October 2017

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They say that it is times of crisis that really test our mettle, show us our strengths and reveal our weaknesses. The region’s mettle has been severely tested by the forces of nature as hurricanes of unprecedented scale ripped their way through the islands.

The level of devastation has been unimaginable and the consequences can still not be truly assessed as the immediate task has been to salvage lives and to find some way to provide the basics of life: food, water, shelter, and so on.

For our brothers and sisters, our real neighbours, the horror and despair must be overwhelming. How do you find the wherewithal to reconstruct your life? How do you summon even tiny shreds of optimism when everywhere you look there is devastation? Where collapsed houses and useless vehicles languish alongside mud, fallen trees, debris, and the place you comfortably called home has erupted overnight into a wasteland? How do you go without potable water and electricity when you have no idea when it will be restored?

Everything has been turned upside down, and life has assumed the quality of a surreal and cruel nightmare. It is more than enough to sink one to the deepest level of hopelessness.

Crises test our mettle. For the most part, the people of the region have put up their hands and joined in the efforts to help their neighbours. We have seen an avalanche of relief efforts coming in all different forms from a wide range of sources. People are almost falling over each other to find ways to send money and supplies, to use social media to activate consciences and encourage others to rally around our region.

One of the problems might be uncoordinated efforts that could result in a surfeit of one kind of relief item, and not enough of another. That is why it is important that people pay attention to those on the ground who can identify the most urgent needs and provide some guidance as to the specifics of what would be necessary for clearing up, restoring power, and the grim task of rebuilding. Resources are scarce; we know this. The islands have already been facing shrunken economies and while an optimist will see an opportunity for building stronger infrastructure, no one can deny that this is something that can be achieved without significant support.

The UWI has been offering its technical support, and each campus has organized its own activities to raise funds and to collect supplies to send to the stricken islands of Dominica and Barbuda. While there have been several initiatives on small scales, there are also campus-driven ones, like the Disaster Relief Fund at St. Augustine. What has been striking is the way in which staff and students have become involved, how they have taken it upon themselves to link up with external groups who are more structurally organized to deal with relief efforts. They have been helping Dominican students at the campus, because they now have to do without family support and are anxious about the wellbeing of their relatives.

There is something about giving that is immensely gratifying to the spirit. This is how we reinforce our sense of belonging; because what goes further towards making you feel that you belong to something than being able to lend a hand towards sustaining and developing it? This is how we build resilience; because what can lift the spirit of the despondent soul more than knowing that there are people who care enough to drop what they are doing to come to your rescue? Does it not give them a sense of solace that they are not alone, that people who are strangers in one sense, regard them as family?

This is how we build community; a true West Indian community.

Vaneisa Baksh


Campus Principal: Professor Brian Copeland
Director of Marketing and Communications: Dr. Dawn-Marie De Four-Gill
Editor: Vaneisa Baksh (Email: vaneisa.baksh@sta.uwi.edu )

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