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I am my brother’s keeper

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Over the past six years or so, St Vincent and the Grenadines has suffered terrible traumas. The cascade of natural disasters and accidents have destroyed homes, shattered roads and bridges, battered businesses, closed schools, and worst of all, have taken lives. And in the aftermath of these horrors, Vincentians have faced the same predicament: how do we rebuild, how do we re-construct that which has been destroyed? Today, on the heels of the destruction engineered by the recent floods, we face these questions again.{{more}}

In a time of national trauma, it is clearly the case that the Vincentian Government is, and must remain, the pre-eminent vehicle for orchestrating a recovery response to national disasters in both the immediate and the long-term future. That is their solemn responsibility, and this they have carried out without fail. But in, perhaps, the most remarkable development we have seen arising from these national disasters, the Vincentian people at home and abroad have decided that we cannot simply be spectators to our neighbours’ tragedies. Rather, we must become our brothers’ keepers.

Their efforts in this regard have been immense. Private individuals and private organizations have given of their time, their money, their labour, their expertise, their equipment, all driven by a single purpose to bring succour to those who are suffering. Hence, these disasters have tested our national resolve, (as they would do again) and have confirmed that which we have always known, but which sometimes has got lost in the tumult of our daily lives and that is, to truly be our brothers’ keepers and re-plant seeds of hope in the fields of despair, we must follow the wisdom of old: do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

We, therefore, commend all individuals and non-governmental organizations which have participated in the relief effort. We commend the New Democratic Party for its assurance that Vincentians in need carry no party labels. And we offer special commendation to those who have sought to broaden the universe of philanthropic efforts in SVG by advertising and facilitating the mechanisms and processes through which more Vincentians at home and abroad can participate in this national endeavour of comforting the afflicted.

It would be a remarkable thing indeed, if philanthropic efforts on such a scale can take place free of glitches. But no disaster relief efforts anywhere have ever been 100 per cent perfect. It is human to err, some deliberate and some accidental. However, we can reduce these risks by putting in place models of accountability and transparency that can ensure that the aid reaches the needy and that scam artists who surface in times of disaster are put out of business. We are therefore particularly grateful to those individuals and organizations who monitor and guarantee an unbroken chain of custody between the origins and destinations of every gift. After all, Vincentian donors want to be assured that they are not fleeced. And above all, it is their strongest desire that those who need aid, receive it.

In the midst of these efforts to place a balm on those injured by this disaster, we offer a caution. In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, the commitment to helping the distressed usually soars. Time, however, is not a friend of those dispossessed by disasters. Post-disaster fatigue syndrome sometimes sets in as donors are exhausted by their efforts to aid the afflicted. The burdens of the sufferers, however, do not simply disappear. They continue, often beyond the view of the cameras which may have long gone. Hence, although most people dislocated by the latest floods will be out of shelters by today, Friday, it is crucial that we put in place a longer programme of assistance that will enable them to return to normalcy at the earliest possible time. Absent such assistance, their trauma will linger for years.

We are a young nation with only 37 years’ responsibility of taking care of ourselves. Other nations have been doing this for centuries. It is therefore critical that we develop traditions of collective responsibility that we can, and must, pass on through the generations to our children, and their children. The emergence of a distinctive Vincentian identity depends on no one else but us. Thus in an ironic, and quite surprising way, that which we fear most, that which has injured us the most, these natural disasters, have also allowed us to discover something of ourselves which we must cherish and must pass on to our descendants, and that is, we are fellow passengers on a single ship of state.

We do not wish upon ourselves more disasters. But they will come. Hence, we do insist that Vincentian resilience to these storms to come will remain intact if we move forward on this simple creed: I am my brother’s keeper. No storm can destroy that.

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