||Last Updated: Oct 30, 2020 - 3:51:22 PM
PROUD RESIDENT — Twenty-eight-year-old Sitha Silien, a proud resident of Abaco, shows off the skills she learned as part of the GER3 Team while working on the Central Abaco Primary School restoration project. (Photo by Zyndrac Jones)
Abaco, The Bahamas — For some, the road to recovery a year after
Hurricane Dorian has been a hard fought one, wrought with tears,
heartache, mixed emotions and bitter-sweet memories. But it is the
generosity of relief organizations like Global Emergency Relief Recovery
and Reconstruction (GER3) that have helped to make the last year for
residents in Grand Bahama and Abaco bearable.
“It was like God had GER3 waiting for me,” said Sitha Silien, 28, who lived in an area in Marsh Harbour, Abaco, known as ThePea.
lost her mother, 54, and brother, 25, in the hurricane and remembers
that day when she and her family had to flee for their lives as if it
was yesterday. She thought she had lost her father, too, who was
separated from them for hours, but later learned that he was battered,
CENTRAL ABACO PRIMARY — Residents of Abaco and GER3 came together to restore the Central Abaco Primary School after it was severely compromised during Hurricane Dorian. (Photo by Zyndrac Jones)
She and her three-year-old nephew made it through the
storm. Her brother, who was determined to find their father, wasn’t so
fortunate. She still remembers his last words as he handed over his son
to her before running off into the storm.
After a desperate
attempt to leave Abaco over the next few days, Sitha, her father and
nephew were finally successful as were so many others who were taken
into New Providence to a shelter, but after a while she was determined
to go back home to rebuild her life.
But the community in which she grew up was no more. It had been decimated.
EAGLES PRIDE — The Central Abaco Primary School Eagles motto was proudly displayed on the school’s wall as part of the restoration feature after a portion of the school was destroyed by Hurricane Dorian in August of 2019. (Photo by Zyndrac Jones)
returned on January 3, anxious to find work and, after picking up work
doing a few odds and ends over the next three and a half weeks, she
learned about the restoration work GER3 was doing at the Central Abaco
Primary School, made her way down there and was instantly hired.
was since the first week in February,” Sitha said, adding that she has
gained a wealth of knowledge in the construction field having started
out removing debris on campus and moving up the ranks to pitching roofs.
“I could tell you that I learned so much and I appreciate the work,” she said.
In fact, Sitha has managed to save up enough money to rent an apartment and purchase a vehicle and credits it all to GER3.
TEAM WORK — Abaco residents pooled together with the team from to restore several buildings, homes and shelters in their communities after the destruction of Hurricane Dorian. (Photo by Zyndrac Jones)
by Langdon Greenhalgh in 2017 with a mission to help crisis-affected
people after disasters build back better, GER3, which is headquartered
in Winchester, Virginia, was one of the first aid groups on the ground
in Grand Bahama just days after Dorian passed.
The monster storm
destroyed the eastern end of Grand Bahama, compromised thousands of
rooftops and left hundreds of families displaced or homeless.
International Program Coordinator Margaret Bacon said the idea is to
get into the disaster area immediately after any sort of global
emergency, be it a hurricane or earthquake.
GER3 FOOTPRINT — Global Emergency Relief Recovery and Reconstruction (GER3) came together, along with a number of Non-Governmental Organization (NGO)s, to assist residents of Abaco build their lives and communities back following Hurricane Dorian. One
of the major projects was the restoration of the Central Abaco Primary School. (Photo by Zyndrac Jones)
“The idea is getting
in there for the immediate relief phase: removing debris and making sure
people are safe. Then transitioning into rehabilitation work:
muck-and-gut, mold remediation, debris management and longer term
repairs, focusing on homes, schools and health facilities,” she said.
