By Angela U. Burns
Over the past few decades, a core group of dedicated women and men in the Virgin Islands have made it their duty to help in the raising of a healthy, intelligent, productive and spiritually sound generation.
The Methodist Rites of Passage Cotillion, as we know it here, is an amalgam of rituals made popular in Africa, Europe and the United States, appropriately tailored for the needs of this society.
A huge debt of gratitude must be heaped on the founders and committee members, including Maris Hodge-Wright, Jeanette Scatliffe-Boynes, Phillipa Barry, Rita Frett-Georges, Violet Gaul, Lecia Nibbs-Rubaine and Christopher Varlack.
Through their commendable efforts, hundreds of young girls and boys have gone through the system and have come out beaming with confidence, better prepared to face the world, spiritually, socially and even financially.
“When we started out in 1997, the programme was open to Methodists only, but over the years, children from other churches were encouraged to apply and once they passed the interview process, they were allowed to participate,” said Hodge-Wright, who is the Committee Chairperson.
In order to enter, the children, who would range in age from 15-21 years, must satisfactorily answer a series of questions about current affairs, social issues, their future goals and about their spirituality. These interviews are done by neutral persons who are not members of the committee.
According to Hodge-Wright, preparation begins during October of the given year (the Cotillion takes place every two years) and spans six months.
The children are involved in luncheon presentations where each child introduces themselves and talks about their aspirations and their favourite scripture, dance classes, workshops, soliciting sponsorships and a blessing service.
“During the 6 months, the kids go out and ask for ads or sponsorships from businesses, friends, relatives, teachers, godparents….and the BVI community has always been extremely generous,” she explained.
Towards the end of the period, all of the participants must attend a spiritual retreat spending a weekend together immersed mainly in a series of 12 workshops. They focus on ethics/etiquette, nutrition, table setting, speech, prayer, faith issues affecting Christian youth, healthy relationships and dating, in particular what to expect from a spiritual standpoint and money management. Resource persons for the workshops are drawn from the wider community and have included Government Ministers, banking officials, authors and community experts. “We try to get a variety of people in the fields to work with the kids, as the whole idea is to get them ready to go off to college and not fall prey to some of the traps out there,” Hodge-Wright stated.
One of the most significant aspects of the Methodist Rites of Passage Cotillion is the opportunity that is presented to every student to benefit from grants towards their college education. Hodge-Wright said 75 percent of the monies raised by the students go back to their education.
“Over the years, we have paid out of over $187, 000 in college grants, with each student getting between $3,000.00-$4,000.00,” the chairperson revealed.
The grand finale of the Cotillion is a ceremony featuring a series of dances that span in representation from the birth of the child or an introduction promenade to a nurturing dance depicting how parents would nurture the dreams and aspirations of their children, followed by a harvest dance which represents the period after which the children have been raised to a certain point and they pour back the love and caring to their parents.
Hodge-Wright said one of the dances is always done to Celine Dion’s Because You Loved Me and is choreographed to have the children curtsying to their parents. Another pays tribute to mothers through a wisdom waltz where the girls dance with the fathers and the final dance is done to African music with the girls taking off their shoes and the boys taking off their jackets to get down in a celebratory dance.
Other attendees are also welcomed to join in a celebration dance at the end of the ceremony.
The Methodist Rites of Passage Cotillion is a highly anticipated event on the events calendar in the Territory. The organizers are certainly to be commended for their efforts in training interested young people. An average of 20 benefit on each occasion.