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Community Last Updated: Aug 9, 2020 - 5:39:41 PM

Reflections: Strong communities helped Dorian evacuees get through personal storm
By Azaleta Ishmael-Newry
Aug 8, 2020 - 8:16:10 PM

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Community Baptist Church of California donated to One Eleuthera Foundation (OEF) Hurricane Dorian Relief Program. In the photo from left to right are: Shaun Ingraham, CEO One Eleuthera, Robyn Curry, Executive Support Officer, OEF, Mary Graves, Rotary Club of Rancho Cotati, California and Long-time Friend of OEF, Susan Culmer President of the Rotary Club of Eleuthera, Alice Kibwaa, Rotary Club of Rancho Cotati, California and member of Community Baptist Church, Sandra Ingraham, CFO, OEF and Maisie Thompson, Community Outreach Coordinator, OEF. Photo supplied by OEF.

Eleuthera, Bahamas – It has been almost one year since Hurricane Dorian battered the Northern Bahamas and memories of the Category-5 assault on Abaco and Grand Bahama are still fresh. In times of recovery, the strong support from the local and international communities can lessen the sting of tragedy. Many champions stepped up and worked tirelessly and passionately to make life better for those who were at their lowest. They worked with or were part of the One Eleuthera Foundation that has moved from one emergency to the next – from Hurricane Dorian to COVID-19.  

Reflecting on Dorian, no one expected that a 23-foot king wave would push buildings off their foundation, wipe out communities, and affect people from all socio-economic backgrounds. The unprecedented strength of the superstorm that struck the Northern Bahamas in September 2019 caused fatalities and the largest internal displacement of people said to be more than 14,000. When touring Abaco days later, UN Secretary-General António Guterres stated that he had never seen such destruction and attributed it to climate change and human actions. Grand Bahama had also suffered greatly and would have serious setbacks. People resettled in New Providence, Andros, and other islands as well as south Florida and Canada. Eleuthera became home for over 600 people seeking food and shelter.  

Two school children in Spanish Wells ­­are all smiles and are shown holding their lunches. A lunch program under the Hurricane Dorian Relief Program by One Eleuthera covered lunches for 70 students and 3 teachers from September 2019 to June 2020. Photo supplied by Bonnie Symonette

Before Dorian’s arrival, CEO of the One Eleuthera Foundation (OEF) Shaun Ingraham and his team were in preparation mode. Ingraham had reached out to Steven Cartwright who was in Harbour Island. “I've done some hurricane relief work with Shaun before,” said Cartwright. “I think he knew that I could help and make sure that things were organized properly.” Ingraham was preparing for his mother’s funeral when Dorian struck. As he stepped away briefly, he knew that the consultants and staff in place would mobilize things in the best ways possible.  

Spanish Wells and Harbour Island were hubs that were instrumental in assisting the evacuees. On the ground were Steven Cartwright, Scott Aranha and Will Tomlinson of IdeaRelief. Others included India Hicks, Ben Simmons and many volunteers who gathered supplies and prepared a staging station.  

From Puerto Rico with love. Shown in the photo above are 2 evacuees reading many of the cards that were made by children and adults in Puerto Rico to share love and encouragement with those affected by Hurricane Dorian. The youth were temporarily housed at a shelter at Camp Symonette in James Cistern until their families were able to move into rental housing. The messages of hope were on display at a New Year meet and greet event that One Eleuthera held for the many evacuees. Photo supplied by OE

“Within 24 hours of planning, we had 112 volunteers including those on mainland Eleuthera signed up and assigned duties,” said Cartwright. “There were data entry and photography stations to document the those arriving at the government-run Three Island Dock in North Eleuthera, with another processing station at the North Eleuthera Airport. We set up a full medical triage with IVs and a nurse, police and fire services and other government support. We were lucky to have advice from Happy Hall and Dr Graham Cates of Family Medical Center in Nassau to guide us.”  

