Author: Kev Perry, Head of Education
Its May 2019 and the third time Wigan Warriors Education have taken a group of students to the beautiful Caribbean island of Martinique. This international project is in partnership with the fantastic ‘Everything is Possible’ organisation and funded by the European Commission under Erasmus+. A carefully planned, unique, cultural getaway that forms part of the wider work experience programme all Warriors students participate in during their two or three year stay at our education academy. I hope you find this blog enjoyable and informative as we work through the two-week project duration.
Day One – 2nd May 2019
An early morning start for the group, 3am meeting time at the Warriors Education Academy was a tough start but with the project to come I guess everyone was too excited to sleep the night before! Students and staff arrived before 3am, complete with passports and suitcases so the first hurdle has been cleared! We have a long journey ahead now, flight from Manchester to Charles de Gaulle Paris, one-hour transfer across to Orly Airport, to then catch the long 9-hour flight to Fort De France Martinique! The journey begins!! We have arrived safe and well, many tired eyes by now but all still in good spirits. Transport has been pre-arranged for us by our Martinique partners Youth in the Town. We have a short 20-minute drive to our house & accommodation for the two week duration. The students have now arranged themselves into groups to become ‘roomies’! Great attitude from the students so far as we hold our first (short) group meeting about housekeeping and expectations to return the house back to the immaculate condition prepared for us upon our arrival. All now settled in and the group can relax! Off to bed now, lights out.
Day Two – 3rd May 2019
Good Morning! The group are up in good time to relax, take in the amazing views from the house balcony not visible last night! Perhaps for some, looking at the view, a picture postcard consisting of blue waters, a tide rippling onto the coral break, blue skies above, it is at this moment they know they have arrived in the Caribbean. We have our first meeting with Emilie (Youth in the Town) at 12 noon to discuss the group timetable across the two weeks. Emilie explained to the students that the various partners who have kindly welcomed us to their coaching project session are all excited to meet us and get going.
At 2pm we visited the Slave Museum of Martinique. An activity that we always start with so students can absorb and understand the islands history and culture that little bit more. We feel this is a very important part of the project that can enrich each individual with new knowledge and appreciation of where we are.
At 5.30pm – 7.30pm we went to our first ‘Rugby Coaching Session’ with the community club in Le Robert. The same community club and coaches invite Wigan Warriors students each year. Feedback has always been positive, and they enjoy how our students show no fear, get involved and bring something special to the small sessions they put on for the local children.
Our 2019 group have certainly lived up to this, split into two with Group 1 working with the older (youth age) players and Group 2 working with the 5-10-year olds. Plenty of fun games and drills put on tonight leading to a great session and first project activity complete. Back to the house, students are on a rota to help staff cook our evening meals. Chicken Fajitas and Boiled rice is on the menu tonight! Evening meal for 13 cooked to perfection and we sit at the balcony table, as a team to eat our food. Strict policy of NO MOBILE PHONES at the dinner table is agreed and put in place. The idea is the talk, communicate and be together on this amazing experience, social media can wait!
Day Three – 4th May 2019
Up at 7am this morning!
The group was split into two so that Group 1 could attend the local Gymnastics Club to support two 45minute sessions working with children under the age of 5! Our students took part in warm up activities and also chaperoned the little gymnasts as they practised on the equipment.
Group 2 were set some college work back at the house to ensure studies are kept up to date. College work, with a laptop, on the house balcony with beautiful views of the sea and peninsula isn’t all bad! At 10am the groups swapped activities to ensure this experience was shared by all.
Once again a lovely welcome for our students from the Gymnastics Coach Joane and all parents of the participating children. This we are very grateful for.
This afternoon we attend the first Cultural Sharing Activity with Youth in the Town (YITT) volunteers, based on the Beach in the town of La Trinite. The volunteers are a mix of local college students between the ages of 17-21, who work on several (YITT) projects to build experience with career progression in mind. This session is run by Emilie, with short activities designed to encourage both groups to communicate with each other and share what they know about their two very different cultures. Open discussions are had around the good, the bad and the ugly on the island of Martinique and the UK.
Special interaction between the students, a bond is very quickly created, much laughter and happy faces evident. At this point the staff reiterate one of the main project objectives is for student to build self-confidence along with cultural awareness, to never be afraid to ask a searching question about another person’s culture or experiences, as long as the question is thought out and delivered in a respectable manner.
Some fun activities were organised by our group to include, tug of war, relay races and rugby drills. This was a great way to mix both sets of students together, get them talking, working as a team as they have some fun.
