you want?”, Wesley answered with “ a jet.” Why? So he could fly to the United States and start a life there. Hearing those words from a young kid, really made me appreciate the situation I live in, and everything i take completely for granted. I really need to think about everything I take for granted; my own bed, an amazing school, an amazing family, and so much more. I will never forget this week, for so many reasons, and I know that once I get back to the States, my mind will often float back to thinking about all the memories I have from it.
Throughout this week I have learned and discovered many things about the Bahamas, life, and even myself. This week has been the most influential and positive week of my entire life. I have gained so much knowledge about fly fishing, life, and the world that surrounds me. From learning how to make an ideal cast against the wind, to broadening my horizon about the hardships many people face in this country. Along with these skills, we learned about the four main pillars that have shaped fish for change. Education, conservation, exploration, and connection. For me, the pillar of connection has truly stood out to me. In one week, I have never made so many strong connections with so many people in my life. When I first pulled up the lodge, I expected myself to be quiet and just try and catch some fish. Yet, I never thought I would feel so comfortable with a group people that I had never met before. I think the reason we all clicked so well was because we all shared a common interest, fishing. This common addiction has created so many connections between people including myself. But, I have discovered that this life style can create connections with anybody. Never did I think I would hear the story of a young sandbanks boy who has grown up in a one room house with no windows and doors but still manages to smile at just about anything I say. This is a connection I will never forget. Furthermore, we decided to head to a public basketball court to drop some dimes. When we arrived we saw multiple boys already in a pickup game. At first I didn’t really pay attention to them other than their jump shots and jelly layups. And after watching them I started to notice more and more. Multiple boys didn’t have shoes, some were wearing ripped shorts, and string as belts. One of those boys without shoes ended up sitting next to me. I ended up letting him wear my shoes for the rest of the night. I have never had someone so appreciative. This is also a connection that I will always remember. The idea of bonefishing on the flats is what brought me here, I’m leaving this place with a few photos, and many memories outside of the fishery to go along with it.
Jack Wood - San Fran, California
One of the nights when Travis came and talked to us around the fire pit, he said something that really really hit me. He said that he didn’t guide for the money, he guided because he loved the sport. If he did guide for the money, he wouldn’t be any good. Travis is one of the guides at Abaco Lodge - he’s probably one of the coolest and funniest guys I’ve met. He’s one of the youngest guides in the Bahamas but probably one of the best I fished with due to the fact the he really loves the sport. I really connected to what he said because in my opinion having a job that you enjoy is way more important than money. I would much rather do something in the fly fishing industry and make good money doing something that I love than sit a desk all day just to make a fat paycheck. Also I agree that you will do something that you enjoy way better than something that you don’t. Doing what you love will make you so much more happy in life than money ever will.
- Blake Rome: Austin, Texas
Today while wading the flats, I learned a lot about fishing / sight fishing/ and the experiences around it. It is not just about catching fish but it’s really about soaking in the environment around you and being disconnected from everything. You get to see the world through a WHOLE different lenses.
Knox really made the wading trip very memorable because of his energy the whole time. He would do anything to help us land a fish, see the fishing railing or cruising, and to have a good time.
He put his body on the line to save the fish from breaking off. I wish I was able to film this... everything was happening in slow motion. Blake stripped slowly and then set the line tight, the fish started sprinting towards the volcanic rock. Knox was going insane, high legging it through the flats to catch up to the fish and then ATE it. It was like a scene from a movie. IT WAS SICK IS ALL I CAN SAY!
Seeing Blake catch the fish wasn’t even the coolest part, the best part was the reaction from everyone. The energy was contagious. Screaming and hollering all around. Tingles running down my spine. This is what I live for. OVERALL TODAY WAS OUTRAGEOUS.
- Peter Buell: Dallas, Texas
I’m comparing and contrasting America and Guanaja. It’s more of a contrast however, most people here live completely different lives from the average American. That’s not necessarily bad though, it’s more good than bad. The people here don’t have the technology or the money that most of the people in America have. You would think that’d make them upset or angry, but no. I’ve spent a total of two weeks of my life in Guanaja and the first day I was here it was so obvious that the people here are so much happier than anyone that I know back in the states. It’s really interesting to look at that fact too. People in the U.S. are hell bent on material possessions and always having the newest things to avoid being judged. Here if it works who’s going to judge you? Everything in the U.S. is so blown out of proportion that after a while we think it’s important. Mental illness is also a big issue back home. It’s somewhat normal for someone that you know to commit suicide sometime in your life. The last person in Guanaja to commit suicide was 24 years ago, and the people here remember every single detail about it because it shook the community.
It’s just something about this place, it’s so crazy going from what I’m used to, to here. Last year I asked my guide Pablo had he ever thought about moving from Guanaja and he said “no man, why would I need to, we have the best food, the best people, the best fishing, and the most amazing views” and he made such a great point. From someone that doesn’t have the things that I do, he’s happier than a lot of the people I know. Possessions don’t make people happy, they’re happy to just be here and breathing.
Jacob Parris Guanaja Week 3
First day on the flats, I was guided by @flatsphantom aka Travis. Awesome guy. He helped me to learn how to cast into the wind. As it was very windy, I easily caught my back with my fly, because I was waiting too long on my back cast and the wind would take it. Any way he got me on a bonefish and I instantly trout set and lost him. Then after an hour of casting to bonefish I finally got tight with one. It was surreal. The fishing here can get real stressful, Once the guide points out a fish its like everything I know about casting gets thrown out the window. So after today, I can say the fishing is high intensity. I’ve gotta learn how to calm down to make the perfect presentation. Today, one of the local Bahamian Students asked me to teach humid how to cast. Knowing that these kids look at me as someone to learn from is unreal and it inspired me to get more kids hooked on fly fishing throughout the week.
