What is a seaside village, which relies heavily on tourism, supposed to do when faced with a pandemic threat such as coronavirus? Treasure Beach has attracted foreigners and Jamaicans for many years, often as returning guests, like myself. Now those who live there year round are wondering when they’ll next earn even US$1 (yes, one dollar!), so they can buy a beef patty or a hand of bananas, let alone US$10 or more to feed their family for a day.
Treasure Beach residents, however, are not about to take this lying down depressed in their beds. They have dealt with disasters brought on by hurricanes, dengue fever and droughts before. “In the past both the community and our visitors have joined forces to help out,” Rebecca Wiersma, director of Treasure Tours and the chairperson of the Treasure Beach Destination Management Organization, told me. “We are known as The Home of Community Tourism. This is much more than a slogan – it is a reality and a way of life,” informed Rebecca, who moved to Jamaica in the early 1990s and has now lived in Treasure Beach for 28 years.
So, with this in mind, their always-united community are moving towards saving themselves. “Even though this is a very tough knock to our main source of income, tourism, we will do as we have always done before and work together to make sure we all come out of this stronger,” Rebecca insists.
Less than a month after the first case of COVID-19 in Jamaica was diagnosed, Rebecca, along with another longtime Treasure Beach resident, who wishes to remain anonymous, and MycoMeditations, spearheaded an initiative that has not only created employment, but also provides face masks to the frontline workforce within the community. This team managed to source material from LP Azar, thanks to a Treasure Beach villa owner, Maria Azar, who also acquired an approved pattern for the masks and passed it on to them.
Presently, six local seamstresses have been employed for this project. Within one and a half weeks, they have completed three quarters of their target of 1200 masks. Approximately 250 of them are to be made with 100% cotton and interfacing, with a pouch in the middle of the material to add more protection for those who want to do so. “These are the ones we are giving to front line workers….we have given 201 of these masks so far to our local police, shopkeepers, restaurant operators, fruit and vegetable sellers, the propane gas delivery persons, etcetera,” Rebecca proudly stated. They also have a material with a cotton and dacron blend that will be used for the remaining masks, also with inner pouch-like slits, which will be sold for J$300 (just over US$2) around Treasure Beach in shops and supermarkets. “The reason we decided to sell them was we were afraid if we gave them away it might create a crowd of persons trying to get them and they may end up taking more than they need. We did not want to see any crowds, nor masks not being used,” Rebecca pointed out. “The J$300 will go to fund either making more masks or another community-based project. As this is such a fluid situation, we are not sure what the next project will be. For example, who would have thought we would have needed masks one month ago? So we are just going to see what will present itself as the next need for the community.” Each seamstress is able to sew 40 masks a day and is paid J$100 for each one, allowing them to earn J$4000 (about US$28.50) for one day’s work.
Rebecca also told Maco that they have been given donations by local businesses and friends of Treasure Beach living abroad. Imagine if donations keep coming, then perhaps masks could be made for other nearby communities, protecting more people from the threat of COVID-19, whilst simultaneously creating even more jobs.
The pride and determination of Treasure Beach denizens does not stop there, however. The Treasure Beach Women’s Group (TBWG) recently distributed gift baskets, each containing basic first aid kids, rubbing alcohol, toiletries, water crackers and other staples to 40 shut-ins and the elderly. A local retired doctor, Dr. Vish, and his wife, a nurse practitioner, have expanded their health clinic to provide free healthcare to those who have lost their jobs. Also, “BREDS Treasure Beach Foundation is working with Food for the Poor, handing out some food items to those in need in the community, and one of our local farmers, since he has not been able to sell his crops, has been bringing this produce to local hospitals, childrens’ homes, etcetera, and giving them away. Other residents are helping him with his costs for gas, etcetera, so he can continue to do this,” Rebecca added. This is precisely what Treasure Beach is excellent at doing – coming together as COVID-19 becomes a threat to Jamaican communities.