We finished up at 5.30pm as the sun began to disappear behind the clouds. A really great day that they all seemed to enjoy.
We set off home to prepare for our evening meal together. Tonight’s menu was Beefburgers and French Fries! The cooking tonight was shared between the students, three looking after the burgers, one on the French fries, one frying the onions and other setting the dinner table. A real team effort!!
Day Four – 5th May 2019
The group have a free day! So it’s agreed THE BEACH is the place to be on such a lovely warm day!
30 degrees with some heavy clouds as we arrived at the beach in Les Trois-Ilets around mid-day. Time for the students and staff to relax after an excellent start to the 2019 project. Our evening consists of a beautiful restaurant in the Les Trois-Ilets Harbour, surrounded by an array of large boats and small vessels. A picturesque setting for the group to enjoy their evening food.
Day Five – 6th May 2019
This morning from 10am to 12 noon we took part in French language lessons delivered by Emilie and her colleagues from Youth in the Town. An important feature of the project is for our students to develop new skills that should support their future development. Furthermore, learning some basic French right now will certainly help our group manoeuvre their way through the next two weeks in Martinique. Emilie delivered each sentence with the expectation that our students would repeat as a group and then individually. A good lesson for all and one that was appreciated by the students.
In the afternoon the groups were again split into two so we could attend two projects simultaneously. Group 1 headed off to meet Rugby Coach Richard and Group 2 attended Cycling with instructor Fred. Today is a very hot day so as standard the message to all students is ‘high factor sun tan cream, hats and plenty of water’! Unfortunately for Group 1, the rugby session was cancelled after they arrived at the location with coach Richard, so they made their way back to meet Group 2 at the cycling session.
Day Six - 7th May 2019
A very long day that started at 7am and finished at 7.30pm. We left the house at 7am to meet up with Cycling Instructor Fred at the school’s cycling field. Fred explained to the group that this morning we welcome two school groups agreed between 7 & 9 years old. Their aim was to support each school pupil to make a full lap of the cycling circuit and attempt the various challenges to be set! First job for the students was to set up the course! Students were given set tasks, using various sized and coloured cones to create a rectangular circuit large enough to accommodate 20 school pupils. This task was completed with speed and the session was all set to go. The school pupils arrived later than expected but a lovely warm welcome from our students greeted the pupils as they stepped off the bus. The was reciprocated by the pupils, smiley faces and ‘bonjour, bonjour, bonjour’ rang out!
The group enjoyed a break towards late morning into early afternoon. From 2pm we had two projects to attend, one was a further Cycling session with Fred and the other was a Rugby session with Coach Richard at a different location on the island. The group was split into two and both set off for their next sessions of the day.
Later on from 5pm, the group came back together to attend the last project session of the day, athletics at the local club in Le Robert with Coaches Ester and Lorr. The students were able to support the sessions led by Ester and Lorr, working with a mix of ages from 4 to 10 years. This was an interesting situation for our students, very different to what they have ever been involved in. Typically, in the UK children would be separated into age groups to work with, compete against similar sized and experienced peers. Martinique is different! However, this particular situation is one of the reasons this project will see them benefit from observing different styles of coaching and how differentiation is used to ensure all participants, regardless of age or size, are accommodated. We returned to the house at 7.30pm, plenty of tired bodies but just enough energy to sit at the dinner table to eat our evening meal of ‘Chicken Fajitas and Fries’!.
Day Seven – 8th May 2019
Today the group had a rest day and headed to the south coast town of Sainte – Luce for a relaxing time at a hotel complex, a nice change for the students and staff, one that involved some swimming, volleyball, lunch and of course sunbathing!
On the way back home we decided to stop off at the same restaurant we went to a few nights ago in Les Trois-llets Harbour. Pizza, Calzone and Lasagne were a hit with the group yet again. Afterwards we headed home in the two vans with most students taking the opportunity to sleep all the way home. Ok for some!
Day Eight – 9th May 2019
This morning we were out of the house at 7.30am, back supporting cycling instructor Fred with another cycling session for primary school children. There were approximately 20 children from the local school. Our students were given the initial task to set up the full course before the children arrived. The students then introduced themselves before explaining the cycling activity to the eager children. A mix of broken French and English appeared to get the message across fine. Massive credit goes to our students for showing the self confidence and problem solving (communication) skills to run two one hour sessions with relative ease.
We had a few hours between the morning project session and project session two later in the afternoon, so we headed for the closest beach in La Trinite to relax and cool off in the sea.
