Bythe end of January, 2020 Honourable Allen Chastanet, the Prime Minister of Saint Lucia recognized that he had a plan in place to prepare his country for the impact of the COVID-19 virus. Negotiations with the ECCB and World Bank started early, as did discussions with airlines and cruise carriers and an early lockdown was declared when the first few community cases were announced. The country has had regular updates and reliable medical advice from the Chief Medical Officer and has been successful thus far in stemming the tide of the virus . However, as a small island, the financial consequences of the economic shutdown were catastrophic. Its tourism product would be destroyed.
Tourism workers numbering over 13,000 became jobless overnight and joined the ranks of the unemployed seeking support from Government. The Government had recently provided 10,000 grocery hampers to those struggling financially. Now – during the next 6 weeks – a nation wide feeding programme will be put in place.
The programme is expected to feed up to ten thousand people daily. In addition, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Health, Senator Mary Isaac wanted to ensure the protection of the island’s frontline workers – the doctors, nurses, healthcare personnel, police and fire officers who put their lives on the line each day. It was critical to ensure that the island had several months’ supply of personal protective equipment and medical supplies in order to mount the most vigorous defence against the spread of this virus.
And so the idea of a national telethon was born. The Prime Minister turned to his Minister of Tourism, Dominic Fedee, who in turn mounted a team of committed persons including the Head of Invest Saint Lucia Mr. Pinkley Francis, the CEO of the Saint Lucia Tourism Authority and the First Lady Raquel Du Boulay-Chastanet, who has spearheaded a large number of fundraising initiatives over the past four years, to help orchestrate the effort. The team recognized the urgency of the situation and with a timeframe of only eight days, sensitized the nation and the diaspora to the need for the telethon and began drumming up support.
Due to lockdown restrictions and the need for social distancing, it was agreed to host the first-ever “virtual” telethon and concert which meant that speakers and musical artists had to submit their contributions via video, in most instances, showing live or pre-recorded performances at their homes. The biggest names in the business like Ricky T, Teddyson John, Boo Hinkson, Claudia Edward, Emrand Henry and Arthur Allain amongst many others all jumped on board and supported with artistic and financial contributions. In the end it was fascinating viewing as the island’s citizens and supporters of the cause worldwide pledged sums never before witnessed on the small island. Over $2.6 million has been raised with more expected to come in as the Go Fund Me account remains active until the 11th May, 2020.
At the end of the telecast, a humbled Prime Minister made an appearance to thank his country and his people for their overwhelming support for the initiative and to express his and his Government’s gratitude for the organizers and the volunteers who manned the telephones all afternoon. Prime Minister Chastanet signed off by reminding all Saint Lucians that the overwhelming success of the telethon was proof positive that the fight against COVID-19 was winnable if the entire nation works together.