by JP Schwmon
Vincentian Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has described as “initial teething problems” several reports of dissonance that cropped up in at least 2 government managed Emergency Shelters since evacuees were ordered to occupy those spaces.
“You hear me talking about we must avoid the vanities of small differences; in a number of shelters you have vanity issues – a personal thing here, a personal thing there – weh you go do? It’s life. You have them at your work place much less to when you bring people together in a rush,” PM Gonsalves told ANN as he toured the Windward side of mainland SVG on Saturday. Dr. Gonsalves was confident though that “the bulk of [the shelters] are quite well managed.”
One day prior Winfield Tannis-Abbott, now a former shelter manager, resigned his post – with immediate effect – citing irreconcilable differences with the school’s principal. The persistent volunteer shared in a Facebook broadcast, “as of this afternoon I am no longer the Shelter Manager for the Calliaqua Anglican Primary School Emergency Shelter. “For my peace of mind and sanity I have decided to step away and leave it for the Principal of the school with her bullying disgusting authoritarian behaviour to finally have total control it is exactly what she wanted as she kept saying that she is in total control and is the Shelter Manager, I was only in the position when it suited her. “I always say Winfield when the space you are a part of becomes toxic, walk away and remove yourself.”
According to some reports reaching us, “a power struggle over who [exactly] was in charge” of that government operated Emergency Shelter was a longstanding feature of the duo’s relationship. One National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) staffer confirmed, “I know that he [Tannis-Abbott’s] and the principal has long had differences and he has complained about her before; him quitting is actually pretty shocking to me because he is very dedicated.” Although our source was unclear as to the precise reason behind Tannis-Abbott’s sudden resignation s/he also confirmed that such personality clashes has flared up in other areas resulting also in at least one other Shelter Manager retiring his post. “We’ve seen a number of Shelter Management issues.
I know of another case where a Shelter Manager quit and somebody else took over but that’s not as high in terms of profile as [Winfield Tannis-Abbott] because he is one of the better Shelter Managers.” Sometime following Tannis-Abbott’s resignation, a woman took to Facebook decrying the interim manager’s service. That post has since been removed and with it evidence of the allegations that the supposed Shelter resident leveled at the school’s principal.
Another post appeared on Tannis-Abbott’s Facebook feed last Monday April 19. In it he congratulated former Deputy Shelter Manager Marlon Joseph on his increased responsibility for the Calliaqua centers and pledged his “100% fullest support just as he [Joseph] supported me….” Joseph, in turn, opted not rehash the immediate past but assured Asbert News Network of his desire, “to go about [his] work as quietly and effectively as possible.” Elsewhere at the Diamonds Primary School Simeon Greene, another Shelter Manager listed several non-personality based challenges that have surfaced under his stewardship. “Mainly water and bedding; beds for the people to sleep on.
And now dust [ash]. The dust created a real difficult problem for us because you have to be constantly cleaning and when the vehicles pass the dust is always flying. “I think we have 7 children 5 years old and under in this Shelter. So that’s a real concern for us,” the former head of the now defunct Banana Growers Association explained. He further noted his displeasure with the prevailing bedding issue which one shelter resident described for us. She said, “ah ground we sleeping on and it’s hard to be sleeping on the ground that would make us catch a cold. But weh arwe could do to that? We can’t do anything to that except to ask for a helping hand.”
Another resident explained, “every room has a mattress but not everybody in the room has a mattress. It have rooms with like 7 people inside but only one mattress deh in deh.” Greene alluded that he’d raised the issue with members of PM Gonsalves’ visiting entourage last Saturday and was given assurances that “they are going to try and deal with it. But I am not pleased how they dealt with it so far.” Unfortunately up to publication time that issue was yet to be resolved. “My understanding is that they say they expect some additional beds but in the meantime I’m trying to tap into a private source; probably might give us two beds or so.
We’re trying to see what we could do,” Greene updated us on Wednesday in a follow up conversation. The Diamonds Primary School Emergency Shelter currently houses some 30-odd displaced persons.
Shelter Manager Wendy Bynoe, stationed at the C.W. Prescod Primary School in Kingstown boasted of her team’s readiness to deliver a near seamless service. “The 8-member C. W. Prescod Primary School Shelter Management Team has been in preparation since January 4th, 2021. We have participated in several training sessions held by NEMO, the Red Cross Society and the Ministry of Education. We have had several internal sessions among ourselves to discuss strategies and allocate responsibilities.
“The classrooms were prepared prior to the evacuation order. Our teachers came in and prepared the classrooms by removing furniture to make way for evacuees so that when the evacuation order was given, we were adequately prepared.
Our team promptly responded to the call and the C. W. Prescod Primary School Shelter was activated around 5:00 p.m. on Thursday 9th April, 2021. “As our numbers increased at the shelter, we made a call for other staff members and friends of CWP to volunteer and they readily accepted.
Currently, our team comprises twenty-five members, including teachers, parents, medical students, and other friends of CWP. We have a 3-shift system: 8:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.; 2:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.; and 8:00 p.m. – 8:00 a.m,” she said.
Challenges are unfolding at the center, Bynoe admitted, chief amongst these is the fact that, “the school was not built for this type of accommodation so trying to make everyone comfortable is a challenge. Our displaced represent children of all ages, people with special conditions, and the elderly, so catering to their diverse needs is also a challenge.”
But to date, “our best triumph is seeing and hearing the expressions of satisfaction and contentment by the displaced about the arrangements that were made for them at the shelter. Another triumph is the response by friends of CWP with contributions and donations to our shelter. In some cases, these were unsolicited,” Bynoe added.
Michelle Forbes, NEMO Director, told media audiences last Sunday, “some shelters are – I don’t want to say not even – some shelters are well organized. I see some shelters having movie nights and entertainment for the persons there …. And we still may have some small challenges in other shelters, for example, that may not have had a water tank to store water etc. but those are now resolving themselves as we have more tanks coming in and we’re placing more tanks at the different Emergency Shelters.
“It might be mixed in some areas but I think generally things are settling down now. We’ve had to make some changes in shelters; we have shelters that are just designated, for example, the older persons/vulnerable and then we have caretakers there – nurses and so – looking after them. …
“One of the challenges we have had is that persons actually activated shelters that are not “official shelters” listed by the government; so we are seeing a few informal shelters popping up which may not have the amenities either that the shelters are really supposed to have so we have to monitor those closely.”
Director Forbes also noted that some shelters were closed after it turned out that volcanic ash was seeping through fancy blocks and louvers. To date some 85 emergency shelters are being operated by the government which are said to be housing some 5000 plus evacuees.