The trail of destruction left by Hurricane Irma across the Caribbean has shocked us all. The Hon. Gaston A. Browne, Prime Minister of Antigua & Barbuda, said that while Antigua escaped the worst of the storm, Barbuda had been devastated, leaving up to 60% of the island’s population of 1,400 homeless. The scale of the devastation is absolutely unprecedented, and the recovery and rebuilding effort will take time, and money.
I have spent a great deal of time in Barbuda – it’s paradise. I know the people, am firmly bonded to them, and am heartbroken to see the island and its people bear such suffering, albeit with characteristic fortitude. I am determined to help, and have therefore announced that Arton Capital will lead an initiative to help the island rebuild a destroyed school. We are pledging an initial $50,000, and calling on clients, partners, stakeholders and all global citizens to join this fundraising effort.
My charity, the Global Citizen Foundation has not only donated funds in the past but has had a hands-on experience in the rebuilding of schools: in India, at refugee camps, and in Nepal after the earthquake. Because of that – looking longer term – I’ve also decided that proceeds from this year’s Global Citizen Forum in Montenegro will go to the Global Citizen Foundation specifically to Barbuda. Our target is to raise as much as US$200,000.
I’m at the UN in New York this week for the General Assembly; it is fascinating and inspiring to witness how the organisation handles such a crisis. Yesterday I listened to my incredibly talented friend, actor, humanitarian, and fellow lover of Barbuda – Robert De Niro – make an excellent speech at a high level meeting on the Irma response. It was deeply moving: his commitment and dedication to the island and the wider region is remarkable.
He spoke about his love for the Island, K Club, and the Lobster Lunch at Uncle Roddy’s – an old favourite – as well as how grateful he was to his team for sorting his property out. He spoke of his enduring love of the warm, friendly people of the island, who were looking forward to their bright future, and how difficult the road ahead of them has suddenly become. But he has faith in the council, and local leadership, to make it work. Finally, he appealed to all of us to help where we can, act together, and build stronger homes, infrastructure, and deal with the immediate, and long-term needs for the islanders.
With Hurricane Maria now causing its own unspeakable damage across the Caribbean, our thoughts and prayers are with all of those affected. Let us all do what we can to make some difference, large or small, as part of the wider recovery effort. As Robert said yesterday: if we all pull together, we can ensure that for all Barbudans “home, and paradise, is not lost”.