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Working together with the people of devastated Saint Martin

Hurricane Irma has left a trail of destruction in the Caribbean last September. The Dutch island of Saint Martin was one of the hardest hit areas and quickly after the disaster, Cordaid started a fundraising campaign in The Netherlands for disaster relief.

Together with the government of Saint Martin and local community councils, Cordaid has organized the distribution of 2000 tarpaulins to some of the most vulnerable members of the island’s communities. This targeted assistance will help families protect their loved ones, their homes, and valuables during the ongoing rainy season but is also only the beginning. Over the next year, Cordaid hopes to keep working with the community councils to develop a program of council led projects aimed at responding to the impact of Hurricane Irma, building preparedness and resilience for future events and ultimately working towards the goal of building flourishing communities.

As ready as we could have been

After some tense days of logistical delay, the tarpaulins Cordaid had requested finally flew into Saint Martin the afternoon of Thursday the 28th of September. Having spent the preceding days meeting with the community councils and planning for their arrival, the councils had been working hard assessing their communities, producing detailed request lists and submitting them for joint review by Cordaid and the Saint Martin government. We were as ready as we could have been.

As the distributions were being announced over local radio and the volunteer teams were out in their own communities, you could sense a pride and dignity in the people.

The next morning began an involved coordination between Cordaid, local government, the Dutch military, airport officials and the community councils with the simple aim – release to the councils the tarpaulins they had requested for. This proved to be a little more complex than anticipated by all parties, due to the strict security perimeter of the airport, frustrating our logistics efforts and yet essential for protecting this vital infrastructure still in repair. In the end, the coordination overcame these obstacles and with the transferal of about half of our stock to the less security intensive port, the communities came and the tarps were progressively released.


After some tense days of logistical delay, the tarpaulins finally flew into Saint Martin.

Community organization

What followed was an impressive feat of community organization by the councils and their volunteers, many perhaps doubted would be capable of such a task. In the first day, 700 tarpaulins were released to various teams from 7 different councils and transported out to locations across the island, with even taxi drivers contributing their minivans to the effort. The local teams leading this effort were organized, motivated and proud to be working for their community, repeatedly counting the packages and checking against their printed lists, running through the distribution plans in their head and making sure they could carry out their duties with efficiency and haste.

The councils had selected vulnerable members of the community to receive assistance including the elderly, disabled and the otherwise isolated who had been left out of the broader brush, mass distributions of the preceding days. Those chosen had had their damage evaluated and a specific number of tarps chosen to make sure everyone got exactly what was really needed, and those involved even resolved to complete door to door distribution to ensure that the supplies got to the right people and a full account of signatures was collected.

A humbling sight

As the distributions were being announced over local radio and the volunteer teams were out in their own communities, you could sense a pride and dignity in the people. Rather than waiting for others, they had been empowered to be involved in their own emergency response, and by doing so were putting into action their irreplaceable local knowledge and grassroots organizing skills that had gone unrecognized until that moment. It was a humbling sight.

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