Building a Better Future
After a harrowing two days under threat from Hurricane Maria, the Serve On disaster responders are back at work and continuing to support the storm-battered people of the British Virgin Islands.
Their immediate priority is to provide a working communications system which would be a vital lifeline for the dispersed communities of Virgin Gorda, now and in the future.
Fortunately, two of the Serve On experts on hand, Craig and Simon, are signals specialists, and they have the support not only of our collaborative partners from Team Rubicon UK, but of the Virgin Islands Search and Rescue (VISAR) team and the ever-helpful Virgin Group of companies.
The first job of our teams on both Virgin Gorda and on Tortola was to stay safe and they emerged with 'mission accomplished' around 6am local time as the storm-force winds and rain of Hurricane Maria finally started to wane.
On Tortola, the team carried on with vital assessment work, updating the people's needs in the wake of the latest storm to ravage the island.
For the ordinary inhabitants of the Virgin Islands, it is not just paradise that has been lost but, for many, it is their homes and everything they own.
Most of them could never have dreamed of owning any of the luxury yachts which now lie wrecked, littering the landscape and the harbours, but they will certainly suffer from the damage done by the storms to islands' tourist industry.
On Virgin Gorda, our team liaised with the detachment of Royal Marines and their medic to get appropriate treatment for a 15-year-old boy who had fallen from a roof as he helped his father prepare the family home for Hurricane Maria and who, with his mother, had spent the night in the safe house with our team.
Apart from the loss of a few roof tiles, the house had withstood the storm largely unscathed and by noon the team were happy to remove the plywood boards from the windows and to let the Caribbean daylight flood in.
Returning to their previous base in The Valley, they found the building had been badly flooded and one major door had been ripped off by the Hurricane.
The team helped board up the gap and cleared debris and flood water from the main road as well as bailing out their base of operations.
They helped assess how the communities of North Sound and Leverick Bay and the Gun Creek clinic had withstood Hurricane Maria and found the stalwart Nurse Daisy tending seven patients at the clinic, now without a roof or power and with flood water in danger of damaging equipment.
Currently the only way of communicating between the dispersed communities on Virgin Gorda is to drive between them, if the roads are not blocked, which is what makes the setting up of a VHF radio network so vital.
Serve On volunteer Simon Thomasson, whose bosses at Ericsson have kindly supported his deployment to allow him to share his valuable skills as a telecoms engineer, had already helped identify a site for a maritime VHF repeater station before Maria struck.
Now Simon, who is normally based in the North of England, and the rest of the team are hoping Virgin will will be able to provide the equipment for our experts to help to install.
A VHF radio network would allow for emergency calls from the far-flung communities to get a prompt response and provide a pathway for the ordinary people to communicate their urgent needs as they pick up the pieces of their lives, whether it is building materials, medicines or food and water they require.
It would also allow them to keep up to date with the latest weather reports.
In the lead-up to Hurricane Maria, the sole source of accurate weather forecasts came from the Serve On BGAN satellite terminal, kindly donated to our team by e3 Systems (www.e3s.com) which has more than proved its worth.
Similarly, we have had reason to be grateful to Daisy Communications (www.daisygroup.com) for our new Ops phone.
It very much in the culture of our collaborative charities - both Serve On and Team Rubicon UK - to build sustainable disaster response systems in the countries that we respond to during disasters.
It would be a fitting legacy if, when our work is done, we leave behind communities that are safer because of the provision of a communications system, and we are also discussing our Community Resilience Team model with the local leaders on Virgin Gorda and asking whether this would be of any benefit to them in the future..
Though the Hurricane danger may have passed for now, there is still plenty of work to be done to rebuild lives, as one little bird proved as it set about its nest replacement, just days after Irma had destroyed just about every tree in sight.
In order to support this deployment and the day-to-day work of Serve On, helping disaster-hit communities around the world and at home, we need the public's help. Please give what help you can.
Any donations would be greatly appreciated.