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The children of the storms

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

On any regular weekday afternoon in Roseau, Dominica, you would see the children in school uniform pass. They hold each other’s hands to negotiate the slim footpaths while fretful adults follow nervously behind.

Around the same time, in the hilly villages out of town, the drivers slow to a crawl along frightfully narrow streets as students flow from their classrooms like the Layou River out to sea on a rainy day.

It is a new school term and school year. New texts and copybooks are stacked neatly away and fresh uniforms take proud places on the hangers.

Then, last week, a child looked up at the tall, shaken frame of the prime minister and asked: “Why did Jesus do this to us?”

Nobody has so far noticed, from among the hurriedly buried dead, any little ones. They are instead among the battered; many cowering beneath the tarpaulins or broken roofs and away from the mud now turned to dust along the streets outside.

In Barbuda, the first statistic was the two-year-old torn from the arms of his mother. In Saint Maarten it was little Oliver, pictured in the papers on the lap of his grandmother Melan “June” Salvary, who perished at the hands of Maria.

There is a “comforter” around Oliver’s neck. His plaited hair and crumpled shirt, evidence of a young child’s early days at school. Ms Salvary in her cap staring proudly at the camera.

Before Hurricane Maria, the Eastern Caribbean Office of UNICEF had launched a journalism project to record the conditions under which children in Hurricane Irma-affected islands were made to live.

Through that project, came a photograph of five year old Tiquanisha Lewis and her little sister, two year old Tiquania, on a makeshift swing in Anguilla against the backdrop of their shattered neighbourhood and a blue ocean that seemed to merge with a cloudless sky.

The swing was among the few things left standing in the area. If the photographer had asked Tiquanisha to smile, she must not to have listened very carefully.

Eleven-year-old Giovanni is outside the gutted Adrian T Hazell Primary School on the small British island colony. “As I saw the damage of the school I started to get sad because it may mean that I’m not going to see my friends or my teachers for a very long time.”

Over in Antigua, Prime Minister Gaston Browne was addressing a gathering of Barbudans rescued from the carnage of their now deserted island. On the live online stream, you could see mothers with children on their laps. From time to time a baby would interject with a dreadful reminder.

These are the children of the storms. They ask if Jesus made the winds blow away from the other islands, “why did he do this to us?”

There appears no sound theology to answer the question. At some time or the other, we must have all considered the question and come up with different answers when the priests and imams and pundits proved equally clueless. For, the storms have been of different hues, intensities and varieties.

Last week, a 13-year-old boy was raped in Guyana and thrown unconscious in the Berbice River to die. His body was found on Saturday. In T&T there are names we dare not forget: Sean Luke, Amy Emily Annamunthodo and latterly, Videsh Subar, among the many others.

There is, so often when thinking of these things, no punch line in our prose when we consider these victimised children, just that there sometimes appears to be great injustice in this world.

It does not appease me that all of this is someone’s or something’s “will” or that some greater logic now applies.

Today we have these children of the storms to ask the only real questions of our times. We need to listen to them, even if we do not know or understand the answers. They have a right to protection and care and full access to the quality justice that prevents them from abuse, neglect and the inherent hopelessness that can accompany economic circumstance.


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