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Taking a moment to play amid the upheaval in BVI

Road Town, Tortola, British Virgin Islands, 30 October 2017 – Children on Tortola love to play, like children everywhere. When I visited Road Town Old Recreational Park in the British Virgin Island’s capital several days ago, it was such a joy to see boys and girls running around, laughing and playing all sorts of games. One little girl marked herself out as leader, organising everyone, getting them to stand in a line - telling the boys to go to the back - so they could play choo choo train. They were just being children. It was great.

This was especially heartening as these particular children have been through such a lot lately after Hurricane Irma destroyed so much of the British Virgin Islands (BVI). The park where I met them holds a UNICEF-supported temporary learning space that has been set up for 3-8 year olds in the aftermath of the hurricane which damaged a number of schools. About 200 children are in this particular space and I visited around five similar temporary learning spaces in Road Town. They provide a safe environment where, perhaps for a moment, children can forget the disruption that surrounds them. We’re really happy that they are coming.

People are moving on

The fact that the children are getting on with things is typical of what I have seen here. People are rebuilding. They are moving on. The last time I came to BVI was in March this year and l am shocked at the amount of devastation wrought by the storm. The place is hard to recognise, totally different: it’s not the BVI I saw seven months ago. Nothing was spared: no buildings, no houses, no roads. And yet we saw people working so hard to set things right again, to build the learning spaces so the children can continue their education.

I noticed teachers coming out against all odds because they too have had their own personal recovery concerns to contend with. I remember meeting one of them, Ronelle, on the day before classes were due to start at Baugher’s Bay temporary learning space. And this teacher was patiently observing the installation of the tents, making sure that everything was just right for the students arriving the next day. She could have been at home dealing with her own issues but she chose to spend her time looking out for the children. I so admired that commitment. Now hundreds of children are attending classes in the four tents at Baugher’s.

Proud

I’m really proud that UNICEF has been able to help with this project and that we have been working well with new partners such as Team Rubicon, a group of military veterans that provide disaster relief and who have joined us in setting up the temporary learning spaces. We’ve also began collaborating with ADRA, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, which is installing water and sanitation facilities for the children attending.

Not all students have stayed in BVI, though. I have spoken to a number of parents who have taken the difficult decision to send their children away to school on neighbouring islands such as St Vincent. One very unfortunate family who have been living on BVI for years sent their children to Dominica after Irma struck on 6 September. No one could have foreseen that there would be another category 5 hurricane, Maria, in Dominica within such a short space of time. They have now returned to BVI. Schools are due to reopen here on 6 November and a lot needs to be done before that can happen……

Everyone needs support to recover from the trauma

There is no way that all of these experiences have not been traumatic, not only for children in all sorts of circumstances but also for their caregivers, teachers, nurses and doctors. To recover as a territory everyone will need psychosocial support. Younger children are getting this via the UNICEF-sponsored “Return to Happiness” programme which will help them to work through trauma using play, drama, songs, art and poetry. And Dr Virginia Rubaine, from the Ministry of Health, is doing a perfect job spearheading the roll out. I do recognise, though, that more will need to be done for affected adults.

It is clear, given what BVI has been through that the recovery is not going to be quick. A plan has been endorsed by the Cabinet and this will be implemented but the task ahead is monumental. The Premier Orlando Smith has said that the estimated cost of the recovery will be US $3.3 billion.

Wide-ranging role for UNICEF

UNICEF is playing a role not only with temporary learning spaces (with access to safe water) and returning children to happiness but also through awareness raising on health and hygiene issues. Health promotion is critical too because we are finding pools of stagnant water and there are problems with mosquitoes. We will be joining our partners in distributing mosquito nets to affected communities, targeting households with children.

So we are all pulling together to get the job done. And the people of BVI are taking the lead. Their resilience, their fortitude and their optimism never cease to amaze me.

Muriel Mafico is the Deputy Representative of UNICEF’s Eastern Caribbean Area Office.
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About UNICEF
UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone. For more information about UNICEF and its work for children visit www.unicef.org.

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For more information, please contact:
Patrick Knight, Communication Specialist, UNICEF Office for the Eastern Caribbean Area
Phone: 246 467-6162 pknight@unicef.org

 

 
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