It was September 18, 2017 and I, like countless others, was watching and listening to the weather news with bated breath. Everyone was focused on Maria – the latest hurricane at the time on its way to the Eastern Caribbean. This one was different though; Maria had been a Tropical Storm just three days prior. Within 24 hours, Maria had turned from a Category 1 hurricane with winds of 85 mph (140 km/h) to a Category 5 hurricane packing winds of 165 mph (270 km/h).
I stayed glued to my phone that night communicating with one of my cousins to get a sense of how bad things really were. As a fireman/medic he was stationed at work while his wife and kids were at a neighbour’s house. The roof of the station was partially gone and he was drenched with rain. From his vantage point he could see the devastation of the capital Roseau which he described had been turned into a river. Communication ended within a few hours and there was a deafening silence which followed. No one could hear from their loved ones; there was panic on social media for any type of news update and a desperate hope that Dominicans had survived this monster.
In the days that followed, news surfaced with images of utter devastation. The nature isle of the Caribbean had lost its green beauty. In the words of one CNN crew member who flew over Dominica in the aftermath of the hurricane, “Nearly every tree was touched – thousands snapped and strewn across the landscape – and the island was stripped of vegetation. The rainforests appear to have vanished.” Some estimates put the total damages and losses associated with Hurricane Maria to be in excess of US $1.3 billion.
In my own personal visits to Dominica some 3 months and then 6 months later, it was clear that the country was still struggling to recover. It was even more evident that it would take years before ‘normal life’ would return to the country. Tarpaulin now covered roofs, trees were bare, save a few leaves here and there, power lines were lying on the ground in some areas and electricity was still a luxury to a few.
Shortly after the hurricane, many concerned Caribbean and international citizens mobilized into action to ‘do good.’ Throughout Barbados there were efforts coordinated by the Coast Guard and through NGOs and churches who took the lead in facilitating relief efforts. One such organisation was the United Caribbean Trust which shipped tons of supplies to Dominica after coordinating a national drive. While the relief efforts were critical for survival, I think we would all agree that there is a need for long term sustainable development projects that would stimulate growth in Dominica.
Dominica is special to me. It’s the place where my parents met, fell in love and got married before being forced to relocate to Barbados in 1979, after Hurricane David devastated the country. My mother who is Kalinago (Carib) Indian has a large family remaining in Dominica whom I visited often as a young child. Those early visits sparked an interest in things related to poverty and international development (though I had no clue what that was until years later).
Almost 10 years ago, the 2009 Dominica Country Poverty Assessment specified that roughly half (49.8%) of the Kalinago community was considered poor. I wonder what the poverty rates across Dominica would look like now if such an assessment were carried out today. In my humble opinion, there is an urgent need for economic development projects that empower people to create sustainable livelihood opportunities. This is needed not just within the Kalinago Territory, but in the wider country because of the economic undoing of Hurricane Maria. In a future post, I will share the vision of a project that has the potential to ‘do good’ to some of the most vulnerable groups within the country.
On the eve of the first year anniversary that marks Hurricane Maria’s unwelcomed visit to the Caribbean, I would like to challenge you to reflect on what role you can begin to or continue to play in the rebuilding efforts. Too often we respond solely to initial relief efforts and then we move on; perhaps because the media no longer draws attention to the prevailing issue or perhaps we think that we have already done our part. Galatians 6:9 encourages us to not grow weary in well doing. There is a reason that is recorded…because we as humans are prone to get weary. We each have our own ‘stuff’ dealing with which causes us to become insular in our focus. Pushing against the tendency to take care of our own needs is very real.
So, as the media no doubt will shortly bring back to our attention, that fateful September 18th date, take a few moments to consider how you can ‘do good’ to the rebuilding efforts of a country that is still trying to get back on its feet.