Today was another tough day of fishing, we were surrounded by storms all day then at the end of the day I hooked up with a bonefish. Luckily we had a BTT rep on my boat and I was able to tag my fish. We then went to Sandy Shores which is a Haitian refugee camp. The infrastructure here was non existent, there were no doors, broken windows, and the “houses” were a couple feet apart from each other. Seeing these living conditions was hard to see and comprehend. However, through all of this these people are still happy and grateful for what they have. We walked through town and gained a following of maybe 30 kids, and played dodgeball with them. The way these kids are able to act in these conditions is mind boggling. BY simply playing ball with them we turned them from the nine year old adult they are forced to become into the fun loving lighthearted kid they urn to be. I am inspired by there lightheartedness and ability to be thankful for something as simple as a soccer ball. I met this one boy named named Issac who was nine, and had to share an air mattress with four other boys. He was the most mature kid I’ve ever met, because he had to become that way to live out here and enjoy it. Instead of worrying about his next fly rod he is going to purchase; he worries about his next meal. This really got my life priorities straight and inspired me to become more like these kids who have experience more in their nine years of life than in my nineteen years of life.
Throughout my 15 years of life, I have endured many amazing experiences that will forever resinate with me. But, the experience I had with the young boys and girls in the town of Sandy Shores is something that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. When we first pulled into the town, I was surprised to see nobody around, until we got out of our cars and walked further into town. As we walked in, I was able to see children peeking out their non existent windows and doors to see what we were doing. Once they realized we were there to have fun, boy after boy, and girl after girl, filed out onto the street. This was so significant for me because the last thing I expected was a smile. This got me thinking about what makes each person happy. It is different for everyone. But, what I have realized this trip is although these children may have to share a bed with 4 other people, or skip meals, they never take the little things for granted. I feel as though their society is poor economically, but rich with love for one another. Something that many communities in the states seem to lack. There are few people in the U.S. that will smile and feel so much joy because somebody hands them a soccer ball. I met a young boy in Sandy Shores named Marvin, he was very small but had a big personality. What amazed be about Marvin was that every time I would hand him a ball he would say, “thank you”. This expanded my mindset on how important the little things are. Something many people including myself need to grasp and hold on to throughout our lives. I believe that this experience has evolved my mindset and has further broadened my horizon with many struggles people face throughout this world.
- Eric Schurer 7/8/19 Abaco
Today, our group traveled to Sand Banks, which is actually a Haitian Refugee camp on the island. Jake explained the situation to us briefly before we got there, but I really didn’t know what to expect. When we got there, it really hit me just how tough these people lives must be. As we went around gathering the kids to come play with us, it hit me; these people are as happy as could be. Their faces lit up with gigantic smiles when they saw us with our soccer balls, and sprinted around the entire camp to gather up their friends to come play. One small thing that truly hit me hard was their basketball hoop. At home, I’m lucky enough to have a small half-court basketball hoop, and although I do play on it sometimes with my friends, I take it for granted. All these kids had was a plank of wood bolted onto a tree and a plastic box-crate as a hoop. After my experience with them today, I bet they thought it was one of they’re favorite things to play with. For an hour we all ran around playing dodgeball, and by the end I was having so much fun with them that the time flew by. When we had to get back on the van to drive home, I realized how different I looked at life then these kids.
Where I live in America, happiness comes by wealth, and how successful you are. You need to be that top student, get into an amazing college, and get a high paying job. If you can’t do that, you are seen as being lazy, or really frowned upon, which is so tough in our society. Talking to some of the Bahamian kids at the camp with us, we starting talking about the difference in social stigmas in between our countries. They mentioned that there is never any mental health issues or suicide-related deaths here, whereas in America, this is sadly nearly common. I directly relate this to that stigma where you always need to be successful and rich in life, and if you can’t get that, some people resort to stuff like that. The people here are always as happy as can be, and especially the kids in Sand Banks. Most of these families all share the same air mattress, and are still light years happier than most or any Americans. They always have smiles on their faces, and are so excited to come play with us and run around for an hour. When I go home, I always want to remember my trip to Sand Banks. If I’m ever mad to do a school paper, or upset about something like that, I want to think back to our trip today. I always need to be grateful for everything I have, and never take anything for granted. As long as I’m always as happy as the kids at Sand Banks, I know everything will be okay.
- Tucker Gannon 7/8/19
Throughout my 15 years of life, I have endured many amazing experiences that will forever resinate with me. But, the experience I had with the young boys and girls in the town of Sandy Shores is something that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. When we first pulled into the town, I was surprised to see nobody around, until we got out of our cars and walked further into town. As we walked in, I was able to see children peeking out their non-existent windows and doors to see what we were doing. Once they realized we were there to have fun, boy after boy, and girl after girl, filed out onto the street. This was so significant for me because the last thing I expected was a smile. This got me thinking about what makes each person happy. It is different for everyone. But, what I have realized this trip is although these children may have to share a bed with 4 other people, or skip meals, they never take the little things for granted. I feel as though their society is poor economically, but rich with love for one another. Something that many communities in the states seem to lack. There are few people in the U.S. that will smile and feel so much joy because somebody hands them a soccer ball. I met a young boy in Sandy Shores named Marvin, he was very small but had a big personality. What amazed be about Marvin was that every time I would hand him a ball he would say, “thank you”. This expanded my mindset on how important the little things are. Something many people including myself need to grasp and hold on to throughout our lives. I believe that this experience has evolved my mindset and has further broadened my horizon with many struggles people face throughout this world.
- Joe Evans 7/8/19 Abaco Lodge