The world’s attention over the last few weeks has been focused on the football team who became trapped in a cave in Thailand after sudden rains caused flooding which blocked the entrance.
As I write, the good news is that all 12 young boys and their coach have now been rescued after this harrowing ordeal. Sadly, one rescuer lost his life in his heroic attempts to help those trapped.
Natural disasters and tragic events like these cause us to ponder the fragility of our human existence. How easily and simply we can be caught in a situation where we are helpless, frightened and need others to assist.
The accounts of this tragedy and the successful rescue of the team is worth reading and understanding. In it are lessons for us all. We should never take for granted what nature can throw at us and we should never assume that since it hasn’t happened here it probably won’t.
We have caves and so, whatever lessons can be gleaned in terms of safety, security and avoidance as well rescue and recovery, should it come to that, is absolutely necessary. In fact, we experienced the tragedy of a cave-in some years ago and we know the pain of loss of life when these events occur.
These disasters tend to happen with very little notice or none at all. And when they do happen, we have to draw upon our and others expertise and experience to help get through them. The true kindness of humanity was witnessed in Thailand when people from several nationalities and backgrounds came together to find a way out for the footballers. It brought together people in a world that is so often chided for its divisions. The call for prayers for those trapped was heeded by all the faiths represented in Thailand and I was pleased to see the media highlighting the prayers as they happened in the places of worship in that country. Christian, Buddhist, Muslim and others all participated in praying for a successful outcome.
Every year, the Caribbean region is warned to prepare for the hurricane season. It is one of the most impacting natural disasters we face in this part of the world. 2017 was one of those worst years for hurricanes affecting the islands. Now, in 2018, we are once again in the midst of the hurricane season and cautioned to adequately prepare. It is often argued that until one experiences the horrors of a hurricane or any other natural disaster, then one will not always heed this advice seriously.
Having spoken to several persons who were affected by last year’s hurricanes, it is a fact that we can take things for granted if we don’t have the experience. Let us all hope and pray we don’t get the experience but at least, let us be prepared. I spoke recently to a Barbadian who was living in Tortola when hurricanes Irma and Maria tore through that tiny island in the British Virgin Islands. It is not something one would wish on their worst enemy. With the house almost totally destroyed, the only refuge was the bathroom walls. She suggested that the hurricanes were perhaps stronger than the strongest possible which is a Category 5. Unimaginable if one has never felt such natural forces at work.
The horrifying accounts out of Dominica were no different. Shell-shocked best describes the state of people on the island after the hurricane. Almost everything was destroyed or damaged. Until today, many have not yet recovered from the devastation.
And while we can never be 100 per cent ready for a natural disaster, we must at least try to be as ready and secured as we can. Making ourselves, families, communities and our country ready reduces the impact of such natural disasters. Government and non-governmental organizations all have their role to play in helping to reduce the effects of natural disasters. The present government addressed the subject of Preparing for Natural Disasters in its manifesto and so we hope that those plans get put into place.
It is interesting that one of the challenges facing rescuers in Thailand was the inability of the young boys to swim. That was a challenge because even though they were trapped in a cave underground, getting out required swimming and diving. We live on an island and we should all know, to some degree, how to swim. I was pleased to hear calls for swimming to be given prominence in the lives of our young people from the campaign platforms of the Barbados Labour Party. On page 27 of the BLP manifesto, under the caption Bajan Youth as Global Citizens it states: “The BLP will ensure that all Bajan youth will be multi-skilled and excel at home and abroad: By giving every young person the opportunity to speak a second language, learn to swim, learn basic first aid…”
Learning to swim and learning basic first aid is a perfect fit in reducing the impact of natural disasters, so I hope these promises are realized in some meaningful way. I remember at primary school having to go weekly to Pebbles beach to learn to swim. I am not sure if this is still on the school curriculum but I hope it is. Some families can afford to send their kids to swimming lessons. But there are others who can’t and so governmental and non-governmental agencies should find ways to ensure that every young person is exposed to swimming in some form.
Equally I agree with learning first aid and making that learning accessible to all citizens. Unfortunately, in recent times, there seems to be a reluctance to helping others in a distressed situation for apparently different reasons. It seems more people would rather take out their smart phones and record than actually step in and help. So all aspects of helping others should be taught including the legal ramifications if that is of concern.
I pray Barbados continues to be safe from such disasters and I hope we are ready should we have to face such calamities. Blessings on all those who helped in the rescue of the Thailand footballers. Humanity is at its best when we can be of benefit to others who we don’t even know.
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace, Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association
and Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI.