A year on from Hurricane Irma

It’s hard to believe that nearly a year has passed since Hurricane Irma and Maria hit the BVI. The winds unleashed by these storms, particularly Hurricane Irma, were more ferocious than anything most of us had ever witnessed.

The devastation was total, and so hard to comprehend. Lives were lost, many homes flattened and entire communities uprooted. The force of nature’s fury was a powerful reminder that humanity is paying a terrible price for the way we treat our beautiful planet. 

While many in the BVI lost everything to these hurricanes, I remain inspired by their strength of spirit.

Virgin Unite and Unite BVI have looked carefully at where we could have the best impact to help the people of the BVI. The three areas we are supporting are community, (largely education), entrepreneurship and the environment.

To support education, we are working with the government to help rebuild the public high school on Virgin Gorda, the Bregado Flax Educational Center. Structural surveys & new architectural drawings for a resilient rebuild have been completed, demolition and other preparatory works have also been completed, and the construction work to rebuild the roof on the main classroom block at the secondary school is beginning.

We have provided more funding to the Chromebook project, a collaboratively funded project aimed at enriching education in the public high school system through the donation of over 650 computers for students and staff at the 10th-12th grade levels. We’re working with the Ministry of Education to provide teacher training and to integrate this technology in the classroom. 

We are also supporting the Youth Empowerment Project and MALE, two fantastic youth engagement and empowerment non-profit organisations in the BVI. These grants have enabled them to purchase mini-buses so that they can expand their reach across the BVI. We have also been supporting summer programmes with both organisations and helped YEP to acquire a computer lab. In addition we have supported ‘Write to Read’, a summer programme that focuses on enriching literacy skills among elementary school age public school students who have fallen behind do to the hurricanes delaying the start of school in 2017 (more on that to come).

We are also supporting disaster risk reduction and resilience training. Team Rubicon UK is a disaster response charity that built an impressive reputation in BVI whilst working with local and international partners and the local community in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Irma. This year, Team Rubicon are back in BVI promoting disaster preparedness and, to support their work, we have provided funding to train local non-governmental organisations and community groups to self-organise and be prepared to respond effectively in the event of another disaster. This capacity building is a very important element for the resiliency of the BVI.

To help boost entrepreneurship, we are supporting a trade-skill development programme through the local community college focusing on construction and maritime – which aims to provide hundreds of jobs and at least 70 apprenticeships. Through the KickStart BVI Small Business Loan Program, Unite BVI has awarded six zero-interest micro loans since the storms to help BVI entrepreneurs get back on their feet. Kickstart loans are  interest free, require no collateral down & allow customised repayment plans all to empower entrepreneurs who wish to establish businesses that are 'forces of good' in their local communities. One of the key eligibility requirements to access these loans are that your business must in a tangible way be positively impacting the environment or your local community. 

We also want to protect the environment of the BVI and raise awareness about the need to steward the planet with more care as extreme weather is directly related to climate change. We provided funding to the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), who have been working with the government and the BVI Electricity Corporation to develop an energy strategy for the future. We are now looking at how we can stimulate the development of more renewable energy across the BVI. This is a big step in making the BVI more sustainable and cleaner with decentralised and more resilient energy infrastructure.

Unite BVI is also providing funding to support the expansion of a recycling programme from Virgin Gorda to Tortola. With so much debris and waste following Irma, we are also continuing to support community clean ups in order to restore the beautiful islands, which will also help the recovering tourism industry.

The BVI wasn’t the only place devastated by hurricanes last year – many other parts of the Caribbean also felt the impact. It was wonderful to be in Jamaica recently to launch the Caribbean Accelerator. 26 countries (including the BVI) and 40 companies have signed up to making the Caribbean a clean, green, climate-smart zone, resilient to future disasters.

The spirit of the Caribbean is indomitable.  I want to thank everyone who has offered their support over the past year - together, we are helping the region get back on its feet. To find out more about our work and support further, head over to Unite BVI.

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