The images are harrowing. Houses with their roofs blown off, trees strewn across the road, power lines wrecked, transport thrown into confusion, people crying, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink. Unseen amidst the confusion, the spectre of health service hurdles loom as an island infrastructure breaks down. Who will look after the old, the sick, the children? Who will rebuild the country?
A question forms as you look at the screen: what can I do?
When disaster strikes a place or people we know and care about, we often feel helpless. Beyond sending money, there seems to be no practical way we can help. Thousands of miles away this precious island, in its darkest hours, needs our energy and expertise. Now there is a way to make that connection.
The Caribbean Diaspora Skills Directory Community Interest Company (CIC) has been set up to harness the professional skills and talents of the Caribbean diaspora to provide support, contacts and networks as a resource for the Caribbean region.
The Caribbean Skills Bank is a brilliantly simple, and simply brilliant, idea. Essentially, it’s an online database that allows volunteers to register themselves, and most importantly the skills they are willing to share, and for organisations and countries in the Caribbean to register their interest in using those skills.
Its website says: “We’re reaching out to mature and senior professionals, middle managers, specialists and people who are willing to help. Tell us what you have to offer and a little about your expertise and we’ll work with our partners on turning that into concrete help and support for the region.”
Although there are many possible applications for this kind of two-way engagement between the Caribbean and its diaspora, the days following a disaster are when the Skills Bank will really come into its own. Recent floods in Britain have shown how extreme weather events can cause havoc even in a well-resourced European country. Caribbean islands are vulnerable to hurricanes and storm surges, and urgent and caring intervention is essential.
So what sort of skills and people are likely to be needed? Some are obvious, such as emergency responders who have access to rescue boats, generators and medical supplies, and disaster relief volunteers who are used to working with aid organisations. But airline personnel and experienced admin staff who can help reorganise flights and get stranded people homes are needed too, as are tree-removal experts, auto mechanics, urban repair experts, hardware suppliers, architects and restoration specialists… the list is as long as the needs are great.