IT TOOK nearly 200 people, hours of planning and the camaraderie of companies more accustomed to competition than co-operation, but when it was over, the national telethon Rebuild Bahamas proved that the citizens could make a success out of adversity and help fellow Bahamians in need.
The telethon, a project of the Rotary Clubs of The Bahamas and the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers’ Confederation (BCCEC), was broadcast live from Atlantis for five hours on October 27. It raised $237,390 in pledges that night and more has continued to come in to the Chamber’s offices in the days since. Funds, which will be managed by the two organisations, are earmarked for long-term rebuilding efforts, particularly for education and commerce, following the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Joaquin on life as it was in the southeastern Bahamas.
“Rebuild Bahamas was historic,” said Rotary District Governor Felix Stubbs. “People from every walk of life felt a part of it whether they were in that room with the Governor General, the Prime Minister and other political, business and civic leaders or whether they were watching from the comfort of their living rooms and were moved by the scenes of utter devastation of homes and churches and schools, even some that were supposed to be shelters.”
Chamber CEO Edison Sumner said the organisation of the telethon and the response it ignited were record-setting. “Rebuild Bahamas created a new gold standard for unity,” he said.
Donations poured in from near and far. Jason Knowles, a Bahamian living in Atlanta, donated $15,000. Jeffrey Bodie donated a 2008 Nissan which he wants to go to a deserving family. Sir Durward Knowles called to contribute $5,000 as did several others.
One of the most moving came from a small child who donated her entire savings, $12.
“That call was one of so many touching moments,” said Diane Phillips, who co-chaired the event with Alexia Coakley, Media Operations Manager at Cable Bahamas.
“When Annafae Ferguson Knowles talked of losing everything they owned, when Betsy Dingman described the conditions they found in Crooked and Acklins, when AnnMarie Davis described the forgotten sheep and goats wandering what looked like new wastelands, when the video vignettes ran with interviews of people who spent endless hours on their roofs as water swept away their lives around them – those heartbreaking moments prompted an outpouring of compassion.”
Among the many donations were a $20,000 presentation by John Bull with funds raised largely by staff and a $25,000 contribution by Sheila Bethel and Janet Johnson on behalf of the International Cultural Festival.
“We could not have done this without the co-operation of so many corporate and individual sponsors,” said Mr Sumner. “We owe a special debt of gratitude to Diane Phillips and her team who put aside so much other work to take this telethon on and were able to galvanise sponsors, media, volunteers from every walk of life, and to Alexia Coakley, who did an outstanding job leading the technical team and production.
“We are especially grateful, too, to the Nassau Guardian for their support and making Paul Fernander available to help with the show, to The Tribune which donated valuable newspaper and radio support, to ZNS and The Broadcasting Corporation, Cable Bahamas and Jones Communications for their broadcast time and all the pre-production set-up efforts, for Atlantis for the Imperial Ballroom donated absolutely without charge, Zamar which donated the sound equipment, and of course, to BTC, for providing some 20 phone lines and once again proving how invaluable they are. There were so many more, including all the musicians and performers, the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture, the Office of the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Tourism and the 100 or so persons who worked the phone bank over five hours, all the Rotary volunteers, to all the media houses who allowed organisers to promote the telethon. It was an amazing effort.”
While the telethon raised initial funds for the joint Rotary-Chamber rebuilding tasks, the needs will require far greater funds, said Mr Sumner. “Every penny will be accounted for and all investments in the rebuilding of these islands will be based on a needs assessment,” he said. “All expenses will be fully transparent and we will provide audited reports. We also hope that some of the projects we agree to fund or partner with will qualify for matching funds from Rotary International which is fully aware of our needs. The telethon is over but the work is just beginning.”