DIANE PHILLIPS: Meet the real people who left home to come and help The Bahamas


Diane Phillips

DAVID Radford-Wilson is 53, tall and muscular. With looks that would be equally at home in a jersey on the soccer field or a power suit in the board room, he’s an executive coach with clients including a director in a major London bank, a legal counsel in an American law firm and a high-ranking officer in the British government foreign office. By phone or face-to-face, he coaches them in crisis leadership and training.

Last Saturday, Radford-Wilson kissed his wife and three children, ages 16, 14 and 9, goodbye, flung his knapsack with sleeping bag, satellite phone and other essentials on his back and left his home in Cornwall, England to fly to The Bahamas. He was coming to help people he never met before recover from the most horrific storm ever to hit their homes and impact their lives on two islands in the archipelagic nation.

Radford-Wilson is one of a team of four from Rescue Global (www.rescueglobal.org) who are in The Bahamas right now, meeting with NEMA officials, helping to plan recovery, two of them awaiting their assignment to move off to Grand Bahama or Abaco. Rescue Global is among the more than 30 international organisations providing assistance.

Strangers helping strangers, yet feeling like family even before they touched down. That’s the way many have described it.

“The world loves Bahamian people,” a friend told me. He used to be a top official in Miami-Dade and he said if Dorian had struck in South Florida there never would have been the kind of response that The Bahamas has received. “People all over want to help. There’s just something about The Bahamas and Bahamian people.” At Aventura Mall in north Miami, on large illuminated ceiling signs that normally advertise events, shops and specials, the colours of The Bahamas are splashed clear across the mall’s halls with wording TOGETHER FOR THE BAHAMAS. The signs list drop-off spots around the mall where shoppers can leave supplies that the mall will take responsibility for delivering to those in need.

For Rescue Global’s Radford-Wilson, helping comes naturally. He spent 25 years in the British Army Special Opps as an engineer. Leadership was essential.

“If you look at leadership as getting people or individual groups of people to effectively solve challenging problems, then Rescue Global is a practical way to apply that to humanitarian crises,” he explains. “It’s all about making the world a safer, better place.”

For Rebekah Yore, coming out to The Bahamas was inspired by combined desires of wanting to help and wanting to learn. She’s a PhD candidate earning a doctorate at University College, London. Her studies in microfinancing for sustainable development following disaster have taken her on a five-year journey with Rescue Global to places like Dominca following Hurricane Maria.

What she has seen in The Bahamas is overwhelming destruction matched by overwhelming will to build back better.

She’s also seen the impact on the most vulnerable.

“Everywhere we work, the reality is the same. You are only as strong as your weakest link and in a nation where you have such extremities of wealth it is important to look after those on the bottom end,” Yore says.

At the Bahamas Red Cross headquarters on JFK, there are as many volunteers from international branches of the Red Cross, it seems, as there are locals. In Trinidad, there will be a Red Cross celebrity concert this weekend benefitting The Bahamas. In Palm Beach, a flotilla of 60 boats was making its way to Abaco.

Suddenly, no one is talking about those fearful foreigners who have come to steal our soil. They are getting to know the real people who are coming from afar to help rebuild our settlements and nourish our strength, our spirit and our souls.

Two years later there, two years from now here

Wednesday, September 18, marked two years since Hurricane Maria struck Dominica with a vicious Category Five temper that destroyed the island as it was known. The images from that day are so similar to those of the Mudd, Pigeon Peas and Sand Bank in Abaco they are almost interchangeable.

Add the images from Maria two days after it struck Dominica, exactly two years ago today, September 20 when it made landfall in Puerto Rico and again the photos are eerily similar.

By the time Maria moved off, the storm with unrelenting winds and waves had taken the lives of 3,075 people. Even today, Dominica, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico have not fully recovered with Puerto Rico, the US territory, faring worst of all.

There is a lesson to be learned from Maria. Unprecedented weather events demand unprecedented response. We cannot go back and build back more of the same.

The future of Abaco and Grand Bahama depends upon new vision and the strategy by which to achieve it. Those who take responsibility for carving out that future will have to walk a fine and fragile line between government with its responsibilities for infrastructure and commercial interests which have to get back up and running as quickly as possible to generate economic activity and will want as little red tape slowing them down as possible. Yet they cannot build back as they existed before without consideration of the overall vision for a new Great Abaco or Grand Bahama.

“For better or for worse, we have a clean slate,” Abaco Chamber of Commerce President Ken Hutton told a standing room only crowd at a meeting of Abaconicans at the Hilton in Nassau this week.

“This is a unique opportunity to reshape Abaco. What we need is a united vision.” The rebuild should look very little like what existed before, though certain architectural traits are well worth retaining, applying with better zoning, environmental management, renewable energy and an abiding appeal to the boating and yachting folks who make Abaco their first or second home. Step One is establishing the vision because the truth is once Abaconians make up their mind to do something, no storm is strong enough to stop them for long.

John Chipman Street

Surely, with all the imagination we bring to female baby names, we can do better than to name a street after detergents. So it was a good move two years ago to rename narrow Lifebuoy Street connecting Collins Avenue and East Street in the heartbeat of Nassau’s Junkanoo community after John ‘Chippie’ Chipman, the legendary King of Goatskin Drums who passed away September 9 at the age of 90. Now how about re-naming the nearby Sunlight Street? It’s time to stop imitating others and start honouring those like Chippie who make The Bahamas the country it is.


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