On September 6th, a 22-boat convoy left Spanish Wells for Abaco and its cays. They had taken 1,000 bags of relief supplies only to reach Abaco and realize that it became necessary to quickly evacuate hundreds of the displaced. Over 4 days, 600 evacuees were documented and the information was turned over to NEMA. A ferry service and flights took many of the displaced to Nassau - 300 remained in Spanish Wells and others went to Camp Symonette in James Cistern. By December, mainland Eleuthera had welcomed another 300 newcomers.

The Spanish Wells Community embraced the displaced neighbours of Abaco at a town hall meeting on September 9th. Three hundred evacuees settled on Spanish Wells. Over the past 9 months, many have returned and in mid-June around 75-100 residents remain on Spanish Wells where many are employed. Photo from Bonnie Symonette.

OEF Community Outreach Coordinator, Maisie Thompson had stepped up to the challenge, taking on more responsibility without hesitation. “I had not worked with hurricane recovery before and I wanted to help,” said Thompson. “We could see all the footage of what was happening in Abaco and it was heartbreaking. We started collecting clothing, dry goods and building supplies.”  

Thompson worked with other NGOs, government agencies, and interacted with the many families who relocated. She became a beacon of hope for the newcomers, always checking in with them. “I grew up with my parents always being our keepers and I watched my parents helping people. I always wanted to be like that, so it just came naturally.”  

She pauses to find the right words of concern for the Covid-19 situation. “Right now I carry a burden for many of the survivors because they are not working. They were just starting to get their lives in order and now here it is, they are unable to work. They have little or no savings and they will still need to pay their rent and utilities.”  

Students who are from the community of Governors Harbour, Eleuthera wanted to contribute to the Hurricane Dorian Relief efforts. The students of Emily G. Petty Primary School in Governors Harbour jumped into action and through a fundraiser at school they were able to donate supplies. The goods were presented to Maisie Thompson (on right of large box), Community Outreach Coordinator at One Eleuthera. Shown on the left is the school’s Principal, Tanya Pinder. Photo supplied by OEF.

Immediately after Dorian’s devastation, Audrey Carey who worked at OEF’s Centre for Training and Innovation (CTI), used her negotiating skills and network to find food, clothing, housing and furnishing for many households, driving all over the Island to pick up items. “I'm always out in the community so it wasn't difficult to ask and the beautiful thing was that everyone said yes."  

Carey connected the evacuees with various government agencies and reminded those serving to have empathy for what the displaced were experiencing. “It was a humbling time for everyone,” she said. “Many of the people who came had only a few plastic bags of items in their hands. Many were filled with grief and were withdrawn. That broke my heart. But I had to be strong. I would have my little cry on the side and keep a strong face to motivate everyone.” Carey praised the locals and second homeowners for their contributions. “We were grateful for the second homeowners who are just like us, locals because they have been coming to Eleuthera for so long and they wanted to be part of the rebuilding process.”  

The Johnsons who were displaced by Hurricane Dorian in Abaco moved into their new home in Tarpum Bay, Eleuthera. The 6 member family made a new life with the assistance of the One Eleuthera Foundation’s Hurricane Dorian Relief Program. Wife, Cindy (second from right) is a nail technician and husband Nikim (right) is an auto mechanic. Recently he was able to bring his boat from Abaco with plans to start a tour fishing guide operation. Photo supplied by OEF.

A few of the properties that were sourced for housing needed small and some major repairs. If the owners were not in the financial position to invest, One Eleuthera covered the cost of supplies. Labour was provided by the CTI apprentices and former students as well as some of the male evacuees. The ladies contributed their time volunteering at the distribution center or where needed. The long-term housing and utility program for 173 households on mainland Eleuthera contributed $330,000 into the economy.  

Financing for various projects was covered by grants and Joy Sweeting who was contracted for grants and donor management shared that One Eleuthera had used a data-driven model to get demographics and livelihood information to drive response. Through the life of the program, the Foundation continually obtained information, feedback and all program data was tracked.  
“You must track data and you must know the population you are serving,” said Sweeting. “Our coordinators analyzed client needs based on information extracted from the intake forms. We placed families where it was most beneficial for them. For example, we assessed the livelihoods and profiles of single mothers, placing them in communities with maximum support for education, childcare, employment, and mobility.”  

