My name is Cynthia Gómez Martín. I lived in the US Virgin Islands for 7 years until June of 2016. The USVI is a place that holds a very special place in my heart. A place that will forever be my home. A place of immense beauty both in its people and landscape alike. A place where I met my husband and my two children were born. A place that gave me a beautiful “chosen family” my island family. Puerto Rico and St. Croix, the big sisters, have taken great care of the smaller islands on the days following Irma. US Virgins Islanders have a beautifully rich mixed heritage. A large percentage of US Virgin Islanders are of Puerto Rican descent. Thus, the islands are organically connected through history, heritage, culture and innate love for each other.
The USVI Virgin Islands have been devastated by 2 consecutive category 5 hurricanes (Irma & Maria) and hurricane Maria ripped across Puerto Rico yesterday as a category 4. These unprecedented series of events have depleted the islands of their precious resources, leaving much destruction behind and have forever changed their lives.
On the days after Irma, as I read friends’ posts and talked to others in St. Thomas and St. John, I grew especially concerned about the children’s mental health and the impending mosquito related disease epidemic. I shared my concern with some friends and several of my students and colleagues at Miami Country Day School (MCDS). As a result, we have organized this campaign to help the islands heal and rebuild. All funds raised from this campaign will go directly to provide relief efforts for the people of The US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Here are the goals of this campaign:
1. HELP THE CHILDREN HEAL - FREE COUNSELING SERVICES.
Trauma from a hurricane can cause a variety of emotional reactions in children and families. We plan to cover the cost of counseling for children of families in need.
A friend recounts her children's behavior after Irma:
"I thought my children were not really fazed but my three yr old keeps singing to her baby "you don't have to be scared anymore". And is telling strangers her house broke. My 8 yr old tells me of the nightmares he is having where he dies and several types of disasters tsunami, earthquakes, tornadoes surround him."
2. MOSQUITO REDUCTION. 7 days after Irma, there were reports of mosquitoes everywhere. This is a serious problem as serious diseases (Dengue, Chikungunya, Zika) could take over the island if left untreated, especially after the historic amounts of precipitation H. Maria delivered. Our goal is to reduce the mosquito population. Funds will be used to procure mosquito nets for beds and insect repellent. We are also working on a way to treat the islands at a large scale. If you have expertise in this area, please contact us directly.
3. GENERAL RELIEF - REBUILD SUPPLIES. We will work with groups that we know and trust, who have been helping the community with relief and rebuild efforts since Irma's passing.
4. SPONSORS Additionally, we are looking for sponsors for supplies and the shipment of the supplies. Please contact us directly if you would like to help or know someone that could help.
We beg, we urge, we plead that you consider helping these beautiful islands to heal and rebuild. It will take several years up to a decade for their economy to return to pre-Irma days!
During the agonizing days in preparation for the hurricane, all we could do was wait and hope for the best. However, NOW we are in a position to extend a HELPING hand and LIFT to rise stronger and help them rebuild!
For those of you that would like more information, I give my personal account of their situation below. I now live in Miami, Florida. While we were also affected by Irma, nothing, not even having lived in the islands for 7 years and having lived through several hurricanes, can give me a true understanding of what they are experiencing. Not only was Irma the biggest hurricane in the history of the Atlantic basin, its winds speeds left meteorologist discussing the creation of a new category, category 6 hurricanes with speeds of 185 mph. Additionally, hurricane Maria (category 5) slammed the islands a short week and half after Irma; leaving behind more devastation, destruction, flooding, mudslides and a general sense of defeat amongst the already exhausted and frightened population.
We thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for reading this and for your donation! Your contribution WILL POSITIVELY impact the lives of US Virgin Islanders and Puerto Ricans! Please note that no contribution is too small. $1 can buy several bottles of clean water when purchased in bulk.
Cynthia, Jennice, Gesmine, Shera & the MCDS community
PS: Give them a few months to clean up and then remember to visit America’s Paradise! You will help the local economy and will fall in love with the islands and their people!
