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Community Resilience

The impacts of climate change are more than just numbers and models, but at the end of the day it is about the people who call Dominica their home. Home is more than just a physical location, it contains intangible sentiments that includes a vibrant culture and community that make this place so special to people here.  Part of Dominica's story of resilience, is strengthening the fabric that connects all people here to Dominican culture. Ensuring that individuals and communities feel protected and have the resources available to them to recover after a shock or distress must be a priority. 

View of the Caribbean from Scott's Head Soufriere

Caribbean Sea from Scott's Head shot by Daniella Rolle

Psychological Trauma Relate to
Natural Disasters 

Disaster resilience is defined as “the ability of individuals, communities, organizations, and states to adapt to and recover from hazards, shocks or stresses without comprising long-term prospects for development” (Combaz, 2015). At the virtual conference for the Caribbean Safe School Initiative (CCSI), an emphasis was placed on the need to begin with schools in developing resilience in communities because of its role in the community in developing children’s values and knowledge. The conference stressed the importance of creating a disaster risk management team within schools and involving the students and teachers in this training to increase awareness. An often, but central part of disaster resilience, is developing a psychological and social support system within schools to help process and cope with the psychological effects of natural disasters.

 

Maria not only marked physical scars on the island but instilled mental and emotional trauma in adults and children that experienced its horrifying effects. I had the privilege of interviewing Jo-Anne Rolle-Carrette, a local counselor, on the psycho-social effects of Maria on children and adults in the school systems. Many schools were severely damaged, while others fared better off delaying the return to school for children. It was important for children to be returned to school as soon as possible to help them return to normalcy and to keep them engaged. It was clear to the government that they could not move on from the disaster without first addressing the psycho-social needs of students and teachers.

Two people with having a dialogue about mental health
A person talking to another person trying to piece together traumatic events

The home and families are very crucial for a child’s development. Maria had severely changed people’s lives with the loss of loved ones, communities, and stable home lives. She mentioned that some children and teachers did not have places to live after the hurricane in areas that were totally damaged, forcing them to live with relatives or to live in the damaged homes . Jo-Anne Rolle-Carrette touched upon the challenge of dealing with children who had lost family members.  An example was of a five-year old girl who had witnessed a wall collapsing and killing her mother and brother during the hurricane. She could not comprehend that they were dead, thinking that they were only asleep. This little girl had to endure a long portion of the hurricane all alone until rescuers were able to find her as the sole remaining survivor of the household. There were other children who were traumatized by the sound of the wind or rain and some who became terrified of the dark because the hurricane hit the island in the night.

 

In partnership with UNICEF, Caritas, Living Waters, and Israid, Dominican counselors were able to develop an adaptation of UNICEF's Return to Happiness program to first support 896 teachers understand and cope with their own trauma.  Secondly the program targeted  educating teachers on how to approach discussing the events of Maria with children and helping them to process their thoughts and feelings. Storytelling, play, music, drawing, drama, and dance were used to assist teachers and students in processing their emotions. Jo-Anne Rolle-Carrette mentioned that in the teacher training sessions it was profound to see how the activities brought out the inner-child of the adults. The sessions were very engaging and enjoyable experience for them. The response from the children was the same. Students enjoyed using entertaining and playful methods to therapeutically work through some of the horrifying stress and trauma caused by the hurricane.

Images from UNICEF Article 2017

Local Dominicans receiving aid from UNICEF
Dominican child eating food provided by UNICEF

Another limitation of the program was the limited capacity of the counselors; there were very few counselors tasked with reaching many people. Many of the counselors experienced burnout from assisting others without properly addressing their own emotional damage. The OECS provided psycho-social support for the counselors to aid them, and Jo-Anne Rolle-Carrette described the sessions to be immensely helpful.  

 

Hurricane Maria highlighted the need for greater disaster risk reduction and management and counseling in school. Natural disasters are more than just environmental issues, but they burden those who survived them with the memories that remain.

Children playing on the sand at Mero Beach

Mero Beach shot by Daniella Rolle

Youth Development

Youth participation in extracurricular activities is more than just providing parents a space to drop off their kids. It offers opportunities for children to develop critical social skills necessary for a successful life. There has been research since the beginning of the 20th Century on the value of extracurricular activities for students. Claudette Christison, an academic researcher, has published work on the importance of extracurricular activities for adolescent social development. Research suggests that students who participate in extracurriculars:

  •  have tremendous academic success,

  •  improved character development in time-management and leadership skills,

  • experience positive social development,

  •  greater community involvement

Additionally, extracurriculars offer an opportunity to explore their interests — an important aspect of adolescent development. Sports and art activities also provide an outlet for children beyond academics which helps them to exercise more artistic and physical discipline. Children who learn to apply themselves beyond the classroom and practice discipline in extracurricular activities learn the value of diligence and work ethics which are highly valuable for adulthood. Finally, extracurricular activities are beneficial because they help form a support network for children. Mentors for students are crucial for children who do not have adult support and guidance for their lives. For example, socializing with their peers, older children in their schools, and coaches provide an additional community to support a child’s development. 

Children doing extracurricular activities

One of the critical programs CREAD helped to form for youth development was the Strong Bodies Strong Minds (SBSM). The SBSM program is a two-year pilot program that falls underneath CREAD’s goals of building strong communities and fostering Dominica’s collective consciousness. Emonews reported on the launch of the pilot program in 2019, describing how the program has the potential to make significant social impacts. The program is an after-school program coordinated by the National Youth Council alongside CREAD to provide activities that would benefit students. These activities included cooking, music, reading, football, and volleyball. For Kalinago schools, the program incorporates traditional activities such as basket weaving and dance. The SBSM initiative engages the youth in activities outside the classroom to nurture their creativity, well-being, and self-esteem. 

“One of CREAD’s foremost missions is to encourage Dominicans to focus on developing strong communities, and to achieve this, it is critical to involve the youth as agents of change and provide them with the tools and space they need to be active, engaged citizens.” – Claudine Roberts CREAD’s Strong Communities Officer from Emonews Article

 Image of Students Participating in SBSM from Dominica News Online 2020

Children holding up football jerseys provided by the Strong Bodies Strong Minds initiative

The initiative was first launched in 2019 at the Newtown and Soufriere Primary Schools. Then it was carried into three Kalinago Territory Primary Schools in 2020. Coach Joffre Faustin was interviewed in a Dominica News Online article about how he wished to revitalize football amongst the youth in the area and restore the strong football community that existed in Newtown over the decades.  Unfortunately, despite the community supporting the program, it has now been discontinued. 

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