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Heads up – Embassy 15 – February 2009

A rousing return

Entering the Grenada High Commission is a bit of a spiritual experience, located as it is in a bright, converted chapel.

"But it gets very draughty!" shivers Ruth Rouse, who is still acclimatising to London having returned here for her second tour of duty as High Commissioner following a year in tropical Grenada as Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Legal Affairs.

However, climate change has also meant that the sunny Caribbean island is lashed by hurricanes of increasing ferocity, adds the High Commissioner, who herself was a victim of Hurricane Ivan, the worst storm to hit Grenada in living memory, which claimed 39 lives, wrecking homes and destroying the island's precious nutmeg crops and tourist infrastructure.

The storm had swung unexpectedly in the direction of Grenada, leaving her and many others trapped in their homes for 15 hours with no time to prepare.

"The hurricane just went on and on for hours; we thought it was never going to end," recalls Rouse. "My house was damaged - and I was damaged," she says, pointing to a scar on her right arm.

"It's the sort of event in life that makes you reassess your values," she reflects. "You can rebuild a house, you can replace things but you only have one life to live."

Four years on, the High Commissioner says there are few outward signs of the hurricane. Houses have been rebuilt and huge efforts were made to repair the tourist infrastructure in preparation for the Cricket World Cup in 2007. The government buildings have taken longer because of the sensitive repair work to the historic Georgian architecture.

But replanting of the nutmeg crops will take time, says Rouse: "This is a real tragedy because nutmeg takes so long to grow and mature and it is one of our major exports."

Initially emergency relief and aid was forthcoming, but disaster struck again, this time from a tsunami in Asia. "Much of the aid that had been promised to us was diverted to help those affected by the tsunami," explains the High Commissioner.

After her recovery, Rouse assumed her post as Grenada's permanent representative to the United Nations, where she oversaw the Humanitarian and Disaster Relief brief for CARICOM. Addressing the 61st session of the UN General Assembly she urged members to contribute to the Central Emergency Response Fund, to provide rapid finance in the event of a disaster.

 "I could be persuasive in my arguments because for me it was personal," she says. "I could say, 'Look - I know about disasters and what they do. I have the scars to prove it!'"

Still coping with the destructive effects of climate change, Grenada now faces the man-made global financial disaster which could affect the tourist industry.

These are big challenges for the small island state's new National Democratic Congress government, which won the elections last year after 13 years in opposition.

One of the new policies of the foreign ministry is to engage Grenada's diaspora networks more effectively in the country's development. This will be building on the good work the High Commissioner began when she was last in post in London.

"These people are valuable to us," explains the High Commissioner. "They have skills, they can invest in the country and they can help Grenadian businesses expand in the UK market. Their remittances are also a very helpful source of foreign exchange."

And even if aid is hard to come by in this economic climate, the High Commissioner hopes to secure training opportunities, technical cooperation and academic exchanges between Grenada and the UK.

Rouse is also keen to rejoin the Women in Diplomatic Service UK, the association of women heads of mission she founded in 2002 and was awarded the Women Who Make A Difference Award in 2005 from the Committee on the Status of Women.

Grenada has just celebrated its 35th anniversary of independence. In tough times, the theme of the celebration was unity. And if any one can bring Grenadians together in the UK, High Commissioner Rouse can.
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HE Ms Ruth Rouse

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