The Kalinago community in Dominica, which was ravaged by Hurricane Maria in September, came out in force on Sunday to welcome the UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres to a major distribution of much-needed supplies aimed at helping alleviate the devastating effects of the Category 5 hurricane.
In bright sunshine more than a hundred people converged on Jolly John Park in Salybia village on the east coast of the island and heard Gutteres, who arrived in a white helicopter, offering solidarity to Dominicans and praising their “courage, determination and resilience” in a speech which powerfully reinforced the need for developed countries to address climate change and “stop this threat” to countries like Dominica.
Villagers also came to collect a variety of items shared by UN agencies and donors which included emergency three-day food rations, solar lamps, hygiene kits, medical kits and advice about safe water.
UNICEF also provided a recreational activities area offering psychosocial support to children traumatised by their experience of the hurricane.
One of the activities was football and Keon Burgon, a 15-year-old boy who is an avid Barcelona fan had fun kicking the ball around with his friends in the UNICEF play area and thought the Secretary-General, was doing a good job, “Well done, keep it up!”
Keon is one of the many Kalinago people, around 90 per cent, whose homes were destroyed when Maria hit.
Everything has changed and he often feels nervous now. “I am worried about more hurricane’s coming.” He is not, however, about to join several of his friends who have left for neighbouring islands like Antigua. “I can’t leave Dominica. It’s my home and I love it.”
But all is not well. His biggest problem is that his school is being used as a shelter and is still shut. “I’m not happy my school is closed. Some people might think this is a good thing and say “Yes!” but I don’t. I need a good education.”
Several of the children at the event echoed the same sentiment. Lybird Darroux, a shy, tousle-haired nine year old who came to help his mother, Belma, with the distribution says he misses school work and his friends. “I’m feeling bored. I want to go back.”
Not only is Belma keen to get her son to return to class, she is also deeply worried about the fact that her four children are scattered among various relatives after they lost everything and that this is having a negative effect on her youngest son.
Indigenous community ‘lost everything’
Losing everything was a recurrent theme among the Kalinago at Jolly John Park. They are the indigenous people of the country, inhabiting the east of the island, and they are among Dominica’s poorest and most vulnerable.
Much of their housing structures were flimsy and simply collapsed in the face of 185 mile an hour winds. But despite their disadvantages a number of those at the event were quick to emphasise that their community is pulling together and that they will rebuild and regroup.
As the Kalinago Chief Charles Williams has it, “We are a resilient people. We will come through this.”