By Shanieka Smith
#TurksandCaicos, March 24, 2022 – The wetlands from Wheeland to Providenciales once had a more dubious reputation; known for what was not beautiful, healthy or attractive. It was once an illegal site for charcoal kilns and a criminal hideout. But everything changed about nine and a half years ago. Two nature-loving people explored the area and found endangered natural flora; they decided to bring it back to life and now the Wheeland Wetlands is an ecological, hiking, educational and adventure trail with natural beauty and rejuvenating power.
At least that’s what Charmaine Elliot tells us. The stunning 53-year-old, who is herself a picture of rejuvenation, hails from the fishing capital of the South Caicos Islands. Her partner, Kimmit Harvey, 47, is from Providenciales and together they have brought a kind of sweat equity that has brought the area back to life.
It is fair to say that the Wheeland Wetlands have been massively transformed and today it is called the Kimcha Village Bird Sanctuary.
The lush site, along the northwest coast of Providenciales, has been cleaned to about 65%. Birds like ducks and flamingos have returned in large numbers, and now it’s like a little island on an island and a home for the elderly.
“You come as visitors, you leave as family,” Elliot said, telling us about his earth-friendly retreat. She said Kimcha’s long-term goal is to cultivate an official bird sanctuary for the Turks and Caicos Islands.
She added: “…there will be bird walks so you can walk around and watch the birds.” While explaining this vision, she mentioned Central Park in New York, where there is a birdwatching area. His dream looks like this.
“In the Wheeland wetlands there are so many birds, and we need to preserve that. The fact is that this is the only area right now in Providenciales, it’s actually a pristine wetland; unspoiled and unspoiled by booming development in other pockets of the island and the country,” she added.
Elliot says now all the birds are coming and the goal is to preserve this habitat. Apart from birds, Kimcha village is also a haven for the elderly.
Elliot thinks fondly of his mother, Roslin Louise Higgs-King, who died in 2018.
His mother inspired the idea to do something for the elderly. As such, Kimcha Village has a recreation center, Roslin Seniors Recreation Center, and it offers a wonderful escape.
“Life is not settling down, it’s living,” she said, quoting the village motto while emphasizing that old people are not old people who are finished and tossed . She said the Roslin Senior Recreation Center is proof that seniors can take care of themselves and want to enjoy every moment of life they still have left.
Charmaine smiled as she explained, “Once you want to be active and you want to walk and you want to get into eco-responsibility and all those things, you come to Kimcha village through the senior center and you can knit, and sew, and plant trees and all these different things to keep you going.
Elliot’s mother is certainly at peace considering the effort put into this noble and thoughtful retirement.
Elliot says every fourth Saturday since April 2021, they have a seniors day. April 2022 will mark one year since the beginning of this adventure for senior residents. The motivation is on the faces of the seniors and their anticipation every time they visit Kimcha Village on their special day.
“What we do is make a day off for them, they come, we cook healthy food. We do everything on the grill, we smoke all of our meats for hours with cedar wood and remove all preservatives, we cook only with cayenne pepper, sea salt, limes, coconut oil, olive oil, olive, all our vegetables are fresh, all our peas are fresh.
At Kimcha Village, it is all natural, fresh and healthy.
These are principles that Charmaine has added to her own life and seen the extra pounds melt away due to her peaceful surroundings and lifestyle change in her diet.
In addition to the monthly Seniors Day held at Kimcha Village, Elliot shared that they will now have a Toddler Fun Day every third Sunday of every month. There is no doubt that this initiative will take off and be a positive, fun, healthy and educational space for our children.
Despite all of these clear goals, there are still misconceptions about wetlands and the Village.
Elliot pointed out that people think Kimcha Village is a restaurant and bar, but said she wanted people to know that’s not the case. She said they are far from a restaurant and bar. The food prepared is for her nature explorers, who she says “arrive as visitors, but leave as families”.
When asked who or what Elliot and his partner were trying to help, Elliot answered environment, birds and people.
“We want to help the environment because it is necessary to protect the environment. Climate change and all the destruction that has happened in this region; we are trying to preserve the area and try to rebuild it and turn our wetlands into a coastal paradise where anyone visiting can feel safe,” she said.
As for the birds, she says, “we want to bring them back (also) because, with the birds, it’s just more beautiful. It’s the most beautiful thing you want to see or hear in the morning when you wake up…the sound of birds and the sound of the ocean and the waves and the wind.
People, and especially the elderly, are one of the most important aspects of this project, not only because of Elliot’s mother’s dream of living, but Elliot is passionate about changing the fact that there is nowhere for the elderly to go. It is as if because they are older, we forget them. Kimcha Village is remedying this, she believes.
“This area and this project will give them a place to go and socialize, be safe and healthy. And we want to be able to use this as an educational program for schools, the island forest, for Turks and Caicos to learn,” she said.
This passion was not born in the traditional classroom or college lecture hall. Now, like the Kimcha Village Bird Sanctuary, this zeal is only natural.
Elliot reveals, when asked if formal training inspired her motivation, that neither she nor Kimmit had gone through any formal system or training. Passion and education have been passed on, it is a legacy of love for the natural heritage and incomparable beauties of every part of the Turks and Caicos Islands… and to share it with everyone; Young or old.
Kimcha Village Bird Sanctuary is located at 618 Quarry Road, Wheeland Wetlands, Wheeland, Providenciales.