8 Facts About Education in the Virgin Islands
The U.S. Virgin Islands, born out of colonization and slavery, consists of many different cultures today. This cultural diversity represents the torn history that the Virgin Islands experienced centuries ago with the arrival of European explorers such as Christopher Columbus. The peoples of the U.S. Virgin Islands reflect the many cultures of the West African, Danish, Spanish, Irish and German people. Here are 8 facts about education in the Virgin Islands.

8 Facts About Education in The Virgin Islands

  1. The Virgin Islands education system provides public and private education to all residents from preschool to college. The U.S. Virgin Islands Public University has over 43 degree programs for students to excel in. Additionally, the education system focuses on preparing citizens for employment.
  2. The territory spends 7.5 percent of its Gross National Product (GNP) on education. The Virgin Islands care strongly about supplying their citizens with the education necessary to make an impact on the world.
  3. The U.S. Virgin Islands is a territory of the United States. Because of this, it receives federal entitlements as well as beneficial educational programs, including Head Start, nutrition programs and Upward Bound.
  4. The program Upward Bound provides fundamental support for students to succeed in high school and prepare for college. This program serves lower-income and first-generation students, whose families may have a difficult time helping them prepare for college, as they never attended and/or completed college themselves.
  5. A project known as From Farm to School communicates with local farmers to bring students in public schools locally grown, fresh produce. From Farm to School has supported school gardens to enrich students’ learning and promote healthy eating habits. At this time, From Farm to School has constructed school gardens in 50 percent of public schools across the Virgin Islands.
  6. The Virgin Islands must comply with the education law which states equal learning opportunities for all students, including those with disabilities. A court case in 2007 – Nadine Jones v. the Government of the Virgin Islands – changed the way the Department of Education operated forever. Nadine Jones, a student with a disability was not receiving free and required services to aid in her learning. As a result of this case, the Department of Education was required to conform more closely to the educational law of the U.S. They have to provide free public schools to all students and be inclusive to students like Nadine Jones.
  7. Schools in the Virgin Islands such as Charlotte Amalie High School are still recovering from back-to-back hurricanes from over a year and a half ago. Students and teachers are still struggling after hurricanes Irma and Maria ravaged their school facilities. Consequently, this makes daily school life difficult to thrive in. Students are often forced to eat in crowded hallways due to overpopulated schools and destroyed cafeterias.
  8. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provided over $1.4 billion for reparations after the two hurricanes struck. Approximately $874 million went to emergy work, including debris removal, while the rest is designated for combating the damage to the education system. FEMA’s support has allowed for the reconstruction of many school facilities that were destroyed by storms.

These 8 facts about education in the Virgin Islands help illuminate the successes of education initiatives as well as some recent struggles caused by natural disasters.  The U.S. Virgin Islands is a territory that cares deeply about its education system, however, and strong efforts in the aftermath of the hurricanes are helping get students back on track to a high-quality education.

– William Mendez
Photo: Flickr

Life Expectancy in the Virgin Islands

Acquired in part by Britain in 1672 and the rest by the United States in 1917, the Virgin Islands are a semi-autonomous group of about 90 Caribbean islands of varying size about 50 miles east of Puerto Rico, administered as the territories of the British Virgin Islands (BVI) and United States Virgin Islands (USVI). The islands are home to booming year-round tourism industry, attracting visitors every year to its 200 miles of beaches and over 7,000 acres of scenic national parkland. For the islands’ 150,000 residents, though, their expected 79 years of life are more complicated than a brief sojourn in a tropical paradise. Living in the Caribbean presents its own set of unique challenges, but the resilient population continues to prosper in spite of them. Here are 10 facts about life expectancy in the Virgin Islands.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in the Virgin Islands