The GER3 team then assists with moving to the recovery and reconstruction phases and seeing it all way through.
explained that GER3 is a small organization that is primarily volunteer
led. Its vision is to bridge the gap between relief and recovery work
once the immediate relief organizations leave, building back more
resilient structures and communities so that they are better suited for
Rather than bringing in a lot of
international resources, personnel and equipment, Bacon said its really
about getting into the community with a small international team that
can provide the right expertise to get things going while simultaneously
building a local team, using local suppliers and figuring out with that
team what the community needs and focusing on that.
Bahama, GER3 built a local team to help rebuild over 50 homes, 12
apartments, six local businesses and two schools in East Grand Bahama.
The Housing rehabilitation project was funded by the Center for Disaster
Many of the residents who lost their homes and a
number of the homeowners joined the GER3 team with its Cash for Workers
Program and were paid daily to help with debris removal and
The program helped to provide locals with
income and skills they may not have had before. Now that the program is
complete, they are able to perform mold remediation work or home repairs
and take those skills to perform work on their own homes or market
themselves for future employment.
The four-member GER3 team,
which consists of two project managers, one program director and Bacon
stayed in Grand Bahama until December before turning their sites on
Abaco where they have mounted a number of projects.
Bacon noted that the duration of GER3’s stay largely depends on the need and funding.
been really grateful in The Bahamas that many donors have been
interested in our work and appreciate all the things that we are doing.
It’s been basically one project after another,” she said. “We started
with the schools and homes in Grand Bahama. UNICEF was supporting us
there and then they said, look we’re really happy with what you are
doing and we want you to see if you can do the same kind of work in
When they transitioned over to Abaco, GER3 began focusing
on Central Abaco Primary School. A range of donors contributed to the
substantial rehabilitation project led by GER3, including the Lyford Cay
Foundations, One Bahamas Fund, Discovery Land Company Foundation, and
Sandals Foundation. The team is also working on homes for teachers and
social workers. The work on Abaco was expanded to another school, Every
Child Counts (ECC), a special needs school in Marsh Harbour and
rehabilitation work on three hurricane shelters (in Treasure Cay, Guana
Cay and Man-O-War Cay) and 15 additional homes.
“This is what
GER3 was founded to do and we’re really excited about this. It’s been an
opportunity for us to stay and really get into the work that we were
hoping to do,” Bacon said.
All of the projects are set to end in December or January.
on what other work needs to be done, I know that there is still a lot
that needs to be done. We might be staying on longer if we feel like we
can help and if there is donor support for that,” Bacon said.
At last count, there were between 30-50 daily workers, along with a wide range of local contractors for the different repairs.
team has been fortunate to be able to stay in Abaco and work through
the COVID-19 pandemic, unlike some of the other aid response
organizations, and they continue to receive remote support from team
members back in the United States.
Rochelle Russell, a teacher
and administrator at Central Abaco Primary School, was in the United
States with her husband and two sons during Dorian but had returned
three months ago to begin the restoration process of their home.
said knowing what her family, friends and colleagues were going through
back home while they were so far removed and hearing of the horror
stories and the lives that were lost was heart wrenching.
at the photos, Russell said they knew the situation was dire, however,
it still couldn’t prepare them for what they met when they returned home
after the storm.
She’s overjoyed with the work GER3 is doing on the island and all of the lives they have touched.
indescribable. Words cannot describe the feeling. Just to see all of
the restoration effort and all of the hard work that they have put in,
you just can’t thank them enough. It means a lot to the educators, but
it also means a lot to the parents and students who can return as soon
as the okay is given for face-to-face instruction,” she said.
GER3 has been a great blessing, Russell said.
big heart-felt thank you. They have been a Godsend. They have not only
helped restore the school, but they have also helped persons restore
their homes and come in and helped us to see if we could try to bring
our lives back to some state of normalcy,” she said.
been more than generous, and you can feel the love and support — not
only in a financial way, but also emotionally and mentally in assisting
the process to move alone smoothly.”
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