Ricardo Ragnauth was frustrated.

While working his way through the maze-like alleys, unguarded staircases and debris-filled side streets of Huntums Ghut, the BVI Red Cross volunteer had come to a disheartening realisation: It would be very hard to reach everybody.

“It’s so random,” Mr. Ragnauth, 18, said.

The H. Lavity Stoutt Community College student was conducting needs assessment surveys door-to-door in the Fifth District last Friday, in hopes of gathering information to help decide who would receive some of the Red Cross’s limited amount of household supplies.

The process, however, was neither easy nor straightforward. Some people weren’t home, some people needed help for their family in another district, and some said they had already been reached by previous RC volunteers.

Mr. Ragnauth and the other surveyors also had no clear path to take: They’d been told to work their way across Huntums Ghut — an area so damaged from the storm it can make other parts of Tortola look mild by comparison — and knock on as many doors as possible.

The Red Cross’s goal, however, was not to reach each and every resident. Rather, the agency wanted to gather a data sample that could be compared to the information already collected by the Department of Disaster Management, to see if their needs assessment criteria yielded similar results.

“It’s a standard process done by nongovernmental organisations,” explained David Dalgado, a British Red Cross emergency needs delegate sent to the VI after Hurricame Irma.

Knocking on doors

Standing in the valley of Huntums Ghut and looking in each direction at the quagmire of decimated houses and torn-up apartment units — the Town and Country Planning Department estimated about half of the buildings in the community are uninhabitable — it seemed evident why some verification would be needed.

In order to accomplish that, Mr. Ragnauth and three other HLSCC students — Tijorn Skelton, N’Khoy Stoutt and Jahmaine Liburd — spent most of the afternoon knocking on doors and asking awkward questions to people in hard situations.

“Has your household income been more than $1,400 since the storm?” Mr. Stoutt asked a woman while she showed him her blown-out windows.

“Is anyone in your home suffering from a disability?” Mr. Ragnauth asked another woman as she sat on her damaged deck.

The answers to such questions would help decide who received supplies from the BVIRC’s load of tarpaulins, kitchen sets, cleaning items, mosquito nets, insect repellants, jerry cans, hygiene products and adult diapers. Distribution of those donations has already begun in both Purcell Estate and Huntums Ghut, according to Mr. Dalgado.

Keeping cool

Mr. Dalgado spent part of Friday afternoon training the four college students how to properly survey people in need.

“We’re doing a survey in which we examine households and assess them to see if they are eligible to receive aid,” Mr. Liburd said, practising his front-door lines on Mr. Dalgado. “We have limited stock, so by assessing it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll receive aid. However, if you take the assessment it will put you up for consideration.”

The BRC delegate responded with sharp questions, prepping the volunteers on how to deal with a stressed populace suffering from catastrophe.

The training proved to be for a reason: A few people responded intensely to the needs assessments, barking about what help they wanted or what damage had been done.

Lornette Stevens, a teacher who has volunteered at the BVIRC for more than 20 years, oversaw the four college students as they worked their way through District Five. She provided some advice after one particularly animated encounter.

“People are frustrated,” Ms. Stevens said. “They might take it out on you. Just keep your cool.”

For the most part, however, people were calm and appreciated the work they were doing. 

“They seem very grateful,” said Mr. Liburd, who also helped with the needs assessments in Purcell Estate. “Some of them, what you realise is that they just want somebody to talk to about their issues.”

Spreading out supplies

After the BVIRC’s data is merged with DDM’s, the organisation will generate a list of names of people and households eligible for some of their supplies, according to Mr. Dalgado.

From there, the BVIRC will show the list to a committee of people from the area compiled by the Ministry of Health and Social Development. The committee will help clean the data, pointing out potential double-ups of people who may be in the same household or suggesting important names that might have been missed, Mr. Dalgado explained.

After the first round of distribution, the BVIRC also plans to do additional assessing to fill in the gaps of people who were not reached, he added.

For the four college students, who were in between paying jobs and hadn’t yet started school, the volunteering was about playing a part in the VI’s recovery.

“We all born and raised here,” Mr. Ragnauth said. “This is our island. Our country. We just wanted to help the country. It’s just like when your house dirty, you clean your own house. Our country in need, so we help our country.”


This article originally appeared in the Oct. 12, 2017 edition.