Meet The Children Living In The Path Of Monsters
In the space of just a few days, a young boy named Clefedlin Sait Juste has lived through more hurricanes than most people will experience in their lifetime.
He is only twelve years old, but has already seen the full force of what a category five hurricane can do.
Hurricane Irma was the most powerful hurricane to lash Turks and Caicos in decades. Hurricane Maria arrived just days later.
Now, countries throughout the Caribbean are counting the spiralling cost of these two devastating storms.
Fourteen-year-old Danessa Estme writes rap lyrics into her notebook. “Wake up, wake up! But 5:32? Why the hell am I waking up at 5:32?”
Irma is expected to cost the region around $85 billion. Maria’s cost is already estimated at $70 billion, and growing.
What can be done? So much, but above all — rebuilding.
For the children living on these islands, it is not just homes and possessions that have been lost.
More than 130 schools throughout Anguilla, Barbuda, British Virgin Islands and Turks and Caicos have been affected. Some are easily repaired. Others lie in bits and pieces.
“Ma, what’s going on? What do you want me to do? Did something happen to be up at 5:32?”
“Since the storm everything has changed. Everything got wet and destroyed - my electronic equipment, my computer,” says Clefledin.
“Some people say that in November I will go back to school,” he says, hopefully.
Clefedlin is one of the ten thousand children on this tiny collection of islands having to adjust to a new reality of broken buildings and shattered infrastructure.
“If I were rich I would donate to poor people,” he says, “To help them out with the hurricane.”
Caribbean nations are well used to tropical storms and hurricanes. But the frequency and intensity of those storms is increasing, and the resilience and resources of those living in this region are being stretched.
Besides Irma and Maria, add in Harvey, Jose, and Katia, and it is already an Atlantic hurricane season that will be spoken about for generations.
Outside her severely damaged home, fourteen-year-old Danessa Estme writes rap lyrics into her notebook.
“She is finally over, Hurricane Irma is finally done.”
“Wake up, wake up! But 5:32? Why the hell am I waking up at 5:32?” she writes.
“Ma, what’s going on? What do you want me to do? Did something happen to be up at 5:32? She is finally over, Hurricane Irma is finally done.”
Everywhere, Irma’s impact can be seen. Trees are uprooted, houses left roofless or missing walls.
Communities are littered with furniture, debris, and even cars that were picked up and scattered by the wind.
Outside what remains of her home in Providenciales, Berline Ditah holds her 5-month-old baby Recca Chery, wrapped up in a blanket to try and protect him from mosquitos.
“Everything is ruined since the storm. There are so many mosquitos, day and night, that it is impossible to rest,” she says.
“What worries me most is that my baby can get sick.”
The conditions right now are perfect for disease and sickness to spread, so providing communities with clean drinking water, sanitation, hygiene, and medical supplies is absolutely vital.
UNICEF has already identified almost 350,000 children who are in need of immediate assistance throughout the region.
The great majority of them are living in the most vulnerable communities, who must now prepare for further cyclones as the season progresses.
Two airlifts have provided relief supplies for Cuba, Turks and Caicos, and further deliveries including water purification tablets, tents, and hygiene supplies are being distributed in Haiti.
But with the damage from Maria still being assessed, the road to recovery will be long, difficult, and expensive.
The role of agencies like UNICEF is to ensure that communities are provided with the tools and resources to get them back on their feet, building greater resilience for when the next storm comes.
Back in Providenciales, fifteen-year-old Tayina Beltheus sits on a bed inside her home.
“One part of the house has no roof, it flew away with the wind. The other part is so messed up that I do not know how to describe it. Almost all of the clothes and furniture had to be thrown away.”
“Our television is gone, my mother’s bed is a disaster and our bed is also to be thrown away. Only two or three clothes we use for church have survived. So…that is my house now,” she says with a shrug.
All that can be done now is rebuild: homes, communities, livelihoods… and spirit.
Words by Lachlan Forsyth.
To support UNICEF’s work for children affected by disaster and upheaval, please donate at: unicef.org.nz/greatest-need