A Roof of One’s Own

25 September, 2018

Hannah Gaventa

Hannah Gaventa, IsraAID’s Country Director in Dominica, reflects on the meaning of the Jewish festival of Sukkot, as her team repairs the roofs of more than 100 of the island’s most vulnerable households. As Jewish communities around the world celebrate the festival of Sukkot by sitting in temporary shelters, with makeshift walls and roofs made of leaves, I find myself in the Caribbean island of Dominica, one of only a few Jews on the island.

I am here as Country Director for IsraAID, supporting communities as they rebuild after the devastation of Hurricane Maria, which hit the Caribbean island almost exactly one year ago on 20th September, 2017.

Winds of 170mph wrought destruction to almost all infrastructure on the island, devastating buildings and ripping roofs from homes in a matter of hours. 98% of buildings in Dominica were damaged.

As one of the first teams on-the-ground, just one week after Maria hit, IsraAID’s initial priority was to help provide access to safe water, food and medicine for the island’s 73,000 people.
As Dominica began the long road to recovery, IsraAID has been there every step of the way, with education projects, livelihood opportunities, disaster preparedness work and shelter restoration.
A partnership was developed with Digicel, the major Caribbean mobile phone network, to repair roofs in Dominica’s south-east, one of the island’s most vulnerable areas.

It is now a year after Hurricane Maria, and IsraAID, with the support of Digicel, the United Nations Development Programme, the Beverly Foundation, and LDS Charities, has been able to repair 110 roofs in Dominica. That’s 110 families who have returned to their homes, knowing that their new roof has been built to be hurricane resistant by specialist IsraAID architects and engineers.

As Jews around the world sit in our own temporary homes this Sukkot, I’ll be thinking about the 110 families in Dominica who have spent the past year living under tarpaulin, hoping that rain doesn’t enter their homes, and praying that another strong wind doesn’t come to lift their only source of shelter away.

Sukkot is a time to reflect on our material values. As we eat festive meals in the Sukkah, we have a unique opportunity to understand for ourselves how valuable it is to have a house that is strong and resilient, and how vulnerable a temporary dwelling can be. A house gives us security and allows us to focus on our goals and dreams, without worrying about whether the walls surrounding us will survive the night.

There are too many people around the world who are living in temporary shelters, not just for a week-long festival, but every day, at the mercy of the climate around them, vulnerable to storms, typhoons, and hurricanes.

At Sukkot, our challenge is not just to reflect, but to act: to make a change in this world that will help those in need around us. We are all global citizens. We are responsible for each other.

Although this year I won’t be celebrating Sukkot with my Jewish community in the UK, I am proud to be part of the IsraAID team here in Dominica, helping to ensure that communities not only rebuild, but build back better, and to support the people of Dominica as they create a resilient future.

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