Tribune, Nassau Bahamas column for September 10th 2019.
<The headline, a phrase you probably heard more than once growing up, has never been more meaningful than now in the catastrophic wake of Hurricane Dorian. So many residents and international persons, groups and agencies are doing just that acting selflessly – bringing their heart, their strength, their skills to the afflicted islands of The Bahamas, leaving the comfort and safety of their own homes to help wherever possible. Deep gratitude are words that come to mind but I think Archbishop Desmond Tutu described the quality of humanity more aptly when he explained the meaning of the word ‘Ubuntu’ saying that “it speaks of the very essence of being human. We say So-and-so has ubuntu meaning you are generous, you are hospitable, you are friendly, caring and compassionate. You share what you have. It is to say – my humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up in yours’. We belong in a bundle of life. We say a person is a person through other persons.”
As we all know from the news, many local, international, government agencies and private citizens from all over the world have been on our stricken islands bringing the necessities of life and their expertise to assist wherever they can. It is important to keep all the activities co-ordinated so if you as a resident have a service or material help to offer, please collaborate with any of the many recognised agencies, so that help can be given where it is most urgently needed, that no overlaps occur whilst other areas may be neglected. All offers of help are gratefully received but this is a process and must be orderly to achieve maximum effectiveness. This is not a sprint but will be a marathon requiring much from all of us for an extended period of time.
We are all in this together and we, the ones spared from the nightmare, are not relieved of our personal responsibility to those who are suffering devastating losses of lives, homes and familiar possessions. If we have not suffered severe losses or life-threatening experiences ourselves, it may be challenging to understand that the long-term effects can be as devastating as the original trauma and those persons affected, adults and children, will continue to need our care and support. In the process of writing this I am told that every pastor, chaplain or interested person in New Providence who has volunteered to respond to the hurricane will be trained in Psychological First Aid by the Bahamas Psychological Association. It is hoped to start this week. This initiative is to respond to the emotional needs of the victims of Dorian. The intention is to “qualify” persons so that they are trained to respond appropriately and only those who have received this training will be the ones who will be asked to assist. A specific identity card will be given to each of these persons. The Bahamas Psychological Association in conjunction with NEMA and SRC is coordinating the response of private or non-governmental mental health professionals and lay persons. Additionally, there are many mental health professionals from other parts of the Caribbean as well as from the United States who are volunteering their assistance.
Achieving overall goals and results will not be instant, perfect or seamless in such chaotic circumstances but continue to believe that hundreds of people, some familiar, some strangers, are doing their utmost to repair broken lives as best they can. Even though much of the publicised negativity is understandable and high expectations for needs to be met are a normal human reaction to tragedy, we must be realistic and beware of falling into helpless or hopeless thinking because it is unhealthy and unproductive. Instead we must try to focus on all the good deeds and efforts of many and believe wholeheartedly that they too are doing the very best they can to help in difficult circumstances. Be confident that people care, even children in other countries have been touched by the news. One little boy donated the money he had saved for his Disney holiday and the little girls in the picture are chipping in.
I started this writing with a quote from ArchbishopDesmond Tutu and I use his words to finish: “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s the little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world”. As individuals, we are each capable of taking action and doing something no matter how inconsequential we think it may be: we don’t have to be wealthy or have boats or planes at our disposal; we don’t need special skills except for the ability to listen and to understand. A caring hug, a listening ear, a smile, a sympathetic response, a willingness just to be there and sit without talking or bringing a cup of coffee might be the one thing that makes a world of difference between despair and hope. It is important to introduce a sense of normalcy and calm into a very abnormal circumstance when victims have to try and re-frame lives which have been changed forever. Our contribution must be patience, understanding, kindness and empathy – we are none of us strangers in this tragedy.