Dominica’s November 3 Independence celebrations have been overshadowed by the death and destruction of Hurricane Maria, but some of the country’s young citizens are determined to carry on with their lives.
This spirit of hope was demonstrated by Dominicans students attending The University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus.
This year Independence celebrations have been bittersweet as they occurred in the shadow of Hurricane Maria whichlooms a month after the Category 5 weather system ripped their homeland apart.
Law student Annika Bellot was preparing to return to Barbados to resume her studies when the storm hit on September 18. She hiked for seven hours from her home in Morne Daniel just outside of the capital Roseau, to the southern community of Soufriere to check on her grandfather, as all communication systems were down. It is not an experience she is likely to forget.
“You never imagine that situation but when you are put in it you just do what you have to do to survive and to ensure the survival of everybody that you love.
“So knowing what I left behind and coming here has been very difficult because you know the struggle that’s going on and you feel bad for leaving it behind even though you know you have the support of your friends and family [but] you still feel kind of bad because you know your help is needed.
“But like other students have said you just have to try to do what you can from here and hope for the best,” she told Barbados TODAY.
Matthus Walter recalled the worry and frustration over the initial lack of communication after the hurricane did its damage.
“It was hard for a while that I couldn’t speak to my brothers and sisters and my friends,” said Walter, who is studying Chemistry and Microbiology.
“For the people who lost, it’s really hard. For those who got to know that something wrong happened to their families, it is really hurtful. But I thank God that mine is ok and I got to talk to them,” he said.
Other students have also found it difficult to continue their studies while trying to assist their families at home. Phillip Rolle is one of those who wishes he could go back to help, but he knows he must first complete the task at hand.
“You know your family tries to shelter you for the most part and try not to make you worried and they keep certain things from you. But when you find out what’s really going on on the ground it’s kind of difficult to cope with. It’s a lot going on down there and you kind of feel helpless. Yes, you can send things but it’s a different thing to actually be there helping your people,” he told Barbados TODAY
Final year marketing student Ron Abraham Jr. has had to summon the strength to press on with his courses while his family is picking up the pieces at home.
“It did affect my work; for about two weeks or so I really couldn’t focus on school work. Because I mean, obviously you know the situation home is bad and you’re doing everything you do here for your loved ones. It was just this lingering effect, all day, all night, you cannot stop thinking about the hurricane.
“I had a lot of damage at home. My family was compromised, and I had an uncle who died in the storm and that was devastating as well,” he said.
Meanwhile, others will not allow Hurricane Maria to get in the way of their Independence celebrations. Computer Science student Dennis Guye ensured he had a real Dominican breakfast, and was on a mission to promote the island all day.
“This morning I made smoked herring and bakes. We have this whole hashtag Dominica [campaign] so when I get home I’m going to make my long [social media] posts and let everybody see that even though things are kind of crappy right now, we’re gonna get back to normal,” he said confidently.
Guye was also thankful to the rest of the Caribbean for their assistance after the storm.
“I kind of feel hopeful, because from what I see the Prime Minister is doing his utmost best and the amount of support we are getting from the other Caribbean islands, it’s phenomenal.
“Even the response on campus, the amount the Guild is doing and the amount DOMSAC [Dominican Students at Cave Hill] has done, the amount Rotaract UWI staff has done, it’s amazing. I just want to thank the region for everything they’ve done because it’s great in a time like this to see that . . . we can come together and help those among us who are going through a difficult time.”
Bellot, however, believes there is still a lot for Dominicans to celebrate despite the dire situation at home.
“I remember the night of the storm, the thoughts that were going through your head. You figured come daylight whether anybody would still be alive and though we had a death toll of some 30, it could have been worse. And we are still grateful for everything that we were spared from,” she added.
Andra Lewis, a final year Microbiology student, would like her fellow Dominicans to remain hopeful.
“I just hope that everyone is coping with the situation. I know things are real difficult right now and I know it’s hard to be hopeful right now, but I just want them to keep the faith,” she said.
Meanwhile at home in Roseau, the annual Independence celebrations were scaled down due to the devastation.
An ecumenical service and cultural exposé was held at the Windsor Park Stadium in Roseau to mark the occasion, with a moment of silence observed in honour of the lives lost in the hurricane.
Regional troops on the ground to assist in recovery efforts also participated in the parade of uniformed groups.
The audience was also treated to several performances by cultural groups around across the island. Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit also showed off his moves in the traditional dances, Quadrille and Heel and Toe, when he joined the Flamboyant Dancers and the Jing Ping band from the western village of Dublanc on the field, much to the delight of the crowd.