Hurricane Dorian: From devastation to resilience in the Bahamas

As Category 5 Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamian islands of Grand Bahama and Abaco last year, extreme winds, storm surges, flooding and record-setting rain left a trail of devastation.

The death toll was many. The United Nations estimates 76,000 people were left homeless as a result of the hurricane.

In response to the need for emergency relief, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) awarded solidarity grants to partners Bahamas Methodist Habitat (BMH), a nonprofit outreach ministry of the Bahamas Conference of the Methodist Church (BCMC), and the Bahamas Turks and Caicos Island Conference (BTCIC) of the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas (MCCA).

Your gifts on UMCOR Sunday helps support lay the foundation for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) to share God's love with communities everywhere.

Camp Symonette on the island of Eleuthera was activated as a shelter for hurricane evacuees. The camp is home to BMH and dedicated to disaster relief and home repair.

Rev. Kenneth Lewis stands next to a table of grocery care packages ready for distribution. Photo: Katie Hills Uzoka.

BMH director, the Rev. Stephanie Gottschalk, BMH staff and volunteers got to work readying dormitories and preparing for the intake of evacuees. Initially BMH received 32 evacuees; they've since served 76. All relocated from Abaco, where destruction was extreme and comprehensive.

With funds from UMCOR, Gottschalk plans to cover utilities for Camp Symonette and provide stipends to volunteer shelter workers to compensate them for their committed efforts. She also plans to apply UMCOR funds to administrative support to process both generous donations and volunteer offers that have come from friends of BCMC/BMH.

Evacuees were frightened and agitated when Tropical Storm Humberto struck the Bahamas two weeks after Hurricane Dorian. "When we had the heavy rain and wind, they started to panic, some became depressed, almost angry," reported a BMH volunteer named Denise. Many had lost their appetite and seemed dejected; no one was playing dominoes together in the evenings as they once had.

In the week that followed, Denise had an idea to promote cohesion and harmony in the group. With the help of shelter residents, she rearranged the dining hall into long communal tables and placed flowers on each for a special touch at dinner. Following the meal, some of the young women led the group in an English-Creole singalong accompanied by guitar. Denise looked for small indications that her efforts had paid off: smiling faces and a game of dominoes after dinner. "I've never been so happy to hear dominoes in all my life," she sighed.

UMCOR plans to continue its work with Gottschalk on a proposal for further support of the evacuee shelter, including operation and transitional services for residents when the shelter demobilizes. BCMC is also committed to assisting on the island of Abaco and deployed an assessment team on October 10 to get a better understanding of needs.

Given BMH's established reputation in disaster relief and home repair, its leadership, led by BCMC president, Carla Culmer, is poised to participate in hurricane-resistant rebuilding in the wake of Hurricane Dorian. This storm has been a drastic reminder that the next storm is always on the horizon and preparedness is a critical part of disaster work.

excerpt from an article by Katie Hills Uzoka, program manager for UMCOR's International Disaster Response unit.

One of six churchwide Special Sundays with offerings of The United Methodist Church, UMCOR Sunday calls United Methodists to share the goodness of life with those who hurt. Your gifts to UMCOR Sunday lay the foundation for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) to share God's love with communities everywhere. The special offering underwrites UMCOR's "costs of doing business." This helps UMCOR to keep the promise that 100 percent of any gift to a specific UMCOR project will go toward that project, not administrative costs.

When you give generously on UMCOR Sunday, you make a difference in the lives of people who hurt. Give now.