Jamaica

Jamaica Red Cross helps families deal with hurricane losses

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by Trevesa DaSilva

Imagine having nine children ranging 20 months to 22 years old, plus one 14 months old grandchild, to take care of all by yourself, on an income from a little shop you own.

Imagine being hit by three hurricanes within less than a year. Imagine losing everything you have including your home, your only means of income, and anything else that helped to ease the struggle of being a single mother.

Could anything get worse? Actually yes - it could. Thirty six year old Paulina Robertson had finally decided that she would raise her 11 children (including her grandchild) on her own, without the support of the already delinquent fathers.

Her children, a couple of whom had to discontinue further schooling because of financial reasons, had big dreams. In fact they still do. "I want to become a nurse," says a smiling Shanice.

Shanice, who's nine years old, has achieved exceptionally high grades in all of her subjects. Marlon, 17, wants to become a mechanic engineer but would like to get the money to finish school.

Though things were not all rosy, they were not that bad, because they had a home. That is until 'the worse' happened - the passage of Hurricane Dennis, the disaster which changed their lives dramatically on July 7, 2005.

The family lost their entire house as well as their only means of income, a shop, when waters from hurricane Dennis flooded their home on that dreadful day.

"I feel like just giving up," exclaimed the exasperated and dejected mother. Since after deciding to raise her children on her own, with no forthcoming help from any of the four fathers, the passage of the hurricane only made an unfortunate situation even worse.

Two weeks after the disaster, they were the only family left at the Yallahs Primary school shelter. But it wasn't all doom for this family.On hearing about their plight, the Jamaica Red Cross decided to render assistance. A volunteer of the St. Thomas branch along with representatives from the National Headquarters, including a psychologist from the Disaster Mental Health Unit (DMHU), visited the family and provided physical as well as psychological support.

The family received food packages, hygiene kit, baby diapers, two mattresses, a stove and a cylinder, among other items, to help get them back on their feet again.

"I am really thankful for what the Red Cross has done for me and my family," exclaimed the appreciative mother.

But despite the help received, this mother and her family will still need a place where they can call home, a place other than the school shelter.

"I'd really love if somebody can help us to get back our house," she pleaded. Though she lost the only means she knew of getting an income, and though she has no skill, Paulina is willing to try anything she can to help get back on her feet.

"If I get back a house, I will try and work out something", she commented. The family has just over two weeks before school opens, which means they will definitely need somewhere else to live before then.

Meanwhile, the Red Cross, along with the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, is working on constructing a housing unit for the family so they will soon have a place they can call home.

In St. Elizabeth, another family was also affected by the passage of another hurricane, this time hurricane Emily, which passed on Saturday July 16. The effects were just as unfortunate and even more tragic. A car with five persons was traveling along a road in St. Elizabeth when it overturned into a river. The bodies of the five persons were found a few days after. They were 23 year old Natanya Irving, her two children, five months old and four years old, a cousin and a friend.

Red Cross representatives, including the St. Elizabeth Branch Director and a counselor from the DMHU, visited the family of Natanya and her two children.

The family, which included her mother, father, sister and brothers, received assistance from the Red Cross including food packages, hygiene kit and tarpaulin as well as psychological support from the DMHU counselor.

Though the help received could never fill the void now left by the family's loss, it certainly provided a step on the road to recovery.

The family is now trying to deal with their loss while still holding on to what they have. The DMHU stands ready and prepared to offer further assistance or referral where necessary.