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Toronto churches answer the call of the Diocese of North East Caribbean and Aruba

The effects of Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean.

December 7, 2017

By Will Postma

We went deep into the alphabet of names assigned to hurricanes this year. Warming waters in the Caribbean are creating conditions for more and increasingly strong hurricanes. One hurricane, Hurricane Harvey, made landfall in Texas, unleashing 60 inches of rain and causing 91 deaths.

The Diocese of North East Caribbean and Aruba (NECA) is one of eight Anglican Dioceses in the Province of West Indies. NECA celebrated its 175th anniversary on August 27 of this year with a ringing theme: Celebrating the past, seizing the moment, embracing the future. School classes would begin a few days later. Hope was in the air.

But on September 6, a storm turned into a force – Hurricane Irma – and headed towards the 12 islands of the Diocese. It gathered such strength, generating winds of 185 mph – that it forced the evacuation of the entire island of Barbuda. Residents fled quickly to Antigua, leaving behind destroyed homes, buildings, infrastructure, fields and services in a matter of a few hours. Barbuda was rendered uninhabitable for the first time in 300 years.

As the people of the islands of the northeastern Caribbean were reeling and scrambling to recover, another storm system billowed, Hurricane Maria, moving from a Category 1 to a Category 5 hurricane in 18 hours, hitting another island of the Diocese, Dominica. Fifteen people died, with severe damage inflicted on farm housing, forest reserves, coastal fishery, irrigation infrastructure, feeder roads, as well as crop and livestock production. Satellite pictures, the day before and after the hurricane, show the island drastically transformed from green to brown, trees and farmer fields uprooted.

Hurricane season officially ended December 1, thankfully, but it left behind unprecedented damage. Many of the islands have experienced hurricanes but not two in a row, not Category 5/maximum strength hurricanes, and not in such quick succession.

On Saturday, December 2, parishioners of the Diocese of Toronto came together at St. Andrew’s, Scarborough to pray for the people of the Caribbean who were so heavily affected. Bishop Peter Fenty, himself born in Barbados, encouraged us to be mindful, prayerful and compassionate towards communities all around the world affected by humanitarian disasters. There have been many in 2017: floods in Nepal, mudslides in Sierra Leone, hunger and famine in eastern Africa, refugee movements from Myanmar to Bangladesh.

On the eve of the first Sunday of Advent, it was reassuring to be with those gathered at St. Andrew’s, including so many of the Caribbean diaspora community. The Reverend Jacqueline Daley, co-organizer of the event with Bishop Fenty, encouraged us all to be compassionate towards all of our neighbours, and those in the Diocese of the Caribbean who have lost their homes, livelihoods and still experiencing trauma, wondering how and where to start.

The event raised more than $5,000 which the Diocese of NECA will use to purchase items deemed to be a priority: water, toiletries, school supplies, building materials, household furnishings, food items, sanitary and hygienic supplies, all of which can contribute to a restored sense of dignity and create conditions for a fuller recovery and return to cherished normalcy.

The Diocese of Trinidad and Tobago has already contributed items valued at $32,000. PWRDF is working closely with the Diocese of North East Caribbean and Aruba – not so accustomed to distributing humanitarian relief – to ensure clarity on systems and procedures for distribution, monitoring and reporting.

It was a moving service of reaching out in compassion and building community. As the Diocesan Bishop Errol Brooks wrote, “we keep faith in a God who loves and cares for us.”

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