After Irma: How You Can Help the Caribbean
Shocked. Devastated. Stunned. Sad.
Like many of you, those are the emotions I feel when I see the heartbreaking images of the broad swath of Caribbean that’s been devastated by hurricane Irma.
I see beaches I have strolled on St. Maarten, their sands now strewn with cars, boats and pieces of buildings. In the out islands of the Bahamas, beaches where the waters were temporarily sucked clean away by the storm. Bars and restaurants, like The Pumphouse and Garvey’s Sunshine Shack on Anguilla, where I’ve sipped cocktails with island friends, now completely destroyed. I flinch at the sight of resorts such as the British Virgin Island’s Saba Rock, where I’ve been so warmly welcomed, now reduced to a shell of itself, the wood planks that make up its pier now floating in the sea like so many black piano keys. And then there are entire islands such as Barbuda, now so decimated that its been declared completely uninhabitable.
We are used to hurricanes in the Caribbean. But none of us could have anticipated or prepared for this.
But, in these days immediately following Irma, I’ve not only seen a tremendous outpouring of support from outside the Caribbean, I’ve also seen the Caribbean galvanize to help its own. I only have to scroll through my Facebook feed to see people conveying messages between concerned loved ones on and off-island, and to read the true-life stories of people who have already lost almost everything still gamely and selflessly trying to help others who already have. Now that the school in which a teacher friend of mine on Anguilla taught is destroyed, she’s offering parents tips on homeschooling until the island can cobble together another school house. Private citizens and local boat companies on St. Croix are ferrying supplies to and evacuees from the neighboring USVIs St. John and St. Thomas, which suffered much more damage.
So, to the list of emotions stirred up by Irma’s passage, I also add hope. Because I know that even though entire islands have been flattened, the Caribbean spirit is indomitable – even by 185mph winds and angry storm surges. I guarantee you that even now, there are islanders putting on a brave face and raising a tepid beer, toasting to the miracle that they survived, albeit with little more than the clothes on their backs.
Make no mistake: Recovery will be hard. And it will take longer and cost much more than we think. But it WILL happen. And I hope that if you’ve ever marveled at the beauty of a Caribbean sunrise, stood transfixed by the soothing rhythm of a Caribbean seascape, or been on the receiving end of legendary Caribbean hospitality, you will help it happen by donating generously to relief efforts. I’ve included the details below for the region’s largest tourism entities, both of whom have set up fundraising accounts. And you can find more suggestions on my BVI-based friend Chrisann Nickel’s blog, Women Who Live on Rocks, here.
As travelers, the Caribbean has always been there for us when we’ve needed respite and renewal. Now its time to return the favor.
Caribbean Hurricane Tourism Recovery Fund A partnership between the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association and Tourism Cares, the fund will focus on “the physical restoration of damaged attractions and cultural tourism non-profits, including historical monuments, beaches or open spaces and visitor centers,” as well as “skills training, professional development and education-related initiatives.” Donations made be made online at www.tourismcares.org/caribbean or by check, payable to Caribbean Hurricane Tourism Recovery Fund, c/o Tourism Cares, 20 Vernon Street, Norwood, MA 02062, USA
Caribbean Tourism Organization Relief Fund The Caribbean Tourism Organization, the region’s tourism development agency, has activated a GoFundMe campaign to help families and countries rebuild. Money raised goes directly to affected CTO member destinations. Visit www.gofundme.com/hurricane-relief-fund-cto to donate.