One of Team Rubicon’s volunteers and staff member at Inmarsat, Damian Lewis, reflects on his experience after being deployed to the Caribbean to help rebuild communities devastated by the Category 5 Hurricane’s, Irma and Maria.
Just two months into my new role at one of Team Rubicon’s Corporate Partners, the satellite communications provider Inmarsat, I was offered the chance to join a group of colleagues on an Induction Course with Team Rubicon UK (TRUK). At first I felt slightly nervous not knowing how significant a contribution I could make because I’m not from a military background, or a firefighter or police office, engineer or tech. However, throughout the two-day Induction I gained a deeper understanding of TRUK, learnt some basic new skills and developed an enhanced appreciation of the value that ordinary people can add in a disaster response environment.
Before I knew it, Hurricane Irma struck, a request went out and I was heading towards TRUK HQ. On arrival, I found the rest of the team I would be deploying with already settled and gathered round in reverent silence, listening attentively to Operations Manager, Dan Cooke. He was relaying the heart-warming story of Nurse Daisy, one of the local heroes from the British Virgin Islands (BVI) who was working day and night in incredibly tough circumstances to provide care to islanders injured by the hurricanes and storms.
We flew out and after a layover in Antigua, my deployment in the BVI began on its largest island, Tortola, with a population of just over 20,000 people. The green island that I’d seen in pictures appeared scorched as our plane circled to land, leaves and other foliage having been ripped from their trees by the terrific storms. The bark stripped wood looked out of place against the unaffected crystal water, ushering the first sense of something being not quite right. It was an eerie picture.
Over the course of two weeks in the BVI, the landscape transformed significantly. Nature was healing quicker than the infrastructure around it, growing over the evidence of destruction, and there must now be concerns about the potential environmental impact of this concealed waste going forgotten.
I had the opportunity to be involved in some brilliantly impactful and rewarding work; bringing an airport back into operation so aid deliveries could land, clearing nurseries and schools of debris and stagnant water, delivering emergency supplies to more remote parts of the island as well as making classrooms and washrooms safe for children already back at school.
The experience I had is best framed as one of collaboration. I was working closely as a TRUK volunteer with the Red Cross, ShelterBox and Rotary International, receiving and distributing aid and sharing skills to enable deployment of temporary shelter and rebuilding of homes.
There’s a tremendous amount left to be done to rebuild the homes and lives of people affected by this disaster and there are islands in the region that I understand sustained even greater devastation than we witnessed on the BVI, but it feels as though cooperation between government, NGO’s, donors and local communities paves the right path to rebuilding. I’m grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to be involved in the valuable, tough but truly rewarding work that Team Rubicon has undertaken in response to this disaster and I hope I can be of service in the future.