Ted Hoskins, Fisherman’s Advocate Maine and Belize
by Tom Seymour
Ted Hoskins lives in Blue Hill, Maine, during the winter but for approximately the past 40 years, has spent his summers on Isle Au Haut. There he serves as minister at the island’s Congregational church. Hoskins began his ministry in South Glastonbury, Connecticut, a place still dear to his heart. Since coming to Maine, he has developed an intimate, working knowledge of coastal Maine and its people, particularly those who make their living from the sea.
Hoskins has considerable experience as a fisherman. This includes working as a sternman and on a purse seiner. “I always felt the fishing industry was important,” Hoskins said. This belief contributed to Hoskins’s role as a fisherman’s advocate. But the road from his life on Isle Au Haut in 1941 to the present was long and included many turns.
For instance, Ted spent time on an earlier incarnation of The Sunbeam, the official vessel of Maine Seacoast Mission, whose main office is in Bar Harbor. The current Sunbeam is the fifth of its kind, according to Scott Planting, the mission’s executive director. Planting described The Sunbeam as a 77-foot, steel-hulled vessel with an on board medical clinic, coffee shop and community center. The vessel also serves as an icebreaker when needed, Planting said. Rob Benson, the on board minister, conducts religious services on The Sunbeam.
The vessel continues to visit Isle Au Haut twice each month, providing medical attention as well as a breath of fresh air, inspiration and kindness to island residents. The nurse offers a tele-clinic, where patients and physicians converse by means of video link-up. The nurse even will make house calls. Planting said that people truly love The Sunbeam and all the mission does for their community. “Trust. That’s our most important word,” Planting said.
So with a background of service with Maine Seacoast Mission, coupled with his experience as an island minister and his time as a working fisherman at sea, it becomes easy to see how Ted Hoskins became involved in his current form of outreach. Hoskins, using his own funds to pay his way, now travels with others to the small country of Belize, Mexico’s southern neighbor.
In 2001, while Americans were reeling from the attacks of September 11, Hurricane Iris wiped out the village of Monkey River in Belize. The small coastal community had little enough before Iris. Afterward, they had nothing. Which is why Ted Hoskins and 25 people from the offshore islands and coast of Maine made the journey to Monkey River.
Prior to this, Hoskins had traveled to Antigonish, Nova Scotia, to take a course in community-based resource management. These skills helped him in dealing with an earlier tragedy in Honduras when Hurricane Mitch damaged coastal villages in that country. So Hoskins and his Mainers were prepared when they arrived in Belize. Their first act, Hoskins said, was to ask the people of Monkey River what they wanted the group to do for them. Without hesitation, the villagers agreed that top priority was a school building. Their old one was completely demolished.
After securing funding for material, the group orchestrated the building of a new school. The people from Monkey River then decided that a church was next on their agenda. That building also came into being through the auspices of the group from Maine. Following this, the townspeople agreed that teacher housing was next in line of importance. This, too, came to fruition.
With a school, church and housing for teachers in place, Hoskins said that his group proceeded to establish a scholarship fund for Monkey River children to attend high school. This required a roughly 40-minute trip to the next town. Since there are no roads in Monkey River, people walk, ride a bicycle or travel by boat. Children unable to avail themselves of a way to high school were left with a half-finished education. The scholarship fund addresses that problem.
With the most basic needs being met, Ted Hoskins and his philanthropic Mainers began looking at other needs. It became apparent that women in Belize needed some sort of vehicle to offer their home-produced goods and services to the public. So Hoskins and team developed a way for these women to acquire “micro-loans,” small amounts of money designed to help them get established. In 2010, this effort culminated in a new building where the enterprising women of Belize could go and display their goods.
The current, ongoing project that Hoskins and group have embarked upon on behalf of the people of Monkey River involves a computer program aimed at making children computer-literate. Until 2011, this remote fishing village was completely off the grid. They had no electricity. Hoskins has procured 12 laptop computers, thanks to the largesse of a woman who wanted to do something good as a memorial to her late mother. These computers sit in a room in the Monkey River School.
The local children were unceremoniously brought into the computer age as small groups of them sat at the donated laptops, learning their way around. First, Hoskins said, the children were taught how to play computer games. The skills acquired in learning computerized gaming will then translate into more education-oriented activities. Hoskins plans to follow up by bringing CDs and other material for a teacher to use to instruct students in basic skills such as reading, writing and arithmetic. Hoskins mentioned that he expects to coordinate this effort with a friend who has expertise in elementary education using computers.
Ted Hoskins also maintains a keen interest in fishing and commercial fishermen. Hoskins described himself as “advocate for fishermen.” He has directed his efforts both here in Maine and in Belize to that end, enabling fishermen to develop their political voice in dealing with bureaucracies and governmental organizations. Hoskins, never forward about putting forth his considerable skills and abilities, always asks fishermen what they desire. Then, after meeting with them and defining wants and needs, he works to give fishermen their voice.
Both here in Maine and in Belize, Hoskins advocates area management. This, he says, allows fishermen to make more of the decisions that will affect their way of life, today and in the future. Hoskins feels that local people know local waters best. And because of this close knowledge of local resources, the working fishermen know best how to manage their fisheries.
In Maine there are a number of organizations dedicated to helping Maine fishermen achieve their goals, many of which Hoskins belongs to. But the fishermen of Belize were never organized, he explained. But, as we may expect from this hard-driving, community-minded preacher from Isle Au Haut, Maine, that is all about to change. People here and in many other places in this world owe a debt of gratitude to this gentle, caring man, Ted Hoskins.