The BVI a Week After Irma

I hope all of you who were affected by the September hurricanes are well on the road to recovery. I have some dear friends in the British Virgin Islands, and nearly a week after Irma struck there, I still didn’t know whether they had survived.  So I decided to go see for myself. My sister Kali, who heads Aerial Produced, and my brother-in-law Jamie went with me to see what we could do to help. We arrived on September 12, and we were there when Maria struck on September 20.

Upon our arrival in the BVI, it tore me apart to see what had happened to one of the most beautiful places in the whole world. It looked like a war zone, a wasteland, and I cried at the sight of devastated buildings, trees without a single leaf, and a pall of smoke hanging over everything. The dismal landscape conveyed a sense of deep, dark hopelessness. So I expected to encounter nothing but confusion, fear, anger and that deep, dark hopelessness among the people. I was wrong.

Despite all their sadness, everyone I spoke with seemed to have hope. Their hope is rooted in the fact that they’re strong and determined to rebuild. You could hear the shock in their voices, but they didn’t allow it to get the upper hand. I drove around with people who would stop and jump out of the car to hug a friend and say, “Thank God, you’re still alive!” Their first question was always, “How’s your house?” And the answer was almost always, “I lost everything, but I didn’t lose my life.” And I was amazed at the effort everyone took to look neat and clean. I heard more than a few people say, “I may be homeless, but I don’t have to look homeless.”

It was clear to me that less than a week after experiencing such devastation, the people of the BVI were getting themselves into the frame of mind to pull themselves back together and rebuild their lives. It’s taken me much longer to pull myself together after experiences that were much less traumatic than what they had gone through. Their resilience inspired me. One person we interviewed said, “All I lost was my va
nity.” So many of the people we spoke with found opportunities in the midst of loss. “I get to do life over again,” one person said, and another commented on having the opportunity to pick out replacements for the things that had been lost. They made a real effort to put a positive spin on what had happened.

Irma and Maria were great levelers. In their wake, there are no “rich” or “poor.” Everyone from the country’s premier to the people living in the most impoverished areas took a major hit, and everyone seemed to feel like they were in the same boat. There was a really cool sense of unity as people literally joined hands and pooled resources and started working together to rebuild.

One of the most impressive things I saw was what can be accomplished when people of means use their skills and resources as a force for good. Successful entrepreneurs and business owners like Google co-founder Larry Page and John Ratcliffe, a prominent BVI property owner, and many others mobilized  their pla
nes, helicopters, boats, and cars to bring food and other supplies to those in need throughout the islands. They provided shelter in what was left of their homes for people who no longer had a home and shared the water in their cisterns with friends and neighbors who had none.  I’ve never seen anything like it, and it only confirmed what God has been showing me for more than a decade: that the more you have, the greater your ability and your opportunity to lift others out of despair and create hope where there is none.

For me, this was affirmation of why God wanted me to get involved in the business world rather than spend my life fundraising to support my missionary work in Africa. I’ve shared with you before how suspicious I was of people with a lot of
money, and I’m not sure I had completely overcome that feeling until I saw firsthand how much good they can do with their money and their influence. Watching Larry and John in action underscored for me that you can’t do more unless you’re entrusted with more, and you won’t be entrusted with more until you’ve achieved excellence with what you’ve already got. But when you do level up and reach that platform of influence that I aspire to, you truly join a force for good.

It’s all a matter of scale. No matter how modest your means, you, like everyone else, can rise to the challenge of helping those in distress. I’ll be going back to the BVI once or twice a month for as long as I can to help rebuild. BVI residents are very determined and positive, and they’re working hard on recovery plans. My concern is that as other disasters take over the news cycle, the plight of the victims of the 2017 hurricane season won’t get the attention needed to keep the aid flowing – not only the dollars but valuable skills, expertise, and compassionate care.

If you would like to pitch in and lend a hand, go to and sign up for a trip, make a donation, or let us know how else you can help. Here’s what BVIHELP has to say about the work they’re doing:

BVIHelp is powered by a group of independent CEOs who have enjoyed the BVI and its people for the past several years, bringing many entrepreneurs to the region and hosting several events throughout the area. This group has actively operationalized to deploy relief and resources faster than any government, military or aid. Every hands-on position is manned by a fellow CEO who is investing time and money into providing critical assistance. We are fundraising and monitoring the deployment of funds. We are handling logistics ourselves, matching desperate needs with critical supplies… We are saving lives and we need your help.

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