Hurricane Dorian struck the island of Grand Bahama on September 2, 2019 with the storm resting over the island for 36 hours. The eastern and central parts of Grand Bahama suffered significant damage, with over three-quarters of buildings in those areas flooded or destroyed. Thousands of people were impacted by the storm through displacement, damage to homes and places of work, worship and learning, as well as loss of possessions and social connectedness. For many, the experience of living through the storm, being trapped in or fleeing from their homes, and witnessing the loss of loved ones caused distress and recurring thoughts linked to the traumatic events. While most people were resilient enough to recover from the initial shock, some required additional mental health support and coping mechanisms to regain pre-storm levels of functioning. Others were liable to develop more significant mental health issues including, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) , depression, or complicated grief.
The people of The Bahamas are known for their ability to bounce back and rebuild after natural disasters. However, residents felt that this storm was different. Once the period of initial trauma ended, and time passed into weeks and months, new stressors during the recovery and rebuilding phase developed, and residents of Grand Bahama were faced with the challenge of addressing the longer-term impacts of the storm, both on an individual and community level. Past disasters demonstrated that some individuals experience increased symptoms of psychological distress months after the event, presenting with mental health issues like anxiety, depression, addiction, or PTSD. Consequently, addressing the mental health and psychosocial needs for the affected population in Grand Bahama was critical in supporting the recovery efforts.
As a result of these factors, the Bahamian and international community came together to provide far reaching, immediate technical support, Rebuilding and Recovery Assistance, and Mental Health & Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) to communities impacted by the storm in Grand Bahama, as well as those displaced from Abaco Island. To adequately address the complex needs in Grand Bahama, the local entities understandably required additional supports. To aid the recovery, Caritas's Shelter Project and MHPSS Program were established. Additionally, the existing support mechanisms and services required continued coordination and collaboration, training of additional mental health and psychosocial skilled personnel and long term strategies. The decision to pursue a community 'resilience center' model was reached after an initial needs assessment and collaboration with the Catholic Church, the Rand Memorial Hospital Psychiatric Department, the Bahamas Psychosocial Association, members of Team Restoration, community leaders, as well as other INGOs facilitating MHPSS activities were also consulted.
Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from a difficult event. Caritas's hope was to provide a safe space to heal, strengthen social cohesion, and offer opportunities to increase knowledge and skills. We are grateful to Caritas for founding this project.