Premier of Montserrat with a fresh approach to Natural Disaster recovery || Ambassador 5
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By Marissa Williams
First Published: Sept 16th, 2015
OUR AMBASSADOR5™ SERIES SHOWCASES 5 QUESTIONS/FACTS WITH A CULTURAL AMBASSADOR WHO IS ACTIVELY PROMOTING CARIBBEAN CULTURE THROUGHOUT THE WORLD.
It was encouraging to see the different Caribbean islands rallying behind Dominica in the wake of the destruction left by Tropical Storm Erica. The collective support was testimony that the Caribbean diaspora can indeed come together and support each other with the right impetus. But, at times like these, one cannot help but reflect on the ghosts of natural disasters past and their lingering presence on the economies and people of those islands that they touched. One such island is Montserrat. Over twenty years later this island is still climbing out of the ashes (literally). Yet, there are so few of us in the diaspora that are fully aware of the struggles that this gem of an island had to endure to help its economy recover after the Soufriere Hills volcano tried to obliterate it in 1995.
How many Caribbean people really stayed engaged and tried to actively support restoration efforts decades after the ash hit? Not many can answer in the affirmative to that question.
There is one person, however, who has stayed focused and dedicated to this mission. Premier Donaldson Romeo’s restoration efforts can be best described in two words; passionate and focused. He is passionate about returning Montserrat to having a thriving and vibrant economy. He is also very focused on his methods of getting the island there, and, that includes continuing to gather as much support as he can from the Caribbean diaspora. He openly admits that he has a daunting journey ahead of him with many challenges to overcome, but, he is determined. After the Soufriere Hills volcano, Montserrat’s capital city of Plymouth was practically destroyed, many inhabitants were left homeless and almost half of the island’s population evacuated seeking better living conditions. But many still long to return home because they know that this culturally rich island is worth every effort that is being done to restore it to its former glory.
In the 1600’s , colonist built the island’s economy around the production of sugar, rum, arrowroot and sea island cotton, cultivated on large plantations manned by slave labour. Many Irish people were transported to the island, to work as indentured servants or exiled prisoners.* Montserrat is known for its lush tropical forests, opulent coral reefs and its diverse caves along the shore that house many rare species of bats and sea life. One of its claims to fame is being the birthplace of Alphonsus Cassell (Calypsonian Arrow), creator of the soca hit ‘Hot, Hot, Hot’. It is also the home of Air Montserrat, the famous recording studio founded by Beatles producer Sir George Martin. Sting and Eric Clapton were among the stars who recorded there. Those who have visited the island know first-hand the warmth of the people. And there is also a high likelihood that they have tasted the National Dish of Goat Water, which is a delicious stew served with bread or rice. These are but a few treasures on this tiny island that sits south east of Puerto Rico. It is no wonder Premier Donaldson is on a passionate and focused mission to rebuild his home country .
Check out the interview below (Subscribe to our YouTube channel for more):
Video by Bronson Blair of Prothro Productions
About what prompted his career choice into politics:
He first started as an activist fighting for Montserratians who evacuated from the volcano and were living in very poor conditions. He beganto challenge the authorities and this led to people gaining confidence in his ability to lead. This path led to him gaining more knowledge and information that was necessary to argue their case. And that was the foundation from which people began rallying around him to form a political party which led to him being elected as Premier
About his top 3 priorities in his role as Premier:
Montserrat lost over three quarters of the population because living conditions were so depraved. Many people were enticed to migrating to Britain to get away from conditions. That could have been avoided if housing was provided.
- He wants to see organized repatriation of Montserratians who live in Britain (over 6000). Where land is purchase and housing is provided.
- But before that, he also acknowledged that after 20 years , there are hundreds on the island who are waiting to be properly housed. So his first priority is to make sure the people in Montserrat have to be properly housed.
- He also wants to ensure that those who return to the island (and those who still live there) are living in a vibrant economy that has adequate air and sea access. He would like to see new ports for both air and sea that make it safe and comfortable for visitors.
He concedes that it is a huge challenge to overcome, but he also believes that having a modern thriving economy is the first step to attracting young adults back to the island. He believes that a big draw will be establishing a modern and green economy with sophisticated technology and higher paying jobs. That is why he is continuing his efforts to reach out to the diaspora to rally support for scholarship and training.
About promoting Montserrat among the Caribbean people in the diaspora:
Premier Donaldson sees festivals as a viable tool to achieve this goal. One example of where this is being put into place is the twinning of Boston with Montserrat. The Mayor of Boston acknowledged the mutual link of strong Irish heritage and wants to leverage that connection to forge a sustainable relationship. Premier Donaldson has also initiated efforts in tourism and investment in places like London, Boston, Canada, Ireland, New York , Atlanta and Miami to help support his efforts of promoting the island.
About how he wants to be remembered as a leader:
One who is brave enough to tackle serious issues and mobilize people to unite with one vision and one ambition to get Montserrat back on its feet. He also wants to successfully achieve this in a short space of time.
Heartfelt THANK YOU to Valerie Walker Sanders and Desmond Browne for making the interview possible.
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MISSION: To elevate the brand of Caribbean culture in the fields of MUSIC, BUSINESS and the ARTS by celebrating the work of cultural ambassadors while advocating for upcoming Caribbean talent1.