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Jul 24, 2019

Three Tough United States Island Communities

Photo from Donna Callejon
Photo from Donna Callejon

The resilient and proud residents of the US Virgin Islands continue to rebuild nearly two years after two devastating back to back hurricanes in the fall of 2017.  On September 20th, Hurricane Maria charged over St. Croix, less than two weeks after Hurricane Irma took its toll on St. Thomas and St. John. The funds you provided have assisted in rebuilding homes and businesses, providing psychosocial support, re-establishing health and wellness facilities, have supported community- and youth-led efforts to improve marine resilience, and more.  

 

For nine days in June, I had the chance to spend time on these three beautiful islands, each of which is slowly recovering, physically and emotionally. Below I’ll highlight each island, hoping to share some insights into these three unique and special communities.

 

The southernmost USVI, St. Croix, is often first to be struck during hurricane season.  Even without the devastation caused by 180 MPH winds and landslides, the social sector on this oasis has a lot of work to do. St. Croix has a long history as a trading center (remember, Alexander Hamilton came to NY from St. Croix). It was offered up by the territorial government as a place to locate manufacturing plants. For years, an oil refinery and aluminum plant contaminated the ocean, groundwater, and air, eroding mangrove estuaries and choking agriculture as a viable business for locals. Currently two rum distilleries (in full disclosure, one owned by GlobalGiving’s partner Beam-Suntory) are in full operation, working with the community to reduce their environmental impact.

 

Those trends are beginning to reverse themselves due to leaders like Sommer Sibiliy-Brown of VI Good Food Coalition. VIGFC is working with farmers to build their skills and knowledge of sustainable farming techniques, providing much-needed equipment, and helping to create viable businesses. We visited Sejah Farm, and had the chance to hear directly from Dale and Yvette Brown about the impact of climate change and storms on their farms.  They shared with us their tireless work spent on rebuilding and helping others do so as well (we also sampled the freshest, spiciest arugula you’d ever hope to taste). Three days later, President and Secretary Clinton visited with Sommer and the St. Croix Foundation team to see the first of a dozen “Farm Tiendas,” or portable “farm stands” that are being constructed.  These market stands will provide an outlet for farmers to distribute fresh produce (and more) to people across the island.

 

From St. Croix I traveled to the Clinton Global Initiative Action Network gathering on St. Thomas.  This convening boasted nearly 500 disaster recovery and resilience practitioners. Thanks to your support, GlobalGiving was proud to join representatives of the three Long Term Recovery Groups, who will be fiscally sponsored by the St. Croix Foundation, to make a commitment to provide $250,000 in funding so that these groups can reach more families currently waiting for assistance.

 

On St. Thomas alone, there are more than 5,000 people waiting to have a case worker assigned to help them navigate rebuilding their homes and livelihoods, to access counseling or job training, and to work as their advocates with public and private insurance and rebuilding agencies. Imani Daniel, Executive Director of the St. Thomas Recovery Team, has been at the forefront of the effort to help the most vulnerable people in her community after hurricanes Irma and Maria. “GlobalGiving’s support enables us to say ‘yes, we can help’ to our neighbors who’ve heard ‘no’ far too many times. GlobalGiving’s approach is worth investing in; it should be considered the model for the future of disaster recovery collaboration.” said Daniel.

 

Once the CGI summit concluded, I was ready to take the short ferry to St. John, a place I visited as a tourist nearly a decade ago.  Arriving into the bustling Cruz Bay dock at sunset, I was reminded why it has become home to so many mainlanders attracted by the island vibe, vibrant local culture and nearly 15,000 acres of national park.  

 

St. John has only a fraction of the population compared to its sister islands, but suffered the same crippling blow in 2017.  Power was nearly non-existent for months. Fishermen struggled to regain livelihoods as their boats were smashed to pieces by the category five winds of Hurricane Irma. Hundreds of homes were damaged. Curvy, hillly roadways were blocked by trees and wires, making cross-island travel challenging.

 

On St. John I met with all of the primary leaders of the Resilient Housing Initiative - The St. John Community Foundation, St. John Angels Long Term Recovery Group, Love City Strong, and All Hands and Hearts.  After a long day volunteering with All Hands and Hearts, I spent the following day visiting with long time, local homeowners still coping with the aftermath of the storm (19 months later!) and hoping that their family homes will soon be habitable again. 

 

One example was Carmen, whose father built the home in which she raised her four daughters.  Due to a variety of technicalities, Carmen had been waiting for her roof to be replaced for nearly 20 months.  The day I visited, the crew from Love City Strong was there, having been called into action by a Long Term Recovery Group case worker. Examples like this one demonstrate the power donors like you can play in improving the lives of others.

 

We will continue to bring you stories of resilience and strength from these beautiful, special United States islands.



Warmly, 

Donna + the GlobalGiving Team

Photo of Sejah Farms owner from Donna Callejon
Photo of Sejah Farms owner from Donna Callejon
Photo with Secretary Clinton from CGI
Photo with Secretary Clinton from CGI
Photo of Donna volunteering alongside AHAH
Photo of Donna volunteering alongside AHAH
Photo of SJCF assisting a homeowner from Donna
Photo of SJCF assisting a homeowner from Donna
Jul 22, 2019

Centuries-Old Values Play Key Role in Community Reconstruction

 

In the aftermath of the Mexico earthquakes that struck almost two summers ago, donors like you rushed to provide support to a region rocked by tragedy. While the funds raised came from all around the world, the recovery work of our partners is homegrown. 

