Basil Charles: Helping fellow Vincentians get an educationListen / When the Mustique Blues Festival started in 1996, one of the major concepts was to use the festival to attract attention and donors to the Basil Charles Educational Foundation. Proceeds from the sale of the companion CD recordings go to the education foundation to better the lives of the people in St Vincent.
Basil Charles instigated the Basil Charles Educational foundation to capture, manage and distribute the funds raised from the Blues Festival and other fundraising activities.
A Vincentian, Basil was well aware of the plight of some of the children of St Vincent in finding ways to finance and continue their education. He knew that for some families, sending children to school was just too expensive, so he sought a solution through scholarships.
The Foundation has already contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to help numerous students get an education.
UN Radio's Donn Bobb sat down with Mr. Charles and asked him what was the latest with the work of the Foundation.
Basil: The very latest is that yesterday we gave four scholarships and two bursaries to six kids in St.Vincent. We have been doing this for the last 18 years and I have helped 160 children, or something like that. We have 40 in Secondary school across St. Vincent plus these four that are going. And four are in the 'A Level' college programme.
Donn: You've spoken of giving for the past 16 years – the 18th year, sorry, how have these students feared in school?
Basil: Actually, we have almost a 100% graduation (rate). Some have gone on. One lady who was top of the Girls' High School – she's away in University and many of the kids have done very well. We only know of one drop-out so far.
Donn: Obviously, educations costs money, how are funds raised as such?
Basil: The fundraising for the Basil Charles Education Foundation comes from the Blues Festival. We give a Blues Festival each year and while I pay for all the people to come and their transportation etc., we have other donors like Mustique Company providing the houses and the transportation from Barbados to Mustique and back and I have to buy the tickets. What I do is try to get people to sponsor the tickets. If anybody sponsors the tickets –that money goes straight to the Foundation. But we do a CD and all the sales of the CD go to the Foundation and we have from time to time some generous donors who give $10,000.00- anything like that. But some of the most real consistent and very good donors are like Felix Dennis of Dennis Publishing; the Liners – they come every year at the Blues Festival and help pay some of the musician tickets…They're really what you call Blues fans. They love the blues and the entrance fee we collect at the doors – we give to the Blues.
Donn: You've helped quite a number of children, but always there'd be more children in need, how can you reach out to other people so that we could cut down on the number of children who are in need, who really need a Secondary education?
Basil: It's very hard, especially now where people are not as generous as they used to be because things are hard with the hardly a recovery, especially in the Islands –there's no recovery yet from the international meltdown of the world economy. But, even then we actually started what three years ago, a programme for helping people in the kids in the pre-school. Kids learn more from one to seven than at any other time. The pre-schools in St. Vincent need help. We adopted 14 pre-schools. We actually have healthy things for them to eat there and we bought 420 cots to give them which are environmentally friendly ad which are easy to stow because when we looked at these pre-school beds they had –makeshift beds that they couldn't stack and they couldn't move so they took up about 75-80% of the space. Now, the beds only take up not even 5 or 10 per cent of the space.
Donn: You've been doing this 18 years now, 19 years, first, what drove you to do this and two, what has motivated you to continue doing it?
Basil: I started doing it before 18 years actually and coming to Mustique when I started Basil's Bar, when I bought the bar from Colin Tenant, I gave the first scholarship with the help of some of my partners and the scholarship was given to a kid from Biabou school where I went to school, although I never finished school. So I went to the headmistress who had taught me in school earlier, and I said I want to give a scholarship to a kid. I don't want necessarily the brightest kid but I want to help a kid that if I didn't help them, they wouldn't be able to finish school in those days. And they found me a kid – his name is Rosbert Humphrey. The long and short is he excelled beyond our wildest dream and went to A levels. At the moment, he is deputy at the Caribbean Bank in St.Kitts-Nevis. However, some years later, am passing through the airport in St. Vincent and this young man walked up to me and he said "Mr. Charles," and I said 'you wouldn't know me well if you cal me Mr. Charles; everybody calls me Basil'. He said well I call you Mr. Charles, and I said why? He said "you send me to school' [it's] the best money you every spent.' And then he started telling me about his achievement. He came back to St. Vincent and at one of our events, speak about it. That was how we started and his achievement and the wonderful way he said "the best thing you ever did", makes me really want to continue and apart from that, not finishing school myself, then you loo around where I came from – the village where I come from is very poor. My mother died when I was nine years old and I think if you're successful, one of the best things you can do is to give back and giving back is really what it's all about and I hope I could do this for the rest of my time and am making my foundation to last even beyond me. That's what I hope to do.
Donn: One final question, the joy and the satisfaction of doing it when these kids come back to you, what is it like?
Basil: It's funny you say that because sometimes you help out these kids and there's been a number of kids and I don't remember their names, their faces or whatever and sometimes I go to the bar in Kingstown sitting there and a young man will walk up to me and say Thank You. And I say for what and he'd say: "well you send me to school – am now a policeman, a this or that.." That's good!
Basil Charles of the Basil Charles Educational Foundation.
This is Donn Bobb reporting.