Karina LeBlanc is a tireless advocate for her current community, but is hoping residents of Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows will lend their support to her native one, the Caribbean island of Dominica, which was decimated by Hurricane Maria on Sept. 18.
The Category 5 storm ravaged the island nation of just more than 73,000 people. According to recent estimates, 90 per cent of properties were significantly damaged, with food and water becoming scarce and electricity cut to the island.
LeBlanc, a 2012 Olympic bronze medallist on the Canadian women’s national soccer, has been active on Facebook since the storm hit, desperate for information on the status of her grandmother, who still lives on the island.
The days after the storm touched down, LeBlanc posted on Facebook that she was to be born on the island, but Hurricane David, a Category 4 storm, ripped through the island in 1979, sending her mother and sister fleeing for shelter and eventually settling in Maple Ridge.
“We are scared to see the pictures after this catastrophe. Please keep my family and friends in your prayers,” she posted.
LeBlanc is now hoping her community will come to Dominica’s rescue. She has been active on all her social media channels, including Twitter, helping raise money for the Caribbean nation.
“Dominica is my home, and right now her heart is breaking,” LeBlanc said in a UNICEF press release. “The situation there is just devastating. People’s homes have been destroyed. Electricity and clean water are nonexistent. Security is deteriorating. The situation is already awful, but it’s now becoming potentially catastrophic.”
According to UNICEF, the nine shelters on the Caribbean island are struggling to keep up with the demand. The government has issued a curfew after sunset as there’s been declining security and an increase in looting by armed groups.
In 2015, LeBlanc went back to Dominica as a representative of UNICEF, hosting a soccer clinic for children.
“There are tens of thousands of children in Dominica who have dreams just like I did, to do great things in the world and to help others. Those dreams are now in jeopardy,” said LeBlanc.
She said the agency is on the ground, helping to respond, but needs more support.
UNICEF has stepped up its efforts to support children in Dominica following the hurricane, pre-positioning emergency supplies like water purification tablets, family hygiene kits and oral rehydration salts, and coordinating distribution with national authorities to the most affected communities.
UNICEF has also collaborated on radio announcements around health, child protection and water and sanitation, and mobilized trained facilitators to provide psychosocial activities for the most vulnerable children.
“It is very hard to get official information from the island because the situation is so bad,” said David Morley, president and CEO of UNICEF Canada. “But what we do know with certainty is that this is a humanitarian emergency of tragic proportions.”
Morley said they are working with national partners to conduct rapid assessments and provide basic protection and supplies to children at risk, but the need is far outpacing their capacity.
UNICEF relies entirely on donations for its programs, provides children with healthcare and immunization, clean water, nutrition and food security, education, emergency relief and more in developing countries.
• To donate to the Hurricane Maria Relief Fund in Dominica, go to www.unicef.ca/dominica.