Bonnie Symonette (right) of Spanish Wells and her husband Tony took in displaced student Susie Pinder (right) of Abaco so that she could finish her last year of high school in a safe and suitable environment. Susie’s father remained in Abaco to rebuild their home. Bonnie assisted the One Eleuthera Foundation with the Hurricane Dorian Relief Program. Photo from Bonnie Symonette.

Kearney Copeland, who hails from Ontario, Canada and has family connections to Eleuthera, used the Hurricane Dorian Relief Program as part of her PhD research. “The One Eleuthera response offered a different perspective. I was able to share my work with my friends and family through a silent auction to raise money for disaster relief.” These funds helped support Dorian evacuees with food during the Covid-19 crisis.  

Bonnie Symonette in Spanish Wells looked after the scheduling of the meals for the displaced population. Three hundred people received 3 meals a day through a feeding program supported by various households in the community. She also managed the lunch program for 70 displaced students and 3 teachers. “I started off scheduling at the donation center and my role expanded. Feeding the persons in groups, was therapeutic for them to be together. They had lost everything. They had come to a different Island and didn’t know us. The gathering at meals was a time for them to speak about their experiences with each other but also a time for us, the community, to get to know them.”  

From Puerto Rico with love. Shown in the photo above are 2 evacuees reading many of the cards that were made by children and adults in Puerto Rico to share love and encouragement with those affected by Hurricane Dorian. The youth were temporarily housed at a shelter at Camp Symonette in James Cistern until their families were able to move into rental housing. The messages of hope were on display at a New Year meet and greet event that One Eleuthera held for the many evacuees. Photo supplied by OE

Symonette reminds us to stay grounded. “We can sometimes get in a rut in life and think that we have control of our circumstances. But in a moment, everything can be taken away from us.” She confessed that while holding down a full- time job, God gave her the strength to facilitate the relief program. Symonette and her husband Tony had also temporarily opened their home to displaced individuals and a full-time student so that she could finish her 12th grade in Spanish Wells.  


There were many local and international people and agencies that touched hundreds of lives and countless champions who helped the Dorian evacuees get through their personal storm.  In times of disaster and crisis, Bahamians are known to be resilient people who have lived through hurricanes however, Dorian was different. The One Eleuthera Hurricane Dorian Relief Program made a difference for the communities it served, and at times it tested the limits of the organization, the staff and the evacuees.  

At the Three Island Dock in September 2019 awaiting the arrival of Abaco evacuees. Shown in the photo is Steven Cartwright (left) and volunteers discussing the data information that would be needed to ensure that all information gathered on the evacuees would be uniform when used by NEMA, One Eleuthera and other agencies. Photo from IdeaRelief.

Ingraham explained, “Dorian took out the country’s second-largest economy of Abaco and further frustrated Grand Bahama’s recovery. We saw a lot of emotion, fear and anxiety. While we have been hit many times by hurricanes, this one seemed to have dealt a more severe economical and psychological blow. It was crippling to the soul. Fear was heightened in the Haitian community, obviously as their opinions were not as sought out. In many cases, they were undocumented and fear of deportation was obvious. Language sometimes became a barrier. We were grateful that the pastors in Spanish Wells and James Cistern were able to make things a bit easier. Everyone who came to us had suffered great loss whether it was a loved one, their worldly possessions or livelihood.”  

When the resettled population residing in Eleuthera was at its peak, the economy grew by 5%. It also received a positive boost since most of the funds from the HDR Program were spent on the Island with a smaller portion spent for relief supplies for Abaco.  

Philippa Farrington–Dean (left) founder of The Dignified Girl project donated supplies and food vouchers to the One Eleuthera Hurricane Dorian Relief Program and partnered with the meet and greet program that was held for over 100 evacuees at CTI in January 2020. Photo supplied by OEF.

