As Antigua and Barbuda transitions to a path of economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, a group of patriotic nationals in the Diaspora is mobilizing community support to help strengthen the national response and recovery efforts.
Last Thursday, the Antigua and Barbuda Associations United (ABAU) a non-profit umbrella organization comprising 25 community groups throughout the United States, convened a 2-hour live panel discussion aimed at engaging the community. As the theme of the event suggests “Save Wadadli and Wa’omoni”, focused on identifying opportunities to provide COVID-19 relief.
The virtual meeting attracted over 200 nationals who joined via Zoom technology. The panel featured a diverse group of Antiguan and Barbudan experts, including four local industry influencers and two US-based nationals with professional hands-on experience in managing COVID-19.
The panelists were:
Mrs Patrice Christian-Simon – Executive Director, ABHTA
Mr Chester Hughes – Deputy General Secretary, ABWU
Dr Joseph John – Medical Surgical Associates
Mr. Colin James – CEO, ABTA
Dr McChesney Emanuel – Managing Director of Chez Technologies Inc.
Dr Oswald Thomas – Family Therapist & Political Analyst
The moderator, Derede Whitlock of DSW Consulting Media, facilitated the exchange of ideas, while assimilating the unique insights and diverse perspectives of the individual panelists. A range of recommendations emerged to help stem the spread of the disease, as well as mitigate future health, social and economic impacts.
Keynote speaker, Dr. Joseph John gave an overview of the state of COVID-19 in Antigua and Barbuda. He indicated that the entire country had been hard hit financially, but the only way to safely open the borders would be through the use of some rapid testing methodology. “Testing will be critical in the containment of the disease, but it comes with many logistical challenges. The government is aware of this and they are on board with it, but all decision making is going to have to fit in with what is happening in the the rest of the world,” Dr. John added.
Mrs Patrice Christian-Simon of the ABHTA and Mr. Chester Hughes of the ABWU represent businesses and employees in the hospitality sector. They reported on the social and economic impacts of COVID-19 on the tourism industry. Given the closure of many hotel properties and the large scale loss of jobs, efforts are being made to bring relief in terms of cash payments and food packages to unionized hotel workers. An appeal was made to the Diaspora for donations to assist in establishing food security for hotel workers, many of whom are likely to face the hardship of unemployment for several months.
CEO of the ABTA, Mr. Colin James, announced that a post-COVID promotional campaign targeting the Diaspora would soon be rolled out. The plan which would incentivize nationals to return home, will include a number of events and attractions. The launch of a festival during the Independence celebrations, in lieu of the cancellation of Antigua’s 2020 Carnival, is also being considered.
Dr. McChesney Emmanuel, a veteran educator, discussed the impact of COVID-19 on children, stating that while they may not be the face of the pandemic, they risk being among the biggest victims of the disease. “While our children have thankfully been largely spared from the direct health effects of COVID-19, the crisis is having a profound effect on their wellbeing, by exacerbating the learning crisis among the youth, thereby limiting the development of their human capital.”
Dr. Oswald Thomas, a psychotherapist who is on the front-line treating COVID patients in New York City, urged the Government of Antigua and Barbuda to ensure the protection of the most vulnerable citizens, especially as it relates to their mental health. Thomas said, “Our most important resource is our people. What Antigua and Barbuda needs now is shared sacrifice and shared responsibility among our citizens, to defeat the virus and build a more resilient society.”
Throughout the panel discussion, participants posted a range of questions about COVID-19. Many questioned the country’s level of preparedness for reopening its borders. They expressed concerns about the lack of clarity regarding testing protocols and how this could threaten the safety of guests and residents alike.
The meeting ended with the announcement of a T-shirt drive, a grassroots activation launched by the ABAU to initiate fundraising efforts to support persons experiencing the greatest hardships. “We will launch a number of initiatives with our member organizations to address the health, social and economic challenges during this critical time,” said Andy Howell, ABAU President and organizer of the event.
The ABAU will also host a virtual festival in the form of a telethon on June 25, to celebrate Caribbean Heritage Month. “In light of the cancellation of Antigua’s 2020 Carnival, this on-line event will target the Caribbean Diaspora, with a virtual showcase of music, costumes, chefs and other art forms. The ABAU will leverage this festival as a platform to promote the culture of the destination by showcasing Antiguan and Barbudan talent.”
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