“We are one! Be each other’s keeper” – President of Guyanese Association in SVG tells diaspora there

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…as Guyanese willing to wait out volcanic crisis

President of Guyanese Association in SVG Gwyneth Cambridge

As the Caricom multi-island state of St Vincent and the Grenadines continues to grapple with the La Soufrière explosions, which have been sending thick columns of volcanic ash throughout the island and beyond, Guyanese resident in that state are being urged to be each other’s keepers during this natural disaster crisis.
This call was made by President of the Guyanese Association in St Vincent and the Grenadines, Gwyneth Cambridge.

There are several thousand Guyanese dwelling in that island state where La Soufrière volcano has become active again, and Guyana Times has been told that most of them are on the southern side of St Vincent, which has been marked as a Green Zone as of now, but has still been affected by the ashfall.

During a telephone interview with Guyana Times, the Guyana-born Gwyneth Cambridge implored other Guyanese on the island to assist their fellow countrymen and women who may be in need.

“What we have to do as Guyanese is to be able to remember that we are one, and remember what our National Motto says: One People, One Nation, One Destiny, and remember that we can be each other’s keepers and do what is right and help each other. You see somebody who needs help, well, you add that assistance, because we are one; and not because we don’t live in Guyana we can’t hold as one people,” she posited.

Cambridge, who has been living in the island state for over 30 years now, said that while there are Guyanese scattered throughout the country, they have been keeping in touch with as many persons as they can through the Association. However, she explained that the current membership of the association is merely 48, and so it has been difficult to reach out to non-member Guyanese.

Cambridge was unable to say how many Guyanese might have been living in the Red Zone and had to evacuate their homes. She related that there is at least one couple who lived on the periphery of the Red Zone, but they have not been heard from, as to whether they have shifted to a shelter or are seeking other accommodation.

Nevertheless, she said, the country’s National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO) is currently working to get the names of all the persons who have been displaced and are currently in the 78 Emergency Shelters established by Government, or have taken up accommodation at any of the hotels and guest houses that have been identified; or are seeking refuge with relatives, friends, or even strangers.

She noted that, by Monday, they should have a better idea of the situation of Guyanese there. In the meantime, they have put out, in the Association’s social media chat group, a notice for persons who are in need to reach out for help, or if they know of other Guyanese who require assistance, to so indicate.

Further, the Association is working with the Guyana Consulate in St Vincent to get in touch with Guyanese there.

According to Cambridge, while since October last year they were aware that the volcano’s eruption was imminent, and have been preparing for the event, the reality of the situation has been overwhelming.

“We’ve been hearing about it coming and we’ve had enough time to make some preparation, but sometimes being prepared and actually being in a situation in itself are two different entities. Everybody, including Guyanese in the country, would have had enough time to have their water storage organised and other stuff organised. What we have done is, after we’ve realised that the volcano is going to erupt, reached out and found out about members… But at the moment, everybody is hunkered down and kinda seeing how long this is going to go on,” she related.

The Guyanese Association President went on to say that this situation is particularly overwhelming for Guyanese living on the island, especially since this is a new experience for them. Added to this is the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic which SVG, like the rest of the world, has been grappling with over the past year.

“So, the double whammy of it has been somewhat a bit overwhelming for us. And as you known from our inhouse Guyanese experience, we know that we get rain and floods. But we are not really as much au fait with hurricanes and volcanoes and stuff like that, so the volcanic eruption is not something that is part of our exposure and culture in terms of us experiencing it. And the whole aspect of COVID coming in and merging with that has now created a sort of, to my mind, an overwhelming situation,” the recently retired Education Officer posited.

A section of the island covered in volcanic ash (Photo: UWI SRC)

She noted that they are now living in a volcanic island country and will now have to figure out how to survive amidst the volcanic eruptions which are now part of their lives.

Meanwhile, another Guyanese, Nicholas Johnson, told this publication that he is prepared to wait it out on the island, which he and his family have made their home in recent years.

He related that the entire island of St Vincent has experienced ashfall, and NEMO says the eruptions could continue for days, or even weeks.

“Well, everyone is mostly indoors right now. I’m in the Green Zone, so I haven’t seen as much ash as others up north… [But] I’m fine. Stocked up on food supply and water, and prepared to wait it out,” Johnson, who had sent his family back home to Guyana last month, indicated.

The University of West Indies (UWI) Seismic Research Centre said the volcano has entered an explosive eruptive phase that may continue over the next few days and weeks.

The streets and buildings in St Vincent are covered with inches of ash, with some roofs in the Red Zone area have caved in from the weight of the volcanic ash.

UWI SRC had said on Saturday that the ash thickness from the past 24 hours of eruptive activity varied from about 1mm in Colonaire (12.5km from the volcano) to about 10 to 15mm in Rabacca (7.4km from the volcano).

A collapsed roof from the weight of the volcanic ash (UWI SRC photo)

Meanwhile, UWI’s Geologist, Professor Richard Robertson, who is leading the response at La Soufrière, has said that while volcanic ash is not deadly, it’s not healthy, and it can cause respiratory issues.

An Ashfall Warning has been issued in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and the Government of Barbados has also issued a Severe Volcanic Ash Warning on Saturday morning after thick plumes of ash had begun affecting part of the island. St Lucia has also issued an Ashfall Advisory.