Queen praises ‘wonderful’ work of Commonwealth volunteers

PA

The Queen has paid tribute to the “wonderful” efforts of Commonwealth volunteers, including a turtle conservationist featured in Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II series.

Wildlife enthusiast Len Peters, from Trinidad, who chatted to the Queen during a video call, was the first person to receive the Commonwealth Points of Light award, which recognises outstanding volunteering work by individuals.

The Queen praised the efforts of Mr Peters and two other award recipients who were part of the call: “Thank you all for taking part in this programme.

“I’m delighted to have heard your stories and I think it’s wonderful work that you’re all doing, and volunteering so much. Thank you very much.”

Sir David featured the journey of the conservationist, who in the 1990s began as a concerned member of the public risking his safety to confront machete-wielding fellow islanders from Trinidad, who prized the flesh of leatherback turtles.

He set up beach patrols to ensure egg-laying females were safe and went on to recruit turtle poachers to his conservation effort and trained villagers to lead night-time excursions for tourists to see leatherbacks coming ashore to breed.

The Queen asked Mr Peters about his appearance on the broadcaster’s popular wildlife series: “So David Attenborough got to know what you were doing?”

He told the Queen his relatives were one of the largest turtle-eating families in his village but he and a group of friends came together “to try and make a difference”.

“Here you have a young boy from a turtle-eating family wanting to make a difference,” he said.

“At night we would walk the beach back and forth protecting the turtles that came up, to try to convince people that it was the right thing to do.

“What we didn’t know, that 30 years later that effort would see Trinidad being recognised as one of the most important nesting sites for the leatherback seas turtles in the world.”

He said when they started their conservation programme they would have 20 to 30 turtles coming to nest – now they have 500 to 600.

The first Commonwealth 'Point of Light' is Len Peters, from Trinidad and Tobago. Len is being recognised for his voluntary work protecting endangered turtle species. #PointsofLight#CHOGM2018pic.twitter.com/pmDozY2iEx

— The Royal Family (@RoyalFamily) February 1, 2018

Mr Peters received the Commonwealth Points of Light award for his community-driven Grande Riviere Nature Tour Guide Association and said the project had transformed the lives of those around him, with the economic drive of the community now focused on conservation.

Mr Peters said Sir David spent two weeks with them and “inspired the children to dream”.

“That’s very interesting indeed to hear that,” the Queen replied.

During the video call the Queen experienced her first virtual musical performance, when 45 children performed in celebration of her recent 73rd wedding anniversary.

The young musicians were from a symphony orchestra that is part of Sistema Cyprus – an organisation founded by Cypriot music teacher Nikoletta Polydorou to support disadvantaged children by providing free music education and instruments.

Miss Polydorou said her organisation aimed to help youngsters from some of the most challenging neighbourhoods of Nicosia and Larnaca: “Our main aim is to give the children the opportunity to dream, using music as a tool.”

She told the Queen: “As this call is a few days after your wedding anniversary, please allow the Sistema Cyprus Symphony Orchestra to perform an extract from a piece which was specially composed for us… and will be premiered by us for the public at our next concert. You will be the first to hear (it) and please accept it as our gift for your anniversary.”

During the video call on Wednesday, fellow Commonwealth Points of Light recipient Ruy Santos, from Mozambique, took the Queen on a virtual tour of Makobo, a collaborative work space he founded in 2009 to promote nutrition, education and youth employment.

Makobo used its facilities to feed 6,000 people a day during the coronavirus pandemic, including lunchboxes for school children, and it worked with 15 local dressmakers to produce thousands of facemasks for underprivileged communities, hospitals and charity workers.

Mr Santos told the Queen his organisation wanted to feed a million children by 2025: “But it’s more than food, we want to promote more opportunities for young people and especially women to reduce the high rates of malnutrition and illiteracy in Mozambique that effects 80% of our population.”

During the call he presented the Queen with her first virtual gift – a facemask – one of Makobo’s handmade products “from Mozambique with love”.

Launched in February 2018, there have been 163 recipients of the Commonwealth Points of Light award, with the Queen awarding the honour to a Commonwealth volunteer every week for outstanding initiatives in their local communities and beyond.