Sat | Oct 31, 2020

Devon Dick | Lessons from Hurricane Gilbert for COVID-19

Published:Thursday | March 26, 2020 | 12:15 AM

LAST WEEK, on TVJ’s Smile Jamaica, a young lady was giving tips about homeschooling during the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. She encouraged both parents at home to be involved and use a digital platform. Obviously, this lady does not realise that most Jamaican families are single-parent households and Internet penetration is not widespread enough. Therefore, the RJRGLEANER Communications Group should be commended for collaborating with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information in broadcasting teaching material and lessons for our children who are at home.

It is so easy to make the mistake of catering to the needs of persons who are in the middle and upper classes, while ignoring persons who are within the working class and below the poverty line. That mistake I made in 1988, in the aftermath of Hurricane Gilbert. At that time, I had been pastoring for three years. A group of Christians from the denomination of the Mennonites out of Florida, in the United States, under the leadership of Brother Yoder, helped the residents of Mt Pelier, Hanover, to recover. However, I dissociated myself when, in a meeting to discuss reconstruction, the Mennonites decided to build communal washrooms and communal bathrooms for the citizens of Mt Pelier. I thought this was insulting and unnecessary. To cut a long story short, after the erection of the community bathrooms and laundry area there was a ceremony, and almost the entire community turned out, and it was covered by RJR. The people were grateful for these amenities.


Though I had been walking in the community and visiting homes for three years, I did not realise that so many persons were without bathrooms and washrooms. It is easy to see what you expect to see, and not understand the harsh realities of many Jamaicans. Hopefully, the influencers and implementers will appreciate the genuine conditions and needs of persons who are poor and elderly. In other words, too many people do not have adequate water supply, live in crowded spaces, and rely on ‘Jamaican toilet paper’.

There are some other lessons from Category 5 Hurricane Gilbert. There was massive infrastructural devastation. Perhaps the finest hour for Rt Hon Edward Seaga, as prime minister, was the quick manner in which electricity was restored. The Seaga administration established Project Accord, which distributed food and other supplies equitably, efficiently, and effectively. It was only the zinc distribution that was a source of corruption. I remember travelling daily from Montego Bay to Sandy Bay with goods from Project Accord. I gave all to Deacon Vicki Blagrove of the Fletcher’s Grove Baptist Church, and the items went to the persons who were needy. It is wise to use the Church with its network, history of volunteerism, and integrity in distributing relief supplies.

Hurricane Gilbert caused mental stress. I could not sleep properly. When one looked to the hills of Mt Pelier, there were houses that were flattened. Though some love to malign the Church in general, there have been some great work by the church, which continue to this day.

Those Mennonites were of a different race. They had no church or church members in Mt Pelier. Yet, they, with the cooperation of Jeremiah ‘Jerry’ Dehaney of Youth for Christ fame, met and discussed how best to help. Many houses were restored. The Mennonites did not seek members or try to establish a church. They did the job and left. The lesson for the Church in the COVID-19 crisis is to help the neediest without any intention to seek membership, but only to seek the glory of God and the relief of human suffering.

The main lesson is to understand and help the neediest persons.

Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of ‘The Cross and the Machete’, and ‘Rebellion to Riot’. Send feedback to