In Bahamas, I saw the power of Tikkun Olam

By Benjamin Laniado

The Abaco Island in the Bahamas was paradise: a 17,000-people-heaven of beautiful wooden houses in a blue and transparent sea.

All that changed when Hurricane Dorian, a category 5 hurricane with winds of up to 186 miles per hour, stationed itself on the island leaving behind a trail of destruction.

Thousands evacuated, but those who didn’t – Haitians, Dominicans and other illegal immigrants without papers to travel; elderly men and women without the strength to migrate – had to confront a blight world once the storm had passed.

As a humanitarian agency, our motto is to go where no one else does. Although it had a larger affected population The Grand Bahama Island was already being catered to by dozens of rescue NGOs. This is why we decided to go to Abacus.

Getting there was tricky. The hurricane had thrown debris to the sea, making it impossible for us to reach the island on a boat. Thus, as soon as the local Treasure Kay airport opened, we took a small plane from Miami – where we have our international headquarters – and landed a mere half an hour later in no man’s land.

It was as if a bomb had exploded. All the buildings – except the hospital, the government building and some church, which served as accommodation centers – were annihilated. The group of four highly specialized rescue workers arrived at a ground zero with nothing to hold on to. To move around the island, we had to use a car we found on the street and gasoline donated by NGOs that helped keep other NGOs running. On my fifteen years of humanitarian work I’ve seen how a whole network of NGOs for NGOs have made the work of helping others much more efficient.

Together with humanitarian agencies, Rubicon and Heart to Heart, we sought to reach the families that need it most. We delivered 418 solar lamps while providing pycho-social counseling and giving pre-hospitalization consultation.

People flooded to us for our lamps. The island is pitch black, and the lamps, charged with sunlight, also work to charge cell phones. Many of those who stayed on the island had no contact with their loved ones, they could not tell them they were alive: solar lamps allowed them to do that.

We returned deeply affected by what we saw, but immediately set to work. A second group of volunteers on the island sailed with the Mexican Army from the Port of Veracruz to deliver 60 tons of help directly. Our Miami headquarters is ready to partake on a third mission, with tons of perishable goods and dozens of shelters to keep families safe as the whole island prepares for the long and arduous reconstruction process.

We are also in contact with the Israeli ambassador for the region and together with him we are bringing Israeli technology that will help recycle garbage and bring water. The inhabitants of the Bahamas are not alone. It is our duty, as Jews who care for Tikkun Olam, to help them out.

Benjamin Laniado is Secretary General of CADENA, an international Jewish NGO dedicated to assisting in humanitarian disasters.