On the frontline: Abaco – A journal by Lizzy Stileman

The real work began when Paul and I were joined by 10 of the other Greyshirt volunteers. We all flew to Abaco, one of the islands severely affected by Hurricane Dorian and split into 4 teams, ready to head out and tackle the aftermath.

The aftermath of Hurricane Dorian in Treasure Cay by moonlight

For 6 of us our first stop would be Treasure Cay. Only a matter of days ago this would have been a thriving holiday resort, renowned for its picturesque marina and restaurants. Now it lay in ruins. Upturned trees and scattered boats littered the landscape. Local Bahamians wandered around looking lost and scared; in need of help, in need of respite.

I volunteer with Team Rubicon UK because the ethos of the organisation and the Greyshirts is one of action. When wearrive at the scene of any crisis, we first identify what we can do to make an immediate impact. This situation wasn’tany different, and so we started with the Needs Assesment, talking to people and understanding what they require most and then doing our best to provide it.

The small and flexible nature of our strike teams allows us to deliver life-saving aid to those communities that have nobody to help them and nowhere else to go – the communities most in need. We aim to fulfil the basic needs of these survivors by providing food and water, tents and tarpaulins to provide shelter, and hygiene packs. These are the simple things that go a long way in protecting people from the immediate dangers of hunger, thirst and illness.

We were told about a town called Marsh Harbour and in particular, a shanty settlement within it known as The Mud, which was home to a large number of Haitian immigrants. The area is low lying and prone to flooding, nothing withstood the force of Dorian here. All that remained of this settlement was a mesh of corrugated iron sheets, wood and debris.

Although Team Rubicon UK was one of the first NGOs on Abaco, with each passing day more NGOs and more help was arriving. A lone government building in Marsh Harbour became the operations centre where NGOs would gather and share information. At one of the daily meetings, we informally heard about a small community known as Sweetings Village that needed support.

Once a collective of 200 people, only 7 now remained. Between our shuttle runs for food, water and cleaning products for the emergency recovery centre, I met a man called Jean Timothy.

Lizzy talking to Jean Timothy

Jean was working away, fixing a puncture on his vehicle. I sat beside him and asked him how he was. He spoke softly and slowly; you could see the pain in his eyes. I squeezed his hand tightly as he told me his story of how the water flooded in trapping him, his wife, and children in the attic of their house; how they stayed there until the roof was forcibly removed and how he swam in the flooded waters to find a boat to save his family, breaking a toe and gashing his leg in the process.

Jean told me I was the first person to ask him about his story and how he had contemplated suicide over the past few days. It was a sobering moment for me; food, water and medicine are important, but sometimes what people really need is for someone to hear their story.

That’s why I am proud to be Greyshirt…

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