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This Miami-Based Investment Guru And Barbados Entrepreneur Are Helping Those Displaced By The St. Vincent Volcano

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Jeryl Brunner
Jeryl Brunner

On April 9, the La Soufrière Volcano erupted in St. Vincent and The Grenadines. Eruptions continue to plague the region as ash fall blankets the country and surrounding areas as far away as Barbados and St. Lucia.
(From left) Felicia Persaud and Danielle CorbinCourtesy Felicia Persaud/Danielle Corbin

Almost 20,000 people have been displaced from their homes. They have no knowledge when they may go back or even if they have a home left. Aid and relief has been few and far between as the island is hard to reach. Also, as the pandemic has already caused many businesses to close or relocate, local donations are hard to obtain.

When Felicia J. Persaud, a Miami-based multimedia journalist and CEO of Invest Caribbean saw the volcano eruption on the news she was stunned. “I thought, how can I help?” she shares. She reached out to Danielle Corbin. Corbin, who lives in Barbados, is Group Executive Chairman of The Ritzury Group. They have collaborated on various business ventures in the past.

“The situation there is a lot worse than what is being shown on television,” says Corbin. “The eruptions have not stopped and it could continue for a year, which may make parts of this country eventually uninhabitable. Women, babies, and families were forced to evacuate their homes with one bag filled of their belongings.”

The duo partnered on a humanitarian venture, the Saint Vincent Volcano Disaster Relief. The campaign is aimed at raising funds from private donors and corporations to buy necessary supplies and aid for shelters and people who need it most. Persaud and Corbin are determined to deliver water, masks, canned goods, sanitary and bathroom items directly to the people.

They shared more about their mission.

Jeryl Brunner: What inspired you to help the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines?

Danielle Corbin: We Barbadians have a sense of understanding that however bad it is here, it is much worse in St. Vincent and The Grenadines right now. Even though we are all severely disadvantaged because of the pandemic, causing many of our own businesses to close or relocate, we have an unspoken understanding that was instilled to us as children. We must be of service to our neighbors no matter what little we can give.

Jeryl Brunner: Felicia, what is Invest Caribbean dong in the long term that will help the people of St. Vincent and surrounding areas?

Felicia Persaud: Invest Caribbean is a global private sector investment agency of the Caribbean. We and The Ritzury Group as partners realize the needs will be immense as this is an ongoing disaster, not simply a one-night event. We are hoping to be able to set up a fund in the future, to help small businesses and entrepreneurs who will need to rebuild their businesses and lives and build back better. That is our long-term goal for this project.

Jeryl Brunner: How did both meet?

Danielle Corbin: Felicia and I met more than five years ago. I was working on a large-scale infrastructure project and asked Felicia to partner with me on the financing aspect of it. I live in Barbados. My country is 118 miles away from St. Vincent and The Grenadines. On April 9th, the sky was completely black. I saw that 20,000 people there had been displaced. So when Felicia and I discussed it, I did not hesitate even though humanitarian efforts are the completely opposite of what I am used to in my regular work

Felicia Persaud: Our work together is very complimentary. When having a catch-up call with Danielle, we began speaking of the horrors of the volcanic eruption and I shared the idea of the Invest Caribbean Now (ICN) GOFundMe, she immediately agreed to help. People can learn more about Saint Vincent Volcano Disaster Relief on GoFundMe.

Jeryl Brunner: As business owners who focus on bringing investments into the Caribbean, a humanitarian relief mission is a very different type of job for you. What advice do you wish you knew going in that you know now? And what kind of advice would you give people who wish to help others?

Felicia Persaud: In my work as a journalist and owner of an investment company, I’m used to covering natural disasters, however never actually doing the day-to-day work of raising money for humanitarian aid. We have essentially dropped everything to help with this effort. We are grateful to have the type of jobs that allow us the flexibility to do that.

However, we did not know that before going in. We are dealing daily with updates, governmental agencies, local shelters, and people on the ground, and on top of that dealing with accessing donations and getting it in our hands so we can buy the supplies and aid that is so badly needed. We have in essence become a complete supply chain from the sourcing to the shipping to the delivery. It is an amazing experience however and I would not trade it for the world.

Danielle Corbin: Our careers are very discreet by nature as everything surrounding our clients needs to be kept confidential. Humanitarian efforts are the complete opposite of that. The more people who are aware of what is happening, the louder the voice, the better shot to get assistance and aid.

The moment that we started we realized that we were already racing against time and behind from the first day. And that to make this happen we had to give our full attention 24/7. So, my paying job had to wait. I really want to help these people find aid, help their story be told and give them a voice.

Jeryl Brunner: Danielle, how are people doing right now and what do we need to know?

Danielle Corbin: These people are now 100% dependent on government and external aid. They do not have access to basic supplies, shelters have little inventory, the access to fresh running water is limited as the water supply has been contaminated by the ash and lava. They are breathing toxic air, and everyone is getting sick. It’s an extreme situation needing all hands-on deck, and every day my heart hurts a little more with the news coming to us form this never-ending disaster.

The situation is felt even in Barbados and beyond. Ash continues to heavily clog the drainage systems, affect agriculture, darken beaches, damage properties, and create expense both in the public and private sectors.

This could be one of the greatest tragedies of this century if the people of St. Vincent are forced to relocate and start over in countries that are foreign to them, unsure of how they will make a living.

People often worry that their donations do not get to the people who need them. How are you ensuring that is not the case?

Danielle Corbin: This was one of our first concerns. We keep track of every single donation made to the people to make sure they are distributed fairly and evenly. Every person is in dire need. However, it is easy for some to get the lion’s share of aid if not properly tracked. All the donations that come through us are digitally and systematically recorded to ensure that fairness. We are using every penny to buy the aid. We are not giving money; we are delivering the product to the shelters ourselves so that it gets directly into the hands of the people who need it most. We also bring transparency to the regional and international community by taking you inside of St. Vincent and The Grenadines and showing you how extreme the need is and where the donation is going.