This is who we are helping:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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