As Hurricane Sandy battered Cuba, many community volunteers from the Cuban Red Cross were not only in the front line of the response, but also had to deal with the damage and destruction of their own homes. With over one million people affected by the storm, the recovery will take both time and effort.
In Santiago - one of the provinces hardest hit - 94 per cent of volunteers who are members of the municipal operations and relief teams were affected, with many seeing severe damage to their homes. For many, the only option is to rely on the support of friends or family.
Rafael and Cito Provenza, come from the community of Herrera, Holguin, a province which was also hit hard by the hurricane. Cito is a community volunteer for the Cuban Red Cross and has completed a number of training programmes with his local branch. He told evaluation teams that he initially thought the storm would not cause much damage. "At first we thought the storm would just bring rain, so we didn't really worry about it," he said. "My father Rafael was here by himself, as we had left to take care of our two young daughters."
Cito said his 77-year-old father sought refuge under a mattress as the house was torn apart around him. "The house was completely blown backwards, but luckily my father stayed under his mattress and close to the last remaining wall."
One volunteer, who was part of the early evaluation, said it was a miracle that Rafael was not killed.
But now the storm has passed, the cleanup can begin. The air is filled with sound of sawing and hammering as cthe ommunity begins to repair the damage wrought by Sandy's passage. Cito works with volunteers and other community members building provisional shelter for his chickens, an important source of income for his family which will be essential to their recovery.
The Provenzas like many other families in Cuba have lost nearly everything and face a difficult and long recovery process ahead. Nonetheless communities and volunteers are coming together to help each other through this challenging time.
Dr. Luis Foyo Ceballos, Director General of the Cuban Red Cross, said that regardless of the difficulties they face, volunteers have been working around the clock to provide assistance to those most in need. "Our volunteers have been working tirelessly from the onset of the hurricane. This fills us with pride because they are providing assistance despite the fact they have been affected," he said.