Red Cross brings Christmas cheer to Grenada

Published: 14 January 2005 0:00 CET

Allison Ali in Trinidad

While many people around the world were busy shopping for Christmas presents and decorating their homes, Grenadians were trying their best to rebuild their lives and what is left of their country following the devastation caused by Hurricane Ivan three months ago.

There was little Christmas spirit this year in Grenada. There were no decorations or Christmas trees in the capital. No one had time to brighten up this devastated country. Instead, Grenadians were busy trying to rebuild their homes and try to salvage what remained of their belongings from the torrential rains that were drenching the island.

Hurricane Ivan ripped through the Caribbean in September with power and destruction unseen in the region in the last ten years. Dubbed “Ivan the Terrible,” the hurricane wreaked havoc in the tiny islands of Grenada, Tobago, Barbados, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands before making its way to Cuba and Florida.

The islands that suffered the most damage were Grenada, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. The hurricane moved through the region for more than a week, damaging homes, buildings and infrastructure, cutting off utilities and caused at least 100 deaths.

Many people were placed at risk from disease, contaminated drinking water and food shortages. In some areas, flood waters washed away small communities. The economic impact on these countries is huge.

Grenada suffered the most with 90 per cent of its housing stock being destroyed, leaving 60,000 homeless. The Grenada Red Cross headquarters was also destroyed. Three months later, parts of the island are still without electricity and water.

In the past, Christmas has been a time when relatives return to the island for the festive season. It is also a time when tourists flock to the island to get away from a cold climate. This was missing this year. Instead, Grenadians living abroad sent money and items for their loved ones. There is no room for them as Grenadians continue the re-building process.

Recognizing the despair felt by people on the island, the Grenada Red Cross (GRC) embarked on a mission in December to bring some Christmas cheer to a few of the communities which were ravaged by the hurricane.

Terry Charles, director general of the GRC, explained that they distributed family size food bags with basic food items such as rice, flour and sugar to some of the neediest in their communities.

“We got Red Cross youth groups from schools across the country to go into villages and identify those most in need and distribute the food bags,” he explained. Each group had between 25 and 50 food bags.

Approximately 30 youth groups participated in the exercise. The GRC also identified additional families and villages whose basic food needs were not met and distributed more relief supplies.

“In one afternoon alone we managed to distribute 150 food bags in the areas of Dudmar Cocoa. We are identifying other people and villages and they too should receive some goods from us very soon,” Mr Charles assured, adding that the GRC had also distributed non-food items such as hygiene packs and clothes and was hoping to distribute toys to the island’s children.

The distribution of food and non food items is being done in conjunction with the delivery of aluzinc roofing sheets. Tracey Reines, The International Federation’s operations manager in Grenada explained that, as part of the Federation’s post emergency rehabilitation, zinc sheets for roof construction and tool kits are being provided to 1,000 beneficiaries, who had been selected during house to house surveys in October and November.

While the major donor for this exercise is the European Commission’s Humanitarian affairs Office (ECHO), the German Embassy in Trinidad and Tobago donated US$90,000 to assist the Red Cross in this exercise. The money was used to purchase 4,500 sheets of aluzinc sheeting.

“We have been monitoring the Red Cross operation in Grenada and we are quite pleased with what we are seeing. We are glad that we can help build up Grenada a bit. We will also be looking at other areas where we can assist,” said Dr Peter Greuner, Germany’s Honorary Consul in Grenada.

“Distribution of these items is taking place in centralized locations in all six parishes of Grenada. The distribution began in the second week of December and we are also providing building assistance to those not able to provide for themselves,” Tracey Reines said.

Additionally, in January the Red Cross is working with more than 500 beneficiaries to retrofit and strengthen the structure of their homes.

“I am really grateful for the assistance the Red Cross is giving to me. My house was totally destroyed and now with the help of the Red Cross I have a roof over my head for my children,” said an elated Mrs Jocelyn James, 35, single mother of seven children and one of the beneficiaries of aluzinc sheeting.

She continued: “I was so scared during the hurricane. I lost almost everything and what little I have left is being soaked by the continuous rains. I am really happy the Red Cross is helping me because even though I work, the money still will not be enough to fix up the house.”

Another beneficiary, Mavis St Bernard, 76, said she too was elated that the Red Cross was helping people on the island. “My whole roof gone and I do not have any job and I am really sick. I suffer with my heart, so I real glad for the help.”

She said she wants the Red Cross to help her nail the zinc sheets to her house “real tight” so that it will not blow off again if there is another hurricane.

In the emergency phase of the Red Cross operation, some 65,000 people, or two-thirds of the island’s entire population, have already received urgently needed aid such as food, shelter and hygiene items.

The Red Cross is also providing psychosocial support to the population of Grenada, who were all affected by Hurricane Ivan.

“This is being done on a very small scale right now but after the holidays we will be providing more of these services to Grenadians,” Terry Charles noted. In the coming weeks the Red Cross will also be providing agricultural seeds, tools and fertilisers to 450 farmers from St George’s, St Andrew and St Mark’s parishes to counter any shortage of locally produced fruits and vegetables.

Charles added: “People are coping even though there is still a lot of need in Grenada. They are realizing that there is only so much that they can do and that life has to go on even if their living situations are a bit rough. But we are trying our best to help where we can.”