Building a School in Dominica

This is who we are helping:

Smiling second graders. These kids are great. Notice…cramped conditions…no electricity. Still.

Through a small window of a medium sized turbo prop passenger plane, the island already** appeared to be as wild as advertised. We flew by a rugged landscape, matted lush green, and punctuated by sharp volcanic peaks, some still warm with activity and fairly represented by Morne Diablotins at 4747ft (1447m), the second tallest peak in the Lesser Antilles.

The plane made a sharp bank inland, cutting through a notch in the land like we were trying to evade radar. Down below, winding roads guided rows of houses up the hillsides, seeking vantage point by which to view their paradise. Given the low altitude with which we were flying, it wasn’t hard to see why volunteers and NGOs have been coming to this island. Similar to what we saw in Puerto Rico, hurricane Maria had left its telltale signs of partially covered or entirely bare rafters, debris littered landscape, and empty, topless & gutted houses. The only thing noticeably absent were the FEMA blue tarps, the products of a USA federal relief agency that didn’t make it to this poor corner of the world.

The mountains parted and a single runway lay waiting for us, too small for a larger passenger jet, but perfect for what we were flying in. With the Atlantic opening up before us, we made a graceful touchdown.

Welcome to Dominica.

Landing at Marigot, Dominica
**“Already” because I was caught up in a good book and missed the distant introduction to the book.
Tarmack in Marigot, Dominica.
Look at that that beautiful entryway for our landing. I got scolded for going out onto the taxiway to take these pictures. We were the only plane at the airport.

You are reading about Dominica because the people of this small Caribbean island nation need your help. I’ve been here for only 4 days as a volunteer with All Hands And Hearts and I can tell you absolutely that these folks are struggling. There is still no electricity in many parts of the island and resources are not plentiful.

An example of some of the house damage that is still common here in Dominica. I am on the north side of the island. I’ve been told that the damage on the south side of the island is much worse.
The Atlantic side of the island was hit pretty hard. Only 24 hours earlier, hurricane Maria had been a category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph. Surprise: 165 mph.
Curvy, windy road. Mountains in the background. I’m going to go out on a limb and say many of the other trees were blown down in the storm…how did this guy survive? (hahaha tree joke, if you didn’t catch that…)

I’m going to tell you about Paul. Paul was my taxi driver from the airport on the eastern side to the AHAH base in Paix Bouche on the northern tip of the island. On the one hour ride, I learned a lot. I learned that through being part of the British Commonwealth, they drive on the “wrong” side of the road. I learned that their roads are in much better condition than those of Puerto Rico. I learned that, nevertheless, on these ridiculously hilly and windy roads (which were even scarier than those in PR), the maximum speed of any vehicle was going to be 40kph, though typically staying in the 20-30 kph range and that they didn’t need road signs to make sure this happened.

A one lane bridge…what is this, Pawtucket?
Hilly, windy road. Who can see the cow in the trees?
Hilly, windy road.
No one knows what’s around the corner, so we beep the horn a few times and hope for the best.
Notice the downed power lines on the left and the lone good pole on the right. Freshly put in, electricity is coming!

I also learned that Paul had a large family. He told me about his grown children and currently 11 grandchildren, all of which live close by in a small fishing village. In fact, Paul used to fish; tuna and red snapper as I recall. He highly recommended any fish bought in Dominica as it could only be of the exceptionally fresh variety.

I asked Paul about his experience with the hurricane, to which he responded with the predictable, “very, very bad.” He wouldn’t talk about what happened to his house. I didn’t want to press him on it, his only response was, “Don’t worry about my house,” though he did make a comment about still waiting for certain undisclosed repairs to be made. But what he did talk about was what happened to his brother. He told me about how his brother had a house on the water. And he told me about how high the water was when hurricane Maria came to their island. Paul’s brother’s house was swept out to sea, taking with it its inhabitants, Paul’s brother and Paul’s brother’s wife. I was of course astounded. I asked how they were and he responded by telling me that his brother was staying with family. I was relieved, clarifying that his brother and his wife had survived and were now staying with family. “No no,” he responded with a stony face, “my brother is staying with family. He had been able to swim to safety. His wife was swept out to sea. She is gone.” Likely, Paul’s brother’s wife was not listed in the official death toll. As no body would be found, she is officially “missing”. This was my real introduction to Dominica.

On 17 September, Maria has just achieved category 1 status with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph (138 kph). Only 24 hours later, Maria would explode into a category 5 hurricane packing maximum sustained winds of 165 mph (265 kph). The superstorm quickly covered the last 15 miles separating it from Dominica, making a direct hit on the island, knocking out 100% of the island’s power and communications, destroying 100% of the island’s agriculture, and compromising upwards of 98% of the houses.

If a hurricane can impact the USA mainland and cause so much damage as it did in Texas, Louisiana, and Florida, I don’t know what else we can expect from areas so economically challenged as Puerto Rico and Dominica.

