By Holly Baker
Off the far east end of the island of Grand Bahama in The Bahamas is a small island called Sweetings Cay. A place that became popular for bone fishing, authentic Bahamian food and an “off the beaten path” tourist experience. This area was idyllic and home to a community who welcomed visitors with open arms, which helped sustain their livelihoods. When Hurricane Dorian smashed through the area in September 2019 - leaving terrible destruction shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic swept through, some felt hopeless.
Families throughout the islands felt the same after Hurricane Doran battered the islands as a category five storm that slowed down and churned for 2 days in The Bahamas, leaving a wake of terrible destruction. Throughout the Dorian-damaged islands, the American Red Cross and Bahamas Red Cross worked together to reach out to the people affected and bring them hope in many different ways.
To most, it came as cash — grants to homeowners to help rebuild their homes and small business owners to fix up their shops and restock what was lost in the storm. The Red Cross also helped fund community infrastructure projects to encourage families to return home knowing they’d be better prepared for future storms. When COVID-19 spread throughout the world, the Red Cross provided additional financial resources to businesses in The Bahamas so they could stay afloat amid the uncertainty. The pandemic also caused increased food insecurity to many families, but the Red Cross was there to deliver food right to their doors.
Since Dorian, the Red Cross has distributed over $14 million to nearly 4,000 families, provided over half a million meals, over 1.5 million gallons of clean drinking water, and millions of dollars more in support to businesses, home repair grants and rent money to families.
Bahamian pastor Terrance Strachan and his wife, Shoine, of the island of Abaco, narrowly survived Hurricane Dorian as their house literally came crashing down around them. They were left with nothing but some soggy clothes and a pile of rubble where their home used to be. With no insurance, they faced a long, challenging path to get back into a home. But a Red Cross cash gift allowed them to buy the materials they needed to restore their house, keeping them focused on moving forward and not wallowing in the sad thoughts of the past. They said being able to decide for themselves how to spend the money made them feel empowered after feeling so powerless.
Christine Munnings was on Abaco when Hurricane Dorian struck and faced many challenges in finding income and stability in a post-Dorian COVID-19 world. But starting over was made just a little easier when she received money from the Red Cross that helped her pay bills, buy house paint, get the front door fixed, buy groceries and a new roof. She says the Red Cross came as a bit of light after a sad, dark time when every worldly thing she owned was taken from her.
“People say materials things are nothing, but there’s a lot of memories,” she said as tears streamed down her face. Losing everything and the isolation due to the pandemic weighed heavily on Christine, and now she’s greatly appreciative of help from the Red Cross.
Recovering from a massive hurricane like Dorian takes time and concentrated effort from dedicated volunteers and Red Cross workers and leaves a lasting positive impact on the people of the Bahamas. This work was made possible by the generous donations of the American people, corporations and everyone who wanted to do something to help. Two years after the storm, the people of the Bahamas are looking forward with optimism for a future that only continues to get brighter.
Now people like Earold Tate can sit in the crystal-clear waters of Sweetings Cay and clean conch shells to make conch salad to sell at his small restaurant. He used the money he got from the Red Cross to fix his boat and buy a new motor so he can fish and ferry passengers to provide for his income. Photography studio owner Toquell Major received a grant from the Red Cross that helped her replace all her lost photography equipment. Now she says thanks to the financial help, she can focus on working and growing her business instead of starting over completely.
The American Red Cross worked closely with the Bahamas Red Cross to build out their volunteer workforce and provide thorough training and preparedness plans so they feel even more ready when the next big storm or disaster arrives. A team of new lifeguard instructors were trained and now offer a Lifeguard Certification Program to train the next generation of lifeguards for the waters of The Bahamas.
Combating food insecurity was a main priority for the Bahamas Red Cross even before the pandemic increased the needs, and the American Red Cross worked to expand and make this work more efficient by providing updated equipment and a refreshed kitchen space. Now volunteers can produce larger quantities of food efficiently to meet the needs of the community through the Bahamas Red Cross “Meals on Wheels” program and in future disaster situations.
In the two years after Dorian, families were reunited under safer roofs and employees felt secure with jobs at businesses that could open thanks to the money that helped them make it through pandemic-related obstacles. Slowly the communities that had been so brutally torn apart by Dorian were coming back together. One resident of Sweetings Cay, Shervin Tate, explained that even when the future looked uncertain, he knew there would be hope when Red Cross workers arrived and then stayed for years.
“Dorian came and took away everything but now we can finally smile again.”
AMERICAN RED CROSS RESPONSE Thanks to the incredible generosity of the American public, the Red Cross has been able to directly support the people whose lives were most deeply disrupted by Dorian. Two years later, the American Red Cross has been in the Bahamas since Dorian struck. Donations to the Red Cross allowed us to put cash right back into the hands of local people so they could choose exactly what they needed for themselves. We gave out emergency supplies, food and clean water to thousands of families and are helping with long term recovery by providing cash grants to repair homes and businesses. Together with partners, the Red Cross is helping to be the bridge to comfort and hope following a life-changing disaster.
Read about more of the Red Cross work in The Bahamas here.