2015 – The Bahamas: Country Background

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GEOGRAPHY

The Bahamas is an expanse of water with many scattered islands, hence the term ‘archipelago’. It covers approximately one hundred thousand square miles of water in the Atlantic Ocean. The whole archipelago is known as a ‘Family of Islands’ therefore all the ‘Out Islands’ are called ‘Family Islands.

The most northern island, Bimini, is approximately fifty-two miles off the coast of Florida, USA. From our most southern island, Inagua, one can see the glare of the lights of Cuba and of Haiti.

The islands are basically flat with the highest point – two hundred and six feet – located in Cat Island, a peak known as ‘Mount Alvernia’.

The largest island, Andros, is one hundred and four miles long by forty miles wide, at the widest point. New Providence Island, on which the capital city of Nassau is situated, is twenty-one miles long and seven miles wide. The Andros Barrier Reef is the world's third longest, after Australia's Great Barrier Reef and the Central American Belize Barrier Reef. Andros Island is of international fame also because it has the world's largest collection of blue holes.

Being in the tropics, the temperature in The Bahamas is usually warm for most of the year. The hottest months, June to October, are highly subject to hurricanes.

Wildlife in The Bahamas can be found on Land and in the Sea. A simple walk in the shallow water near the beach will reveal crabs, snails, urchins, starfish, and sometimes even sharks.

On land you will find the beautiful pink flamingo birds which cannot be confused with any other bird. Its long legs and long neck make these birds like no other. The adult flamingo is usually about four feet tall. This is the National Bird of The Bahamas. Our most southerly island, Inagua, is the home to over 80,000 flamingos. Along with the flamingos, there are over one hundred and forty species of native and migratory birds,

There are also wild pigs which were brought here by the Spanish explorers in the sixteenth century. There are Bahamian land crabs, which are a local delicacy. Lizards abound and there are rock iguanas on some of the islands. They are a protected species because they are endangered. There are no poisonous snakes in The Bahamas, but the Bahamian boa helps to keep down the rodent population.

As you travel through the islands of The Bahamas, you will see many lighthouses – necessary to guide sailors and fishermen into safe paths away from many dangerous rocks. There are still three remaining kerosene-burning, hand-cranked lighthouses in The Bahamas. In a country where the area of water is larger than the land, the lighthouse is necessary; a reminder of the Light of God, which always guides us into safe harbours.

POPULATION

Our latest census listed a total population of 353,658 of which 248,948 live on the island of New Providence, where the seat of government is located in Nassau. The island of Grand Bahama, which boasts our nation’s second largest city, has a population of 51,756 and only six other islands have a population of 3,000 persons and over.

The descendants of the African slaves constitute about 85% of the present day population, whites 12% and other nationalities 3%.

Haitian nationals, from the French/Creole speaking nation of Haiti on the Island of Hispaniola, make up most of the migrant population in the Bahamas.

The official language of The Bahamas is English intertwined with a special Bahamian dialect peculiar to most of the Islands known as “Smokey Joe”. The first Europeans arrived in 1492, with the Christopher Columbus expedition from Spain seeking the route to India. Before his arrival, the islands were inhabited by some 45,000 Lucayan and Arawak Indians. In a few short years many died from diseases brought over by the Europeans. Between 1509 and 1511 the entire surviving population was enslaved and shipped to Hispaniola to work in the gold mines. The archipelago remained virtually uninhabited until the coming of the Eleutheran Adventurers around 1647.

During the slave trade industry of the 18th century many Africans were brought to these islands to work on the plantations owned by the colonialists. At the end of the American War of Independence in 1783, between 6,000-8,000 loyalists from New York, East Florida, South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia, encouraged by land grants, migrated with their slaves to The Bahamas. Their arrival made a great impact on The Bahamas socially, economically and politically. The white population doubled and the black population tripled. The newcomers brought between ten and a hundred slaves each and set up plantations on several of the islands.

HISTORY

The history of The Bahamas begins with the earliest arrival of humans in the islands in the first millennium AD. The first inhabitants of the islands were the Lucayans, an Arawakan-speaking Taino people, who arrived between 500 and 800 from the islands of the Caribbean.

