From the Congo to the Shenandoah - The Martha's Vineyard Times (2024)

Ten refugee students from Africa are spending a week aboard the tall ship.


Daniel Greenman



A group of student refugees who have left behind war-ravaged areas in Africa are spending a week on board the iconic tall ship the Shenandoah.

The students showed up full of energy to Owen Park Beach on Monday eager to get their sea legs on the 60-year-old schooner. On their first day out on the water, students marveled at the vessel’s ratlines and cannons, and took in the activity on the lively Vineyard Haven Harbor.

From July 1–6, they will get hands-on experience on a working vessel as part of the Martha’s Vineyard Ocean Academy’s Sea Shanty voyage.

The students, who range in age from rising third graders to sixth graders, are refugees to the United States from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Angola, and Gabon, with some having traveled to Brazil first before making a dangerous trip up the Darien Gap between North and South America.

The 10 students taking in the experience on board the Shenandoah this week attend the Reiche School in Portland, Maine.

Maria Grace, a Portuguese and French specialist at the school who saw them off the dock Monday, told The Times she hopes the outing will be a memorable and valuable one for her students.

“[The goal is] social and emotional learning, and just the chance to spend some time in nature and on the boat,” she said.

Lucresya, who is 8 and the youngest student of the group, was having fun on Monday. “I’m really excited to go swimming after lunch,” she said.

Grace added that Portland and other communities in Maine are known for high refugee and immigrant populations.

“We have a very diverse, welcoming population,” Grace said of her school.

The Portland Public Schools system welcomed nearly 1,000 new immigrants, refugees and multilingual students in 2023, according to its yearly State of the Schools report. In 2017, students in the district spoke 60 languages other than English.

The students’ Vineyard outing is run by Ocean Academy, a nonprofit that helps “youth develop lifelong purpose, happiness, and resilience through guided voyages of self-discovery,” according to the academy’s website.

Captain Ian Ridgeway, academy executive director, welcomed the 10 students. “We are excited to have these remarkable students join us on this voyage,” he said. “Social–emotional learning is significantly enhanced through diversity. By bringing together students with different backgrounds, we create a dynamic environment ripe for learning. These students will gain valuable skills and contribute to a richer, more inclusive community for all participants.”

Grace first considered the opportunity for her students on the Shenandoah when bosun Gabe Andrus called her to ask whether her son would be returning to programs on-Island this year.

“I know that my son has other activities this summer. So I said that he couldn’t, but maybe if they had space, we could do something for these wonderful children,” Grace explained.

Though this is the first year on the tall ship for her students, she hopes it won’t be the last.

After arriving via Steamship Authority ferry, students reached the Shenandoah crew on Monday fully equipped for a day aboard, with sunglasses, sun hats and sandals.

Academy staff received them and their bags, and the group a short way by motorboat to the Shenandoah, where they scaled the ship’s ladder to board.

Though the Shenandoah was not able to leave the harbor on Monday due to a strong Northeastern wind, the crew took the opportunity instead to show students around the boat’s deck and their quarters before holding orientation and introductions.

Chief Mate Liam McKee outlined the program’s “dos” and “dont’s”, during which students will be able to go swimming, explore the waters around the harbor, and watch their share of Vineyard sunsets.

McKee also assigned the group their responsibilities on board — over the week they will set and maneuver the sails, lift the anchor, prepare food and do dishes. “The more you engage, the more fun it’s going to be,” he told the new crewmates.

McKee told The Times he looks forward to imparting his naval know-how to the students. “This is one of those things that you talk about, but to actually do is challenging,” he said. “Most kids here are from the Vineyard, they know about sailing — so this is different.”

Grace said on Monday that after the end of the school year, and all the challenges her students have endured, they deserve a chance to set sail.

“There were no snow days [this year],” she added.

Julia Goujiamanis contributed to this report.

From the Congo to the Shenandoah - The Martha's Vineyard Times (2024)
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