Redlegs of Barbados
About 400 Irish descendants live in poverty today on an eastern Caribbean island called Barbados. One can date their ancestors back to the 1600s when Captain Joseph West sold the first 53 Irish indentured servants to the government of Barbados. Over time, a total of 50,000 Irish indentured servants would undergo transport to Barbados. The Irish descendants in Barbados received the name of Redlegs of Barbados because of their sunburns turning their pale white skin bright red from the hot tropical sun. Even after hundreds of years, their bodies still have not adapted to the unfamiliar heat conditions.

Their History

Oliver Cromwell, a political and military leader for England, led the invasion of Ireland in 1649 leading to his role in the transportation of the conquered Irish people to become the Redlegs of Barbados. It was his death that brought an end to the major transportation of Irish indentured servants and the start of the transportation of African slaves to Barbados.

Living Conditions

“School absenteeism, poor health, the ill effects of inter-family marriage, large families, little ownership of land and lack of job opportunities have locked those remaining on the island into a poverty trap. Even today the red legs still stand out as anomalies and are hard-pressed for survival in a society that has no niche for them,” says Sheena Jolley, a photographer who has captured the living conditions of the Redlegs of Barbados.

The Redlegs of Barbados have mostly married within their community. As a result, this caused a higher risk of birth defects, diseases and shorter life expectancy. Some integration with African descendants in Barbados has occurred, which has led to better health and education for some Redlegs. However, many still struggle with health problems. Lack of dental care and poor diet has also contributed towards Redlegs of Barbados having bad or even no teeth at all.

Help from Ireland

Micheal Martin, Irish Minister and Department of Foreign Affairs, has commented on the issue of assistants to the Redlegs of Barbados. His insight to the Irish Aboard Unit, “manages and coordinates the Emigrants Support Programme (ESP) in partnership with Ireland’s embassies and consulates abroad,” says they have been to Barbados to meet with the community. During their meetings, the Redlegs received encouragement to keep in contact with the government.

“Representatives of the community are welcome to submit an application for funding under the Emigrant Support Programme” said Minister Martin.

Joshua Botkin
Photo: Flickr

University of Southern California (USC) has a course called “Innovation In Engineering and Design for Global Crises.” As part of the class, a team of USC undergraduates visited the Moria refugee camp to learn from and engage with the displaced peoples about their experiences. The need for more livable housing was the impetus for students’ project development. The result was Torch Tile — an adaptable, low-cost, user-friendly solution to the sheltering challenges of the displaced peoples in Moria.

Living Conditions of the Sprawling Moria Refugee Camp

On the eastern coast of the Greek island of Lesvos, is the Moria refugee camp. Moria is the largest refugee camp in Europe. It is the landing pad for the daily stream of refugees fleeing from Afghanistan, Syria and Turkey via a harrowing boat trip across a six-mile stretch of the Mediterranean Sea. The camp was originally designed to shelter 3,000 people. Currently, it is overflowing with over 13,000 refugees.

Tents sprawling the foothills surrounding Moria have constituted as impermanent shelters or “homes” for these refugees. Some asylum-seekers have even established residence with flowers, hand-made tandoori ovens and power cords for hijacking electricity. Despite these additions, the tents are no match for the temperature swings of Greece’s climate. In the summers, heat waves can break 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Winters on the island bring lasting snow from the sea moisture. Asylum-seekers can expect to wait a year before their asylum applications are processed ensuring they will experience both extreme weather conditions.

In the past, asylum-seekers have employed cardboard and tarps in an attempt to block out the extreme cold and heat. Increasing the temperature a few degrees led to refugees living in environments with dank, humid air that condenses on the tent inner walls. Running water is only available inside of Moria, and these moist environments put asylum-seekers at risk for health complications. Many suffer from pneumonia and heat stroke, which there are limited resources with which to treat.

In stepped the Torch Tile.

The Product

After over thirty different prototypes and dozens of hours of overnight testing, the team created the Torch Tile. The users’ needs were at the forefront of the creation’s design. The product comes in 36 or 55 sq. ft. sheets that can be laid side-by-side (like tiles) to fully surround a tent. The sturdy, lightweight and flexible material of the tiles is Aluminet.

The knitted screen-like material allows for airflow, reduces indoor humidity and lets light into the tent for visibility. Secured using zip ties and draped over the tent ceiling, the Torch Tile cools the interior by deflecting outdoor heat and light on warm days. Similarly, in winter weather one layers a tarp over the Torch Tile to warm the tent by 5-15 degrees by reflecting body heat inward.

Then, the team founded Torch Global Inc., a nonprofit currently fundraising to mass produce tiles for distribution. The goal is to provide tiles for those in Moria and for the unsheltered populations in Los Angeles.

Protecting Homes during the Coronavirus Pandemic

The distribution of Torch Tiles has been paramount to enabling people to self-isolate during the coronavirus pandemic. One Torch Tile user from Los Angeles shared, “I have COVID and can’t isolate because my tent is too hot. This product will keep my tent cooler, so I can actually stay inside and isolate.” Recently Torch Global Inc. fundraised $13,000 for the ordering of 1,500 more Torch Tiles — protection for 1,500 more people in their homes.

The collective, global mobilization and coordination of resources necessary to resolve the refugee crisis in Greece is unlikely to occur soon enough. Even when it is, situations and conflicts will likely displace more people in the future, and asylum-seekers living in tents will be inevitable. By thermo-regulating shelters, Torch Tiles alleviate one aspect of refugees’ vulnerability and address the downstream effects of displacement.

Tricia Lim Castro
Photo: Flickr