While the Caribbean region has been spared comparatively to other countries, COVID-19 has still stalled economies and lives to a startling degree. One thing has become abundantly clear in the deafening solitude, however: Caribbean people are resilient. If you were to examine our Caribbean people and culture closely, you’ll begin to surmise it’s just the way we are.
By ‘just the way we are’, I mean culturally speaking, the Caribbean people have for many centuries been banding together to stave off many a crisis. Be it post slavery and indentureship, or post hurricane, flood and earthquake, the Caribbean’s deep sense of commitment to helping their communities has been the saving grace for many. The collection of various other cultures that’s been combined to create a singular regional belief system of “all ah we is one” has been the invisible thread that unites the islands.
Examples of this kind of culture has been seen regularly, especially in the last few months. You’ve seen the men and women wading through flood waters, one or two even dying as a result, to help others who were stranded. You’ve also seen small and large businesses become caretakers to nurses, doctors and other essential workers by providing them with meals, pivoting to producing hand sanitisers, discounted or free services during this global pandemic.
You’ve heard how willing people are to ‘knock ah pot’ for their neighbours if they realise they didn’t have enough to eat for no reason other than it is the thing right thing to do. You’ve absolutely seen governments sending millions in aid as high winds ripped homes and lives apart; sometimes when it also seemed like they didn’t have enough for their own people. This type of community togetherness and what’s been described as laid-back, hospitable island lifestyle, is what truly makes us special.
The purposeful choice to lend a hand, to help out without being asked, to give back without wondering how it will immediately benefit them is part of a Caribbean national’s upbringing. This attitude also lends itself to how Caribbean people express themselves as well. From poetry, comedic skits, funny memes or well thought out articles, Caribbean people have been actively engaging in cultural expressions to make people feel better about this situation. It may not seem like a key item to add to a recovery strategy, but if you consider the emotional ramifications this pandemic has had on people’s mental health, you’ll soon recognise the importance of using culture as a viable coping mechanism to move forward.
Without our Caribbean culture of helping others out, be it by volunteering their time, money and energy to help a single person or by mobilising a group to help dozens of community members, I don’t think we’d be as prepared to move past the fallout of this pandemic. Even as the Caribbean region is seen as a collection of small island developing states (SIDS), it’s our Caribbean culture that’s been prioritised as a strength and identified as a way to navigate disasters of any making. According to UN synthesis report on integrating volunteering into the 2030 Agenda for Latin America and the Caribbean , “Volunteering is understood and implemented in different ways across the region. There is a long history of civic engagement and volunteerism in many countries, including peasant movements, trade unions and women’s organizations.”
Furthermore, Deputy Executive Director at CDEMA, Ms. Elizabeth Riley in a recent address in Barbados stated, “As a corollary, culture is an enabler for resilience, a weapon in the recovery arsenal.” Adding to the conversation was Mr. Didier Trebucq, the United Nations Resident Coordinator for Barbados and the OECS, “While loss of human life is paramount in natural disasters, the loss of a nation’s culture and cultural artefacts can also be devastating. Culture as you know, connects persons to their past and can be a powerful tool in strengthening resilience, generally, while supporting sustainable recovery following the impact of disasters”.
The importance of individual involvement in community building and giving back, even if we believe we don’t have much to give, has never been more apparent. As a regional community, we have the basic foundation, but we have to keep building on what we have naturally by stretching our hearts and imaginations. But first, we have to recognise how super powered we are before we set about saving the rest of the world.
If you’d like to offer your ideas on community involvement and how supporting others will shape our future, please take this UN Volunteers global online survey to record your feedback.