We always knew our staff leaders were special. Now entire islands and sweeping valleys are celebrating them, too! Two of our dearest staff are to be honored in two very different places in the Western Hemisphere.

Rich Webb founded and directed VISIONS Peru program; he began working for VISIONS in 1997 during the summer and as a year-round recruiter. After staffing a few different program sites, Rich launched a new VISIONS program in his native Peru where he directed for two full summers. Rich has since gone on to found ProWorld Service Corps, an organization offering profound two- to 26-week cultural, service, and academic experiences in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, the Peruvian Amazon, and the Caribbean coast of Belize.  He remains a valued colleague and friend to VISIONS.

Rich is one of the 2004 patrons of The Festival of the Virgin of the Nativity in Huayllabamba, Peru, an honorary patronage that entails nearly a year of preparation before the event.

The festival has its roots in a miracle believed to have occurred hundreds of years ago. The lore is that village children would come down from playing in the hills above Huayllabamba and tell stories of eating and singing with the woman from the hill. Their parents thought little of their stories until the children began to bring home loaves of bread and other foods. Finally, the children took their parents up the mountain to meet the mysterious woman. They led their families to a large rock that displayed an unmistakable image of the Virgin Mary. The children announced to their parents that this was the woman who fed and sang to them.

The Festival, which spans a five-day period in early September every year, consists of music, dancing and processions of the Virgin. The larger-than-life statue is carried by means of long elaborately decorated poles hoisted on the shoulders of the faithful. The processions leave the church in the town plaza and wind halfway up a nearby mountain. There the Virgin sits in a smaller church for five days until she is brought down again to the plaza. The celebration has 12 dances, each accompanied by its own large band, some 20 dancers per dance, and hundreds of well wishers and supporters.

We congratulate you, Rich, on such a meaningful and high honor.

Carol Williams is one of two women to be honored at the Festival of the British Virgin Islands during summer 2004. Since 1994 when she first began to cook for us, Carol has been a beloved and indispensable member of the BVI VISIONS team. More than just our cook, Carol is a close friend and mother figure to staff and participants alike.

She delights in preparing our meals, and prides herself on taking excellent care of us. Originally from St. Kitts, Carol has lived in Tortola for 24 years and been cooking at Festival for the last 20 years. On Festival days Carol goes to work—goes to work where? At Festival? Somewhere else? Where does she work after first rising early in the morning? You mean she cooks like a fiend at work or Festival, and then comes to VISIONS to cook, then goes home to sleep for an hour before cooking for VISIONS? After the VISIONS meal is prepared, Carol heads over to the festival field where she cooks all night long. The next day she starts all over again. This goes on for nearly three straight days and nights. And yet, during this time, Carol remains as light-hearted and good-natured as can be.

Carol says the thing she most enjoys about VISIONS is, “the kids and getting to know their personalities. I also love cooking for them.”

The BVI Festival began as a celebration of the abolition of slavery, proclaimed by the English Parliament in 1834. On the eve of August 3, 1834, the island’s slaves packed into the Methodist and Anglican churches anticipating their emancipation. Just after midnight, preachers announced, “You are free!” The freed slaves did not sleep that night. Instead, as the story goes, they celebrated until dawn to see the ‘Sunrise of their Freedom.’ Festival 2004 will celebrate 170 years of freedom from slavery in the BVI.

VISIONS in The New York Times