“This sense of community is incredibly empowering.”

14 July, 2019

Emma Siegel

First Impressions of Dominica, from Summer 2019 IsraAID Humanitarian Fellow Emma Siegel. After an overnight stay in Puerto Rico, I boarded a tiny airplane with 33 seats for Dominica. One Dominican passenger warned me that, due to the plane’s small size, I would feel a drop as we landed on higher ground. When I got off the plane, no luggage in tow (the plane could not support the weight of both passengers and cargo), I was struck by the “island vibes” and raw beauty of Dominica. Long roads twisted up and down the mountains. The peaks were filled to the brim with trees, colorful homes interspersed throughout. The tranquil Caribbean Sea met the rough Atlantic Ocean at the island’s eastern tip. Only an hour’s time difference from Chicago, I was taken aback by the physical wonder and isolation of the entirely new environment.

My first day in Dominica as an IsraAID Fellow was incredible. Sawana, the IsraAID Education Manager, partnered with the East Dominica Children’s Federation (EDCF) to host a training session on Early Childhood Development. The session incorporated psychosocial and disaster risk reduction (DRR) training, as well as educational resources and activities. Examples of activities include the use of child-friendly songs and sock puppets to illustrate the appropriate responses to different disasters, such as tsunamis, floods, and fires. By simulating classroom activities, IsraAID and the EDCF packaged the training in a way that would be easily transferable to children.

I soon learned that there is no certification program for Early Childhood educators on the island. As a result, Dominican preschool teachers and preschool owners are often untrained in Early Childhood Development (ECD) work. IsraAID partners with UNICEF, ECHO, and the Dominican Ministry of Education to create workshops where these individuals can gain an understanding of disaster preparedness and the key issues surrounding ECD.

It was powerful seeing female educators relate over their occupation, as well as the shared experience of Hurricane Maria. The camaraderie fostered by their survival, coupled with a humbling sense of responsibility for their students, has forged visible bonds between the women. This sense of community is incredibly empowering. One teacher’s student was diagnosed with cancer and is currently receiving treatment in Martinique. The women at the workshop pooled funds and managed to raise between $400-$600 (Eastern Caribbean Dollars) to help with the overwhelming medical expenses. Even when faced with their own needs, the women band together to help one another.

I later attended a graduation ceremony for the Business Training Center (BTC), led by one of IsraAID’s staff members, Lucia Stedman. The BTC grants those with an incomplete high school education the chance to obtain diplomas and associates degrees. The proud graduates, the majority of whom were women, were congratulated by Lucia, a pastor, a previous graduate, a valedictorian, and the Dominican Ministry of Education. As the ceremony concluded with the song “There’s an Overflow,” by Sinach, I couldn’t help but feel an extreme sense of pride and gratitude to be working alongside IsraAID in Dominica.

“I am shining as a house on a hill / My greatness cannot be hidden.” — Emma Siegel, Summer 2019 IsraAID Humanitarian Fellow in Dominica

In September 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated the Caribbean islands. The hurricane caused multiple fatalities and destroyed much of Dominica’s key infrastructure: electrical, water, agricultural, and buildings and homes. IsraAID’s team in Dominica has rebuilt hurricane-destroyed roofs; worked with the Ministry of Education; developed hurricane-resistant construction methods & practices for disaster risk management; and provided livelihood opportunities through beekeeping. Emma is currently attending Rice University in Houston, Texas. She is one of two IsraAID Humanitarian Fellows volunteering in Dominica for summer 2019.

We need your help to bring relief to the communities of Dominica. Please donate to IsraAID’s fund to support our response.
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