#HealTheChildren #Hope #OneLove #CaribbeanSTRONG
HURRICANE IRMA & MARIA’S DEVASTATION
September 6, 2017, Hurricane Irma (category 5, with winds of what should be a new category 6) rips across the islands of St. John and St. Thomas flattening them, leaving no structure intact. Both islands have been without power since the day before Irma’s pass. Many lost their entire houses, most others lost walls and the roofs that offered protection from the elements. A dear friend shared their horror story as they held on to their young daughters (4 and 2 years of age) while the eye of Irma unleashed its fury and ripped their home apart as they took shelter in their bathtub for 5 hours.
Virgin Islanders are resilient, strong, beautiful people who help each other in regular circumstances. They have done just that after the beast showed its face. After Irma, islanders that were not injured went to work clearing the roads from debris, wires, went looking for their relatives and neighbors by foot, took strangers into their homes and shared provisions with them. Cooked meals to feed others. A woman, dear friend of mine, who lost her house, has been securing supplies and distributing them day and night. You see, stories like this abound because this is THE US VIRGIN ISLANDS! Home to a community that is like a very large extended family, a true village where people look out for each other.
As the cleaning and rebuilding continued, and people started to get out of their houses, they saw the island wide devastation (St. John was hit even harder than St. Thomas from what I have read and seen.) As horrible an experience it is to go through a category 5 hurricane, I sense that the aftermath has an even worse, deeper effect on their psyche. Imagine it: no power, no water, no/limited food supplies, no roof/no home/house with tarp as a roof/house, rooms without walls and whatever belonging are left spread all over or outside in the bush. You walk outside and what was a beautiful green lush island with crystal clear azure waters – America’s Paradise - now looks like "an atomic bomb" exploded, "not a leaf left on a tree." The islands have been under curfew. Imagine, 6 hours is all you got to get things done with 4 hour lines at the gas stations and long lines into the stores that are mostly empty and only accept cash. In spite of this, friends report a general sense of "hope", "we are #VISTRONG" and we are in this together, "we are well and we will rebuild." However, a week after Irma, the news announced another system was coming towards the islands. Friends and family expressed how "beyond exhausted" they were, how frightened they were to receive this second hurricane when Irma had already devastated the island and left so little behind. They felt defeated! As Maria approached the USVI, the trajectory positioned the eye going close to St. Croix and through Puerto Rico. These two sister islands had been the lifelines for St. Thomas and St. John since their airports and ports were severely damaged and closed. All relief efforts had been arriving privately from Puerto Rico and St. Croix. What would happen next if they were hit?! Many in St. Thomas and St. John expressed a hope that their sister islands would be spared so the rebuilding and provisioning process could continue.
Hurricane Maria made landfall again in the USVI as a category 5 causing even more devastation to St. Thomas and St. John where reports of mudslides and more damage has been reported. The eye went very close to the big island of St. Croix causing major destruction across the entire island and flooding.
Yesterday, September 20, 2017, hurricane Maria went through Puerto Rico, La Isla del Encanto, taking roofs, and everything else in its path and then washing it down with the mudslides. The entire island is without power. Reports are coming of major devastation from the mountainous parts of the island where rivers over flooded and catastrophic mudslides were expected. It will likely take weeks for a full assessment of the island.
Unless one has lived in an island, one far away and not connected by road to any major body of land, one cannot understand how difficult things are when you have no power, and the airports and ports are closed. Those are the only means to get supplies to the islands. Florida is the main port of supplies into the territories. I have been very concerned since Irma caused a lot of damage in the Miami area and did not think it would be possible to send relief supplies. However, I am now hopeful, after watching how quickly Miami is cleaning up its streets and power is already restored to all areas. I know that we will soon be sending supplies to help our beautiful islands rebuild. Thus, I close with a message of hope for our beautiful islands that "help soon come!"
St. Croix after Maria - September 21, 2017 video
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