“There is light at the end of the tunnel” a hopeful statement which was made by Protection, Gender and Inclusion (PGI) officer within the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Red Cross Society, Glenda Conliffe as she spoke on the importance of maintaining support to persons who were greatly affected by the volcanic eruption of La Soufriere.
Conliffe spoke on the significance of the area of PGI which she emphasised is a fundamental phase within the operations of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Red Cross Society (SVGRCS). She explained that PGI aids in the promotion and supports the protection of gender and inclusion of groups at risk of violence, discrimination and exclusion despite their age, gender or disability. She acknowledged that having to flee from one’s home and community can be a traumatic experience which can have ripple effects such as frustration and anger, hence, she stressed the need for ongoing psychosocial support and interaction with affected persons.
The PGI officer spoke on the challenges which she said vary from individual situation to family orientation. Conliffe explained that one of the biggest challenges has been the loss of income and independence of some persons, particularly the farmers and fishermen. She explained that the eruption of La Soufriere has severely impacted the agricultural sector leaving farmers desolate, without a substantial form of income, and fishermen had been unable to go out on sea for weeks after several eruptions which occurred days after the initial April 9 first explosive eruption. She said this forced many persons to do odd jobs; and other persons, went into a state of depression. Another challenge she said continues to be parents’ need for basic school supplies such as books, uniforms, and bags, despite schools not being in session. This she said is also due to the loss of income which many are now facing.
She assured that the SVGRCS is working closely with the government and the priority going forward is to have a more pronounced presence in communities across SVG. She said that volunteers have been trained in specific areas to assist persons while upholding some significant factors of PGI such as, treating persons with dignity, maintaining safety and access, and ensuring participation for all. Conliffe said the goal is to have persons returning home with a keen sense of normalcy, and added that the training of volunteers will be continuous to create and maintain a support system within the communities across the nation.
Gender protection and inclusion she explained, defines the protection of gender of adult male and female as well as children. She divulged that the SVGRCS’‘Volcano Relief Project’ saw the birth of the ‘Child Friendly Space’ (CFS) program. According to the PGI Officer, there was a great need for children to feel safe to continue to play and have some sort of normalcy as they were out of school. The CFS program aims to maintain inclusion of children, and to ensure that they feel as though they are still a part of something. The program involved the training of counsellors and teachers who would be able to build trust among the children to feel confident to speak with someone if the need arises, as well as engage in various recreational activities. Some of the activities include painting, tie-dying, ‘the emotional wheel’ activity, as well as various sports. To accommodate this program, the SVGRCS has introduced the “Child Friendly” space kits which include stationery, toys, books other supplies for children ages 0-18; all geared towards creating a space to encourage creativity, promote friendship bonds and stimulate ideas.
Responding to a question about the positive results observed in the evacuation process and shelter experience, Conliffe said that there is now a strong sense of community unity, a spirit of dependency on one another and there has been the ‘happy ending’ of broken friendships being rekindled.