Cayman Red Cross director returns from storm-torn BVI

BVI Governor Gus Jaspert and Cayman Islands Red Cross Director Jondo Obi. - Photo: Cayman Islands Red Cross

The Cayman Islands Red Cross has raised US$329,000 to help Caribbean jurisdictions hurt by last September’s hurricanes, with half the funds coming from one anonymous donor, the organization announced last week.

The Cayman Islands Red Cross also stated that its director, Jondo Obi, spent a month in the British Virgin Islands, from mid-January to mid-February.

Ms. Obi was tasked with providing support to the BVI Red Cross as it transitions from the emergency phases to the recovery phase of the operations, the Cayman Islands Red Cross stated. During her time in BVI, Ms. Obi trained newly hired staff and volunteers, and facilitated workshops with the BVI Red Cross board of directors, first responders, nurses and community emergency response teams. These workshops included Disaster Management 101, shelter management, and stress management in disasters.

“My aim was to help get the [BVI] branch started in moving back into day-to-day operations,” Ms. Obi said in a press release. “Being on ‘emergency mode’ is extremely draining for everyone.”

She said that the devastation in the BVI some six months after Hurricane Irma is far greater than Cayman’s situation six months after Hurricane Ivan struck in 2004.

“Unlike with Hurricane Ivan, where Cayman was able to rebound fairly quickly by comparison, the devastation in the BVI is so widespread that the return to normalcy is still far in the future,” she said.

Ms. Obi explained that BVI students are still going to school in shifts, as the local high school has not yet been repaired.

“This has created a major issue not only for the students and the school, but also for the parents who have nowhere to leave their children when going to work or working on getting their homes back in working order,” she said.

To mitigate that problem, the BVI Red Cross created a space where students could stay with volunteers when not in school. “Having kids roam the streets is a major safeguarding issue in a number of ways,” Ms. Obi said, “and having a space where they can come to and be of service to their community is as important for their physical safety as it is for their mental health.”

The BVI Red Cross is working with the British Red Cross Society on preparations for the 2018 hurricane season. Efforts include fixing the BVI Red Cross headquarters roof, procuring response vehicles, pre-positioning relief supplies on all the islands, scaling up training of volunteers and mobilizing other community partners, such as the Rotary Club.

Ms. Obi said Cayman also needs to improve its own hurricane preparedness, as Irma and Maria were unlike anything this territory has ever experienced.

“Having gone through Ivan, I can honestly say that we have not in fact experienced anything like Irma and Maria, and it is in that spirit of humility and deference that we need to approach our own national response plans, which need to be revised, rethought and scaled up,” she said.