Hurricane Dorian slammed into The Bahamas on September 1, 2019, leaving a wake of devastation the island chain had never seen before. With thousands affected, the American Red Cross joined a long-term recovery operation on the ground alongside the global Red Cross network.
Initially, more than 50 disaster responders from the American Red Cross were involved in the Hurricane Dorian operation, helping to facilitate evacuees’ needs, a cash assistance program, meals to families affected and more. Now, American Red Cross team members—led by Amy Bruins—remain on the islands to help people recover from the storm during a global pandemic.
“Hurricane Dorian is still a highly visible disaster in The Bahamas, and I’m here for the long haul,” Amy said. “Everyone in this operation is set on bringing hope and normalcy back to the affected islands.”
The American Red Cross has partnered with the Bahamas Red Cross, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC), CORE (Community Organized Relief Effort), MercyCorps, and World Central Kitchen to maximize efforts and continue meeting needs of people affected by Hurricane Dorian. This is done by extending the reach of each organization to provide hot meals, cash assistance, home repair assistance, small business revitalization, continuous mental health support and more.
“Our goal is to help families recover from the wrath of Hurricane Dorian. As Field Representative, I am responsible for American Red Cross’ holistic Hurricane Dorian Operation, which includes strategic planning, recovery programming, operations, partner coordination and reporting, administrative and financial duties, and human resources. I greatly enjoy getting to work across multiple areas and sectors and with diverse groups of people, so this posting has been quite professionally rewarding,” Bruins said.
Bruins is no stranger to living and working in other countries on assignments, often for multiple years at a time. A graduate of the University of Minnesota and the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and Korbel School of International Studies, Bruins brings her skills to the American Red Cross through this lead role after working with several other humanitarian organizations around the world and being a member of the Peace Corps.
“I joined the Peace Corps in Tanzania as a community health educator after completing my undergraduate degree, and it was the most formative experience of my life. I loved learning about a new culture and speaking a new language, while getting to assist my community. I also got to participate in the Rwanda War Crimes Tribunal, which was taking place in Arusha, Tanzania; I became very passionate about international human rights and development and pursued a Juris Doctor in International Law and a Master of Arts in International Human Rights after returning from Peace Corps. To me, it was an opportunity to further explore the multitude of ways I could try to help- by learning all I could about the protection of human rights on different levels and trying to be a voice for the voiceless.”
Amy says her studies and work around the world have given her a more global perspective, that it’s something she was called to do.
“I am meant for this work. Especially after growing up in the United States, being able to see and be immersed in other cultures while helping them grow and flourish has been eye-opening. I have a voice and I’m grateful to be in a position to speak up and make a difference for the communities I serve, wherever I am.”
“In total, I have been working in the humanitarian industry for 12 years, and my work has taken me to Tanzania, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Colombia, Zimbabwe, Mali, Senegal, Malawi, South Africa, and now The Bahamas. I am most passionate about assisting vulnerable groups of people and communities,” Bruins said.
And her passion is evident in both the variety and longevity of her work, usually including resiliency programs that teach people impacted by crises skills to build their capacity against the uncertainty of the future. Amy says the work is often highly rewarding, especially in areas where it feels that good news is harder to come by. She reflected on one case in a past role:
“I was managing child protection programs in displaced persons camps as a result of a protracted crisis. I was approached by parents in one of our camps because they had lost their son during the violence that precipitated the people becoming displaced, which occurred several years earlier. When a family member has been missing for multiple years, the odds of reunification are unlikely.
“Through our case management system and after a lot of coordination with UN Agencies, NGOs, and the local government, we located their son and were able to reunite the family. Seeing the family back together after about three years apart will always be a fond memory of mine, and I shed more than a few happy tears that day,” Bruins remembers.
First Time with the Red Cross
Amy arrived in The Bahamas just shy of six months after Hurricane Dorian hit to help transition from meeting people’s immediate needs like shelter and food, to looking at what families’ long-term needs are. She says a lot of the work goes back into preparedness, and she brings her wealth of experience into the careful customization to what that looks like for this community.
“Unfortunately, natural disasters cannot be stopped, and while we cannot stop a hurricane, earthquake, tornado, etc., we can deliver preparedness, disaster risk reduction, and recovery programming to better insulate people against the impact future disasters may have. All of these programs increase resilience – or the capacity of a system (an individual, household, or community) to avoid, resist or recover from a crisis/disaster in an efficient manner. The American Red Cross and our international Red Cross teammates are currently or are soon to be implementing preparedness, disaster risk reduction and recovery programs in efforts to bolster the resilience of the Bahamian system,” Bruins said.
Amy continues to adapt in a changing environment as a pandemic affects the work of the Red Cross in The Bahamas; a scenario that feels almost familiar after living in Liberia during an Ebola outbreak. Now, Amy continues to draw on that experience as The Bahamas, and the world, face a new challenge with the COVID-19 outbreak.
“The Red Cross, like everyone, is adapting what we do and how we do it in light of COVID-19. We’re working with the Bahamas Red Cross to serve additional hot meals to people affected by COVID-19, namely senior citizens. We’re also funding partner organizations to provide financial support to local businesses economically affected by COVID-19. As the situation continues to change, our aim is be as flexible and nimble to ensure the best service delivery.”
“We’re all trying to do our part, she said, “We are thankfully in a position to support our communities during these trying times and maintain the recovery progress we have achieved thus far. In the global conversation, this is where I want to use my voice.”
The American Red Cross in The Bahamas
The American Red Cross has been helping in The Bahamas since Hurricane Dorian hit last September, providing emergency shelter items, food, clean water and millions of dollars in cash and rental assistance to families. It is because of the generosity of the American people that the Red Cross is able to provide continued support to families. 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. The Red Cross is working to mitigate the spread of the virus through community-based health and hygiene information and working in a contactless environment to maintain safe distance.