Recorded history begins in 1492, when Christopher Columbus’ first expedition landed on the island of Guanahani, (now known as San Salvador). The Spaniards enslaved and decimated the native Indian population, but did not stay to colonize the islands; they continued their search for gold in other places.

The earliest permanent European settlement occurred in 1647, when Puritans from the English colony of Bermuda founded Eleuthera. The colonists, known as Eleutheran Adventurers, set out to establish a colony where they could practice their religion freely, as in the colonies settled by the Pilgrims in New England. In 1666 other English settlers established a colony on New Providence and founded Charlestown, which was renamed Nassau near the end of the seventeenth century. Throughout the seventeenth century, the islands served as a favourite base for pirates, called a "privateers' republic," which lasted for eleven years. The raiders attacked French and Spanish ships, while French and Spanish forces burned Nassau several times.

One estimate puts at least 1,000 pirates in The Bahamas in 1713, outnumbering the 200 families of more permanent settlers. The War of the Spanish Succession ended in 1714, but the "privateers' republic" in Nassau came to an end in 1718, as Woodes Rogers had been appointed, by King George I, as the first Royal Governor of The Bahamas in 1717. The commerce was restored to the settlement.

The eighteenth century slave trade brought many Africans to The Bahamas. Slavery was abolished in 1807 by the British Parliament, however slave movements within British territories like The Bahamas, was permissible once a licence was obtained and a bond was signed. The slaves were freed by the Emancipation Act of 1834 which set up an Apprenticeship System. Under this system, the ex-slaves were to work for their ex-masters for four to six years. In 1838, the Emancipation Act ended the compulsory apprenticeship period and gave the ex-slaves complete freedom.

The slaves in The Bahamas resisted their lot individually and collectively. Slave rebellions occurred in Abaco in1789, in Exuma between 1828-1834, on Cat Island in 1831 and on Watlings Island in 1832. The day-to-day defiance was treated with body punishments such as whippings or confinement to the workhouse, sale to other owners, or death.

Between 1800 and 1833, the two most prominent cases of impunity against cruelties to slaves were the Moss case and Wildgoose case. Mr and Mrs Henry Moss were sentenced to five months imprisonment and fined 30 pounds sterling for brutally mistreating and ultimately causing the death of their slave girl Kate. John Wildgoose, however, escaped punishment for the ill-treatment of a female slave, whom he had confined to the workhouse; he had the woman flogged while incarcerated. Although the Governor, Sir James Carmichael Smyth sought to have him chastised, his efforts were circumvented by the House of Assembly, of which Wildgoose was a member.

During World War II, the Allies centred their flight-training and anti-submarine operations for the Caribbean in The Bahamas. The wartime airfield became Nassau's international airport in 1957 and helped spur the growth of mass tourism, which accelerated after the United States embargo against Cuba closed Havana to American tourists in 1961. Freeport, on the island of Grand Bahama, was established as a free trade zone in the 1950s and became the country's second city. Bank secrecy, combined with the lack of corporate and income taxes, led to a rapid growth in the offshore financial sector during the post war years.

Bahamians achieved self-government in 1964 and full independence within the Commonwealth of Nations on July 10, 1973. The country’s first prime minister was the late Sir Lynden O. Pindling, leader of the Progressive Liberal Party. Pindling ruled for over 25 years, during which The Bahamas benefited from tourism and foreign investment.

POLITICAL ORGANIZATION

In the seventeenth century, the country was colonized by the British. Today, the Commonwealth of The Bahamas is an English-speaking former British colony. It is a constitutional monarchy and Queen Elisabeth II is the head of State. The Prime Minister since May 2012 is Rt Hon Perry Gladstone Christie, from the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP). He is concurrently Minister of Finance.

Until 1953, the Parliament was controlled by a white minority through limiting voting rights to property ownership, plural voting and company voting. The formation of the first political national party – the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) paved the road for change in these laws and enabled adult suffrage for both men and women. In 1954, the PLP obtained six seats out of 29. Two years later, the Assembly approved an anti-discrimination law to promote ethnic equality, which gave to the Afro-Caribbean population access to rights that were denied before. In 1958, the United Party of the Bahamas was founded. The Women’s Suffrage Movement secured the vote for women in 1962, and in 1973 The Bahamas became an independent nation within the British Commonwealth.

