The British Virgin Islands has been my home for much of my life now. I’ve never seen anything like the devastation caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in the Caribbean. I’ve seen the deep pain that the people of the BVIs and other Caribbean countries have experienced, losing everything, their homes, their livelihoods, but certainly not their spirit. They are all facing an emergency situation and still need all of us to step up.
We were recently part of the announcement by Caribbean leaders to create a Caribbean Climate-Smart Coalition, an ambitious $8 billion climate investment plan to create the world’s first “climate-smart zone”. It will transform the regional energy system, build resiliency, drive economic growth and set a global example.
Today, I want to share our other plans for supporting the recovery of the BVI. At Virgin Unite and Unite BVI, we’ve carefully looked at where we feel our support can have the best impact for the region and are focusing on three key pillars to help with the long term recovery of the BVI. These are: community - specifically on education; entrepreneurship and environment.
As my son Sam shared in his short documentary Help, Hope and Hurricanes, we were very moved by the efforts of one young girl, who set up a school for fellow children in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Irma. She perfectly highlighted how important it is to keep educating young people across the BVI, and give them a degree of normality. We’re taking that example and expanding it, committing funds for recovery assessments of schools in Tortola and Virgin Gorda, and the first school we’ve identified is Bregado Flax Educational Center (BFEC), a public elementary and high school in Virgin Gorda.
Unite BVI will support The Ministry of Education & Culture in its work to provide a safe, secure and enriching learning environment for students at the (BFEC). The programme will look to rehabilitate the school addressing the significant hurricane damage to its infrastructure. Unite BVI has helped deliver a comprehensive structural assessment and a materials cost analysis and is in the process of exploring architectural and structural designs to build back greener, stronger, more resilient school and enriching educational environment for students and teachers.
Last month more than 20 Virgin Atlantic pilots and cabin crew, in conjunction with the BVI Tourist Board and VGROC, headed out to the BVI to support where they could. The group helped clean up the school and completed minor repairs to damaged sections of the building and administration rooms (I was able to join them on the final day and congratulate them on their wonderful work). The group was thrilled by the welcome and support that it received from the community and has vowed to return and provide more help and support.
Inside and outside of school, access to information is increasingly crucial in today’s world. Unite BVI, The Guana Fund and The Jarecki Family and The McLain Association for Children (MAC) are donating 650 Chromebooks to The Ministry of Education, with the goal of getting a Chromebook into the hands of every senior public high school student by early 2018. These will help enable the delivery of secondary education, giving teachers and students access to online training materials.
There are many more initiatives going on besides, and we’ll share more on our other focus pillars soon. It’s been a tough but incredibly inspiring time to be in the BVI, in the aftermath of the strongest hurricane ever to hit the Atlantic. As we are seeing time and time again, the spirit of the communities here is indomitable. What’s more, the support from so many of you from afar – including for our BVI Community Support Appeal and other fundraising efforts – has been wonderful. Together, we can all help to get the region back on its feet.