Project session two was basketball in Le Robert with coach Marie Clare who runs sessions each week for both young players and adults. Our students were invited to join in with the warm up sessions and games.
One student Matty Ellis stepped forward and delivered a very good basketball drill with the support of his peers. Excellent work by Matty. The children appeared to really enjoy the drill leading into a game. This session finished at 6.00pm and the group said their goodbyes or Au Revoir and headed home for the evening. Once back at the house, the students were given the task of preparing & cooking the evening meal for 13! Pasta in Tomato Sauce and Tuna Pasta was the desired menu! Best of Luck!
Day Nine – 10th May
This morning the group headed off to the beach to make the most of a half day off with no project work! A beautiful tropical beach called Grande Anse Des Salines on the south coast, welcomed our students with glorious white sands and calm waters.
For lunch we headed to a food shack that sits behind the line of palm trees running the entire coastal line. The waft of BBQ cooked foods was too much to resist and our entire group of 13 decided to have lunch together! Some hard graft for the chef ahead! We headed back about 3pm so the group had plenty of time to prepare for the planned 5pm Rugby session in Le Robert. As a change to the usual motorway, we decided to take the costal road, a winding mountainous route that offers spectacular views upon every turn. During the drive, we were passed by the Tour De Martinique Cycling Race going in the opposite direction, accompanied by police motorcycle outriders and a convoy of support vehicles! The rugby session started a little later than planned. This is normal for Martinique! However, our students took part, offered their services and enjoyed another important development session with the Under 16’s players of Le Robert Rugby Club.
A special evening lay ahead for our group. We were invited by Fred, the schools cycling instructor and our friend, to his house to enjoy an evening of Home Cooked Martinique food and drinks prepared by his wife Wilfreed.
We arrived at 7pm to a very warm welcome from Fred and his family. The group really enjoyed their evening, later joined by rugby coach Richard, a very warm and bubbly character who enjoys the interaction with the students when teaching about Martinique culture. After saying our “thank you’s” to Fred, his family and Richard, we left around 10pm as we had an early start the next day. This evening was an amazing experience for our group. To be welcomed by Fred so warmly into his home, to meet his beautiful family, to share their food and enjoy the evening together is an example of why the island of Martinique and its people are very special indeed.
Day Ten – 11th May 2019
This morning the group are all up by 7am to prepare for the day’s sessions of Gymnastics and a College study period. After breakfast is served, group 1 are off for their 2nd Gymnastic session of the project whilst group 2 remain at the house to get on with GCSE prep work and BTEC assignments.
When we arrived at the Gymnastics, we are greeted by the boss, Labi! The same warm welcome has greeted Wigan Warriors students for the past two projects, a good man, a good coach and someone the students will certainly learn from. Labi has a way of controlling his little gymnasts with a level of discipline mixed with fun and humour. Children aged between 3 & 6 years following Labi’s every move and reacting to each instruction whilst parents watch on from the sidelines.
The group had a few hours free for the afternoon so decided to travel up to La Trinite to watch a local rugby union match. One of the teams is made up of players our students have worked with at recent coaching sessions in Le Robert, so we know who we will be supporting in this one! From 6pm to 10pm was the Cultural Sharing Evening at our house.
Emilie and Harry, workers from Youth in the Town, brought the same volunteers who our students had met during the beach activities in their first week. The Martinique group offered up some local foods and juices, along with a presentation on places to go, places to visit and a brief history lesson about the island. Each volunteer was required to give their small presentation talk ‘in English’! Hats off to them all as they performed very well, albeit rather nervously.
It was the turn of the Warriors students to present information on Wigan Warriors, Wigan as a town and the Warriors Education Academy. With the support of tutor Shane Eccles, they had prepared a few slides, projected through the television, each taking turns to explain slowly, whilst Emilie translated any words that the students of Martinique failed to understand.
Who would have thought, a strong Wigan accent would be slightly difficult to translate into French!! Our students brought a selection of foods and confectionaries over from the UK to share with their Martinique peers. The selection included Uncle Joes Mint Balls Custard Creams Jaffa Cakes Wine Gums Rhubarb and Custards Shortbreads Adam Holt and Shaun Tipping decided to cook a large pan of Tuna, Sweetcorn and Onion Pasta for the guests. This went down extremely well, not a typical dish in Martinique!
Day Eleven – 12th May 2019
A welcome DAY OFF today so a trip down south to the beautiful beaches of Anse du Four and Anse Noir. Anse du Four, with its golden coloured sands is better known as ‘Turtle Beach’ due to the close proximity that turtles swim to the shoreline. A magical experience for our students as they snorkel within a metre of these tropical sea creatures, gliding gracefully through the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean.
