The Cayman Islands is just weeks into a period of social and economic disruption that could last for years, according to the founder of a new non-profit organisation.
The Chamber of Commerce sponsored initiative, Resilience Cayman, handed out its first food vouchers last week.
But Jan Gupta, who is heading up the initiative, says this will just be the start of a long-term support programme.
She believes the impact of the COVID-19 crisis and the unravelling of the economy will be felt for some time to come.
“This is a multi-year cycle,” she said, citing statistics from the US showing 30 million people already out of work there.
“Our own local numbers are no less staggering, and so the impact is going to be felt for years,” she said.
The Chamber of Commerce has forecast that somewhere between 10,000 and 14,000 jobs could be gone by the end of the year. That equates to more than a third of the workforce becoming unemployed in the worst-case scenario.
In the three days following the launch of Resilience Cayman’s website, more than 5,000 people registered for its various programmes.
Those numbers have swollen since then and by last week, volunteers had received 5,500 applications for food support alone, and another 500 for its financial counselling programme.
Other initiatives in the pipeline include Farm Box, a web-based platform that will help link local food producers to consumers.
Hunger the first priority
The most immediate concern is hunger.
Resilience Cayman is providing support to The Wharf restaurant to help it produce the hot meals it provides to unemployed workers in the tourism sector.
The Wharf also provides meals in partnership with charity Acts of Random Kindness – one of the main community groups that is providing food support across the island.
Gupta said the aim of Resilience Cayman was to fill the gaps and support others that are already providing support, as well as providing direct support itself.
Its own food support programme involves a monthly $150 supermarket voucher, available on application through its website.
Anyone who applies is asked to fill out an online form with details of their household budget, their monthly expenses and information about how the COVID-19 crisis has impacted their salaries.
Gupta accepted that this process may be putting some people off.
“They might not have expected to be asked to provide so much information,” she said.
Of the 5,500 initial inquiries, just over 1,000 went through the application process. Of those, 614 were approved and 394 were declined, because the forms were incomplete.
She said volunteers were on hand to assist with the process where necessary.
But the information-gathering process is considered essential. It is not just about accountability to donors, Gupta said. Resilience Cayman is aiming to get a better grasp on the breadth of issues people are facing and tailor its programmes accordingly.
“We want to understand what is this person’s real needs – a $150 food voucher will be a drop in the bucket for some – so it is about understanding what other ways we can help,” she said.
That can mean linking them with other charities or with Resilience Cayman’s other programmes.
A ‘financial literacy’ programme, for example, links people with professionals who can assist with budgeting.
“In many cases, when we asked for the family finances, people didn’t know where the money was going,” Gupta said. “They didn’t know how much they were spending on food each month or on CUC.”
The programmes have also attracted a large response from potential volunteers, who are being interviewed like job candidates.
More than 200 people have applied to help, and Gupta said the idea was to get the right skill sets working in the right areas.
She said many of the volunteers were actually people who had also applied for help.
That illustrates, to her, a key point about this crisis – it is impacting working class and middle-class people who are not used to asking for charity.
“They take pride in supporting themselves and their families,” she said.
“In the case of work-permit holders, many of them are the heroes of their families – far away from home sending money back and supporting five or ten people. It is their first time asking for help and it is not in their DNA to be on their backs for too long.”
Built to last
Will Pineau, CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, said the partnership with Resilience Cayman was a way for the business sector to help workers who could no longer work.
It is providing support with logistics and facilitating corporate sponsorships and other donations.
He added, “Businesses don’t work in isolation; they work in a community and when there are struggles in a community, as a Chamber, we have to be responsive.
“Some businesses are really struggling in this crisis while others are faring okay, depending on the sector.
“We are one small community in Cayman and we need to work together.”
Pineau believes that, with the right level of support, Resilience Cayman can spin off into an independent entity that helps deal with social and economic problems in the longer term.
Gupta added that the organisation’s aim was to be sustainable so it could stay the course and support people for the duration of the economic crisis and beyond.
“We anticipate that hardship will get worse before it gets better,” she warned.
For more information, visit www.resilience.ky.