Saving her homeland

GW graduate student Rachel Collis is a long way from her home of twenty-two years. She is from Montserrat, a lush green island in the Caribbean. Montserrat is a tiny island located near Antigua and St. Kitts and has a lot of charm, Collis said. Montserrat has a population of about 5,000, and Collis, 47, is one of only three Montserrats to ever attend GW. She is here because she wants to help Montserrat recover from the devastation caused by a volcano that destroyed much of the island.

In 1995, the Soufriere Hills Volcano began erupting and gradually ruined a large portion of Montserrat, including its capital, Plymouth. In 1997 the mound erupted violently again, causing more than a dozen deaths. All but a few thousand residents fled the island. Collis was one of those who decided to stay.

It’s not easy to tear yourself away from a place you love and start a whole new life, she said. The whole occurrence was traumatic but there was no way I would leave.

Those who remained on Montserrat were forced to relocate to a small area in the northern part of the island, which was the only place declared safe by scientists.

It is here that we live now, Collis said. (We) go about our lives in the best way we can manage, even though it is on a much smaller scale.

Collis came to GW to learn how to use the volcano to benefit Montserrat. Collis said she chose GW because of its first-class tourism program.

GW offers me the opportunity to do something to help Montserrat, she said. I can only help if I am trained. I’m working hard here so I can go back and make a difference.

Collis is part of a full-time graduate program in tourism studies that allows her to complete two years of coursework in one year. She said it is arduous and requires a lot of sacrifice, but she receives great support from the faculty and staff of the tourism department.

When she returns home next summer, Collis will not only work in Montserrat, but in the entire Caribbean region as well.

All the islands live off of one another, she said. They all need to be successful.

Collis will work for the Caribbean Tourism Organization, which partly funds her studies at GW. The organization has committed itself to seeing that Caribbean citizens receive training that will help make the region a powerful tourism force, Collis said.

Collis will work with others to develop the type of tourism that will utilize all available resources of the Caribbean. For Montserrat, that is volcano tourism.If Montserrat ever needed a quicker picker-upper, it is now, Collis said. The island has always done well by tourism, and we anticipate that this will come through for us again, following the cessation of volcanic activity.

Montserrat now heavily markets volcano watching to visitors. A plan is in the works for the building of a volcano observatory and a school of volcanology, where students from all over the world can come to learn about the eruptive phases of volcanoes.

Collis said she believes volcano tourism will catch on in Montserrat because of the rise of ecotourism in the rest of the Caribbean, which has tourists doing more hiking and bird watching than daiquiri drinking.

Ecotourism has increased in the last few years, she said. Many travelers want to experience the natural environment of areas. Vacations aren’t only about sun, sea, sand and sex anymore.

Collis said there is nothing she cannot do. A woman from such a small island, Collins has many big ideas for her homeland.

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