Michael Maurin, aka Gwada Mike, is stepping into a new role, fundraising and spreading awareness of the current situation on the West Indian island of Dominica. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with him about the Dominican Shelter Team and their efforts.
For over a decade, Michael Maurin has been a crucial part of electronic music in Cork venues and bars. Currently at the helm of Afterwork at Washington Street’s Edison venue, Maurin oversees an environment where people can head straight in from work of a Friday, once a month, and dive straight into live music and DJs ‘til late, providing a warm and welcoming alternative to the usual clubbing routine in the city. This kind of enterprising spirit and enthusiasm for new ideas has marked the artist otherwise known as Gwada Mike out as part of the city’s soundscape, but his natural drive has extended lately into philanthropy and fundraising.
Maurin heads up the Dominica Shelter Team, based out of the Cork offices of cloud infrastructure outfit VMware, to raise funds and awareness, via local events and activities, of the human rights and infrastructural situation in the West Indian island of Dominica, affected badly by the arrival on its shores of Hurricane Maria late last year. For himself, the impetus to work and raise €50,000 comes from a personal connection dating back to his roots on the neighbouring island of Guadeloupe (on which Maurin claims to have been ‘raised organically’). “On a big part of the coast of Guadeloupe, you can see Dominica, right on the coast. And in 1989, we had a hurricane, and my hometown was destroyed. I was fourteen. The first people to come and help us when all communications were closed, who came by boat, were Dominicans. So it’s reciprocation of a good favour. These guys had nothing, but whatever they had left, they shared it with us.”
The devastation left across the island in the wake of Hurricane Maria has been accompanied by an infrastructural crisis in addressing repairs and rebuilding of houses. The exact scale of the damage, however, can only be grappled with when accompanied by images and stories from the ground. “A hurricane comes in stages. The first stage passes, the eye is quiet, and the vast majority of the damage was done in the second phase. This was a massive hurricane, the damage was massive. The Prime Minister of Dominica was tweeting, ‘we are losing everything we have worked our whole lives for’ in a rush to get word out before the lines were cut. And when the lines came back two days later, two days out of communication with the world in 2017, the port of the island was too filled with debris to get nearby. More than 90% of the island was affected. They deserve a hand. The irony is one week before the hurricane, when St. Martin, VI was (in the wake of a storm), they sent one of their last boats to help. They knew they were about to be hit.”
The American Red Cross, to whom funds raised by VMware’s efforts will be going, are finding it increasingly difficult to get homes and public service buildings back up, and with this year’s hurricane season happening later on in the year, time is not on their side. This urgency has added to the range and variety of activities that Maurin have ventured out on. “Their airport has just been put back on track, which puts support a little bit back on track. But there’s still so much debris, that you cannot empty the port between September and now, and the big boats cannot enter the port. They are part of the Commonwealth, the UK is doing what it can, but this is really a bit of dust that you don’t see on the map (so awareness is hard to raise) and these difficulties are all interconnected. It’s a chain, with so many moving parts, and things can lost. Meanwhile, there’s kids, and newborn babies, sleeping on old mattresses, soaking water, with no protection from things like mosquitoes.”
VMware have provided an infrastructure in which to organise and arrange events in the city, in Ballincollig and further afield, allowing the public to engage in a number of events and experiences, including parties, gigs, walks/runs open to the public and a planned gala dinner, in the lead-up to the team’s deadline in May. Maurin pulls out a whole document outlining various stages of organisation and mooted venues. “I started it on my own, after fundraising after Hurricane Irma. This time, there was a lot of media on it, because of the situation (left by Maria) in Puerto Rico. More than 20% of their territory is still without power. It’s a state of the most powerful country in the world, and they’re still 25% without power, but it’s every day on the news, Jay-Z sent people over there with 1.5m of goods he collected in New York. But we don’t have that kind of presence. So when I described this to my colleagues, asked them to imagine if they had just seen the Aran Islands get destroyed. If you give, you receive back.”
In May, the team will head over to assist with the rebuilding effort, placing roofs on fifty new-build and rebuilt homes right as the rush to do so reaches a fever pitch. Maurin outlines how the team will contribute in a practical fashion, avoiding the trappings of ‘voluntourism’ that so often accompany drives to assist in the wake of natural disasters. “We’re still in the process of defining what exactly we’re going to be doing. We’re going to be working with the American Red Cross, as well as the local Lions’ Club. (They’ll have had meetings by the time this goes to print), and we’re gonna co-ordinate what we do with them. We want to avoid ‘voluntourism’. What can we do, how can we do this, and how can the people benefit?”
Follow Dominican Shelter Team on Facebook and Twitter for the full range of events as they’re announced, and find DJ Gwada Mike on social media.