THE EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM

Education in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas is the principal vehicle for promoting the development of the people and the nation as a whole. The primary goal is to ensure that all persons in The Bahamas develop physically, mentally, socially and spiritually in order to function responsibly and productively in an increasingly dynamic, scientific, technological and complex society.

The Church of England (The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel - an Anglican missionary group) pioneered education for boys and girls in The Bahamas in 1722. Slave owners were mandated to see to the moral and religious instruction of their slaves to enable them to participate in the worship services of the Anglican Church (Church of England). Anglicanism, being a religion with letters, meant that the slaves were taught to read and write. The Education Act of 1836 established a Board of Education to administer all schools in the then colony. A later act of 1878 made primary education for boys and girls compulsory.

All islands of The Bahamas have either public schools from primary to secondary or, on some of the remote islands, provisions are made for ‘all age’ schools. Students can remain in their individual islands up to high school. Financial assistance is given to Family Island students who qualify for entrance into the College of The Bahamas in New Providence.

Of a population of approximately 350,000 persons, there are 266 public and private schools, 15 of which are ‘all age’ schools. They provide education at the mandatory levels of schooling and public pre-schools. Secondary education was dominated by religious institutions until the establishment of Government High School in 1925. To date, government school attendance is compulsory for children aged 5 to 16. An Act for the establishment of pre-schools, starting at the age of 3, came into effect in 1992. Most of the established private institutions offering pre-school to high school are given financial assistance by the government, based on student enrolment and staffing. Separate accommodations away from the regular school premises are in place for pregnant unwed teen mothers to continue their education during and after pregnancy.

Provision was made, in 1974, for tertiary education with the establishment of the College of The Bahamas, at minimal tuition costs. Scholarships are offered for students meeting certain entry criteria. Part-time private studies at university levels are also available from many private institutions. Government and private scholarships are given to men and women to attend the College of The Bahamas, private high schools in The Bahamas, and universities and colleges in the Caribbean, United States, Canada, England and Europe for careers appropriate to the stated needs of the country. However, many of those students abroad never come back to live in The Bahamas again.

Both male and female professors, teachers and administrators are found throughout our educational systems in public and private institutions. Remuneration and benefits are based on qualifications. There is a shortage of male educators and administrators.

HEALTH

The stated mission of the Ministry of Health in The Commonwealth of The Bahamas is to, “ensure that the highest quality of services for health promotion, health protection and healthcare are accessible to all residents of The Bahamas in order to achieve optimal health.” The national healthcare system consists of three key components: The Ministry of Health, The Department of Public Health, and The Public Hospitals Authority.

Primary healthcare is the core foundation of public healthcare services. This is delivered through a network of 28 health centres, 33 main clinics in New Providence and 35 satellite clinics dispersed across 30 inhabited Bahamian Family Islands. There are severe staffing limits for the Family Island clinics and other challenges, such as inpatient and emergency outpatient overcrowding and long waiting times. Serious cases in the Family Islands are air lifted to New Providence, where there is access to specialized care in government or private facilities.

Coverage of pregnant women by the antenatal (or prenatal) service is high, including HIV screening of antenatal women and treatment of those who are HIV positive. However, one area warranting attention is the promotion of breast-feeding. Breast feeding rates are low: less than one-quarter of babies are solely breast fed at 4 weeks.

Cancer of the breast and prostate are increasing. The prominence of these types of cancer as causes of mortality calls for aggressive screening. Oncology care services are now provided in spacious and more appropriately equipped accommodations.

Moving forward, there is a necessity for integration of environmental services with health services, and a balance of primary health services and curative services. We need to put an affordable program into practice. We know much of what needs to be done to foster our people’s health and longevity.

THE SITUATION OF WOMEN

Bahamian women were hard workers in the slave economy. Since then, the main paid job of Bahamian women is of a domestic nature. During the 1940’s, the presence of women in The Bahamas became more recognized. Women, along with men, received their first voting opportunity during an election held in November 1962. The first woman was elected to Parliament in 1992. Since that time, the country has had female Presidents of The Court of Appeal and Senate, Members of Parliament, a Deputy and a Governor General and even a Deputy Prime Minister from 2002 to 2007.