  1. The islands are vulnerable to hurricanes and their remote location makes repair efforts difficult. While recent hurricanes have not been a leading cause of death in the Virgin Islands, their effects have harshly impacted the locals’ quality of life. In June 2018, NPR reported that relief crews were still working in the islands to restore power and water after the devastating back-to-back Category 5 hurricane Irma and Category 4 hurricane Maria that tore through the Caribbean in September 2017.
  2. Residents have some serious concerns about health care: For a 2012 study published in the Journal of the Association of Black Nursing Faculty, nursing and sociology professionals conducted focus groups in the Virgin Islands to “discover how residents of the United States Virgin Islands think about their health, health status, health problems, and the quality of the health care delivery system.” Common concerns shared by the focus groups included limited resources and high costs of insurance, co-pay and services. Because of this, many Virgin Islanders are forced to either go to great lengths to obtain sufficient healthcare, such as traveling to Puerto Rico or the mainland United States, or forgo seeking medical treatment altogether.
  3. Infant mortality rates are higher than in the mainland United States: The CIA World Factbook states that the Virgin Islands experience an average of 7.7 infant mortalities out of 1,000 live births, almost 75 percent more than the United States despite its status as a territory of the latter. Data indicating the exact cause of this statistic is unavailable, though it can likely be attributed to the great difficulty of health care access at one of the only two hospitals servicing the three United States Virgin Islands, in tandem with the territory’s inflated medical prices. Fortunately, this figure still places the Virgin Islands firmly in the bottom 30 percent of countries by highest infant mortality rates.
  4. The leading causes of death are not too different from the United States’: In 2017, the Institution for Health Metrics and Evaluation determined that despite the Virgin Islands’ issues with inclement weather and access to resources, the leading causes of death (heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer) are all similar to those of the US. These issues, with the exception of cancer, can largely be traced to poor local nutritional practices and a lack of proper dietary and physical education on the islands.
  5. The islands are poor:  Ranking 181st in GDP purchasing power parity, the Virgin Islands are almost in the bottom 20 percent of world economies. The internet lacks recent data on poverty in the USVI, the latest available data put over one in five families below the poverty line. With health care so difficult to access and most goods and food imported and sold at a much higher markup price, this forces many families to choose between putting food on the table and seeking medical attention.
  6. Tourism and trade are the Virgin Islands’ primary economic activities, contributing to low wages and a low standard of living: Due to its limitations in climate and space, the agriculture and manufacturing sections of the Virgin Islands are economically marginal. As a result, tourism and trade account for nearly 47 percent of the USVI’s GDP and most Virgin Islanders work low-wage service, hospitality and transportation jobs, making it difficult to afford commodities like medicine and food that must be imported rather than produced domestically. Fortunately, NGOs work to make necessities more affordable for Virgin Islanders. One such NGO, Patient Assist VI, connects struggling patients with affordable prescription drugs and medical care they otherwise would not receive.
  7. Murder rates are high, but they are decreasing: In 2017, a study conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime determined the USVI had the fourth-highest murder rate in the world, citing 52 reported murders per 100,000 inhabitants. The FBI said that in 2016, the USVI had the highest murder rate per capita in the US and its territories. However, according to The St. Thomas Source, a local publication, only half that amount has occurred in 2019 by mid-September. Most of these murders are concentrated in the urbanized islands St. Thomas and St. Croix, where NGOs such as Project Promise work to guide at-risk youth and tackle the underlying causes of crime and violence in the islands, providing local middle and high schoolers with tutors, life coaches and opportunities to get involved in volunteering and extracurricular education. Since 2015, Project Promise has renovated playgrounds, planted gardens and provided children with school supplies and access to health care to give the children of the Virgin Islands a brighter future.
  8. Despite economic challenges, the Virgin Islands have a working infrastructure: Though hurricanes Irma and Maria, shattered the islands’ infrastructure, it has since recovered and provided power and water to most of its residents. All of the islands have access to electricity and access to clean drinking water via local ocean water desalination plants, thanks to federal aid, local reconstruction efforts and the thriving partnership between locals and volunteer organizations such as All Hands and Hearts, which labored for 18 months to restore homes and rebuild a dozen schools in the wake of Irma and Maria.
  9. Life expectancy in the Virgin Islands is higher than in neighboring areas: According to the World Bank, the Virgin Islands have had a higher life expectancy than its neighbors in the Caribbean and Latin America. While the gap has closed significantly over the last 60 years, the Virgin Islands still boasts a life expectancy of 79, four more years than the region’s average of 75.
  10. The Virgin Islands ranks in the top 20 percent on global life expectancy lists: The CIA World Factbook states that the Virgin Islands rank at 49th place for average life expectancy, outranking many of the world’s countries and territories by a significant margin.

