What began as a trip full of promise and hope turned into a two-month struggle for Barbadian Shawn Smith and his family who were trapped in the United States because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
And although that particular issue has been resolved, they now face another hurdle – finding the financial resources to first take care of themselves while awaiting the resumption of flights to neighbouring Trinidad and Tobago where they reside, and then purchasing the tickets to get there.
Having completed a 14-day quarantine here with his Trinidadian wife and their two children, Smith sat down with Barbados TODAY to recount his experience.
From the comfort of his friend’s living room, the 41-year-old said he and his wife were elated when they found out they had won an almost all-expense paid trip to Utah, courtesy the Now I Can Foundation, where their six-year-old son Antonio, who has cerebral palsy, would receive intensive therapy.
They left Trinidad on March 5, with the intention of staying in the US for three weeks. However, with the number of COVID-19 cases steadily rising in the US, Smith and his family found themselves stuck when commercial airlines stopped all flights out of the country.
Unable to leave and with resources getting thin, a newspaper in Utah reached out to Smith and his family to highlight their plight.
“When the flights got cancelled we became really worried. We were trying to figure out how we would manage our funds because we really didn’t travel with the mindset that we would be able to accommodate something that dire. We figured we would be going back home in three weeks. We didn’t expect all of the flights to be cancelled, and they did that before the borders had been closed, so they didn’t give us that opportunity to get out,” Smith said.
“We were worried, but a newspaper in Utah highlighted our story and because of that we received some help from donors and so on. The Now I Can Foundation also reached out to us and helped us so we were able to be comfortable,” added Smith who said he was very thankful for the assistance as there were other people who were not as fortunate, who were forced to live on the streets.
It was through a friend in Barbados that he found out repatriation flights were leaving the US bound for the island. He was able to get in contact with Barbados’ Consulate-General to New York, Mackie Holder, who went above and beyond in accommodating his family.
“When I spoke to him he told me there was a flight available but I needed to be on a list. He asked me where I was and when I told him I was in Utah he told me that me and my family needed to get to either New York or Florida to board the repatriation flight. We didn’t want to go to New York because it was the worst place to be due to the COVID-19 and we didn’t have any place to stay or any family or friends there,” Smith recalled.
He said they were provided with a rental car and drove seven hours to Las Vegas where they caught a flight to Boston and then on to Fort Lauderdale.
Smith acknowledged that even with his son having to use a wheelchair, getting him around was not very difficult.
“He was very accommodating. He liked the flying and he liked the airplanes. He got a little restless now and again but we got a lot of assistance in helping him with the wheelchair and getting onto the plane,” he said.
Smith said he was extremely relieved to arrive in Barbados on June 9, even though he knew he would be quarantined for two weeks. And while everything was not as smooth as he would have liked, he was glad to be back here.
However, after being released from the Golden Sands Hotel on June 24, Smith is now faced with another set of challenges.
He and his family are still waiting to return to Trinidad and Tobago, with very little money remaining.
Smith, who specializes in air conditioning repairs, maintenance, sales and service, said he was hoping to get a job to help with the expense of looking after Antonio while in Barbados, and buying tickets when they are eventually given the green light to return to the twin-island republic.
“My situation is that I’m not working and I’m staying with a friend. He is gracious to accommodate us but I am looking for something to do so at least we can survive a bit and we wouldn’t be a burden on anyone,” Smith said.
“We have no idea how long we are going to be here and personally I would feel better if I could help.”
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