Lessons from Earl: No. 1, Not all disasters are alike

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Grand Caribe Resort on Sunday morning, Aug. 6, 2016.
A photographer stops to capture the sunrise and battered but still stately dock at Grand Caribe Resort on Sunday morning, Aug. 6, 2016.

When almost an entire block on Middle Street in San Pedro went up in flames in June — leaving 66 people homeless and a number of businesses crippled or wiped out — the whole world responded with unconditional generosity.

Certainly the whole of Ambergris Caye did.

Scores of volunteers stepped in to help clear away debris. They didn’t ask which rubble belonged to homes and which to businesses. The amount of clothing and food donated could be calculated in tonnage and by the size of the hearts of the people on Ambergris Caye.

The San Pedro Food Bank is looking for volunteers to help

sort and distribute clothing to Hurricane Earl victims!

Report to the Lions Den, downtown San Pedro,

at 9 a.m. on Tuesday.

Barges and planes brought in even more aid from the mainland.

A significant amount of cash was raised in numerous and imaginative ways. Nobody designated their dollars to go to specific people or businesses.

People just gave — time, money, food, clothing, shelter.

Hurricane Earl is different.

Or it seems that way.

First, the disaster hit the most populated areas of the entire country of Belize. Belize City, Belmopan, Ladyville, Stann Creek, Orange Walk, Cayo, Caye Caulker — these places are dealing with the same challenges as Ambergris Caye.

I feel like we’re on our own this time. Understandably.

People seem exhausted, too. I’ve actually seen pleas for people to stop publishing “disaster pictures.” Really? Stop telling our story to the world? I get it. This is Paradise. We all want “normal” back as soon as possible. But the world needs to know we aren’t there yet.

The most powerful message to the world that I’ve seen yet is “You want to help? Don’t cancel your vacation to Belize!”

This time, some of the citizens hit worst by disaster are — let’s be honest — invisible.  They live on the lagoon side.  They live in San Mateo. They live where gringos don’t usually go. While gringos middle-class San Pedranos whined about water damage, loss of Internet and electricity, people who every day live on top of water damage and never had Internet or electricity — they lost their homes.

How many?

Everybody has a different answer. Six homes lost. Two homes lost. Who really knows?

The bigger disaster may be that people who already lived on the margins of life financially saw the margins erased by Hurricane Earl. People who already worked the lowest paying jobs now find themselves out of work during this recovery and thus out of money for food, rent, clothing — with families to care for.

Then again, most attention has been focused the waterfront disaster — the many docks and businesses that disappeared overnight — losses that NEMO chair and Minister Manuel Heredia Jr. are in the millions of dollars.  This is emotionally overwhelming and visually spectacular stuff. This is an immediate validation of the Power and Wrath of Earl.

Shattered docks are easier to spot than shattered lives.

It has been a major clearing and salvage operation and it has been an admirable combination of volunteers, neighbors, town council employees and employees of the businesses that were hit by Earl.

Perhaps there has been less ballyhoo about volunteers because we all just went through it a month ago. This is what we do. We put on boots/sneakers and gloves, grab shovels and rakes and pitch in.

We are San Pedro.

But who is leading the charge? Am I missing a central clearing house for volunteers?

I know the Belize Consulate in Miami, Florida, has set up a gofundme.com page. What is a consulate in Miami, anyway? Not a lot of enthusiasm for its campaign. As of Monday morning, the consulate had raised $3,625 USD toward its extremely modest $50,000 goal.

“Due to the usual delays associated with collecting clothing and food items,” explains the consulate in Miami,  “we are asking your help in gathering monetary donations in order to speedily reach the people and areas needing the most critical help.

“If however you wish to simultaneously donate clothing, food and medical supplies you may contact your local salvation army for information on how to get your items to Belize since they have a very organized hurricane relief system in collecting supplies. ”

And of course, as always, the Red Cross is asking for donations, although its efforts are focused on the flood-smacked mainland this time.

“You can make your donation to the Belize Red Cross disaster account at Scotia Bank Belize account in name of Belize Red Cross Disaster Account – 9141645 Please make note what area of the country you are looking for your Hurricane Earl donation to go to.

Locally the most focused relief effort I have found is our own San Pedro Food Bank, of course.

Here’s the low-down:

“The San Pedro Food Bank is currently requesting food item donation to assist in Hurricane Relief. We will be distributing food items to families affected by Hurricane Earl.

“Thanks to the assistance of K-mart we were able to send out a round of food today (Sunday, Aug. 7).

“You can drop food donations off to any of our friends, Lola’s, Crazy Canucks Beach Bar, Amigos Del Mar Dive Shop, Sandbar San Pedro, Wayo’s Beach Bar, K-mart — or upstairs at Lions Den on Tuesday. Thank you!”

Are you looking for a direct impact from your donation?

You can take it to the bank.

I suspect there are other fund raising and assistance efforts under way. Who knows? There may be a small army of Christian missionaries in the States massing with hammers and nails, lumber and plywood — en route to San Mateo to help rebuild some homes.

If there are more ways to help, feel free to post them here or contact me (robertj.hawkins2012@gmail.com). I’ll keep adding to this post as I get the information. Maybe this can be the clearing house for Hurricane Earl assistance information.

Oh, and as for all the nastiness on Facebook over a gofundme page that was set up for the obliterated Palapa Bar, step back from Facebook, put your keyboard and self-righteous indignation down, take a breath — then look for ways you can help your community. That page was set up with heartfelt good intentions for people who have given back to this community a thousand-fold.

And yes, people are right to say help is needed elsewhere, too. Help is needed everywhere.

But this isn’t a zero-sum game. A good deed in one area does not take away from good needs elsewhere. Every act of kindness breeds more acts of kindness.

In the end, no matter where you put your money, time or donations — all boats will be lifted. Carpenters and contractors will get work. Restaurant employees will get back their jobs. Dive shops and tour operators will reopen — and the invisible poor in San Mateo will get food and shelter and maybe be invisible no more.


6 thoughts on “Lessons from Earl: No. 1, Not all disasters are alike

    Jane said:
    August 8, 2016 at 8:40 am

    So well said, as always, Robert!


    Randi Donselar said:
    August 8, 2016 at 10:44 am



    Rose Alcantara said:
    August 8, 2016 at 11:14 am

    Well said Bobby




    Joan Pedrotti said:
    August 9, 2016 at 6:39 am

    Our prayers are with you. We have reached out to our friends on the island with offers of assistance, we will make our contributions … and most importantly, we will be back as soon as we can. You and Rose stay safe, and keep telling the story.


    […] Click through for a good read by Robert Hawkins – Lessons from Earl: No. 1, Not all disasters are alike. […]


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