I’m not trying to say that Dominica is unique in its struggles trying to recover from such a powerful storm. Lord knows there were so many islands and mainlands hit hard by this storm or another like it or another event, representative of the word disaster, and no less forgiving. People suffer in many parts of the world for many reasons.

What I am trying to say is that I live in New Hampshire, USA. And my home hasn’t been hit by a hurricane that rates above a category 5. We’ve had some bumps in the road—ice storms, blizzards, and the rare tornado. And there is recovery required. But nothing that makes it difficult to shop at Home Depot, closes 50% of the businesses for 6+ months, leaves so many without electricity for 7+ months, and devastates nearly 100% of the agriculture (which doesn’t just grow back the next year.)

Over the next few posts, I’m going to take you into the Dominica community and bring you progress of the reason why All Hands And Hearts is working so hard to establish a presence on this island: the construction of a new elementary school in Paix Bouche.

Paix Bouche Government Elementary school. This is after one week of demolition work.
I can find and post pictures of what the school looked like after the storm. It hasn’t been in use since. Today, we just started laying brickwork on the second floor!

The old elementary school of Paix Bouche was hit hard by hurricane Maria. Serving as an essential place of education for 260 children of Paix Bouche and four other surrounding communities, as well as a community emergency shelter, the school wasn’t prepared and was left with shattered windows, half its roof, rain-damaged facilities, and useless equipment.

New project: completely gut the Paix Bouche elementary school. Upgrade the existing foundation and structure that is earthquake resistant, and cap with a roof rated for hurricane force winds of 190 mph. Our job is to see this $60,000 project through. There is more work to be done. Donations to my All Hands and Hearts Dominica page will go directly to helping this NGO complete the Paix Bouche elementary school as well as establish a second rebuilding project somewhere on this island. An enormous upwelling of support allowed All Hands And Hearts to come to Puerto Rico with a single base and, only a couple of months later, expand to two, and then three, bases (Barranquitas, Tora Bora, Yabacoa.) They are changing lives one cleaned out house, one mold sanitized home, one roofed & dry house at a time.


“Temporary” classroom space, courtesy of UNICEF.
Paix Bouche Elementary replacement location
This is where the children of Paix Bouche currently go to school. Only the front part of this building is in use, thanks to windows that let in just enough light to conduct class.

So many in my community and beyond have reached out with generosity, offering a helping hand to those less fortunate. Whether it is through donating your time locally or far away, donating a portion of your earnings to a special cause locally or far away, you’ve really opened your hearts to others you many never meet, but who are enormously grateful for your gifts. For anyone who feels moved to do so, please consider giving to others as many times as you feel able to do so, in whatever way you can. Through these next sets of posts, I’ll bring you closer to the reason why I’m here in Dominica, and I’ll provide a link if you feel that donating to this project is something you want to do. If it isn’t this project, I hope you will consider another community in need of your support.

We’re all in it together.

Donate to the All Hands All Hearts Dominica Recovery



Loss and Coming Together

Puerto Rico.

There’s a lot of loss down here. A lot of people just making do and trying to get through another day. I’m going to share a few experiences.

Here in Barranquitas–I didn’t know this until yesterday when I was talking with one of the drivers–the eye of the storm passed through here. That’s right, Maria’s 155 mph winds drove across one of the highest municipalities in Puerto Rico. There are impacts we don’t think about, such as the destruction of their plantain (banana) crops. And I know rain is freshwater, but I heard from one person that the rain was partly salty water. That would be just awful for the land. Either way, Puerto Rico lost 80% of the economic value of its crops.

I’d like to share the totality of destruction that has occurred for some people. If you drive around a little bit in Barranquitas, you can’t get too far without seeing something like this:

The picture speaks for itself. Many months later there are many roads and bridges that remain washed out, traffic detoured through all sorts of secondary routes and thin, windy, highland passways. It makes for a lot of traffic and dangerous driving throughout the island. I can go into more detail on the state of driving in a later post.

Something that isn’t immediately obvious from this set of pictures: this isn’t just a washed out road. Yeah. Someone’s house was washed out and gone. Like, gone gone. Wherever it was–either under the landslide or down the washout–it wasn’t here. So, that’s a family with no home and nowhere to rebuild.

Here’s another site.

You can see here in the first photo there’s been a bit of a land slide. Yellow house still standing. Closer inspection (second picture) reveals the victim: a second house that wasn’t so lucky.

The locals explain to me that a big part of the problem is that they’ve never seen so much rainfall. Even by hurricane standards, Maria dropped much more rainfall than Puerto Rico typically gets. And now, six months later, I guess they’re supposed to be in some kind of dry season and each day is partly cloudy with periods of rain. They don’t know where all the water is coming from.