These 10 facts about life expectancy in the Virgin Islands demonstrate a pattern of hardship and resilience, while also highlighting the need for more self-sustaining local industry and heavy investment in hurricane preparation to protect its residents and improve their quality of life.

– Calvin Lemieux
Photo: Flickr

 

Living Conditions in the Virgin Islands

The U.S. Virgin Islands are a tourism hotspot in the Caribbean comprised of four major islands: St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. John and Water Island. Many people retire on the islands to enjoy the white sandy beaches and blue coastal waters. However, this list of top 10 facts about living conditions in the Virgin Islands goes beyond the images of tropical paradise to get a closer look at life on the islands.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in the Virgin Islands

  1. The average household income in the U.S. Virgin Islands is $37,254 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This is 75 percent of the mainland’s average income. Its economy relies heavily on tourism which makes up more than half of the islands’ GDP. More than 2 million tourists come to the Virgin Islands every year. However, when hurricanes damage the islands, they hurt the economy as well.
  2. The territory is $2 billion in debt due to hurricane damage, the collapse of sugar production and the closure of factories. In 2012, the Hovensa refinery closed down, leaving the islands without its largest employer.
  3. Hurricanes Irma and Maria damaged up to 90 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands Water and Power Authorities’ (VIWAPA) transmission and distribution lines. The U.S. provided $1.9 billion for recovery to the islands. The Virgin Islands have since regained its water and power, but many top hotels and resorts will still be closed until late 2019.
  4. The Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands is a nonprofit organization that supports aid to the islands and works with the government to provide essential resources. In addition, All Hands and Hearts and Repair the World are two groups which provide relief to the islands following the aftermath of hurricanes.
  5. The U.S. Virgin Islands have three main sectors of employment: mining, logging and construction; accommodation and food and leisure and hospitality. Because of hurricanes, as the tourism sector declines, the construction and rebuilding sector is experiencing growth. Following the 2017 hurricanes, employment declined by 7.8 percent.
  6. The cost of living in the U.S. Virgin Islands is higher than on the U.S. mainland. On average, apartments cost $2,000 per month. A two-bedroom house costs at least $285,000.
  7. Not everyone can afford health care on the U.S. Virgin Islands. There are high levels of HIV on the islands with 31.4 people out of 100,000 diagnosed with HIV. In the continental U.S., only 12.5 people out of 100,000 people have HIV. In addition, doctors who come from the U.S. mainland often have issues communicating with locals.
  8. Water conservation is important on the islands because it only rains an average of 38 inches per year. Many residents rely on cisterns to store water instead of using the main water supply. This can cause problems with the water not being safe to drink. To combat this issue, the U.S. Virgin Islands have constructed new, efficient desalination plants.
  9. The middle and lower class is largely made up of Black Americans. Hurricane seasons push many people in this demographic deeper into debt when they have to reconstruct or rebuild. It is estimated that over 480 people are homeless in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  10. The U.S. Virgin Islands provide private and public schooling to kids K-12. The University of the Virgin Islands offers 43 degree-options. It has campuses on both St. Thomas and St. Croix and there are 2,500 undergraduate and graduate students who attend the university. Though many schools were destroyed during the hurricanes in 2017, many have been rebuilt.

The U.S. Virgin Islands are more than just a tropical paradise with luxury homes. There are differences between the locals and those who move there from the mainland. Hurricanes wreak havoc on the small island territories every hurricane season, causing the islands to struggle economically and physically. This list of top 10 facts about living conditions in the Virgin Islands is not exhaustive, but it paints a clearer picture that the island territory is not solely about palm trees and sea breeze.

Jodie Filenius

Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in the Virgin Islands

While many people may have heard of the islands’ gorgeous vistas, there is much less talk about human rights in the Virgin Islands, an archipelago that forms the border between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The islands are politically divided into the British, U.S. and Spanish Virgin Islands.

The British Virgin Islands are essentially free from human rights abuses. The strong legal system does not include gaps that could worsen the situation for the poor and vulnerable. The government is committed to continuously improving the laws to better protect the citizens and residents of the British Virgin Islands. The government undertook an extensive campaign to improve the working conditions of the public sector and to publicize human rights and the availability of government services. However, there is evidence that a legal aid system that was introduced is underfunded and somewhat ineffective.

