Four Red Cross construction teams were active in La Plaine at the end of May, and have already completed many houses in the village. One construction team is usually comprised of one professional carpenter and four skilled workers. Through the Hurricane Maria operation, the Dominica Red Cross receives close technical support from the IFRC, and there is a special emphasis on ensuring that every roof built by the Red Cross in Dominica is able to withstand the next possible hurricane.

By Hler Gudjonsson, IFRC

“A lot of people cannot afford to build new roofs on their houses,” said 52 years old Victor Athanaze, one of the many people in Dominica who has received a new roof for his home after Hurricane Maria seriously damaged or destroyed most houses on the island. “I am paralyzed below the waist so I am unable to perform physical work,” says Victor, who is only able to get around in his electric wheelchair on the steep roads of La Plaine.

“I have never worked in construction before, and I thought it would be harder when I first joined the team. I do things like putting up hurricane straps and passing tools and materials.” says 43 years old Karen Williams, one of the workers on the team. “There are women on all of the four Red Cross construction teams working in La Plaine, and we are actually two women here now on this site, ” says Karen who is also a Red Cross volunteer.

“I do a bit of everything on the site,” said 18 years old construction worker Nash Corbette, who is on one of the Red Cross roofing teams operating in La Plaine village, Dominica. “I really love this work, and I am hoping to be able to secure an apprenticeship and become a carpenter myself.” His work is part of a Red Cross programme aiming at rebuilding up to 1,000 roofs that were damaged in Hurricane Maria in September 2017.

“I have been living in a shelter since the hurricane,” said Avonelle Barry, an elderly woman whose house was seriously damaged by Maria. “I used to grow pears, bananas and all kinds of other fruits and vegetables. It is all gone now so I don’t have an income anymore. Thankfully the Red Cross gave me a new roof, because I could not have afforded it myself,” said Avonelle.

In charge of the Red Cross construction team building Avonelle´s house is 48 years old carpenter David Valmond, who has already completed 5 houses for the Red Cross since construction started in La Plaine. “This house had no hurricane straps before Maria, and the CGI was nailed,” said David. “Now we are screwing everything down and putting hurricane straps to fasten the rafters, so it should be able to withstand a hurricane similar to Maria.”

“It is really amazing to get a roof of this high quality,” said retired carpenter and mason Raphael Joseph, whose roof was just completed. “Raphael had moved back to his home country from the United States in 2015, only to lose his new home during hurricane Maria. On the Red Cross team that rebuilt his roof was 44 years old construction worker Seraphia Prosper and her husband who is also the carpenter of the team. “The plywood did not go off during the hurricane, but the CGI blew off completely,” said Seraphia. “When we put new CGI on the roof we followed in detail the strict standards used by the Red Cross, using screws instead of nails, and putting hurricane straps on rafters as reinforcement.”

“My husband is a carpenter and taught me a lot through the years, but it was not until Hurricane Maria that I really started using what I had learned,” said 44 years old mother Seraphia Prosper who is one of the construction workers on a Red Cross roofing team. Her husband was away for long periods following the hurricane, and the former housewife, who was pregnant at the time, could not find anyone to do the repairs of what had been damaged. “So I just did it myself,” said Seraphia, who now has become a carpenter apprentice. It is not her first encounter with the Red Cross, because she has been a Red Cross member for the past seven years.

“The roof blew off, part of the rafters together with all of the CGI,” said 73 old Hilda Prosper who lives in La Plaine village, Dominica. “Everything inside the house was destroyed, as well as most windows and doors.” Hilda takes care of her 47 years old daughter, Junette Prosper, who is paralyzed and bound to a wheelchair. Junette went to primary school as a child but from her early twenties she has not been able to walk, and is bound to her wheelchair. “Without help from the Red Cross we would have been living under tarpaulins now when the hurricane season is starting and it will be raining a lot. And this roof is so much better than what we had before, with screws to hold down the CGI and hurricane straps for the rafters.”

Hilda and daughter, Junette, will be safe in the upcoming hurricane season under a new roof that meets strict building standards for withstanding extreme winds. Their house, which has now been repaired, stands close to three other houses where their close relatives live. All of the four houses were severely damaged, and the Red Cross construction teams will be fitting all of them with new roofs in the next couple of weeks. This work is part of the Red Cross shelter programme which aims at rebuilding up to 1000 roofs in Dominica before the end of the year. (Picture by: Henrik Ortved Danish Red Cross/IFRC)