Evoking Grenada’s spirit of rebuilding

Posted by at 24 September, at 14 : 23 PM Print

By Dr. Neals J. Chitan

Being a baby boomer growing up in the sixties and seventies, I frequently heard the sad emotional narratives of the devastating impact of Hurricane Janet on the tri-island nation of Grenada. As children, we would listen with baited breath as our parents and neighbors recounted the terrifying experience of the night of September 22, 1955, when the 175 MPH winds of that Category 5 Hurricane hauntingly “spoke in patios,” forcing them “under the bed” to take cover, while ripping everything in their path to shreds.

As we grew, the stories of tragedy dotted the landscape across Grenada with several spots carrying their own personalized “Janet” stories for generations.  Like the bridge at the bottom of the hill in St. David, where two children were “taken” by the river and washed away never to be seen again, or the cliff in Mirabeau where it was said, that a man whose roof was ripped off, flew across the valley still holding on to the roof and landed on the hill on the other side. These stories became our stories and even if we never experienced them, we relived them every time we reached these spots with our parents.

The retelling of these stories created a strange experiential curiosity in us as teenagers, and even if they evoked vivid imaginations of the horror and devastation of hurricanes, they also strangely implanted in us an unreasonable excitement to experience it ourselves every time there were reports of approaching bad weather.  And if the truth be told, that unreasonable excitement stayed with me for forty nine years until as an International Social Skill Consultant, I was contracted by United Nation Development Programme (UNDP) to return to my homeland to help the nation deal with the psychological and emotional trauma delivered on it by the onslaught of another Category 5 Hurricane Ivan “the terrible” in 2004.

Although like Janet, I also did not live through Ivan, this time I got to experience the physical and psychological devastation within days after, and trust me, from what I saw, I thank God I escaped it!! However, my task was to help the nation deal with the incapacitating psychological blow they received from the sudden loss of property and lives during Ivan and I was ready to engage “Project RISE AGAIN” a series of high impact sessions specifically designed to deliver a potent dose of inspiration and strategies needed to get up and rebuild.

In addition, my assignment included representing UNDP as special advisor for the social impact round table at the National Conference for the Strategic Rebuilding of Grenada, in the capital city of St. George’s, under the theme “Building Back Bigger and Better.” There, Prime Minister Keith Mitchell sent a surge of inspiration and positive expectancy through the audience with his opening remarks, as he reiterated an array of past national challenges his nation had risen up from, and how confident he was that Ivan could not stop Grenada from rising one more time. And as I listened, I said to myself, “That’s exactly the psychological cognitive mindset leaders must possess if building back bigger and better will happen.

Realizing that every segment of life in Grenada was devastatingly impacted, we decided to start treatment from the top. If leaders are traumatized and emotionally broken, how can they energize the nation’s rebuilding process?  So, we began with the staff of the Prime Minister’s office and the staff of associated ministries, pulling them together for “Building Success out of Tragedy” our first presentation of “Project RISE AGAIN.”

On hearing the power of this presentation, the Permanent Secretary in the Prime Minister’s ministry sent a recommendation to have these sessions for; all levels of command in the police force, SSU, Coast Guard, Immigration, staff of all government ministries, teachers, principals, clergy, churches, parents, youth and children, and we were off to the races!!

During the following month, despite no electricity, no microphones or no meeting places, we delivered 172 high impact sessions across the length and breadth of the nation inspiring them and equipping them to get up despite the loss, grief and trauma to rebuild, bigger and better.

I still remember as I engaged the session “Soaring or Grounded” which graphically illustrated how eagles use the powerful updrafts in storms to soar higher while chickens run for cover, the students got so excited they would rise to their feet and shout the chant; “I can be anything I want be, no matter what my happen to me, I’m an eagle, you’re an eagle, together we will soar!!”

There is no doubt in my mind that the power and positive impact of “Project RISE AGAIN” helped to a great extent neutralize the devastating emotional impact of Ivan, bringing inspiration, hope and strategies to help the Grenadian people get up and rebuild bigger and better.

I say “Hooray” to my island and feel proud to have been part of the recovery, one that is self-evident in 2017, as visitors traverse the landscape of the beautiful Spice Isle and see that we have rebuilt bigger and better indeed.

However, what is also evident to me is the permanent impact we’ve made on so many of the thousands of students we worked with. On my frequent returns, I am usually approached in banks, schools, government offices and corporations by children who are now professionals but who still remember and repeat for me “I can be anything I want to be, no matter what may happen to me, I’m an eagle, you’re and eagle, together we can soar!!”

In the days following Hurricane Irma’s devastation of Barbuda on September 06, 2017, Dr. Keith Mitchell, now the Chairman of CARICOM and his team visited the stricken island and reported that what Barbuda needs more that anything is hard cash and psychological help. And so, even if I don’t have the hard cash he recommended to impact all the residents affected, I am confident that I do have the psychological help he recommends through our “Project RISE AGAIN” and if necessary can negotiate to make it available to the islands which were devastated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, so they too can rise again and build back bigger and better!!

Caribbean News

Related Posts

Comments are closed.

About Us

Spiceislander.com was launched in 1999 with the intention of keeping Grenadians and West Indians with up to date news, sports and information. In the early days we were able to serve thousands of West Indians with live Cricket from around the world. We continue to provide day to day information to the entire Caribbean.