It is moments like this that will stay with our students for the rest of their lives.
For the remaining few hours of the day, the group headed up the steps and over the hill to Anse Noir, better know as ‘the black sand beach’ due to its volcanic covering.
Whilst the students were swimming close to the jetty, they noticed that a turtle was trapped in a sea fishing net. The fishing net was completely tangled around the head of the turtle, its neck and flippers and in its struggle to free itself, the net was becoming tighter and more tangled. Our students and staff sprang into action. A local fisherman provided a knife and pair of scissors to cut away the net. As a team, they managed to lift the turtle and net above the water line whilst keeping themselves afloat, cutting and snipping the net, eventually freeing the turtle to swim away with a powerful swish of its flippers. Turtle Rescue Complete!
This was a proud moment for the students and staff, a kind deed for a beautiful creature, an unexpected event that no one could have predicted at the start of the day! One aim of this Erasmus + project is to provide experiences that are life changing, perspective enhancing and mind blowing. Our hope is that the students return to the UK with a spring in their step, a new outlook on the wider world, a sense that if they work hard and are smart, they can achieve anything they wish.
Day Twelve – 13th May 2019
With a morning off the group headed for the capital of Martinique to have a walk around and pick up some souvenirs to take home. We parked the two vans right in the town centre, ensured the students where in groups and then allowed them to have some time to themselves with a two hour return to our meeting point.
Fort-de-France is the capital of the Caribbean island of Martinique. It’s known for colonial architecture, ornate iron balconies, tropical flowers and beaches. La Savane Park in the centre has a statue of Napoleon I’s wife Joséphine, a native of the island. Upon meeting again, we had hoped that the students would have tried some Caribbeanfor lunch! Unfortunately, the response was a resounding “we went to KFC” !! The staff visited a local Caribbean Food outlet to try Battered Marlin, Lamb in Creole Sauce and Curried Poulet (Chicken) with Rice and Peas of course! It was absolutely delicious washed down with local squeezed orange juice. We left Fort de France about 1.00pm to ensure the groups could get back into Le Robert for practical Rugby and Cycling sessions starting at 2.00pm. Unfortunately we didn’t take into account the traffic coming out of the capital so a 30 minute journey turned into 90 minutes! The students joined the sessions and brought extra energy for the primary children to feed off. The bond created between the Warriors students and the pupils over the past 12 days is really strong and it is clearly evident that the pupils enjoy being in the company of our students. With a free evening from 4.00pm, the group decided that a ‘chill night’ was required to recharge the batteries, so a stop off at the supermarket to pick up ingredients for our group evening meal was called for. Spaghetti and Meatballs in a tomato, peppers and onion sauce was agreed and students Jodie, Jena and Leah offered to pick up the chef baton to prepare and cook for all. The evening meal was served up around 7.00pm and was very nice indeed, good work from the girls, empty plates all round.
After all pots, pans, plates and the kitchen were cleaned, some of the group gathered in the living room for a ‘movie night’ with ice cream and goodies! Other students chose to relax in their rooms ready for the following day.
Day Thirteen – 14th May 2019
Another Early morning start for our staff and students, Group 1 off to Cycling with instructor Fred and Group 2 remaining at the house to carry on with college work. Cycling started at 8am with the first group of primary school pupils. Our students know the course off by heart now, so using the cones and equipment provided by Fred, they got on with laying out the course ready for the pupils.
At 9.45am group 1 and group 2 swapped over so that group 1 could also catch up on some college work. The staff put great emphasis on students completing college work whilst they are away on one of our international work experience projects. Its very important that no student falls behind with any of their studies and remains on track whether they are working towards GCSE’s, BTEC or Vocational Level 2 subjects.
With a few hours of free time the students returned to the house to relax and prepare for two more project sessions later in the afternoon. At 1.30pm the groups were split into two once again and off we went in separate vans to the afternoon sessions. Group 1 went to Rugby Coaching with Richard and Group 2 headed for the cycling field to meet up with instructor Fred. What is evident this afternoon, is although the sun is blazing, the thermometer is recording 37 degrees and the fatigue is setting in, our students still remain positive and energetic in front of the primary school children they work with. This is commendable considering we are on DAY 13!! Very proud of these young men and women.
