|A Journey to Grand Turk||| Print ||
|Friday, 03 April 2009 09:17|
On March 18th I took my first trip to Grand Turk.
Upon arriving in Grand Turk I was generously met by Linda Sweeny, Director of the Turks and Caicos Red Cross. I have had the pleasure to meet Linda on a few occasions and I am always in awe of her constant dedication to the people of Grand Turk. With all the work TCI Red Cross has with ongoing recovery and preparedness , her tone and inflection when speaking of the people in Grand Turk was what inspired me to take my own journey to see it for myself.
I knew from speaking to Linda that the conditions in Grand Turk were going to be somewhat difficult for a first time observer. After the hurricane there was so much in the air about relief, that it is easy to assume that everything was back to normal. In fact, in the tradition of the people of Turks and Caicos, life has gone on, but little resembled normal.
We began our trip in a residential area, driving off the main road in the middle of the island, through narrow passages between houses. If that sounds unusual, that is because from the impacts of the storm, the distinction in some places between street and yard have disappeared. In many cases, There are no true signs or indications of a clear path, simply a large plot of land where people have staked their claim and built a shelter for themselves and their families.
If you stand still for a moment in the storm impacted streets of Grand Turk, then, you feel what the storms must have been like. You mind wonders how such and such a piece of wreckage got to such a place. I could hardly say a word as I observed the destruction around me. Tents are still some peoples homes, rubble laying around of their former abodes. Some Shelterbox tents held up ok, but a lot remain ripped and torn. Many are covered in tarps, which Linda tells me the Red Cross continually provide when it rains. There are no floors in tents, so the rain runs straight through them, sometimes the floor being their bed.
Most houses in Grand Turk were built in a simple style with only sheet metal to hold out mother natures furry. Many of these houses survived many a storm or hurricane. Naturally these structures were not able to withstand the hurricane force winds of a twin storm cycle that started with Hanna and brought on Ike, and its terrible destructive force. Most of the houses – as would be the case almost anywhere - were destroyed.
I tried, but honestly, I could not have imagined what it must have been like on that dreadful day. We could not have known what it was like for the family that took refuge in a tub. Or the brave man that went out in the storm to secure a clanging gate, only to be found struck down, by his family who wanted inside for him. I asked Andrew – a young Turks and Caicos Islander and a Red Cross volunteer, who is the symbol for me, and should be for us all of being his brother’s keeper – I asked him about what he experienced on the evening Ike arrived.
“I was in my house and we were scared. The wind was howling and the roof kept jumping up and slamming down again. We were huddled up together and just praying it would pass. Then at one point the roof did not slam down again, but ripped off most of the house and we all ran into one bedroom and bathroom, which was all that had roof cover left. It was the longest night of my life.”
This story is a similar theme for most who survived that night, but the most inspiring part of his story was what he followed up with, “We were so lucky and we are so blessed, no one on our island died or really got hurt and we are so thankful for that.”
Did you hear that? Do you hear the power of humility and the strength of courage in those words. I do not mean to wax eloquent or overemotionalize what I am hearing. But at times, the extraordinary lives right next to us and we fail to acknowledge it. Andrew and the people who suffered here are extraordinary, not because they suffered. But because of how they responded and are responding, even when the rest of us may have moved on; understandably, but regrettably.
After a long silence in reaction to so stunning and astonishing a scene I asked Andrew how they are able to rebuild, what has he done to get his house back in order. He said that he and his brother are fortunate to have work and each week as they get paid they take what they can and buy supplies. They work on the weekends to rebuild with what they have and after 6 long months, they are almost finished.
If I could not myself imagine what the people had experienced or simply how they had survived in that dreadful night of Hurricane Ike, I could imagine less the 6 months that had since passed.
The Red Cross team has been on the ground in Grand Turk since the day Ike hit and their dedication to the people has never wavered.
They continue to provide relief items such as tarps, mosquito nets, , food and clothes, but the most important part of their work is the connection to their community. Linda has told me many times, “Red Cross is the organizations name but Red Cross means being there for our fellow human beings in a time of crisis. It is our aim to help and support, respect and comfort for as long as were needed. People need comfort, they need your time and they need to know someone cares. Just a smile and time to listen to your story, is the key here. Consistency in a time of crisis is what communities needs and we are trying to be that for Grand Turk.” I could not myself imagine what the people had experienced or simply how they had survived. Not only the dreadful night of Hurricane Ike, but the 6 months that had since passed.
Andrew shared with me experiences of some of the people they have been supporting since the hurricane passed. A lady, who was supported in the past by a government program to install bathrooms in peoples This bathroom is what remains of her house today and where she now resides. They happily advised, that even though its taken some time, she is now laying the foundation for her new
Another woman, Andrew tells me, is a double amputee, diabetetic and mother had half her home torn away by the wrath of Ike. She continues to live in the one room structure, along with her 16 year old son. There electricity supplied by a generator tied up to a tree outside her house.
These stories, and there are many more, are so inspiring. These people have lived through the most dreadful night of their lives. They lost everything they had and they have picked themselves up and started to rebuild. Using what supplies they have available or have been donated to them, they are patching together their homes, working to get out of the tents before the inevitable arrives.
Hurricane season is coming. Many people in Grand Turk worry that they will not get their houses back in order before the next storms arrive. Time is not on their side and as hurricane season approaches the situation for most is becoming extremely stressful and potentially critical. After the hurricane, there were a lot of resources donated and used for immediate relief.
Linda and Andrew also took me past the high school. The children there are also being “sheltered” in UNICEF tents. The majority of the classrooms were destroyed by Ike. Although they may seem reasonably sized from the outside, the tents are filled with desks and students up to 30 per tent. As the day heats up, they can get pretty hot and since the fence was blown down the animals often roam on the property leaving behind their waste and their unwelcome smell. But that does not stop them, these kids are our future and they have inspired me.
While sharing a moment with them, I saw a group of young people who were smiling, laughing and some love and people who believe in them, will not stop their growth. A teacher told me that the 1A & 1B groups who have been in tents the whole school year recently received the highest averages in the school.
Each morning these students and faculty come together and they are proud and thankful for their blessings each day. They point to the help from organizations such as Carnival Cruises who have donated new classroom trailers, which will be up and running in the next weeks and the National Health Insurance Board who has donated the time and materials to repair the torn down fence and lighting around the school.
After all the people of Grand Turk have endured, they remain positive, work hard and help each other. They are not waiting for help, they are working and trying to rebuild their lives. They are proud and resilient to a degree which is beyond admiration, simply “inspiring”.
I feel so grateful myself to have had this experience, to live one day in Grand Turk as a Red Cross volunteer does every day. To see the people, to hear their stories and see their unbelievable dedication to get on with their lives. It is an uphill battle each day and although they are doing what they can, they continue to need our support.
The people of Grand Turk do not need my sympathy or yours. Nor do they need my preaching to you about your responsibility to help. I wish only one thing that I think will move you as you need to be moved: I wish for everyone they have the opportunity to experience the beauty of Grand Turk, which one can simply say is its people.
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