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Saturday 17 August 2019
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Frontline of flood relief

NGOs face-to-face with people in despair

A man carries a child through floodwaters in Oropoune Gardens, Piarco on October 20. PHOTO BY ANGELO MARCELLE
A man carries a child through floodwaters in Oropoune Gardens, Piarco on October 20. PHOTO BY ANGELO MARCELLE

After the clean-up is done and the volunteers are gone, people are going to be emotionally scarred by the losses they suffered. Government needs to put a plan in place to help people cope, and they need to do it soon.

That was the suggestion of Avonelle Hector Joseph, founder of Is There Not a Cause (ITNAC), after seeing the devastation of last weekend’s flood, and working with victims to clean up their homes.

“The trauma and the psychological impact after people clean up and it really hit them is one of my major concerns. We could buy back a bag, appliances, and a lot of different things for them but a home represents much more than material things. When they realise all their memoirs are gone, all their wedding pictures, things from their grandmothers…There are some things we could never replace and I think when that reality hits people, they are going to need some serious support.”

A CEPEP crew helps clean a house at Greenvale Park, La Horquetta on October 22, in the aftermath of flooding on October 19-20. PHOTO BY LINCOLN HOLDER

ITNAC has been in operation for 16 years. During that time, Joseph has been to numerous disasters all over the world, and she compared the flooding in central and east Trinidad to that of Hurricane Katrina in the US in 2005.

She said it was different to previous floods in central or the one in Diego Martin in 2012 because usually only one area was affected. This time, however, there was flooding in a number of areas in central, east and the west. She said it was difficult to see everything people worked hard for piled up at the side of the road, covered in mud and filth, in heaps on every street.

“The country is under serious pressure. People are under primary and secondary trauma because if they were not living in one of the affected areas, probably your co-workers, your aunty, somebody you know was affected. And I think the authorities need to pay more attention to the socio-impact and not try to pretend that everything is okay and it’s business as usual because it’s not okay and we will inflict further trauma on people to pretend that it is.”

Joseph said since the flood, its members had been out distributing hot meals, food supplies, clothing, water, toiletries, cleaning supplies, and mattresses, as well as assessing people’s losses, power washing yards and homes, and helping people clean up.

She said soca artistes Ian “Bunji Garlin” Alvarez, Fay Ann Lyons-Alvarez and the Asylum Family, with whom ITNAC had worked with for over a decade, were on the ground helping with cleaning in addition to drumming up support and donations on social media.

Residents sit among household items they managed to salvage after flooding in Oropune Gardens, Piarco on October 20. PHOTO BY ANGELO MARCELLE

She said the NGO also had an arrangement with Furniture House in Barataria where people could make monetary donations to ITNAC which would be used to purchase furniture for flood victims. ITNAC hoped to start working with families to redo their homes and replace everything for as long as the organisation had funds.

Still, she said they needed volunteers to provide hot meals and transportation, and donate more cleaning supplies and gas power washers. She said most people they visited did not even know how to start to get their lives back in order. “They are just there like, ‘What next?’ We need all hands on board, locally and regionally, and whatever international help we could get because this is major.”

ITNAC was just one of the many NGOs mobilising their members, members of the public, and coordinating with others to give as much assistance as possible to those directly affected by the floods.

Habitat for healthy housing

Sunday Newsday spoke with the organisers of just a few of these NGOs, including Habitat for Humanity, which was also working with the Asylum Family, and the Scout Association of TT.

Tracy Wallace, communications officer of Habitat for Humanity TT, said homeowners had been calling to report damage to their property. They had construction engineers out investigating each case and so far there were no structural damages.

She said over 100 families in Sangre Grande, La Horquetta, El Socorro, Piarco, and St Helena requested specific items such as cleaning supplies, clothing, including underwear, blankets, mattresses, canned food, and school books. However, at the moment, the organisation was trying to focus on cleaning and personal hygiene supplies, and providing technical assistance.

“We have also been promoting to the families in need, and on our social media accounts, the concept of healthy housing. Our goal is to get families back into their homes as quickly as possible but in a healthy way. We have been sharing information on avoiding waterborne and vector-borne diseases, the importance of clean water, and the use of hand sanitiser and anti-bacterial soap especially when dealing with babies because they are the most vulnerable.”