In 1964, women were given the opportunity to join the Royal Bahamas Police Force and 122 women applied to become police officers but only six were accepted. Currently, women hold very high ranks in the Police Force.

As we continue to evolve in parliamentary democracy in The Bahamas, we continue to work and to pray for equal rights for foreign women in the area of citizenship for both children and spouses. Women still do not have the same power to grant citizenship on their offspring as do Bahamian men. A woman can obtain citizenship if she is married to a Bahamian man; but it is very difficult for a woman to get the same treatment for a non-Bahamian husband, or to confer citizenship on a child born outside The Bahamas, if she is unmarried. A Constitutional Referendum to correct this situation was held by the Government in 2002, but was defeated due to strong opposition from the church and many women themselves.

In The Bahamas, the church and many women believe the husband has a right over his wife’s body. They rejected a law that would have protected the wife from ‘being raped’ by her husband if she stated that she did not want to engage in sex. In 2012, the then Government brought appropriate legislation to Parliament to correct this. However, as a result of strong opposition from the church and some women themselves, it was shelved.

Legally, women have equal status under the law, but men tend to control the higher income and higher status positions in some areas of the private sector and the Legislature. Men dominate fishing and other maritime activities, building trades, and the transportation industry.

Even though women hold prominent positions in the work place as well as in the political arena in the main islands like New Providence, Grand Bahama, and Abaco; the situation of poor and Bahamian women with low levels of formal education has not changed much, especially in the “Family Islands”. Some of these islands are sparsely populated and lack opportunities that are afforded to the people of the main islands.

In the Family Islands most of the women have domestic jobs in the hotels, restaurants, etc., where the salary is not enough to support the household. Mothers are, in most cases, the only parent in the family structure.

In Bahamian society, mothers are deemed to take responsibility for the well-being of the family. They look after the needs of their husbands/significant others and neglect to look after themselves. If a woman commits the same crime as a man, she is often looked down upon in society, whereas the man would be forgiven very easily.

Women are looking more and more to the Church as a means for their social life, and thus, the cry for radical love.

ART AND CULTURE

The Bahamian way of life is historically rooted in a unique blend of the customs and traditions brought by the British, who colonized The Bahamas for over three hundred years, and the West Africans, who were brought by the British as slaves.

Dr. Nicolette Bethel, professor at the College of The Bahamas, says, “Our culture is unique! It’s conch, it’s fish-and-grits, it’s Junkanoo and rake ‘n’ scrape and steam pork chop on a Thursday afternoon when you hungry-hungry [meaning very hungry], and it’s dialect and straw work and beating a goombay drum.”[‘Conch,’ ‘Fish and Grits,’ ‘Guinea Corn Hominy’, ‘Stew Shad and Johnny cake’ are all popular foods in the Bahamas.] Dr. Bethel also explains that when someone talks of “Sunday Dinner” they are talking about a specific meal with specific ingredients, “It’s peas-n-rice, macaroni and cheese, potato salad, fried chicken and Kool-Aid on Sunday.”

The music, popular beats and dances are expressed in terms such as: “Ring- play” (a dance) “Blue Hill Water Dry” “Showtime in Rawson Square” (native songs describing an occasion or event) Ronnie Butler, George Symonette in ‘wompas’ (‘wompas’ were the shoes he wore), Dr. Offf, K.B. , Blind Blake (all popular calypsonians).

The mixture of these diverging cultures adapted to meet the needs of life in an archipelagic setting, has created a unique way of life that is today the culture of The Bahamas. The spirit of the people of The Bahamas is celebrated in art and craft, music, dance, theatre, fashion, the native straw industry, cuisine, cinema, storytelling and the Festival Arts.

The Bahamas has produced many cultural artists of international fame, including Academy Award winner Sir Sidney Poitier (Lilies of the Field 1964), and Grammy Award winners ‘Bahamian’ (Who Let the Dogs Out, 2001). In New Providence, from the Nassau Straw Market to the National Art Gallery to the annual Junkanoo parades, the richness and vibrancy of Bahamian culture is on daily display.

Junkanoo is a festive Bahamian parade which takes place traditionally in the early hours of Boxing Day (December 26) and New Year’s Day, winding up after sunrise. Individuals and groups, in colourful crepe paper costumes, parade through the centres of Nassau, Freeport, and some of the other Family Islands to the tune of cowbells, goatskin drums, whistles and horns. The movement is a slow, dancing march which Bahamians call ‘rushing.’