I’ve got one more story that was shared in the after-work meeting this evening. It’s a story about a woman with a home that was hit bad by the storm. She applied for assistance from All Hands and Hearts and was declined because we can’t rebuild the structural part of roofs. We just put on metal roofing on an already existing structure. She is currently living with family and she has terminal cancer and on top of that she’s had two family members commit suicide since the disaster. Just a terrible story; I was thinking, “are you kidding me?” Nope. And no one knows where government aid is. (I know the USA sent aid, but it’s got a lot of gaps and if people got angry about that with their politicians, maybe something would change. But as we all know, Congress…yeah, is busy being Congress.) I’m sorry, no one should be left on the side of the road like that.

So, total turn-around story: this woman’s neighbors got together and build her the structural frame of a roof and now we’re able to accept her into the program and put a new roof on her house. Probably, she’ll need a cleanout and mold decontamination, but it’s great that were’ able to (finally) help this woman–someone obviously so deserving.

I think it says so much about how much these folks are struggling, how much they are fighting, and it’s great to see them come together to help a neighbor in need. There is already so much loss. Together is better.

For those of you who have already donated at my fundraising page, thank you so much. I appreciate it, and I can tell you with each smiling homeowner how greatful the recipients of your charity are. One uplifted life at a time!


Why Puerto Rico

There has been a lot about Puerto Rico that has been shared in various news outlets. The impact of getting slammed by two category five hurricanes has been well documented. Unfortunately, it is really easy to continue on with life and there is no shortage of new headlines in the news to help us move on.

But the folks of Puerto Rico have not moved on.

My first views of Puerto Rico flying into San Juan drove home this reality.

As you can see in the upper-right picture, San Juan city-central is looking pretty nice. If you take a look at the outskirts of the city, you can see how wide-spread the problems still are. See all those houses with blue tarps? “FEMA-not for resale”

Those are houses with a partial roof or no roof at all. They were given a blue tarp and presumably put on a waiting list except that this is 5 months later. All Hands and Hearts goes to these people with the offer of installing a new metal (CGI) roof. We also provide an option for total house rehabilitation when necessary. This means clearing out all the ruined goods in the home, clearing out the mud and flood debris (some homes were flooded under 10+ feet of water), gutting the home down to the studs, and treating for mold contamination before completely rebuilding the home.

This is why we need donations and volunteer manpower.

Tough fact: 5 months after Maria, 86% of the island has power “restored”. And by restored, I mean that electricity is running most of the time. There are frequent brownouts, even in San Juan.

I’m working in a mountainous, rather rural section in the middle of Puerto Rico called Barranquitas. I can’t get you a google map of the place because my snip tool isn’t working and I’m not computer savvy enough to figure it out. Yeah.


Here’s a look at what I’ve been doing in my first day. The main picture there is the roof we finished on Monday. Super pro, right? The key word here is “dry”. This woman and her boyfriend have been able to move back into their home finally!

In the smaller pictures, I got a wider look at the neighborhood (a fairly nice neighborhood, compared to much of the island in the rural parts. You can see in that lower-right picture a portion of someone’s rather disheveled roof is laying on the ground, not being very useful. This is a rather common sight here in the middle of the island.

Okay, it’s late already. I’ll post more tomorrow. My hope is that each day you will get a more complete picture of what is going on here in Puerto Rico and why we need to keep some of our efforts and resources going towards helping to get the folks of Puerto Rico on their feet again.

At the end of every post I will repeat my hope that each of you takes the time to give of yourself to someone or some creature less fortunate than you. Please take the time to find an outlet that resonates with you that you can devote a portion of your time and resources to that someone might be lifted up just a bit more.

Please pass the good word!

Someone is grateful for your consideration!

Donate to the Puerto Rico reconstruction through All Hands and Hearts.


There is a lot of inequity in this world. From the severe income inequality that exists in any particular country to a young child being left behind in school because s/he is already behind, we routinely leave behind those who can not keep up. We treat this world as a race and we can’t be too distracted for fear of falling behind. And there’s a lot to keep up with. We all want the best of everything life has to offer.

I know, no one said this world was going to be fair.

If I look ahead, I can see all the people I’m chasing. And this makes me anxious. But if I look behind me…

If I take the time to look behind me, there are a lot of wonderful, hard-working people being left behind. And I don’t know what it is, but I care about these total strangers and I want to reach out a hand.

I’ve been in conflict with my own existence for a while. Whether I feel like I’m working my butt off just to keep my head above water for another month or double timing it to save a little extra, it just seems like my problems weren’t as big of a deal as what other people seemed to be going through.

The world is smaller than it often seems and whether we accept it or not, we have an opportunity to be a helping hand to others (animals and humans) we share this existence with.

It doesn’t matter if it involves additional risk, personal or financial sacrifice. I’m only one person. I can’t help everyone. But I can help someone. And I hope each of us will find it in ourselves to do the same.

Please be that helping hand for someone.