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A strong sense of community helps the Kalinago in Dominica look to the future

 By Joan Tull

DOMINICA – 20 October 2017 - “As Kalinago people we are very resilient and we are very determined. Within a short period of time we will be back to our normal routine,” says Casius Darroux, Minister for Kalinago Affairs in Dominica. 

His people, the original inhabitants of the country who are also known as Caribs, will need every ounce of that resilience and determination after the tranquillity and beauty of their eastern territory was rudely shattered one dark night in September with the coming of Hurricane Maria. 

The 3,000 or so Kalinagos in their 3,700 acres of land already faced poverty and deprivation, being considered one of the most vulnerable communities in Dominica. Their task of rebuilding is a huge one. But they feel up to it.  

                         

Ruins amid the beauty. More than 90 per cent of homes in the Kalinago Territory were destroyed or damaged when Maria struck. Many, many trees were blown down or stripped of their leaves: the hills in the distance would normally be bathed in greenery.  

    

Nadia Delaclemendiere, mother of 18-month-old Chayanne, and 9-year-old Michael, is trying hard to get things back together for herself and her family. She is especially upset as she had just finished her new home four months ago.  It had taken her three years to build it but the uninsured house lost its roof.

 “I feel so sad because I know it’s a lot of work. It took a lot of time before I built my home. It was a struggle and cost me a lot of money,” she said. Now she has to start again.  

  

The calm after the storm: playing chess to stave off boredom. Tikenti Auguiste, 21, Usher Williams, 14, and Jerry Auguiste (14, and an award-winning computer whizz!) 

Tikenti, a primary school teacher, is lucky to be alive. He was medically evacuated to the Dominican Republic with a suspected skull fracture after he was buried by a wall during the hurricane. He had been trying to reach safety at his cousin’s home which became an impromptu shelter as one of the few houses in the vicinity with a concrete roof. 

Despite his ordeal he is hopeful and optimistic. “Off course I feel lucky, I could have died. I have to be thankful for life….I feel like it’s a time of opportunity right now to really rebuild and start over….and that’s bringing our whole community together.” 

Ethan Benjamin, 16, is worried. “I miss school. It’s my last year and CXC take no excuses. I don’t think I’ll be able to pass. I was on track to pass before. I feel very shaken up. I lost my clothes and my school books.”

There was something of a silver lining, though. Ethan is a keen cricketer and is in the Dominica youth team with a batting average “in the 50s”. He managed to save his cricket gear as his bag was waterproof. And he sees the sport playing a big role in his life. “I’m a cricketer and I’d like to go further in cricket. I see a bright future.  I want to be like my brother, Gian, who plays for the University of the West Indies. I will go far.”                  

Louis Patrick Hill - or “Niechiabu”, which means “bold and brave” in Kalinago - sits amid the rubble of one of the cottages that made up his hotel, the Aywasi Kalinago Retreat.    It had been in operation for a year and was one of the few local enterprises.

“It’s sad and disappointing. It is a project that was envisioned and developed to target the severe economic deprivation of the Kalinago people …Dominica is a poor country and the Kalinago Territory is the poorest segment of Dominica. So the project was - and still is - a dream that was meant to address some of the social issues that face our community.”

But, despite these massive setbacks, the community is pulling together and looking forward. As the Kalinago Chief Charles Williams has it: “We will survive Maria.”       

 

Working with partners, UNICEF is also assisting in the recovery across Dominica, including the Kalinago Territory, with water distribution, addressing sanitation issues, providing hygiene kits, tents, tarpaulins and schools-in-a-box. The UN agency is also supporting the return to school, psychosocial assistance for traumatised children and creating safe spaces for them.   

 

 
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