The beautiful and unique geography of the islands of The Bahamas make it a favorite destination for tourists and adventure-seekers alike and a core part of the Bahamian landscape is welcoming visitors with open arms to experience local food, art and more.
In September of 2019, Hurricane Dorian pummeled The Bahamas for over two days, thoroughly devastating the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama and forcing many people there to evacuate.
The storm’s destruction coupled with the decrease in population and visitors caused many local businesses on the islands to close— either to make repairs or to determine if reopening was even an option. The Bahamas have weathered strong storms before, but none were like Dorian. It was the most intense and formidable storm to hit The Bahamas in recorded history and the aftermath left business owners wondering if operations would ever go back to normal.
Thanks to the American Red Cross and the Bahamas Red Cross, some local business owners are getting help as they try to pick up the pieces.
To support local entrepreneurs, the American Red Cross has partnered with the organizations CORE and Mercy Corps to support micro, small and medium-sized businesses in Abaco, Grand Bahama and the surrounding cays by providing cash grants to help recover from the storm and make improvements. Many owners are also given access to business training on skills like accounting and marketing and free business mentorship.
On Sweetings Cay off the east end of the island of Grand Bahama, small roadside shops and restaurants were hit especially hard with the almost complete lack of tourism after the storm. Winifred Mitchell lives a short walk from the empty lot where her restaurant—destroyed by Hurricane Dorian—used to be.. Winifred says the cash she got from the Red Cross offered hope and optimism for the future.
By mid-March, many businesses already affected by Dorian were further plunged into uncertainty as a global pandemic took hold of the islands. The Red Cross continues to provide grants to businesses in an effort to help them endure both crises.
On Abaco island, a mother/daughter printing and embroidery business started overhauling their business model after Dorian when the pandemic created more challenges. Ruth Saunders says Dorian tore the roof off the trailer that housed all their printing machines including a new investment that didn’t last.
“We bought a brand-new machine, a brand new 60-inch printer two months before the storm and it’s in the ocean,” Ruth said. Together with her daughter Blair, they converted their business from an office space they could no longer afford to a new mobile business inside the repaired trailer with new equipment making signs and prints thanks to a grant funded by the Red Cross. Ruth says customers have been steady as many other people are replacing signs and things that were lost in Dorian. They say it’s hard work in the meantime as the COVID-19 has presented new challenges, but they are determined.
“We are grateful and thankful that you considered us and as you can see we have not let you down we are pushing forward day after day after day…we’re very grateful and very thankful for every dollar,” Ruth said.
The American Red Cross and Bahamas Red Cross will provide ongoing support to people made vulnerable by Hurricane Dorian and the COVID-19 pandemic. Over $760,000 has already been distributed to local businesses through these grants.
American Red Cross in the Bahamas
The American Red Cross has been working in The Bahamas since Hurricane Dorian hit in September 2019, supporting the Bahamas Red Cross and the global network of Red Cross and Red Crescent network to distribute emergency relief items, food, water, and millions of dollars in cash--in addition to repair work and rental assistance to people affected. Thanks to the amazing generosity of the American public, the Red Cross is able to continue providing critical support to families still working to overcome the intense challenges presented by a hurricane. In the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Red Cross continues to keep safety the main priority and is adapting our programs and efforts to follow all health guidelines while still delivering our mission. For more information on Hurricane Dorian recovery, visit www.redcross.org/dorian.