Back to School in the Bahamas, Together
Sasha Pinder is the Digital Content and Communications Assistant for IsraAID Bahamas.
Just six months after Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas, the COVID-19 pandemic began. Here, just like most other places in the world, lockdowns went into effect, schools closed down, and tourism basically disappeared. Because communities here on the ground were still recovering from the immense damage caused by the storm, many were left even more vulnerable to this new pandemic reality.
The island of Abaco was the most severely affected by Hurricane Dorian. Overall, the storm claimed the lives of hundreds and caused significant damage, with 75% of the homes in the Marsh Harbour area destroyed. Water sources were flooded with sea water, causing salination levels to skyrocket, rendering the water unsafe for drinking.
But recovery efforts were cut short. The hurricane hit in September 2019, and just as communities were beginning to get back to their daily lives, COVID-19 arrived. But this second disaster, layered on top of the most recent emergency, took a toll on our communities that we never could have anticipated. Whereas after the hurricane we were able to get together to support one another and rebuild as a community, this time, the simple act of gathering was extremely dangerous.
While many other communities around the globe switched to virtual events, this was not possible for many in Abaco, who were still without electricity due to infrastructural damage caused by the hurricane. This also meant no WiFi. Hundreds of students across the island were unable to access virtual education programming and see their teachers and friends. Many of these children had already been out of classes for much of the year because of damage to their school buildings.
As always, IsraAID Bahamas worked closely with local partners to assess and then address these rapidly changing needs. During the immediate lockdown, IsraAID joined forces with ADRA and Latter-Day Saint Charities to distribute tablets with solar chargers and data packages to children who could not access daily classes. We also launched training sessions for local teachers, in partnership with the Ministry of Education, on integrating psychosocial support and stress relief for children amid the pandemic. Through these webinars, the IsraAID team reached 1,900 beneficiaries.
On October 5, schools reopened. IsraAID’s “Healthy Return to School” program, implemented in partnership with MASHAV of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, aims to ease this transition by distributing hygiene products and personal protective equipment to local schools on Grand Bahama island — which, like Abaco, was significantly affected by Hurricane Dorian. Schools are provided with disinfectants, gloves, hand sanitizers and thermometers, to ensure that face-to-face teaching would be as safe as possible. A local service organization, the Anchor Division of the Pilot Club (Lucaya), made and donated 500 reusable face masks for one of the primary schools, ensuring that students can attend school comfortably and safely. This program is ongoing, and will continue for the coming months.
Returning to school represents so much more than mathematics and spelling and reading. It also allows children, parents, teachers, and communities to come back together, to learn and grow. This social fabric is essential to cultivating resilient communities, who know how to rely on one another, work together, and look forward toward the future. Whether this is in a virtual classroom on a tablet, or in a physical classroom behind a mask, or in our new Stronger Together Center, which will serve as an emergency shelter and resource center, the IsraAID team is committed to continuing supporting vulnerable communities as they recover from crisis, together.
Thank you to our supporters at MASHAV who helped make this program possible.