Poor immigrant workers in the British Virgin Islands are the most likely to experience discrimination in the workplace. While the Human Rights Reporting Co-ordinating Committee conducts public education programs, many immigrants feel intimidated to come forward or feel it is unlikely they will receive a favorable decision from a court. Immigrant households tend to have less access to courts and welfare services as well.

While the British Virgin Islands are self-governing territory, this is not the case in the U.S. Virgin Islands. U.S. Virgin Islands residents are U.S. citizens, but cannot cast votes for president in the Electoral College. However, they do participate in political parties’ presidential nominating process by holding caucuses and sending delegates to the Democratic and Republican national conventions. In the U.S. Congress, they are represented by a delegate who can vote in congressional committees but not in the House itself. There is currently a lawsuit ongoing to fully enfranchise all U.S. citizens in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The Spanish Virgin Islands, ironically, are not a Spanish territory. They belonged to Spain before the Spanish-American War in 1898. The islands are now a part of Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory. Puerto Rico also faces the same challenges regarding enfranchisement and congressional representation as the U.S. Virgin Islands.

While the situations may be different in the British Virgin Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, there is good reason to hope for improvement in human rights in the Virgin Islands. The government of the British Virgin Islands has shown it is not afraid to tackle the issue and make improvements, and activists and lawyers are working to improve the political situation in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

Brock Hall
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Virgin Islands
This year, articles detailing adventures in the Virgin Islands have populated news feeds, travel blogs and online newspapers. To celebrate its 100th anniversary of becoming a U.S. territory, the U.S. Virgin Islands is offering $300 in travel credits to visitors vacationing for three or more nights in 2017. President Obama was recently photographed kitesurfing in the British Virgin Islands. However, outside of the scenic and comforting oceanfront villas that whisk vacationers away to alternate dimensions of rest and relaxation, the internet lacks recent data on poverty in the Virgin Islands.

U.S. Virgin Islands

Recently, the economy of the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) has been unstable. Between 2011 and 2015, real gross territorial product (GTP) decreased by 7.8%. However, in 2015 alone, real GTP increased by 0.2% in the USVI; in comparison, U.S. real gross domestic product (GDP) increased by 2.6% in 2015. It is alarming that exports have decreased significantly. Between 2011 and 2015, total exports decreased by 41%; in 2015 alone, total exports decreased by 80%.

The number of jobs in manufacturing on the Islands decreased by over 20% between 2011 and 2015. One of the world’s largest refineries based in the USVI shut down in 2012, driving this decrease in jobs. In the same year, refined petroleum exports to the U.S. plummeted by 90 percent. However, civilian employment increased in 2015, the most recent year that displays data. Furthermore, employment within leisure and hospitality remained fairly consistent between 2011 and 2015, which indicates a steady tourism industry.

A 2010 U.S. census found that 22% of the population in the Virgin Islands lives in poverty. Fifty percent of those living under the poverty level were families led by single mothers. The Congressional Research Service discovered that on average, children living in female-headed families were more likely to live in poverty than children living in two-parent households.

Euromonitor explains that tourism heavily impacts the USVI. The Wall Street Journal discovered that annual expenditures by visitors between 2007 and 2013 fell 19%. The article discovered that the Islands have high levels of debt and mounting pension obligations. If new bonds cannot be sold, widespread layoffs are a possibility.

The British Virgin Islands

Like its counterpart, the British Virgin Islands (BVI) relies on tourism to support its economy. A.M. Best, a U.S. based rating agency, found that tourism generates approximately 40% of the territory’s revenue. The rest is generated by the financial services sector. The BVI is extremely attractive to international businesses. For the first quarter ending in 2015, the BVI has registered over 478,000 companies. A.M. Best found that its economy grew two percent in 2015; however, insufficient data exists to properly understand the BVI’s poverty rate.

Levels of poverty in the Virgin Islands remain somewhat ambiguous; however, the Wall Street Journal stated that the USVI’s budget deficit is around $110 million. Therefore, travel credits are a great way to attract more visitors and increase visitor exports. Highlighting the USVI travel credits, a writer for Thrillist said, “We should be banging down the doors to get in, not the other way around.” U.S. News found that the USVI was one of the best places to visit in the Caribbean — especially during the springtime.

Andy Jung

Photo: Flickr