CULINARY ART

Our population consists of about 85% of persons of African descent, although prior to their arrival, the Islands were home to the Lucayan and Carib Indians. The freed Africans brought with them foods such as peas, okra, cassava and sweet potatoes; as well as various dishes such as pease soup, okra soup, peas & rice, and cassava or potato breads. These dishes will be found in a Bahamian menu today. In years gone by, in most of our Family Islands, most of these foods were cooked in an outdoor oven or rock oven.

In many islands, you would find families raising sheep, goats, pigs and chickens for consumption. Because we are surrounded by the Ocean, we are blessed with a myriad of seafood, fish, conch and lobster. From these, delicacies like boiled or stewed fish, conch salad, conch fritter, conch chowder and minced lobster, to name a few, are made. The primary seasoning of these includes salt and pepper with lime or lemon juice.

Land crabs, which are plentiful during the rainy months of May to October, are also cooked in rice, boiled, with dough and minced and baked in their backs. Our proximity to the United States has influenced our food choices, mainly steaks and chicken, barbecued and deep-fried.

The arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492 brought the European influence, irish potato, and our famous potato salad.

Many of our deserts and sweets are made from local fruits for example: guava (duff), coconut and pineapple (tarts). A refreshing local drink is called Switcher. It is made from sour orange, limes or lemons. And because of the many coconut trees on the Islands, coconut water is enjoyed. Local teas are made using leaves from many local trees and vines, such as Sour-sop, Fever Grass, Lemon Grass and Shepherd Needle. Local tradition says these heal many ailments.

Below is a recipe for Peas & Rice (Any type of Peas, Beans or whole kernel corn can be used):   This recipe serves about 6 adults.

1 can peas                    1 onion                        2 oz oil (frying herbs)

2 cups rice                   Small amount of tomato paste or Browning sauce (for colour)

4 cups water                Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium size pot, heat oil, sauté onions for a few minutes, add paste or browning.

Pour in water and peas, season to taste. Add rice.

Bring to a boil, stir occasionally. Cover and cook on low heat until tender, about 20 to 30 minutes.

Serve with any type of meat or fish; add a salad or other vegetable for a complete meal.

RELIGION

The establishment of Christianity in the Bahama Islands occurred in 1647 when the Eleutherian Adventurers seeking religious freedom and led by Captain William Sayle, former Governor of Bermuda, landed at Eleuthera (from Greek word meaning freedom) where they founded a permanent settlement. It is said that the Eleutherian Adventurers included two Anglican priests who had left the Church.

In 1670, The Bahamas was granted to the Lord Proprietors of Carolina by the English Crown. Among the requirements of this Grant was the establishment of Churches in the islands. The Anglican Cathedral, Christ Church, dates back to 1670.

Christianity, therefore, is the dominant religion in The Bahamas. In the Preamble of the 1973 Constitution, it states that, “We the Inheritors of and Successors to this Family of Islands, recognizing the Supremacy of God and believing in the Fundamental Rights and Freedoms of the Individual, Do Hereby Proclaim in Solemn Praise the Establishment of a Free and Democratic Sovereign Nation founded on Spiritual Values and in which no Man, Woman or Child shall ever be Slave or Bondsman to anyone or their Labour exploited or their Lives frustrated by deprivation, and do Hereby Provide by these Articles for the indivisible Unity and Creation under God of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.”

The religious presence in The Bahamas includes Anglican (20%), Assembly of God, Baptist (32%), Brethren, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Christian Science, Church of God of Prophecy, Greek Orthodox, Jehovah's Witnesses, Judaism, Latter Day Saints (Mormon), Lutheran, Methodist (6%), Presbyterian, Roman Catholic (19%), Seventh Day Adventist and other smaller denominations. Quite a few Bahamians are atheists (non-religious).

WORLD DAY OF PRAYER IN THE BAHAMAS

Sometime in 1950, many women were seen on the first Friday in March, all wearing white dresses, heading for the only Presbyterian Church in Nassau. They were going to attend the World Day of Prayer Service, organized by the wife of the Presbyterian minister. Most of the Presbyterian ministers who served in The Bahamas were Scottish, so it is presumed that the program for that service came from Scotland.

