We would love to tell you today that St. Croix and the whole of the U.S. Virgin Islands is fully restored and recovered after being hit with both Hurricanes Irma and Maria – but that wouldn’t be true. The truth is, the average citizen of the Virgin Islands is still struggling without power, without running water, without a fully functional hospital and without a fully functional educational system. And while every day things improve, there is still a long road to recovery. But there is another hard truth that people must face – on a good day, life on an isolated island has its challenges.
On the upside, the beaches and scenery are still beautiful and there are many great things to enjoy. Resorts that are able, are accepting visitors and a good experience. The islands are definitely opened for business in this regard.
But for those residents who go to work every day, who need regular health care treatment and who need to care for their families – there are a variety of challenges that mean things most Americans take for granted are hard to come by on St. Croix.
Let’s try something. Think about what you need to survive, think about the things we need most in life and how accessible you believe they should be for all people, and all fellow American citizens. It might go something like this: water, food, security, health care, education. We all have varying opinions on exactly how accessible these things should be but most can probably agree that in order to have a decent life, these things must be readily available. Well, guess what, there are hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens who don’t have the same access as the rest of the country.
Water – The islands have an abundance of water, but primarily the kind you swim in, not the kind you drink. People either rely on cistern water or city water. Cistern water is commonly viewed as the better option because it’s rain water, typically unfiltered or untreated in anyway. That means, whatever gets into your cistern, gets into your water. Stagnant water can collect microbes and other bacteria that is harmful to the health. City water, while actually very high quality, runs through old and rusted pipes and usually comes out a medium to dark brown color with a rusty smell and taste. This means the water has potentially been contaminated with heavy metals, also harmful to health. Most people brush their teeth and shower daily with either of these types of water and don’t have any problems. But most people don’t drink the water directly and opt to buy water instead.
Food – There are actually amazing restaurants and a thriving foody culture on St. Croix – and it’s even home to the premier Caribbean food event, the St. Croix Food and Wine Experience. But the island still has a ways to go before there is some food independence. There is great work being done by the thriving farming community on St. Croix, but the island is still more than 90% reliant on food imports. That means food comes with a high cost, lack of diversity and must be shipped in. A common thing islanders notice when they leave island is the cheap cost of berries. On island, a small pack of blueberries can go for $10 or more, same for a carton of milk. Without much competition, and the high cost of shipping, food costs are significantly higher than in the United States, even highly populated cities like NY can’t compete with St. Croix food prices.
Security – Again, we will start with the positive. St. Croix is pretty safe – the people are mostly friendly, protective and helpful. But with a depressed economy and many disadvantaged communities, there are desperate situations that push people to criminal acts, so it’s always good to be cautious. Most people have bars on their windows and have some type of security measure in place. Being on an isolated island means reinforcements must be flown in so residents typically take safety seriously and extra precautions must be made.
Health care – Providing quality health care with the right number of specialists is challenging in a small isolated community. People can’t simply get in their car and drive to the hospital with the brain cancer unit. On a good day, many residents still rely on air ambulance services as a back up in case the local hospital isn’t able to handle their needs. When both major hospitals are severely damaged by category 5 hurricanes, the situation gets much worse. Neither hospital is at full capacity and there isn’t a timeline on when they will be. There are still many good doctors and any emergencies outside of their scope can qualify for air ambulance service – but that isn’t ideal for long term.
Education – With about half the territory’s public schools condemned after hurricanes Irma and Maria – education is a challenge in the island right now. Students are having to share facilities and go to school for just a half a day. This means they get half the learning experience and parents have to find alternative child care for the rest of the time. But even on a good day, the public schools are old and in need of updating.
What does all of this mean? It means this recovery continues long after the roofs have been replaced and the power restored. It means the support we would like to provide long-term would address systematic issues endemic of isolated communities on American soil but lacking the same opportunities for growth and expansion. It means assisting in bringing people technological advancements that might not otherwise be available to such a small community, it means supporting young people, other organizations and utilities trying to do their best in less than optimal circumstances. And it means sustained support from you, our community, with a commitment to seeing this through so that families have what they need to thrive.