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Alicia Wallace: It’S Time To Help, Not To Fight

By ALICIA WALLACE

THE past two weeks have gone by quickly, but the beginning of relief efforts feels like it is in the distant past.

So much has transpired, changed, and evolved since we started calling for every individual to do their part in assisting those directly impacted by Hurricane Dorian. We have had many arguments about the best way to move forward, who should be responsible for what, and the appropriate time for critique. I am not sure that we have made progress or resolved issues through those arguments, but have noticed that the people doing this work are determined to keep going.

There is little time for people mobilising other people and resources to pick fights, join pile ons, or become dedicated contrarians. There are people who need food, shelter, clothing, and legitimate sources of income. Right now, these areas have to be our focus as non-governmental organisations, community workers, and influencers.

There are many things to critique, inefficient systems to change, and ill-suited leaders to oust, yes. This is always the case. We always seem to have energy for this. Critique is necessary, instructive, and can lead to the transformation we need. Timing, however, is a major factor.

When people who have been evacuated from Abaco and Grand Bahama are properly housed and have access to everything they need, we can have a more sustained, constructive public dialogue about what could have been done better and how we can, not only put systems in place that allow us to adequately respond to disasters, but help to prevent them.

Multiple ways to help

Equality Bahamas is continuing to work with Lend a Hand Bahamas and the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas to operate a donation centre every day. We invite the public to donate nonperishable food, toiletries, baby items, school supplies, and snacks for children. Some of the items in highest demand are soap, deodorant, underwear, pasta, tomato paste, seasoning, pads, and children’s clothing. All donations can be dropped off to the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas on weekdays from 9am to 6pm and on weekends from 10am to 5pm. We are providing direct assistance to people evacuated from Abaco and Grand Bahama and responding to requests from community workers visiting shelters.

There are a variety of ways to provide assistance aside from donating items. A major area of need is school uniforms. Parents have reported that they are only able to get one or two uniforms through existing programmes. This is not enough.

Those interested in helping to get uniforms for children can contact Equality Bahamas which has a list of children and the sizes needed. Full uniforms — shirt and jumper, shirt and skirt, or shirt and pants — can cost up to $60. We are working to ensure that children have at least two jumpers, skirts, and pants, and three shirts.

Experiencing trauma, being displaced, and entering a new school should not be accompanied by nightly washing. People deserve to live more comfortably, and we, collectively, have the resources to assist.

Many of the people evacuated from Abaco and Grand Bahama are staying with family members or friends. We cannot assume that this means their needs are being met by their hosts.

Many households were struggling to make ends meet before the arrival of their family or friends, so they cannot bear the burden of food and incidental costs.

There will be an ongoing need for toiletries and food.

Hot meals are being provided at lunch and dinner time for people outside of the shelters at Life Empowerment Church, located behind the Red Cross on JFK.

For many people staying with family and friends, it is difficult or impossible to get there due to lack of transportation, no familiarity with Nassau, and inability to use public transportation. It would be helpful for volunteers to serve as drivers, collecting meals and delivering them to homes.

This week, we received numerous requests for suitcases. Living in someone else’s home can be quite uncomfortable. We are often mindful of the space we take up, and want to keep our areas clean and tidy.

Suitcases can help people to organise their belongings, keep them together, and easily tuck them out of sight and move them from place to place. If you have luggage, you are no longer using, please consider donating it for a family in need of a way to properly store their possessions.

As new arrivals to Nassau settle in, they will turn their attention to livelihoods. They will search for jobs, work on applications, prepare for interviews, find work appropriate clothing, and do everything it takes to enter the workforce. None of these things happen without a fair amount of work.

It is important that we support their entry into the workforce by assisting with cover letters and resumes, sharing job postings, and donating work-appropriate attire.

Some organisations have already started offering resume review services. If you have expertise in human resources, this is a way you can contribute.

Caring for the whole person

Even in our desire to help, we sometimes get tunnel vision. We are so focused on meeting physiological needs that we forget about mental health.

We remember, intellectually, that a hurricane took place and resulted in people evacuated from Abaco and Grand Bahama, but we do not often think about the drastic difference this has had on their lives. We may think of the loss of their homes, but not consider all of the contents that may include items of sentimental value.

We may think of their physical injuries, but not consider that there may be loved ones they cannot find. We may think of their loss of income, but not consider the change in routine and possible shifts in perceptions of self and ability to independently function.

For some of us, significant focus is on mental health. We are concerned about the effects of trauma. Every time it rains, we worry about those dealing with post traumatic stress disorder. We want to ensure that there are enough spaces for people to talk about what they have experienced and how they are feeling, be together in groups, have one-on-one therapy sessions, or even sit in silence.

We can become so wrapped up in filling what we know to be a void — mental health services — that we forget about the tangible needs people have. We have to balance the need for essential items like food and personal hygiene products with necessary attention to mental health.

Equality Bahamas and Lend a Hand Bahamas are working on longterm programming for people — particularly women and children — who have been evacuated to Nassau. The programme will focus on continued provision of care packages, food packages, skill-building, and respite.

It will complement the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas’ mental health-focused programming that uses a variety of methodologies and tools to help people to recover. We are fortunate to be able to use the beautiful space at the gallery which is free for the rest of the month and features beautiful landscaping, benches under shady trees, and an inviting sculpture garden.

Institutions and individuals are taking a range of approaches to this work. It is a service we have been called and are fortunate to provide.

Most of us do not know what we would do if we could not find a way to help. Many members of the public are still searching for ways.

Whether your contribution is two nonperishable items, a uniform for one student, a case of deodorant, or cookies for the family staying with a neighbour, it is substantial.

No entity, the government included, can do this alone. The work will not be done in a month, or four, or twelve.

This is a marathon like none we have ever run before, and one of the strongest factors working in our favour is that so many of us are doing it together.

People will complain, blame, embarrass, criticise, and refuse to do anything, but they do not need our attention right now. We are still in the early stages, trying to meet basic needs.

Be critical in thinking, and thoughtful in speech. Choose to extend grace instead of fueling fires. Do the best you can with what you have by finding ways to combine it with someone else’s best. Collaboration and true partnerships are key.

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