Two months after Hurricane Maria wreaked havoc in their homeland, Dominican students at the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies, are not only worried about the welfare of their families back home, but also about how they will be able to complete their studies abroad, as their families are no longer able to assist them.
However, during a meeting at the Cultural Centre in Black Rock on Sunday, prime minister Roosevelt Skerrit assured them of his government’s assistance.
“We do not want any student dropping out because [his or her] parents cannot pay the fees . . . so let the word go forth from there this morning that your continued studies here in Barbados are not under threat, and will not be frustrated or terminated by any action of my government,” Skerrit said, while telling the students that their skills would be needed to rebuild the country.
“We need you to complete your areas of study and come back home and help build the new Dominica. Do not waste . . . this opportunity to develop yourselves and equip yourselves for life’s challenges in the third decade of the 21st century,” he said.
The Cave Hill campus has already announced a deferral of fees for the first semester for students from the islands that were impacted by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
However, members of the Dominica Association of Students at Cave Hill (DOMSAC) said they were still concerned about their ability to meet their payments after the grace period has ended.
They have therefore called on the prime minister to intervene on their behalf and negotiate for an extension of the grace period, at least for this academic year.
While agreeing to facilitate their request Skerrit, a former minister of education, warned the students that the opportunity to pursue higher education could not be wasted.
“The government of Dominica commits this morning to helping those who are serious about their education, through to the very end. But by the same token I can give no such assurance to those whose attitude and behaviour are not consistent with what we would hope and wish for . . . . There will be zero tolerance to bad attitudes and behaviours. One strike and you’re guaranteed to be out, full stop,” he said.
Dominica’s minister of education Petter Saint Jean, who was also present at yesterday’s meeting, noted that so far 38 primary schools and 15 secondary schools had reopened following their forced closure in September.
“In some cases we are actually operating on a shift system with other schools but in most cases we have done some rehabilitation to our school plants and students are back at school.
“We have yet to open another 20 of our primary schools, but as of Monday, ten of these 20 primary schools shall recommence classes for students,” Saint Jean revealed.
The prime minister also gave an update on government’s rebuilding efforts, stating that his administration had so far succeeded in meeting its financial and legal obligations in the two months following the hurricane.
“We paid all our debts at the end of September. We paid all our debts and legal obligations at the end of October. And as long as there is a God above we shall meet our commitments at the end of November.
“Some people, because of the circumstance, may say well, ‘Skerrit must be a mad man to be doing that while we need the resources’. But we have to demonstrate prudence and responsibility and we have to honour our legal obligations until we can negotiate different terms of those legal obligations,” he said.
He added that, against the advice of close friends, he had also authorized the issuance of a 91-day US $21 million Treasury Bill in October to raise money to meet the island’s legal obligations.
“We did not only raise that $20 million, it was oversubscribed by US $17 million,” Skerrit announced.
Immediately following the impact of Maria, the Barbados Defence Force (BDF) deployed to Dominica on September 19, and has made 17 voyages to the hurricane-ravaged island since then.
During Sunday’s visit, Skerrit therefore expressed thanks to the military officials, as well as to ordinary Barbadians, for their swift response to the hurricane.
“This assistance was part of the RSS [Regional Security System]. This was not only to support the movement of technical support staff as well as relief supplies, but this was also in response to the overwhelming support by the general public of Barbados, because you had a number of relief items and it got to the point where we had to rent containers because of that overwhelming response,” BDF Staff Officer for Operations and Training Major Julia DaBreo told the meeting.
She reported that the BDF had so far assisted in evacuating 124 people from Dominica, “and that will continue as the need arises”.
Calvin Alkins Customs Service also assisted in shipping relief items to Dominica from its Barbados and UK offices. The company’s Managing Director Calvin Alkins said the first vessel carried a total of 1,670 palettes of supplies, plus one truck donated by Barbados Light &Power Company.
“Our UK office also sent four 40-foot containers with water, and also collected six 20-foot containers with relief items sent by Dominicans and their families,” he said, adding that there were plans to send another vessel to Roseau before Christmas.