I sat at the edge of the little fishing boat, peering down into the clear Bahamian sea to spot my husband. Under the water, I could make out his shape as he took careful aim with his Hawaiian sling. A moment later, he rose to the surface of the water to show off the fish he had captured with the long, sharp spear. I snapped a photo, and he disappeared again under the water. A warm sea breeze blew playfully through the boat, cooling the warm air. It was the perfect day for being on the water at Paradise Cove in Grand Bahama Island. I turned to the boat driver to make conversation.
“So,” I asked, “Do you ever spearfish?”
“Me?” He barked a short laugh, “No, there are too many sharks for me.”
Nervously, I peered into the water again, hoping I wouldn’t see sharks encircling my husband as he fished. Of course, there were none to be seen. The ocean was calm, and all that was visible was the watery outline of the colorful reef below and a few bright flashes as tropical fish darted to and fro.
A Sad Reality
What do you picture when you think of the Bahamas? Idyllic beaches? Sprawling resorts? Sun-drenched ocean? How about flattened, flooded buildings?
Sadly, this last description is what characterizes much of the Bahamas right now, as the archipelago nation recovers from Hurricane Dorian. The beaches are still there, but they’ve been damaged. Resorts have flooded. And yet, this is the best time to visit the Bahamas. Don’t believe me? Read on.
What the Media Has to Say
As often happens during disasters, media publications around the globe covered the Bahamas intensely during and immediately after Hurricane Dorian. You probably read about the damage, the horrifying death count, the problems faced by evacuees. But how much have you heard in the last several weeks?
Unless you’ve been searching for information, you probably haven’t heard anything about the Bahamas. However, the archipelago is still suffering and is working hard to pull in the resources they need to rebuild.
Still so Much Need
The people my husband and I fished with during our trip to the Bahamas are having a hard time. We found the GoFundMe page for Paradise Cove’s cleanup efforts, and it was sad to see how much damage the place has suffered. That destruction translates to a lack of employment, financial distress, and water-damaged homes, as well.
Two years ago, Hurricane Irma careened through the Caribbean, wreaking havoc on several islands. At the time, it had only been five months since I had lived on the island of Sint Maarten, and the catastrophic damage suffered by my friends there was incredibly distressing. Parts of the island were without electricity for several months. Many people lived with tarps instead of roofs for the better part of a year. Today, over two years later, some people are still homeless after losing everything in the hurricane, and nearly everyone is dealing with financial stress. Sadly, this is what the Bahamas has to look forward to.
The reality is that there is a lot of need in the wake of hurricanes — and not just during the few weeks when fundraisers are trending and media attention is high. It can be easy to forget that the Bahamas is not just a tourist destination. It’s a community of people who need homes and jobs, education for their children, grocery stores, and means to get to them. Even when the tourism industry has repaired itself, it will take months (if not years) for the Bahamas to begin to operate as normal again. In the meantime, Bahamians need support. And fortunately for you and me, it’s not hard to offer precisely what they need.
How You Can Help
There are several ways you can help the Bahamas recover from Hurricane Dorian. The easiest way, of course, is to donate. There are many reputable organizations, such as UNICEF, currently working in the Bahamas. I donated to the people my husband and I met while spearfishing at Paradise Cove; if you have visited the Bahamas and know someone personally, why not reach out and see how you can help?
Another wonderful way to help people directly is to offer your home to asylees. For a while, Airbnb was helping volunteer hosts and hurricane victims connect, but their program for Hurricane Dorian has ended. However, if you live in the Southeastern United States, you can reach out to your local homeless shelter to see if there is any way you can be of assistance to people who are still displaced by the hurricane.
Travel lovers, you can also go to the Bahamas and help by offering your services. Medical and mental health professionals are always in need after such traumatic events, and there are many ways people with other skill sets can lend a hand. Contact an organization like Project Hope or Samaritan’s Purse to get involved.
Finally, the top thing you can do for the Bahamas is to simply go vacation there. Earlier in this post, I mentioned that NOW is the best time to visit the Bahamas. Here’s why.
The Bahamas, like many tropical destinations, has a tourism-based economy. When natural disasters hit, they have the long-term effect of hurting the tourism industry. After all, it’s hard to rebuild, and even harder to overcome the reputation as a “damaged” destination. If you go to the Bahamas this year, spend your money, and take lots of photos for your social media accounts, you’ll not only boost the economy, but you’ll also have a part in combatting the misconception that the Bahamas aren’t worth visiting anymore.
Right now, the world has an image of the Bahamas that looks like flattened palm trees and smashed beach houses. That’s what sells news stories, after all. But who wants to visit that? If you go and take lots of nice photos of cleaned-up beaches and the wonderful Airbnb you stayed in, you’ll help vacationers see that the Bahamas is still a great place to go. The more people who visit, the more money locals will have to rebuild. The more they rebuild, the better it will get, and the more tourists will visit. But someone needs to start the cycle. Why not be that someone?