From September 2019 to June 2020, generous contributions of cash, in-kind donations and grants exceeding $900,000 supported the OEF 7-month HDR Program. All made possible from hundreds of donors, partnerships, grants and community who helped with aid and post-disaster relief. The structure of the Foundation with their operations in The Bahamas and their US OEF Foundation as a 501(c)(3) non-profit, was advantageous.  

A housing and utilities allowance, emergency relief supplies, educational grants, a school feeding program, job placement and training and trauma counselling were part of the OEF Hurricane Relief Program. Funds also covered revitalization of commercial agriculture in South Eleuthera and employment and disaster preparedness; programs all beneficial in helping integrate the newcomers and strengthening the Foundation.  

Willis Henfield, an Abaco evacuee supporting his family, worked at the SEEP distribution center preparing food packages for families in need. He is shown with a bag of flour that came from a food distribution partnership through Coca Cola Puerto Rico Bottlers and Caribbean Bottling Company in The Bahamas. Food supplies were shared amongst NGOs and agencies like NEMA and the Salvation Army to help Grand Bahama and Abaco that had been affected by Hurricane Dorian. As part of their relief work, the Rotary Clubs of The Bahamas facilitated pallets of provisions to the family islands. The One Eleuthera Foundation accepted two pallets of donated goods that was used to stock their distribution centers in Tarpum Bay and Camp Symonette in James Cistern to help those displaced by Hurricane Dorian. Cards of encouragement from Puerto Rico were also shipped and those messages went a long way in cheering up the evacuees in Eleuthera. Photo supplied by OEF.

Ingraham shares that One Eleuthera is not a disaster agency however, they wanted to participate in the Dorian Recovery in a meaningful way. “We knew we needed extra technical support and we initially enlisted the help of volunteers to help with coordination. As the crisis got deeper, we engaged temporary staff and also researchers to advise. We partnered with South Eleuthera Emergency Partners, the Salvation Army, Rotary Bahamas and the Rotary Club of Eleuthera, the Cancer Society of Eleuthera, New Providence Community Church, The TK Foundation, Templeton World Charity Foundation, OEF US and other natural partners.”  

Many of the evacuees from Spanish Wells have now returned to Abaco; approximately 70 to 100 have remained,” said Symonette. On June 14, 2020, around 40 people from central Eleuthera returned home to join family members who had gone ahead to rebuild. More are expected to follow.  

Part one of this series Reflections: Evacuees and Economy Get Boost From One Eleuthera, can be found at www.oneeleuthera.org or at https://bit.ly/2UsIesk

Reverend Stephanie Gottschalk, Director, Bahamas Methodist Habitat at Camp Symonette in James Cistern inspects the pantry stocked goods for Hurricane Dorian evacuees who were both migrants and Bahamians while they awaited housing assistance from the One Eleuthera Foundation. Photo supplied by OEF.

The One Eleuthera Foundation is a non-profit organization that was founded in 2012 to identify, invest in and strengthen projects that improve the island of Eleuthera and further its economic, environmental and social development. Additionally, they support projects on other islands like New Providence and in the wider Bahamas. One Eleuthera is a successful NGO with operations in The Bahamas and in the US that has 501(c)(3) status. More information is available on www.oneeleuthera.org.  

The Centre for Training and Innovation (CTI) is the first and only postsecondary, non-profit, training and business enterprise institution on Eleuthera. They encourage growth and development for learners to become better citizens and to contribute to building a vibrant economy for the island of Eleuthera and The Bahamas. More information is available on www.oneeleuthera.org/projects/CTI.

Tags: #oneeleuthera #oneeleutherafoundation #seep #cti #hurricanedorian #abacoevacuees #eleuthera #spanishwells #bahamas #volunteer #causes #charity #donate #philantrophy #climatechange #socialgood #socialenterprise #covid19 #methodisthabitat #campsymonette #indiahicks #bahamasstrong #dogood #templetonworldcharity #tkfoundation #npcc


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