Community-led recovery in St. Vincent: How GER3 helped after La Soufrière erupted

Leading up to April 2021, La Soufrière volcano on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent showed signs of eruption. Gas emissions rose from the summit, the lava dome expanded, and the island experienced earthquakes not felt by most residents. On April 8, 2021, the Prime Minister ordered an evacuation of communities near the volcano’s red zone, affecting between 16,000-20,000 people. The next day, La Soufrière erupted.

This initial event would be followed by 30 distinct explosions over the next 13 days. Large clouds of ash filled the sky, suffocating farmlands and contaminating local water reservoirs. Power and water outages were reported across the island, and some homes collapsed under the weight of the falling ash. Pyroclastic flows carrying ash, lava and gas destroyed whatever was in their path as they ran down the sides of the volcano.

In July 2021, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) awarded a grant to Global Emergency Relief, Recovery, and Reconstruction (GER3) to provide critical recovery services to severely affected communities in St. Vincent. In August, GER3 initiated the St. Vincent Community Recovery & Local Capacity Building Project. They supported home rehabilitation and innovative capacity-building activities through the project and launched a cash-for-work program in Sandy Bay. This community- and women-led program focused on those with the greatest need. It helped to remove ash and debris preventing affected people from returning to their homes and beginning the recovery process. The debris and lahars disproportionately affected vulnerable people, many of whom could neither remove the ash themselves – due to age or disability – nor afford to pay workers for the service.

The fallout from the eruption decimated the primarily agriculture-based local economy, further hindering the community’s recovery. GER3’s cash-for-work program tackled both of these challenges, clearing ash and debris from 50 homes and key communal infrastructure (e.g., drinking wells) while providing temporary income for more than 80 people from the affected community.

GER3 shared that the success of this cash-for-work program would not have been possible without the diligent work of their two cash-for-work team supervisors: HazelAnn Lavia and Eudeen Yorke. Both lifelong residents of Sandy Bay, HazelAnn and Eudeen coordinated with GER3 local staff to oversee teams of people of all ages. The income earned through their work helped HazelAnn, who lived with her elderly father, and Eudeen, a single mother, support their families and rebuild their own homes.

In talking about the project, HazelAnn and Eudeen emphasized its crucial impact on the community, both in terms of granting access and successful return to homes as well as boosting the local economy. Furthermore, HazelAnn appreciated how the program respected the dignity of the community, enabling affected persons to help themselves and their neighbors and facilitating a community-led response.

CDP is proud to support the work of GER3 and their efforts to ensure recovery efforts from the eruption of La Soufrière were community-led, equitable and strengthened community resilience.

(Photo: A cash-for-work team made up of men and women from Sandy Bay working to remove ash from around the home of a vulnerable community member. Credit: GER3)