A book shelf Mandy Cleaver made using an old window and pieces of lumber. (Picture by Christoff Griffith.)
AFTER MOVING TO BARBADOS permanently about nine years ago, Mandy Cleaver was surprised to see garbage and household waste being thrown into bags, packed on a truck and driven to the national landfill.
Having spent all her life previously in England, where she was born to Barbadian and Antiguan parents, and practised sorting and recycling refuse, Cleaver found it impossible to accept the Bajan way.
She decided to get together with a few friends and start an environmental magazine on recycling and other environmentally friendly practices.
Key to the publication was that it had to be printed on recycled paper. Cleaver learnt how to make paper with banana tree fibre and used or shredded paper, and now uses it to create business cards, postcards and wedding invitations.
The need to teach people about the environment did not end there. Sometime afterwards, Cleaver created Octopus Three with the help of her mother and husband. The company is now responsible for the Environment Education Programme that is aimed at schoolchildren.
It was launched earlier this year at St Lawrence Primary and the Ministry of Education has since given permission for implementation at all schools, she said.
The programme was also showcased through a video exhibit at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris last year.
It is now up for further financing, but so far it has received a grant from the Human Resources Development Unit of the Ministry of Labour.
Cleaver said the project had been a hit with children at St Lawrence.
“They see ways of creating energy with everyday things such as a potato; also how easy it is to grow something to eat,” she said. “It is easy to say that this cup can be transformed into something else, but to see it done in front of their eyes for them they realise that yesterday this was a piece of scrap paper but today it is paper that I can use to write on . . . .”
Twelve people have been trained to go into the schools to administer the programme which runs for three days, an hour each session.
Mandy Cleaver making paper using banana fibre and used paper.
Cleaver has gained such acclaim that she is known as an environmentalist in her neighbourhood, so much so that when neighbours have something they want to throw out, they ask her how it can be reused.
She also looks around for discarded pieces of lumber that she uses to create items around her home in Inch Marlow, Christ Church. She has a bookshelf made out of an old window, her furniture is made from old palettes, and she is also in the process of making a sofa.
At the supermarket she is known as the lady who does not use plastic carrier bags. “They say she does not take carrier bags, she is an environmentalist; it’s almost like I have a disease,” she said in jest.
Reflecting on her life in England, Cleaver said she was not much of an environmental advocate then. She worked as a news videographer, a job that allowed her to meet world leaders, and even ventured into the music industry where she mingled with entertainment celebrities.
It all started when she became the first female black camera assistant to get into the national television union at the age of 18.
She said some people would call to ask her to work because she was black and wanted to meet a quota by having at least one black person on the crew, but she always asked to be hired only because she was good at the job.
She eventually became head of studio. It came to a point where she felt she had done all she could and decided to retire. In 2007 when she visited for Cricket World Cup, she opted to move here and did so the following year. Now 52, she is settled in Barbados and has switched gears to the environment.
Cleaver complimented Barbados for its work on the environment. She said the country was on its way to becoming a leader in environmentally friendly initiatives, at least in the Caribbean. She cited solar energy, electric cars, limited recycling and the plan to charge for plastic bags as positive developments.
“It may be small steps but it is more than the other islands,” she said.