Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : October 1st 2014 Contents A29
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At least 3,700 children in Guinea, Liberia
and Sierra Leone who have lost one or
both parents to Ebola this year face being
shunned, the UN children's organisation
Carers were urgently needed for these
orphans, Unicef said.
A basic human reaction like comforting
a sick child has been turned "into a poten-
tial death sentence," it added.
The World Health Organization (WHO)
says more than 3,000 people have died of
Ebola in West Africa.
It is the world's most deadly outbreak of
The figure on the number of Ebola or-
phans follows a two-week assessment
mission by Unicef to the three countries
worst-affected by the outbreak.
It found that children as young as three
or four years old were being orphaned by
Children were discovered alone in the
hospitals where their parents had died, or
back in their communities where, if they
were lucky, they were being fed by neigh-
bours---but all other contact with them
was being avoided.
"Thousands of children are living
through the deaths of their mother, father
or family members from Ebola," Unicef's
Manuel Fontaine said in statement.
"These children urgently need special
attention and support; yet many of them
feel unwanted and even abandoned.
Thousands of Ebola orphans 'shunned'
In his office at the UN Relief and
Works Agency (UNRWA) in
Jerusalem, Chris Gunness is thou-
sands of miles away from San Fer-
nando, south Trinidad, where he
was born at the General Hospital
He s also a world away from the
Sunday Punch offices where he
began his career at 18.
But even though he left Trinidad
to be educated in England at nine,
he s happily finishing off a lunch of
chicken stew and sweet potato at
his desk when he receives my call
on a busy Monday afternoon.
Gunness has been the UNRWA
director for Advocacy and Commu-
nications and spokesman for Pales-
tinian Refugees for almost a decade.
Before that he spent two decades
at the BBC as a reporter, correspon-
dent and producer on flagship radio
stations and television programmes
like the World Service and News-
Most recently his name and image
went viral when he broke down in
tears on camera after an interview
with Al-Jazeera in the midst of the
brutal 51-day conflict in Gaza in July.
The video was seen all over the
"It was the day the Israelis hit our
school in Jabaliya and 20 people were
killed, and I was completely and
utterly churned up about it," he says.
The Israeli army had told people
to leave their homes, so men, women
and children came to the schools to
shelter, believing they would be safe
havens from shelling and missiles,
but they weren t.
"After the interview was over I
broke down and the camera just kept
rolling," says Gunness. "I didn t know
it was rolling.
"They then sent the pictures back
without asking me and it was broad-
cast every hour at the top of the
hour for goodness knows how long.
It went viral on the Internet and I
got literally thousands of e-mails
from all around the world, including
people in Ban Ki-Moon s office, say-
ing that was the most eloquent thing
anyone s ever said about conflict."
On the day of our interview, he
has just come back from Ramallah---
a city in the West Bank, north of
Jerusalem---where he was appearing
on a BBC news panel programme.
Polishing off his lunch, he explains
how getting around in Israel and the
occupied Palestinian territories
involves constant stops and searches
at military checkpoints, manned by
Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) soldiers.
He s only about half an hour late in
"Some days are worse than others
and it takes ages to get anywhere,"
Who made the stewed chicken,
"I did!" He responds defiantly,
"I m a Trini!"
You can take the boy out of
Trinidad, but some things can never
With an East Indian father and a
British mother who had migrated
from Basingstoke to what was still
the British West Indies, Gunness
was born into what he describes as
a classic Trinidad Indian family, with
"a grandma (we all called her Ma)
who was a classic Indian matriarch,
who heroically held it all together
and pulled herself and her family
out of poverty---from colonial
enslavement to middle-class pros-
perity in a generation."
His great-grandparents arrived in
Trinidad as indentured labourers.
Within two generations they had
produced an island scholar in his
father, Robert Gunness, and within
three generations Chris had won a
scholarship at Oxford, from where
he launched his prominent interna-
His father, a doctor, had been
pushed hard and achieved academic
and professional success, returning
to T&T with a British wife he had
met at university. Chris was born
into a life of prosperity, three years
"I was acutely aware that my
childhood was one of privilege---dri-
ver, cook, maids, gardener, being
driven to school, going down the
islands---by contrast to much of what
I saw around me," says Gunness.
But he is quick to explain that this
hard-won privilege was not taken
for granted and his father was "a
man of indefatigable, true social con-
science," who co-founded and fund-
ed the Audrey Jeffers School for the
Deaf in Gopaul Lands, Marabella,
opened in 1967. He also helped
establish the T&T Society for the
Rehabilitation of the Disabled and
helped to build the Canaan Presby-
terian Church in Duncan Village. He
used his position as senior doctor
at Tesoro to help the poor, and want-
ed to repay the faith his family had
put in him in investing their scarce
resources in his education.
"My father is where my sense of
justice and working for oppressed
people comes from," Gunness says.
"And my T&T passport is my
He remembers as a child going
into impoverished rural communities
in deep South while his father hand-
ed out free pharmaceuticals and
There was tragedy for the family
too. "Trinidad was a violent place,
and my father s brother and his son
were both murdered."
He speaks highly and fondly of
his cousins in Trinidad, though he
admits, with some shame, that he
has not visited in decades.
"They re pretty amazing folks in
various ways, really creative, and
they ve done interesting things with
their lives. My uncle George was a
brilliant food technician and a former
opposition senator, and his children
are all very talented. My aunt Myrtle
was a great organist and a dedicated,
devoted musician. Another uncle,
Roy, was a leading light in the
His cousin Kitty, a teacher, he
describes as a Mother Goose figure
who keeps him in the loop with
what s happening in Trinidad.
Gunness first left aged nine, after
attending Vistabella Private School,
close to the family home in Cross
Crossing. He was sent to boarding
school in England, then went on to
study philosophy and theology at
New College, Oxford, as a choral
He deferred Oxford for a year and
returned to Trinidad when his father
died as he was finishing school in
1977. He came home to help his
mother pack up and return to Britain,
and it was during that year that his
passion for journalism took root.
"I worked at the Sunday Punch
as a reporter under Trevor Burnt-
Boots Smith," he explains. "I defy
anyone to mock. If you want to get
a sense of the society you re in, work
for a tabloid newspaper. In its day
it served a purpose, exposing dis-
honesty, corruption and hypocrisy
amongst the ruling classes.
"That said, it was at the Sunday
Punch that I first heard the expres-
sion, That s too good a story to
At Oxford he went on tour with
the choir and edited a satirical mag-
azine called Passing Wind before
joining the BBC as a trainee in 1982.
"I rose through the ranks of pro-
ducer, reporter, foreign correspon-
dent and news anchor, but, for me,
news was about oppressed people
in hot countries. So I found the BBC s
navel-gazing, neo-colonial, Euro-
centric agenda stifling."
In 1988 he covered the Burmese
uprising in Rangoon. In 1991 he was
the UN correspondent in New York
just before Saddam Hussein invaded
Kuwait. There he met Kofi Annan
(later UN Secretary General, but then
in charge of administration and
peacekeeping) and in 1994 he took
CONTINUES ON PAGE A30
The Trini speaking up for Palestine
Chris Gunness, seen here holding an impromptu "open air" press conference in Jerusalem after a Palestinian
refugee family was evicted from their home and their belongings thrown onto the streets. PHOTO COURTESY CHRIS
"Some days are worse than
others and it takes ages to
get anywhere," he explains.
Who made the stew chicken,
"I did!" He responds defiantly,
"I'm a Trini!"
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