The Most Honourable Dr Carissa Etienne, the newest recipient of the Honourary Freedom of Barbados Award, says the “unsung heroes” of the COVID-19 pandemic must not be forgotten, even as countries continue to rebuild.
Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organisation, was bestowed the honour on Sunday morning during the second Humanitarian Awards ceremony at Kensington Oval.
She pointed to women who had to mother, care for family members and still find food even as they were experiencing increasing physical and mental abuse at home.
Another vulnerable group was children who were isolated from friends, family and classmates “suffering undetermined and yet quantified mental ill-effects and years of setbacks in education, and at the same time, increased abuse at home”.
Then there were the other heroes like the bus drivers, supermarket staff and others who simply could not stay at home because they had to work.
Etienne, who hails from neighbouring island Dominica, and received the Honourary Freedom of Barbados Award “for her leadership team and friendship to Barbados during the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic”, had a word for healthcare providers, some of whom were also victims.
“You have served admirably in one of the worst periods in the history of public health. We celebrate you today. We celebrate your resolve your commitment to serve others and your sheer determination to get the job done, no matter what,” she said.
“You came face to face with death and dying, some of them your loved ones, your friends and families. You yourself suffered anxiety, fear, unresolved grief, depression, burn out and mental ill-health. Daily you had to face your own vulnerability, yet you woke up each day, dressed and presented yourself to serve others, in the service of humanity and commitment to your fellow man.”
Etienne also lauded the “leadership, vision and determination” of Barbados Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley who steered her country and shepherded CARICOM Heads during the “early dark days of COVID-19”.
“You repeatedly sought the advice of our experts and acted boldly while respecting the science and international norms and standards,” she said of the leader who became her “midnight friend” during late night phone calls and consultations.
Etienne issued a clarion call for unity in the region as neo-colonialism and other threats continue to emerge to threaten freedoms and the growth of small-island states.
“If the pandemic has taught us one thing, it is that we are better together and that we are only safe when the weakest among us is also safe. Let us therefore go forth in solidarity, in love and service to each other,” she added.
The Humanitarian Awards is an initiative of the Government of Barbados that recognises the sacrifice made by frontline workers during the pandemic. Over 6 000 people, business and organisations received medals, plaques and pins on Sunday, ringing the total to roughly 13 000. Workers will also receive a one-off $500 payment.
The first Humanitarian Awards were held in April 2022. (SAT)