Wallace said people volunteered to provide laundry services to affected residents, construction technicians and structural engineers to assess homes, but at the moment the best thing to do was to donate finances because it could be converted to anything people needed.

Anyone interested in donating can visit habitat-tt.org/product/donation or call the hotline, 398-8389.

She added that since Bunji and Fay Ann sent out their call on social media for people to donate to Habitat, they had been “inundated” with calls from the US and the UK, from people wishing to help organise financial contributions and the shipment of supplies.

The Asylum
Family helps

Lyons-Alvarez explained that the Asylum Family was working closely with ITNAC, Habitat, and Orange House Foundation. They were handing out meals, assessing losses, seeing what else they could do to help, and structuring a “game plan” with these organisations.

“I do not have the manpower like these organisations. What I do have however, is the ability to liaise with certain people to get services, goods and donations from them because of the trust factor and the relationship we have had for years.”

For example, she said after posing about the devastation from the flooding on social media, celebrity rappers Nicki Minaj, who was born in St James, and Busta Rhymes, actors with Trini roots such as Love and Hip Hop Atlanta actress Karlie Redd and Dynasty’s Robert Riley, Beyoncé’s hairstylist, Neal Farinah, and several international promoters the Asylum Family had dealt with over the years, contacted her to see how they could help.

“Trinis need to bear in mind, these people are private citizens so you can not expect them to match the efforts of the government. So even if they send a dollar we should be grateful because there are people here who personally know people who were affected and they are not even going to help clean a yard. Instead of criticising, individuals should ask themselves what they are doing to help.”

During a visit to one of the affected areas, Lyons-Alvarez said she saw damaged electrical panels (panel boxes), houses that needed rewiring or had water in the electrical lines, broken windows, and many houses with plumbing issues. She said she saw one man breaking a hole in his wall because there was dirty floodwater in the bricks.

She said Habitat agreed to repair six houses so far and she called on hardware store to donate materials, and for companies to donate funds to assist in rebuilding some homes.

She was also concerned about the possible health risks now that the flooding had subsided. She noted that a lot of sewage was mixed with the floodwater and now that the mud had dried into dust, people were breathing it in which could cause respiratory problems.

“One of my friends is trying to get a doctor to go into the different neighbourhoods. There were women who walked through the floodwaters and they could have vaginal infections because that water had sewage and bacteria. So it’s not just that people’s houses got flooded, it’s about the coming days and weeks you could see people getting sick.”

She said there were other plans in the works but she preferred to wait until they were confirmed before announcing it publicly.

Scouts in service

Another organisation working hard and using their national scope to reach areas others could not, was the Scout Association.

Marketing and communication officer Yvan Mendoza said its members immediately started coordinating with JTA supermarkets nationwide to use them as drop-off points for donations. JTA and Massy Stores in St Ann’s, and Gulf View also allowed scouts to ask shoppers to donate goods.

In addition, the Scouts were using the Chaguanas Community Centre and Naparima College in San Fernando as drop-off points, collecting, sorting, packing and distributing to other scout offices to help people in affected areas. So far, he said, they collected food stuff, clothes, toiletries, cleaning supplies, bookbags, toys, shoes and more at various Scout offices, schools, and other locations for distribution.

Kennedy Charran, District South Commissioner for the Chaguanas Scout District said their Port of Spain, San Fernando South, Couva South, and Naparima South districts especially continued to send a lot of relief supplies for them to distribute with the help of other organisations.

“We have been working with a couple different groups, one is the NGO, Help for the Helpless, and a few religious bodies, and the Sixth Form Association for Service. Allied Security has also been working with us and they are the people doing the physical distribution.”

He said the Office of the Mayor of Chaguanas, and the Penal/Debe Regional Corporation had been of great assistance. He also thanked Shine Distributors Ltd in Chaguanas as it donated over $70,000 in free and discounted supplies such as over-the-counter medication, personal care items and toiletries to a number of organisations, including the Scouts.

They have also been distributing meals. “As we got to Guayamare the other day and gave out about 35 meals, the kids and the families began eating it immediately because they were hungry and they had nothing.”

So far, the Scouts were able to assist people in Warrenville, Caroni, Kelly village, St Helena, Arima, La Horquetta, Sangre Grande, Mayaro, Mafeking, Tamina, Fishing Pond, as well as residents along the Guayamare river.

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