Like any situation, we encounter, Jamaicans have always prove themselves resilient. This time it is away from their homeland.
Several Jamaican families residing in New Orleans have temporarily settled in Houston, Texas since their homes were devastated when Hurricane Katrina ripped through that city early last September.
In their bid to escape what seemed one of the worst natural disasters to displace a whole city in the history of the United States, the group of 29 Jamaicans traveled out of New Orleans the day before the big hit. Their destination was Houston. All they had was the clothes on their backs.
Since then, the group has made themselves into a family, calling on each other and reaching out for each other in this desperate time of need.
On their arrival, the group learnt of Jamaica’s Honorary Consul in Houston, Mrs. Beverly Ford, with whom they made immediate contact and told her of their plight.
She immediately coordinated relief efforts with the Jamaica Foundation of Houston, a non-profit community organization and reached to those misplaced families as they tried to make Houston their new home.
All forms of support have been extended to the group of 29 persons since their arrival. According to Mr. A. Andrew Adams, president of the Jamaica Foundation of Houston, (JFH) the group has since narrowed to 19 persons as others have left to join families in other cities throughout the United States.
Jamaican national, Wayne Bonner, until then was employed to the Ritz Carlton Hotel in New Orleans until Hurricane Katrina changed his life. The hotel was one of those buildings affected by extensive flooding and wind damage.
Mr. Bonner told JIS that he was fortunate to find another job in Houston at the Four Seasons Hotel and was trying to rebound from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Meanwhile, his wife, Sandra, has since returned to New Orleans to continue her employ as a nursing assistant in the interim.
Mr. Bonner indicated that he went back to New Orleans to find out the extent of their apartment which was completely torn apart by wind damage. He has since decided to make Houston his new permanent home. His wife would join him when he had settled more comfortably.
Mrs. Ford has made several appeals to the community for contributions as “we have to support our fellow Jamaicans who are in dire need some 1,400 miles away from their permanent homes with absolutely no means of self support,” she added.
On behalf of his companions, Mr. Bonner expressed appreciation to Mrs. Ford and the Foundation members who have worked feverishly in helping to secure temporary accommodation, clothing, food and employment to help them get back on their feet.
According to the President of JFH, the Foundation intended to provide support for the initial three months. Meanwhile, the group is working out details for support from the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) the USA emergency relief organization.
More importantly, and on a more positive note, events have begun to take shape in the lives of those affected as four persons have enrolled in universities in the Houston area to complete graduate studies. Some have been hired temporarily while other students have also taken teacher certification programs for permanent employment.
All school age students have now returned to schools in that area as well, and have hopefully settled comfortably.
Other persons have found and permanent and some temporary positions at least to get them started again in the workforce.
While she is encouraging persons to get into areas where they can accomplish productive programs, Mrs. Ford is looking at all opportunities to ensure jobs for others in their careers – information technology, accounting, etc., – ‘so they can all be independent again’ she said.
This recovery effort could not be possible without the assistance of the Jamaican Diaspora throughout the United States. Both Mrs. Ford and Mr. Adams echoed similar sentiments as they spoke of the generosity of those responding to the call for assistance.
Corporations like Grace Kennedy Company and Royal Caribbean Patties in New York donated pallets of food along with monetary contributions. The Reverend Dennis Grant of Restoration Ministries in Fort Lauderdale has provided temporary shelter and monetary contributions to some families.
While other monetary contributions continue to come in from members of the Jamaican Diaspora in Chicago, New York, Florida, California and the wider Houston community, Mrs. Ford continued her appeal for ongoing support. Contributions can be made payable to the Jamaica Foundation of Houston and can be mailed to the office of Jamaica Honorary Consul at 7737 SW Freeway, Suite 580, Houston, Texas 77074.
Other persons extending their support were Jamaican attorney, Mr. Omar Fullerton and Dr. Dinsdale Ford, obstetrician/gynecologist both private practitioners in the Houston area. Mr. Fullerton is giving pro bono services to those international students to ensure their proper immigrant status in their relocation efforts. Dr. Dinsdale Ford has also provided medical assistance to the displaced family members.
As we all watched in disbelief and horror at the devastation suffered by the people of New Orleans during that difficult period, Jamaicans continue to prove their tenacity and resilience as the displaced families begin to find some solace and comfort in their efforts to rebound.
Cheryl Wynter (305-374-8431 ext 112)