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 Phillip Rollfing  

Touch Tobago

Student-designed spa to aid
Tobagonian relief mission



Last fall, students in Julie Rogers’ sophomore Environmental Design studio at Texas A&M University unveiled conceptual designs for the Shandeelay Resort and Health Spa in Charlottesville, Tobago — the smaller of two main Caribbean islands that make up the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

The resort is to be constructed by Touch Tobago, a Christian ministry and relief organization founded in 2002 by Noreen Johnson, a Trinidad native and obstetrics and gynecology doctor who practices in College Station. Touch Tobago works closely with other organizations and volunteers to provide much needed medical help to the inhabitants of the island’s small fishing villages. The country, Rogers said, has an estimated three-year surgical backlog.

In 2004, construction teams from Touch Tobago built the Bon Accord Vocational School and Church in Scarborough, Tobago.

The organization plans to use funds generated by the proposed Shandeelay Health Resort and Spa to fund its ongoing medical relief efforts, which include free surgery for those in need. While catering to tourist, the spa will also provide temporary housing for Touch Tobago’s volunteer medical teams.

The spa will offer non-invasive cosmetic treatments, luxurious spa facilities and will specialize in herbs and natural medicines unique to Tobago. In fact, the students’ spa designs included a Center for Traditional and Herbal Medicine. The facility will be used to research and document Tobago’s diverse flora while providing herbal products for use in the spa.

Johnson said Touch Tobago is dedicated to healing whole person and not just the physical body — the body, mind and spirit of Tobagonians.

To kick off the project, Rogers’ students met with Johnson and other Touch Tobago volunteers who later participated in the design reviews.

“The energy these students bring to the project is amazing,” said Shelaine Moreno, the medical project manager for Touch Tobago.

To minimize the spa’s impact on the island’s fragile environment, the student’s resort designs utilized a sustainable tourism model. Andy Skadberg of AdventGX, a tourism-consulting agency that specializes in ecotourism, visited Rogers’ studio to discuss how responsible tourism can be used to enhance economies and improve quality of life in the destination communities.

“The opportunity to help others less fortunate than ourselves while still studying and learning at a university is one rarely encountered, and it is a true joy to experience,” said Tess Kroeger, one of the students designers who worked on the project.

“I always wondered what I could do with architecture, as far as benefiting the community,” added fellow student Leslie Schulze. “I feel like this project has shown me what sort of opportunities I might have to really reach out with my future profession.”

Over the years, Rogers, who holds a Ph.D. in architecture and has a special interest in Southeast Asian art and architecture, has lead her students in the development of design solutions for a number of international relief organizations. Her students designed a new facility to house the Cambodian Land Mine Museum and Rehabilitation Center, which will soon be under construction. More recently her students provided drawings for two HIV/AIDS clinics to be built in Cambodia by CARE International and Maryknoll Sisters.

“These projects allow the students to develop a worldview and to understand how they, through their architecture, can have significant impacts on people around the world, said Rogers. “There is a beauty about these humble projects, and it is recognized not only in the architectural details, but also in the hope that is embodied in the architecture.”

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A student design for the Touch Tobago resort by Matt Dryer

Mihnea Dobre's design

A design by Tess Kroeger

A Tobagonian child