At 5.00pm both groups met up at the Athletics track in Le Robert to have a quick rest and catch up before getting involved with the session run by coach Ester. With our students bringing a rugby ball to the session, coach Ester requested our students lead the warm up activity with rugby focus. The laughter, smiling faces and fun the young children had was a joy to watch, our students giving their very best although flagging at this moment was a testament to them and a great way to finish off our project work for the week.
Around 7.00pm the groups headed back to the house to relax and enjoy their evening meal of Chicken Curry, Rice and Chips cooked expertly by student Michael Ellison and capable assistants Jena and Jodie. Once everyone had finished their meals and washed up, it was an early night for all after such a long day in the sun.
Day Fourteen – 15th May 2019
As this is the last full day here in Martinique, we had the opportunity to go and explore more of this beautiful island. Setting out at 9am, both vans headed off down to the south coast to soak up some final rays of sunshine and check out the towns of Grande Arlett and Diamante.
We stopped off at the group’s now favourite beach ‘Anse Du Four’ to see the turtles swimming close to the shore. A few hours relaxing in the lovely warm weather whilst watching the local fishermen trawl a huge fishing net across the entire bay. It took at least ten men and a small single engine boat approximately two hours to pull the net up the waters edge and onto the beach. As you can imagine, this activity drew much attention from the sunbathers and a crowd gathered to view the catch. Much to the dismay of the people, a large sea turtle had been caught in the net alongside some small fish. Luckily the sea turtle was unharmed, the fisherman quickly returned this beautiful creature back to the sea. Some of our students helped the fishermen release the small fish from the net, another interesting, perhaps unique experience for them whilst on this project. In the evening we headed off to our favourite harbour in the town of Les Trois-Ilets for our last group meal together. Plenty of different dishes chosen from Lasagne, Pizza, BBQ Ribs, Poulet (chicken) and much more meant all were very well fed and it was happy faces all round.
Day Fifteen – 16th May 2019
Our final day in Martinique!
The aim of today is to prepare for home, pack suitcases, clean the house and return it back to the wonderfully clean state we found it in on our arrival some 14 days prior. The students had over the past few days started to pack away items the they would no longer need so this final task wasn’t so bad after all! For most that is! There’s always one or two who leave it to the last minute! Whilst all this was going on, the staff team set off in the van to meet up with Cycling Instructor Fred. The staff team presented Fred with his very own Wigan Warriors Training Top as a thank you for his warm generosity and access to his sessions across the last two weeks. Fred was delighted with his gift and said he is now a “Wigan Warrior for Life” and he would miss our group. He hoped we would be returning next year.
Our partners Philippe and Emilie from Youth in the Town, who have looked after the group so well, arrived around 12.30pm to take us for our final lunch in Le Robert. Each year Youth in the Town have treated our students to a Caribbean Food experience in a place close to our residence. A lovely farewell for all concerned, also a visit from Rugby Coach Richard! Warriors tutor Shane took this opportunity to present Richard with his Wigan Warriors shirt, once again as a thank you for allowing our students to support him in his delivery to many children during this project.
Around 3.00pm the group set off for the airport in the capital Fort de France to catch the 6.00pm flight back to Paris, France. After travelling overnight, the group landed safely back in the UK around 2.00pm on Friday 17th May 2019.
In summary to this wonderful project for 2019, each year I write a blog to ensure that the many things that occur during the two-week duration are captured, documented and recorded for future use. I hope the blog, along with the supporting photos, help bring to life the activities our students take part in and the experiences they have along with the way, such as immersing themselves into the local Caribbean culture, living independently away from family, bonding with peers and finding ways to adapt and cope with how different people live and behave. When living in accommodation with the same people for two whole weeks, students are required to be tolerant of others, accept that people are different and that not all ‘homelife habits’ are the same as their own.
During the project session activities, rugby, athletics, basketball, cycling and gymnastics, the students have proven themselves to be great role models to the young children of Martinique, forging a bond that will stay with them for the rest of their lives, I hope.
The Warriors Staff Team are very proud of all our students in how they have conducted themselves. With respect, positivity and professionalism, they have done themselves, their families and Warriors very proud. A massive thank you as always goes to our partners ‘Everything is Possible’ for making our International Projects happen each year, The European Commission who provide the required funding through their Erasmus Programme and also, our hosts in Martinique ‘Youth in the Town’, for organising our timetable and taking such good care of our group.
We now look forward to planning our 2020 International Project to Martinique. Next summer we will take a new group of students so that they too can experience the very best ‘Cultural Enrichment Project’ there is!
Kev, Head of Education, Warriors Education Academy