Fundación Tosepan: Tamakepalis is Nahuatl for “mutual aid”. For many of the indigenous tribes in Oaxaca impacted by the earthquake, traditional values of community members helping one another are vital in the long-term reconstruction of their societies. Faced with the severe lack of government assistance after the disaster, and located in a mountainous region that is not easily accessible to large aid organizations, community leaders are taking a local approach to rebuilding. These attitudes are reflected in decisions made by consejos de barrios (neighborhood councils) on the upcoming timeline for the reconstruction of partially damaged homes.

Now in the long-term recovery phase,  Fundación Tosepan continues to work with neighborhood councils, university students, and local masons to rebuild homes using traditional adobe and seismic-resilient techniques. 

Manos Que Reconstruyen Oaxaca: One of the primary goals of rebuilding after a disaster is to ensure the economic reactivation of a community, an objective this nonprofit hopes to achieve through its traditional craft and agricultural production. Workshops focused on preserving the art of high quality shoe-making with recycled materials, and teaching families techniques for self-sufficient community gardens, all contribute to an economy that is bouncing back stronger than before the earthquake. 

Cooperación Comunitaria: After rebuilding 154 traditional ovens vital to the income of many women in the Isthmus de Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, Cooperacion Comunitaria took a community feedback approach to better assess the continued unmet needs 20 months after the disaster. Its findings proved that the spirit of communal work groups continue to underline the recovery process. In May, the women of the community organized a tequio (traditional work group) to host a celebration of local construction workers who worked incredibly hard to rebuild homes and centers of gathering.

This is just a snapshot of the amazing projects shaping the long-term recovery of regions affected by the 2017 earthquakes. Donations like yours continue to support local organizations in their mission to be led by traditional communal values, an approach that allows all members of the community to rebuild together. 

 

With gratitude,

Andrea

Jul 21, 2019

Education Provides Refugees With Opportunities For Security and Success

Photo from IsraAid
Photo from IsraAid

Since 2011, nearly 6 million individuals have left their homes in Syria to seek shelter in surrounding countries. Thanks to the generous support of more than 10,000 GlobalGivers, we have been able to raise $1,857,797 to help families gain access to vital resources in the face of what many call the greatest humanitarian crisis of our lifetime.

Lebanon hosts more than a million of these displaced individuals. Approximately 70 percent of refugees in Lebanon live below the poverty line and typically share undersized, overcrowded spaces with other refugee families. Below is an update on the work our partners are doing specifically to engage Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

Half of the refugees residing in Lebanon are under the age of 18. As a result of poverty and discrimination, most of the children lack access to any type of schooling. With your support, the Insan Association is providing children ages four to 16 with access to education at Insan School as well as psycho-social support. Project Leader Lala S. Arabian says their work at the Insan School also “aims to help the children acquire the necessary skills to surmount the obstacles to their integration in the Lebanese school system and, consequently, into Lebanese society.” Likewise, the school provides necessary social support to Syrian refugee children and their families. 

Of all the challenges refugees face, women and girls have some particularly difficult obstacles to overcome. According to our nonprofit partner Developmental Action without Borders/Naba'a, the lack of access to proper clothing, underwear, and feminine hygiene products not only leads to infections, but also to discrimination. Since women lack rights to housing, they are wholly dependent on their family for security, even in situations of domestic and gender-based violence. As an immediate response to these issues, Naba’a’s project, Dignity for displaced women and girls in Lebanon, is providing much-needed clothing and sanitary items. 

For a long-term solution, Naba’a recognizes the important role education plays in an individual’s ongoing safety and independence. Currently, Naba’a is addressing this need through creating a girl’s advocacy committee that is working with the Lebanese municipalities to establish free and compulsory primary education. Naba’a has also been able to host 220 educational and awareness workshops for adolescent girls on topics such as decision making, the importance of education, and awareness of particular risks like domestic and sexual abuse. Lastly, Naba’a was able to target 986 Syrian refugee women with health services and drop-in clinics, as well as sensitizing nearly 10,000 individuals across Lebanon on sexual and gender-based violence.

The Syrian Refugee Relief Fund has also been instrumental in providing support to our partners assisting Syrian refugees in Greece. IsraAID is working in Sindo, a suburb of Thessaloniki that hosts a large Syrian refugee camp. IsraAID recently celebrated the one year anniversary of the opening of the Sindo Community Center which was created to provide holistic care and educational services for refugees. The SCC not only provides basic care items such as hygiene kits and heating packages, but also provides professional development courses that include English and Greek classes, skill-building sessions, and IT training. IsraAID reports that more than 70 refugees take advantage of the center’s workshops each day.

Thank you for generously supporting community-led relief efforts that assist individuals affected by the Syrian refugee crisis. In the upcoming months, we'll continue reporting on how your donations are helping to provide relief for vulnerable Syrian refugees.

 

With Gratitude,

Claire Hilton

Photo from Insan Association
Photo from Insan Association
Photo from Insan Association
Photo from Insan Association
 
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