Recovery Requires Resilience

In the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, affected communities can only recover with the help of the international community.


Kris Smuts

My dad and me in St. John in 2011.

Annie Smuts, Body Copy and Opinion Editor

As much as I hate to admit it, I sometimes turn a blind eye to the news. I try to stay informed about world events, but I usually don’t think most of them relate to me. The US tends to act as a bubble: we know of things but don’t really act on them unless they directly affect us. We’re the kind of country that says yes when the cashier at Whole Foods asks us if we would like to donate $1 to The Red Cross, but we stop there.

Luckily, my family has never been affected by a natural disaster. We live in Michigan; there aren’t a lot of natural disasters that can happen here. When I heard about Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, I sympathized with the masses of the people that lost their homes. Like many Americans, I donated to a relief fund and kept the victims in the back of my mind. I was prepared to donate to a mass of people that I did not know simply because it was the right thing to do.

On Wednesday morning, I came downstairs for breakfast to find my mom with my hand over her mouth and eyes glued to the TV. On the screen, a series of images showed a devastated island with the headline reading “Irma Destroys Island of St. John, USVI.”

“We will probably never to able to go to St. John again,” my mom gulped when she saw me.

My heart dropped. To see an island that I’ve visited so many times in ruins was agonizing.

St. John has always been an oasis for my family. My grandparents fell in love with the island’s easy way of life during their retirements and purchased property there. Every spring break, at least one member of my family goes down there to enjoy the beaches and laidback lifestyle. When my whole family went on a Caribbean cruise over Christmas, we made a point of going to the island. One of my favorite restaurants in the world is ZoZo’s, a local Italian restaurant that has the best marinara sauce. The first time I went snorkeling and saw a sea turtle was on the island, which inspired my love of nature.

I was brought up going to St. John, and until we moved to Asia, we would return every year. It is the kind of place where everyone walks a bit slower because they don’t have anywhere they need to be and the place where ten people will try to push your car out of a sand pit and don’t get mad when they find out you’ve had it in park instead of drive the whole time. I’ve always loved going there, and the thought of no one being able to experience it like I have is heartbreaking.

In spite of recent challenges, the spirit of the people of St. John has always been one of unity. It was reported that one of the last standing restaurants on the island is feeding everyone in need. The island has recovered from a hurricane before, but it will only be able to do it again if people all around the world provide them with the support and supplies they need. One cannot get through a hard time by oneself. True recovery comes from resilience and unity.