Such was the beginning, and for the next two decades, the Presbyterian Church (The Kirk) was the venue for the World Day of Prayer service in Nassau, the capital of The Bahamas.

In the early 1970’s, a committee was formed of women representing the major denominations in The Bahamas: Anglican, Baptist, Church of God, Methodist, Roman Catholic, Salvation Army, Presbyterian, and Greek Orthodox. These ladies planned four services to be held in different areas of Nassau, at different churches, and headed by a different group of Church Women. These women had associated with Church Women United, USA and with a proposed group called Caribbean Church Women. A young Methodist woman, Mrs Judy Munroe, was elected the coordinator of this group.

In 1975, Mrs Munroe, along with the Methodist Deaconess, Sister Olga Brookes-Smith, and others travelled to the second city in The Bahamas, Freeport, on Grand Bahama Island, and established a committee to conduct the WDP service. The coordinator elected for this second group was a young Baptist woman, Mrs Jestina Cumberbatch.

In 1978, in preparation for the United Nations ‘International Year of The Child’, the Methodist Women sent Mrs Leila Greene of the Social Services Government Ministry and Mrs Annette Poitier, a Methodist Youth Worker, to attend a Conference hosted by Church Women United at their headquarters in New York.

Mrs Poitier re-located to Freeport, Grand Bahama in 1979 and joined the work of World Day of Prayer on that island. Because of the failing health of Mrs Cumberbatch, Mrs Poitier was asked by the Freeport Committee to coordinate the service.

Moving back to the capital in 1995, Mrs Poitier continued the work of coordinating the service for both islands, and attended the International Meetings in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1999, and at Swanick, England, in 2003, where she became a member of the WDPIC Executive Committee.

In 2007, the Caribbean/North America regions were joined to form one region. Thus WDPIC was now made up of seven rather than eight regions. The executive members elected for this new region were Annette Poitier of The Bahamas, Waverley Benjamin of Guyana and Sylvia Lisk Vanhaverbeke of Canada, who served as Chairperson. These three executive members, along with members of Church Women United (CWU-USA) and Women’s Inter-Church Council (WICC- Canada) formed a committee to establish the new region ‘CANA.’

In 2003, a World Day of Prayer Workshop was held in Nassau. This workshop was conducted by Miss Eileen King, Executive Director of the WDPIC, and Mrs Marcia Florkey of the United Methodist Women. Women were invited from Nassau, Eleuthera and Grand Bahama, where WDP services were now being held. This was the start of what has now become a Bahamas National Committee, established in 2011. The very first National Committee consisted of women from four islands, and included the major denominations: Anglican, Roman Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, the Church of God of Prophecy, and Community (non-denominational) churches.

At the Quadrennial Meeting in 2007, held in Toronto, Canada, Mrs Annette Poitier was elected WDPIC Chairperson, and the Bahamas was chosen to be the writer country for the WDP Service in 2015, with the theme: ‘Jesus said unto them, “Do you know what I have done to you?”

World Day of Prayer is now celebrated in six islands including New Providence, Grand Bahama, Eleuthera, Andros, Exuma and Abaco and is expected to encompass all islands when the service is celebrated in 2015.

The actual committee is headed by a young Baptist woman, Miss Vernita Davis, with a Roman Catholic nun, Sister Annie Thompson, O.S.B., as WDPIC Liaison. Mrs Barbara Sawyer is Anglican, and serves as treasurer. Mrs Annette Poitier serves as member ex-officio and advisor to the Committee. The four women live in New Providence. From the other Islands, we have Mrs Annamae Dorsette, member of Church of God, and WDP Vice President, from Andros Island. Our youngest member is our secretary Miss Tiffany Smith, from Grand Bahama. Rev Rubie Nottage, from New Providence is our theological consultant. When we need substitutes, we call upon Rev. Isolene Rolle, Baptist, and Mrs June Ferguson, from Community church.

It was a joy, a blessing, and an honour, to be the committee to welcome the outgoing Executive Director, Eileen King, and the newly appointed Executive Director, Rosângela Oliveira, to the first Writers Workshop in March, 2012 in preparation for 2015 WDP service.