When visitors walk through the door of the quaint pink and white wooden National Trust Vistors Centre on Little Cayman, they are greeted by Debbi Truchan.
Sometimes she is bent over a table working on an intricate piece of seashell jewellery. At other times, she is in the kitchen putting her home-made ice-cream in the fridge or is laying out the unique displays of local heritage items around the airy space of the exhibition area of the Trust centre.
As well as being chairperson of the Little Cayman Distict National Trust, she is the curator of the National Trust Visitors Centre, which is a cross between a museum, an information centre and an art gallery.
Originally from Alberta, Canada, Truchan and her husband Bob settled in Little Cayman after a simple, but rare-outside-Little Cayman, experience charmed her so much, she immediately decided she wanted to live there.
At the time, she was working on Grand Cayman but was on her way to Cayman Brac for Pirates Week to do balloon bending and twisting with children. “We stopped in Little Cayman. The plane stopped for a car to go across the road and I just thought this was somewhere we really wanted to live,” says Truchan.
The Truchans left Canada to move to the Cayman Islands when they were looking for a change in their lives.
“I am a member of the Baha’i faith. That is why I am here… that was the impetus that brought me here,” she says, adding that Baha’ian pioneers work within communities to help social and economic development.
Another impetus for the move was that their children had grown up – all 40 of them.
The couple had raised 40 children through foster care over the years, explains Truchan, but as her biological and her fostered children grew up, she and husband felt it was also time for them to move on.
“We believe strongly in the family,” says Truchan. At any one time in their home, they had seven children growing up. Some were babies, some older. Some were from troubled homes, others were tiny babies addicted to crack. The Truchans welcomed them all.
The first child they fostered was a neighbour’s daughter. The little girl was seven when she started staying at the Truchans’ home as her mother was unable to look after her. The child had cystic fibrosis, says Truchan, and she died when she was 15. She had stayed with the Truchans for six months when they decided to “make it official” and foster her, says Truchan.
“She spent the last year of her life in hospital surrounded by her family and us. Everyone loved her… Her main goal was to unite her family and she succeeded because they all came together through her death. She did it. She reached her goal. She had her family with her,” says Truchan as she tearfully recalled that first foster child.
“I have to say the most exciting thing about being a foster parent is the firsts. You get to be there for a person’s first time in a car, the first time a person’s been on holiday or stayed in a hotel. You’re the first one to give them spending money. You get to be the first to take them on a gondola ride up a mountain, the first to make sure Santa comes,” she says.
But one also learns to be humble as a foster parent of many children, she admits. “You don’t ever have all the answers,” she says.
When the Truchans decided to move away, Bob was left with the decision of where they should go – with just a couple of stipulations from his wife. “All I told him was I wanted somewhere warm and English speaking,” she says.
“The next week, we saw an ad in Edmonton Journal asking “Do you want to live in paradise?” Within three weeks, we were here,” she says.
She began working at the Marine Institute in Grand Cayman, a home for children from dysfunctional families, or child victims of abuse or with other problems. “I helped develop the curriculum there and worked on a programme called Virtues. I also worked in after-school programmes. It was extremely rewarding work and saw great success. I’m still in touch with a lot of the students,” she says.
Once they moved to Little Cayman, Truchan, who is also a chef, worked in some of the local resorts before taking up her position at the National Trust where she volunteers six days a week.
She’s still an avid cook and won two first places at this year’s Little Cayman Cook-Off in June.
She has been chairperson of the Little Cayman District National Trust for the past four years.
In the last year, Truchan has undergone a transformation, slimming down and becoming healthier and fitter.
She says that as she neared her 60th birthday, she had begun thinking more about her health. “I thought I really need to take care of myself and be more active. I do art at the school. I do an art programme and film programme for the National Gallery twice a month here… If I wanted to continue to do all these things and continue being an example in the community, I needed to start looking after myself.
“I have lots of children and grandchildren and I want us to be there for them. I guess maybe getting close to 60 was part of it. I also feel really really strongly in the balance of life. I think sometimes we need to take time to be selfish in the way of looking after ourselves so I can still give more of my whole life which is geared towards service and service to my community,” says Truchan.
She continues to love living in Little Cayman, where she embraces the nature and the spirituality of the place.
Truchan also encourages visitors to appreciate the nature around them when they come to the island and she runs an eco-art class, sponsored by the Cayman Islands National Gallery, once a month at the Trust house. At these classes, between 4pm and 6pm on the first Thursday of every month, visitors turn shells, stones, sea glass and driftwood into jewellery or craftwork and when they’re done, they can get a taste of Little Cayman by trying Truchan’s ice-cream. She makes this from local ingredients and fruits, such as coconut, keylime and mango.
The eco-art sessions are free but a donation for the supplies used is suggested. Visitors can also make an appointment with Truchan to arrange a time to come by and work with her on eco-art pieces.
“With a bit of creativity, you can work with the natural elements you find all around. You cannot help but be spiritual here,” she says.
She adds: “There is such awesome beauty on Little Cayman, from the spirit of the people to the sea to the land to the air.”
“We stopped in Little Cayman. The plane stopped for a car to go across the road and I thought we really wanted to live here.” Debbi Truchan