The Kendal GL Isaacs gym, where hurricane refugees have taken shelter after being evacuated from Abaco and Grand Bahama, pictured in September. Photo: Terrel W Carey Sr/Tribune Staff
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
ON most days, Success Jean would wake up at 5am, check on his infant children and set off to do construction work at the Baker’s Bay Golf & Ocean Club on Great Guana Cay.
These days, the 37-year-old’s life is confined to wandering a few miles around the Fox Hill Community Centre where he and his family have stayed since Hurricane Dorian made them storm evacuees.
He said life there has been a snoozy, frustrating experience: no roofs to build or plywood to erect, no gym after work or soccer with friends, no sending money to parents in Haiti and needy nephews in the United States.
“I can’t help myself,” Mr Jean lamented as his six-month-old daughter slept in his lap. “It’s like I’ve turned into a kid again.”
Mr Jean is one of 2,043 people staying in shelters on New Providence, the the most populated being the Kendal Isaacs Gym which is housing 1,357 people, according to the government. Evacuees have been beneficiaries of a massive global operation to help the Bahamas recover from Hurricane Dorian.
Local organisations like the Chinese Community Association, Checkers Restaurant, Twin Brothers and Bamboo Shack have donated food to the Fox Hill Community Centre in the last week, according to Georgette Gardiner, 34, who works at the centre. Survivors have been given access to doctors, nurses and counsellors. The Fox Hill shelter has received so many clothes that it is overwhelmed with the items. Send toiletries along with an industrial washer and dryer instead, Ms Gardiner said.
But the evacuees’ mourning and recovery is being interrupted by growing restlessness over their employment and financial futures.
“It’s terrible, it’s really hard,” Mr Jean said. “I’m a person, from 5am I’m out. I have to provide for my people and help my old man in Haiti who has no job. I feel it’s so hard right now even though we live here and eat and sleep and have stuff, I’m looking for more and I don’t know how to get it.”
Near Mr Jean stood Patricia Bux, a 52-year-old woman who two weeks ago was babysitting children and cleaning homes. Now she is mostly standing and sitting around, consumed by worry that her 17-year-old son will miss vital days from school. Yesterday was particularly painful, she said, because had Dorian not struck, she would have received her long awaited Asue draw of $1,200.
“The Asue I was in, I don’t know where the people is because I need my payment but I don’t know where the people go,” she said. “All the people, their things gone. I can’t tell people give me my stuff, because where they find money and all the money wash away? They got no money and I got no money.”
For his part, Labour Minister Dion Foulkes told reporters yesterday that the government is looking to give evacuees quick access to their employment benefits from the National Insurance Board. He added that Cabinet planned to discuss a special initiative involving the Ministry of Public Services to immediately provide employment opportunities to evacuees on both Abaco and Grand Bahama.
“What we’d like to do is stabilise as many families as we can as quickly as possible,” he said. “An announcement will be coming very shortly with respect to that. In conjunction with NIB, the department is making it easy for all evacuees to access their employment benefits. We are putting a procedure in place where they can get a fast processing of their unemployment benefits and that will be a big relief for a lot of the persons here in Nassau.”
Most of the people at the New Providence shelters appear to be of Haitian descent. Although reporters have not been allowed inside the shelters, visitors said many Bahamian evacuees have went to stay with their family and friends in New Providence, the United States or Family Islands.
Christopher Rolle, 50, had that option but chose to stay at the overcrowded Kendal Isaacs Gymnasium because he doesn’t want to be a burden to his relatives.
His said his mind fluctuates between thinking about his future and focusing on the immediate past.
“Right now anytime I hear a banging noise or something I does get a little intimidated,” he said, adding that four of his friends died during the storm. “That ain’ a good feeling.”
A former Bahamas Power & Light worker, he did maintenance work for corporations like the Water & Sewerage Corporation in Abaco and he hopes he will be lured back to the island soon to continue that work.
“If the government can get a hurricane loan they could give us to help us to build and then we pay back at a small percentage, that would be good for helping us go back,” he said. “A lot of people want to go back. Most of the people from Abaco, they ain’ into Nassau.”