~ Stepped Up for Hurricane Irma Disaster Relief ~
Hurricane Irma hit St. Maarten on Wednesday morning, September 6th, and brought with her a path of destruction never before seen in the Caribbean. Over 90% of the island was heavily damaged with many of the homes and businesses destroyed. A few hours after the hurricane passed over the island, K1 volunteers shot straight into action and were cleaning rubble, debris, assessing the livability of shelters and comforting those they met along the way.
K1 Britannia Foundation and its volunteers are no stranger to natural disasters. In 2015, a team of K1 volunteers travelled to Nepal after the earthquake struck and assisted the doctors and aid workers as well as provided trauma counseling. But the real trials came two and a half years later, when a disaster hit home.
As a foundation, they knew that Hurricane Irma would bring lots of damage but they were ready to help out where-ever and how-ever they could. Chiara Bowers, project manager of the foundation explained that they were proactive: “Before Hurricane Irma, we contacted various non-profits on the island who cater to the elderly, youth and abused and offered our help by means of aid and volunteer assistance. In the first week, we gathered our volunteers and made it a priority to gather as much food, water and general supplies to those most in need. Mr. Danny Ramchandani, owner of Le Grand Marché played a very special role in our efforts by donating whatever food was left for us to distribute on the island specifically to the shelters and other homes that needed care. We worked closely with the Koninklijke Marechaussee (Dutch Royal Arm Force) who provided much needed security when looting was a concern. We provided fresh vegetables, fruit, canned goods, water and cleaning supplies to various organizations such as the foster homes, shelters, White and Yellow Cross Care Foundation (WYC), St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC), Fire Department, Police Department and the prison. We held meetings with those in charge of the shelters and as a result, cleaned and prepared new shelters and provided food and water when needed.”
As the first week ended, K1 was called in to unload and assist with water distribution in the Dutch Quarter/Belvedere and Point Blanche. This would the beginning of their role in the mass distribution of relief supplies.
Second Week Synopsis
In the second week, the volunteers were requested to assist the Government’s distribution of food and water. This became their primary activity. The food and water was provided via the St. Maarten Harbour.
With on average of 20 volunteers a day, K1 did water and food distributions to these areas twice, St. Peters, Bush Road, Middle Region, Philipsburg and St. Johns.
Besides the mass distributions, they continued to check in on the vulnerable institutions and assisted with water and food on multiple occasions. Mental Health Foundation, Safe Haven, the I Can Foster Home and Turning Point were added to their list of recipients.
The volunteers remarked that the gratitude shown by individuals and organizations were extremely rewarding, Bowers noted, “What stood out to me was the gratitude persons and institutions displayed, especially early on when supermarkets were not open. It was a nice moment to be able to have that individual connection with the person who is benefiting from the goods. A heartwarming moment was at the Middle Region food and water distribution when a young boy, after leaving the line with goods and water, screamed “I am rich!” Volunteer Cameron Hyman added “A highlight for me is just seeing people's faces light up when they receive things, that on a regular day no one would want. Also, being able to do my part to give people a sense of normalcy.”
Early in the week, the organization was also requested to assist as Site managers for evacuation centers around the island to prepare for Hurricane Maria’s imminent arrival. The volunteers took on the challenge and 8 K! volunteers manned 4 shelters along with the help of Red Cross and the Koninklijke Marine for 48 hours during and post Hurricane Maria.
Third Week Synopsis
This week, the main focus was the shifting of disaster relief to exploring long term help. Meetings were held to discuss solutions for long-term sustainability of people being able to buy food, how we can help with the setup of the soup kitchens on the island to feed those who are desperately in need as well as seeing how the foundation can partner with the St. Maarten Development Fund (SMDF) to help the institutions under their umbrella.
Mass and mini water and food distributions were held in Madame Estate, Cole Bay and Dutch Quarter.
As K1 Foundation has committed to taking care of total of 700 people until the end of October in the various vulnerable institutions such as White and Yellow Cross Care Foundation, St. Maarten Medical Center, Safe Haven Foundation, Mental Health Foundation, I Can and New Start Foster Homes, Turning Point, and over 90 children under protective custody. Throughout the week multiple deliveries were made to supply their immediate and short term needs.
The foundation would like to say a heartfelt thank you to each volunteer who spent their time, effort, love and positive spirit to help St. Maarten recover and begin to rebuild. Bowers reported, “The volunteers were genuine, caring, hard-working and dedicated which made our team very efficient and effective and had a great sense of togetherness and team spirit.
Over 50 different volunteers have spent time helping the relief efforts with long, hot days and working 12+ hours per day. Describing her highlight of her time volunteering, Sandy Offringa stated “The highlight for me has been to be surrounded by selfless, hardworking, dedicated souls with hearts of gold who have one common goal: Help those who are in need.” Volunteer Sarai Pardo added “Working with K1 was an experience on its own! Not only the people who turned into family but the enthusiasm and determination of team spirit. It's not the quantity but the quality of the work and players on board. Thanks for the memory and more to come.” Yasmine Essed has similar sentiments saying, “Working with the K1 FAMILY has been nothing but positivity. We truly are one united 'family' of inspirational individuals who all share the same goal: make St. Maarten great again and do as much as possible to help the people in need. Knowing that the hours, days and weeks of work that we've put in has helped the people with whom we share this paradise that we call home, truly lights up my heart.”
The Foundation will continue to support these nonprofits, vulnerable persons in the community as well as seek long term help.
Right now the foundation is transitioning to the long-term help of rebuilding for the different institutions we have been caring for - going beyond food and water. Bowers urges those who are interested to find out more: “We are getting into what structural help is needed to rebuild, reopen and for them to be functional again. If you would like to support the foundation and it’s efforts please visit our website at www.k1britanniafoundation.org or our Facebook at www.facebook.com/K1SXM.”