The importance of staying in tune with the global community
This May, I had the privilege of visiting Dominica, an independent country on an island in the Caribbean between Martinique and Guadeloupe; not to be confused with the Dominican Republic. I went with Dora, the woman who has taken care of me since I was a baby, and her daughter, Kimberly. Dora is from Dominica and immigrated to Canada as an adult and this was my first time seeing where she grew up.
I had always seen pictures of Dominica, but it was much more beautiful than I ever imagined. The houses were bright and colourful, and flowerpots made from old repurposed, painted tires lined the residential streets. Nearly every inch of the island was covered by rainforest and around nearly every corner of the windy and hilly roads, you got a glimpse of the ocean. We spent our days touring waterfalls and hot springs, and a small handful of the country’s 365 rivers (one for every day of the year, as one tour guide told us). We saw a variety of wildlife including many lizards and bats, some of which entered the house, much to Dora and Kimberly’s displeasure.
But even more amazing were the people I met. They immediately accepted me as family even though I was a complete stranger to them. They opened their homes to me, provided me meals, and gave up their days to give us tours of the island. In every town we visited, people would stop us on the street because they recognized Dora. The citizen’s sense of community and pride in their country is unlike anywhere else. In fact, we went to Dominica for Dora’s annual village reunion.
On September 17, Dominica was hit by category five Hurricane Maria, after experiencing minor damage from Hurricane Irma. The storm devastated the country, killing twenty-seven people and leaving ninety-five percent of homes without roofs. Even Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit was temporarily homeless. One hundred percent of the agricultural industry was wiped out as well as most of the tourist industry, and the airport was severely damaged. Almost every single tree on an island once full of trees is now gone. For several days, the roads could not be driven on, leaving villages without food. The island’s communication was cut off, leaving family members abroad and throughout the island unsure of whether their love ones were safe.
But despite the devastation the hurricane caused, the media has largely neglected their effects on Dominica. Celebrities have been raising awareness about the impacts in Mexico and Puerto Rico, but have forgotten the smaller countries, including Dominica. Beyoncé posted a status on Facebook saying “Good Bless Mexico and Puerto Rico” and Pitbull, Jennifer Lopez, and Kim Kardashian all donated funds to Puerto Rico’s relief efforts and encouraged their fans to also donate to Puerto Rico. While it is important to help the people in Mexico and Puerto Rico, the attention the media has given them has overshadowed the need for relief in smaller, lesser-known countries.
Perhaps the reason for the media’s lack of attention to Dominica is because Canada and the US have no specific political or economic ties with the country. Perhaps the lack of attention is due to the fact that the country has a population of only 72,000 (less than one-tenth the size of Nova Scotia). Or perhaps the reason for it is that many people are simply unaware that Dominica exists. But these factors do not mean that the people living in Dominica are any less important or that their suffering should go unacknowledged.
Dominica has been active in rebuilding their country. Their first focus was to clear the roads so that emergency crews could search for people trapped under rubble and provide medical assistance. Dominica has also had help from the international community, in particular the British Royal Navy, Canada, and the US. Helicopters are airdropping food to communities who are still cut off, and custom charges on relief items were waived. However, one of Dominica’s strongest assets to their hurricane rebuilding is not a result of any government policy, it is their incredibly strong sense of community. People are looking out for others and their communities and making sure that people have the right information to rebuild homes and get their insurance payments. The migrant community has organized several relief events including a Caribbean Hurricane Relief Action Weekend in Ontario.
Despite Dominica’s rebuilding efforts, the road to recovery will be a long one, and they could significantly benefit from the help of the international community. However, the media’s focus on the hurricane has been limited to the larger, more popular countries, disregarding Dominica and smaller Caribbean countries in similar situations. In participating and preparing relief efforts we should include all the countries affected by the hurricane, not just a few. Dominicans are hard working, caring, and resilient people so with the help of the international community they will be able to restore the beauty of their country.