School opens for Erika victims

The Dominica Grammar School opened its doors 123 years ago as a secondary institution for boys. It wasn’t until nearly a century later that the school began admitting girls.

In the Dominica Grammar School.
In the Dominica Grammar School.

The Dominica Grammar School counts among its distinguished alumni the island’s last four Prime Ministers: Edison James, the late Rosie Douglas, the late Pierre Charles, and the incumbent Roosevelt Skerrit.

However, this week, Dominica’s second oldest secondary school opened its gates to charges of a different kind.

On Monday night, it welcomed residents of the storm-ravaged community of Petite Savanne in the south-east of the island, who had been evacuated earlier in the day by rescue teams from Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados and Dominica.

One of them was Adena Antoine, who was among the 200 who took the two-hour journey aboard the Barbados Coast Guard’s flagship HMBS Trident to the Woodridge Bay Port, four days after they had witnessed the near total destruction of their homes.

Adena Antoine speaking with another Petite Savanne resident.
Adena Antoine speaking with another Petite Savanne resident.

Fast-forward two days, and Antoine can be seen making her way around the Dominica Grammar School compound clad in a bright pink outfit and matching lipstick, interacting with her fellow villagers.

She was one of those who decided not to stay at the institution, but opted instead to move in with a friend in the nearby suburb of Copthall. However, she pays daily visits to friends and family at the school.

Initially she was hesitant to speak with Barbados TODAY about her experience during the storm, only saying:
“I don’t want to talk about it.”

But she would reluctantly agree, on the condition that she would answer “only two questions”.

“It’s been rough,” she said. “It’s uncomfortable staying at someone else’s home knowing you had your own home built; your security. You know?”

Her main concern, she says, are her kids. Two young daughters, aged five and 11. Like other school-aged children, her girls will have to wait a little longer to start the new school year, because of the damage caused by Tropical Storm Erika.

But there is an added uncertainty over where they will be attending classes, as other schools in the area did not escape Erika’s fury.

“At first I didn’t want to leave Petite Savanne. My husband wanted us to stay because we were getting stuff from town; but when I looked at everything going on, I told him I didn’t want to stay,” she said.

“There is no medical practitioner around. What if my daughters get sick? I need somebody to say, ‘This is what is wrong with them’; and if I can’t get that, then I’m not staying. So he said we should go.”

Adena, an employee of Jolly’s Pharmacy in Roseau, would make the daily commute from her home to the capital –– just about a 45-minute drive each way. Now, she says she is not sure what’s next for her family.

“I don’t know if I will go back to Petite Savanne,” she said, her eyes filling with tears.

“I guess I might go back to see how things are; but we might just settle in town if we get somewhere safe.

“Right now I just want to be grounded and stable. I just want to present that strong front for my kids, because if I show any weakness they will just crumble.

“They can see right through me, because I show my emotions on my face. So if I’m sad, they’ll say, ‘Why are you sad?’ So I’m just trying to be strong.”

The volunteers at the Dominica Grammar School are hoping to share some of their strength with the storm victims. One of them is High Court Judge Bernie Stephenson, who has been there the entire week.

“I have to go to work next week; as a matter of fact I have had matters listed for this week that I have put on hold, just to deal with this humanitarian need.

“I can’t stay at home, or stay at work, knowing that there’s work to be done, and there’s need for organized hands,” she said. “Persons who could organize, persons who could motivate, and persons who truly understand what is
going on.”

Another volunteer, Mariah Jeremy, is hoping she can help the residents get back on their feet and also herself learn from their experience.

“It’s very sad to see people [who] lost their lives, their everything,” the hairdresser told
Barbados TODAY.

Two youths getting their hair done.

“I just wanted to help in any way I can. So I called and asked if I could volunteer. But it’s a good experience for me; it will give me strength and courage.”

The residents of Petite Savanne know the Dominica Grammar School is only a temporary home. But for now they are just happy to have a roof over their heads.

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